Alyssa Kaplan, Baltimore, MD

Warm-up Questions

  • What does the word “unity’’mean to you?
  • Can you think of a time when you and a larger group of people felt ‘”unified” ?
  • What was that like? Were the people with whom you felt “unified”  like you? How or how not?

Unity Not Uniformity

Sophie Beren describes herself as a “unifier.” She says, “I want to make the world feel smaller by bringing people together, and I want every person to understand the power of human

connection through conversation.” As the only Jewish student at her school in Wichita, Kansas, Sophie grew up often feeling misunderstood and on the outside of dominant culture . When she moved to Philadelphia for college and was surrounded by people who were culturally, politically, and religiously very similar to her, she found herself yearning for the diversity of life and experience that she grew up with in Kansas, even though it was at times uncomfortable. 

In 2019, Sophie founded a non-profit called ‘The Conversationalist,” a platform created for and by Gen Z-ers committed to unifying the world one conversation at a time. The Conversationalist aims to empower Gen Z-ers to break out of their echo chambers, have difficult conversations, and unify across differences—working to heal the polarized world this generation has inherited. 

She feels that opening space for safe and brave conversation, especially among folks whose identities, understandings and beliefs differ, can repair division and lessen the hatred in our world. 

Discussion Questions

  • What is an “echo chamber”?
  • Do most of your family and close friends believe the same or similar things about important topics?
  • What are some of the challenges which might come up in Sophie’s work?
  • Sophie talks about unity, not uniformity. What are at the differences  between those words? Can you feel unified to people who believe different or even opposite things from you?
  • What  ground rules or expectations would you put in place if you were in Sophie’s role, facilitating hard conversations across differences?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:16-34

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

John 17:20-26

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Our Gospel text for this week comes from the end of a long conversation Jesus has with his disciples on the last night he spends with them before his trial and crucifixion. Jesus gathers them around a table, washes their feet, gives them a new commandment to love one another as he has loved them, and discusses at length his pending departure from them. Judas has left the dinner table, to turn Jesus over to the Roman imperial elites. Jesus tells Peter that even in spite his most earnest efforts, he will still fall short and deny even knowing Jesus three times. After all of this (four full chapters in the Gospel of John!), Jesus prays. He prays out loud for his disciples–the same ones who are in the room with him. He even prays for Peter who denies him. And, I think, he prays for Judas who betrays him. The very last thing Jesus does before he is arrested and put on trial, is to pray for his disciples in their presence. 

Today’s text is the last portion of this prayer. Jesus has already prayed that God would accompany his disciples and keep them safe. He has prayed that God’s spirit of truth would fill them and make them holy. Next Jesus turns his attention to prayers for unity and oneness. Jesus also broadens the direction of his prayers. He prays not just for the disciples in his presence, but for all those who will come to believe in Jesus through the ministry of his disciples. (spoiler alert–that’s us too!). 

Jesus repeatedly prays that “they may all be one,”  that through the communion of God and Jesus, we all may be one. This oneness is rooted in God’s immense love which goes beyond all time and space. 

Even in that upper room, the reality of this oneness rooted in love is hard to conceptualize. The folks who fill that room are far from perfect, they will mess up some in  pretty significant ways in the days to come, as they struggled to understand and cope with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet, knowing all this, Jesus prays for them and, in that moment, Jesus prays for us too. Jesus’ prayer for unity emphasizes that our unique identities and experiences can be brought together, through God’s love, for the sake of our communities and world. The oneness Jesus describes does not erase our differences or force us to uniformity. Rather, Jesus prays that we might be united to more fully demonstrate God’s immense love for all people.  

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the disciples felt as they heard Jesus pray for them?
  • What were some the divisions which threatened to undermine the unity of the disciples in their mission?
  • How are some of the divisions which threatened the unity of Jesus inner circle similar to those we see in our society today?
  • What is the difference between unity and uniformity in a Christian community?

Activity Suggestions

  • Sophie Beren started what would become “The Conversationalist” by plopping a couch out on the main lawn of her college and inviting people to chat. What projects can you think of that might invite conversation and help people feel unified with one another? Could you plop a couch out in front of your church’s lawn and invite your neighbors to chat with one another? What would a project like that require?
  • Pair up with someone in your class talk for five minutes and together come up with a list of three things you have in common, and three differences.
  • Jesus prays for his disciples in front of them and aloud. Sit in a circle and practice this kind of prayer.  Have each person pray aloud for the person to their right until each person has prayed for someone else and has heard themselves prayed for.

Closing Prayer 

Unifying God, help us to find common ground with others. Help us to understand that we can be unified in your love without forcing those different from us to conform to our way of being, thinking, or acting. Help us to stay curious and open to the movement of your Spirit that pulls us into relationships of love and justice, even with those we least expect. Amen.