Brian Hiortdahl, Woodland Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

How do you stay in healthy relationship with someone with whom you strongly disagree?

E Pluribus Unum?

As the United States transitioned from one presidential administration to another, many families struggled with strained or broken relationships overheated by strong political disagreement. An article by Belinda Luscomb in TIME reports that, “a postelection Pew Research Center survey found that fewer than 2% of voters felt those who voted for the other party understood them very well, and only 13% of Joe Biden’s voters and 5% of Donald Trump’s voters expressed any desire for future unity. Luscomb’s article chronicles several studies and personal stories to illustrate a larger social trend.

“An October study from the University of Missouri found that since 2016, family interactions have been more likely to drive highly partisan relatives apart than bring them together.”  Family members are blocking each other on social media over political opinions.  Holiday meals have become difficult.  Parents and children view each other with mutual incomprehension.  One explanation, suggests Luscomb, is that “in the Trump era, many Americans don’t see voting as a decision about a set of policies, they see it as a moral imperative, an act that will make or break the country.”

Discussion Questions

  • Which family in Luscomb’s article resonates most with your own experience?
  • What unites the United States?  Is the slogan “E pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”) idealism or reality?
  • Is there division in your faith community?  What is it about?  Is it strong enough to keep tear your faith family apart?
  • In the months since the article was published, do you see people moving closer together, drifting farther apart, or about the same?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Every year, on the seventh Sunday of Easter, we “overhear” Jesus praying to his Father on the night before he died. After a very long section of final words to his overwhelmed disciples (see John 16:12, which is how I always felt in calculus), Jesus speaks a lengthy, powerful prayer for them (chapter 17). Today’s gospel is from the middle of that prayer, in which Jesus repeats his request “that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11, 22).

As Martin Luther would ask, “What does this mean?”   Does it mean being of one mind, with one singular focus?  Does it mean being united together with each other in loyalty that is stronger than disagreement?  Could it perhaps mean both and more? 

The disciples did not agree politically:  zealots like Simon would never associate with tax collectors like Matthew.  Yet both were disciples of Jesus … who also once spoke about how he had come to divide families! (See Matthew 10:34-39.)  It’s complicated; maybe calculus is easier.

The one family connection that always remains strong, John’s gospel reminds us, is the union between God (Father) and Jesus (his only Son).  It is that truth-filled, joyful relationship of unbreakable love which Jesus wants to share with his disciples.  Jesus knows that the world is full of conflict, cruelty, division, distraction, deception, and danger; he will feel all of it the next day on the cross.  This troubled world is the same one God loves so much that God sent Jesus in the first place (John 3:16-17).  Now Jesus has also sent his disciples into the world (17:18), and he won’t be there with them in the same way he has been.  “Holy Father, protect them”…he prays…”so that they may be one, as we are one.”  

This mind-bending prayer reveals to us something even more impossible to comprehend:  God’s wildly generous love.  God shares Jesus with an unappreciative world, and Jesus shares everything—including giving his intimate relationship with the Father to his disciples, just before giving his very life to the world.

Discussion Questions

  • If you knew you would die tomorrow, for whom and what would you pray today?
  • Is the Church of Jesus united or divided…or both?  Explain your answer.
  • Why is truth important for real unity?
  • What part can you play in helping Jesus’ prayer come true?

Activity Suggestions

  • Write a loving letter to a family member from whom you feel disconnected.
  • As a group, pray together for your faith community and for the world.  Do you think prayer helps unify Christians?  How and why?

Closing Prayer

Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.73)