John 17:6-13

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[b] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,[c] so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.

Will you pray with me please?  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen

The scripture reading today is a small part of a longer prayer.  Jesus prayed this prayer at one of the most desperate times of his life. Finishing the Last Supper, just before his arrest and brutal death, Jesus offers last words of comfort and encouragement to his disciples. His very last act of farewell is to pray for unity with the friends that were with him in that moment and among those who would hear the message they would proclaim.

I am grateful for this prayer. The disciples then and the disciples for the next 2,000 years certainly have needed all the prayer they could get. In the first century, we argued over what made someone a Christian. In later centuries, we would disagree about the nature of Jesus. Skipping a few centuries and a few not-so-holy wars, we Christians are still searching for common ground. Could anyone really say there is a single Christian understanding of Jesus? Of the Bible? Of the Trinity? Of baptism, communion, or worship? Gun control, abortion, or marriage? Differences of understanding exist in our congregation, let alone in the whole Body of Christ.

When I look at all of the ways that we have and continue to disagree I sometimes wonder if that long-ago prayer just didn’t work, It seems that our differences and disagreements are just too easy to find in this world that boils over with political, ecological, and theological turmoil. It is a gift and challenge for our churches, for our people to see those ways in which we truly do embody the Oneness that Jesus prayed for—a Oneness that when we achieve it shines around us in the Glory of God.

We talk often about being the Body of Christ, of being one in the Spirit, but it seems like these days that where one or more Christians are gathered we spend way too much time focusing on our differences, we damn each other over our disagreements and how we believe instead of focusing on what unifies us, instead of focusing on the common work that we are called to do together and realizing that the simple truth is that there is a LOT of work to do and it would get done much quicker with more hands.

It may be time to give up on the idea of all of us have to believe the same things. Life, culture, traditions, and people are so different and complicated. Beliefs are important: they help shape who we are and what we do. But too often we let beliefs become barriers when they don’t need to be.

The unity of the Body of Christ is seen most clearly, passionately, and convincingly in the servant love we share with one another and the world. Beliefs and theological conversations matter, but nothing shows Jesus’ love like a bunch of people who love their neighbor with action, enthusiasm, and purpose.

 One Great Hour of Sharing has embodied this for a long time. Working together as one Church but made up of many churches, with ecumenical partners around the world, we spend little time debating Christology, and a lot of time connecting communities to resources, connecting people to one another, and serving the least of these in great times of need. As individuals and congregations, we need to be about the same business—to love as Jesus loved, to serve as Jesus served, to be one—so God’s love can be revealed in and through us. I admit, I get a little choked up over things like this…the times that we put our differences aside and concentrate on the things that we have in common, our love of God and the promise that we are one in God.  That is powerful stuff and doing things in such a powerful way is what leads us today to OGHS.

One Great Hour of Sharing began in 1946 when Episcopal Bishop Henry Sherrill made an appeal on nationwide radio to raise “one million dollars in one hour” for relief and reconstruction after WWII. The appeal soon became known as One Great Hour of Sharing, and it is now known as an ecumenical offering that supports projects in over 100 countries. Churches all over the United States, in eight other Christian denominations we work together as one to support One Great Hour of Sharing.

Ever since my kid-hood the churches that I have attended have participated every year in One Great Hour of Sharing.  I remember that it was a big deal.  Each of us kids received some sort of bank every year in which to collect our offering for a month and on OGHS Sunday we would bring our banks to Sunday School. They were collected right at the start of the hour so that the Superintendent and her helpers could get all the coins counted so that we could announce in church how much we children had raised…usually several hundred dollars and we were always so thrilled and proud of how our little pile of pennies added up. I was never certain where my pennies went, but I knew they did good things and that was enough for me.

The OGHS partnership is worth celebrating; what we do together is inspiring. Our giving is magnified beyond what any of us could do alone, when we serve together in the spirit of Christ. For over 65 years, the United Church of Christ have worked with and through partnerships to serve God through our sharing, and in return we see the image of God who unites us all.

Our giving today unites us with all who are in need. The gifts that we offer today will be used for concrete ministries that further God’s work in the world. In Matthew 25, Jesus told his disciples where to focus their ministry: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. He went on to explain that, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Our offering makes the love of Christ real for individuals and communities around the world who suffer from disaster, conflict, or poverty. One Great Hour of Sharing ministries reach people worldwide, including Canada and the United States. Together we provide disaster relief, health care, education, job training, shelter, schools, clean water, and food. Our offering to One Great Hour of Sharing helps meet needs that make the headlines and needs that headlines ignore. We give to this ministry this day, but the good work done by our gifts gives life again, and again, and lasts much longer.

I thank you today for your noisy offering and I thank you for the “quite” offering we will receive today from so many.  We will continue to accept OGHS gifts for the next few weeks. Thank you for helping us all to be one. Hallelujah, amen