“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one,” John 17:20 NRSV.
The last day of October will mark the 500th anniversary of the date Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 topics he wished to discuss with leaders of his church. While many had tried before Luther to address practices of the medieval church that seemed to be out of touch with God’s teaching in scripture, the convergence of Luther’s protest with the relatively new “mass media” tool, the printing press, helped Luther’s disagreements catch a wind that spread his ideas over the face of the Western world.
Unfortunately, instead of unity, great division of the church began and exists to this very day. For the past 50 years, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church have been in dialogue to discover what is held in common, as well as areas of theology where disagreement remains.
On Oct. 31, 2016, a joint worship service that was led by Pope Francis and Munib A. Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, in Lund, Sweden to mark the beginning of the year of commemoration of that historic world event that happened a half millennia before. It was a great example of “unity without uniformity.”
How can Jesus expect us to “be one” when we are all so different? If we pay attention to the story of Jesus’ disciples, we can see He chose a very diverse group of men to follow Him. Some were fishermen, some were tax collectors, some were political zealots. Maybe “being one” doesn’t mean agreeing on everything or being like-minded. Maybe it has to do with even in our differences gathering around the common bond of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that is meant to unite us.
I am a songwriter. Recently I participated in a songwriting workshop led by first class Nashville songwriters Mary Gauthier and Beth Nielsen Chapman. The theme of the workshop was co-writing.
We were divided into groups of three and supposed to deliver a finished song after three two-hour sessions together. My two cowriters were people I did not know well. One of them I had never even met. As it turned out, all of us had different musical styles and writing skills.
After we agreed on a subject to write about, we had three different ideas about what the song should be musically. We finally started laying our ideas in a common pile and laying our differences aside. We realized we had to let go of some things that were important to us individually for the sake of the song.
In the end, we produced a song that a Nashville Songwriting Hall of Fame writer said, “I can’t tell you a single thing to change.” It would not have happened if each of us individually had clung to our own rightness. In the end, the song was so much better than either of us could have written alone.
I believe that is what Kingdom of Heaven oneness is all about. Laying the best of ourselves in a common pile and letting go of the things that get in our way and divide us. Gathering around the common bond of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ that is meant to unite us is how the world will know about Jesus and his love.
Matt Steinhauer is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher each month writing a column.