7th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 17:20-26 Sermon
May 20, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
541 “Rise Up, O Men Of God”
537 “O Master Let Me Walk With Thee”
342 “In Christ There Is No East Or West”
115 “Golden Harps Are Sounding”
STRENGTH IN UNITY
TEXT (vs. 20-21): “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
I’m sure that you’ve all heard the news by now. On Tuesday morning of this past week, May 15th to be exact, the Rev. Jerry Falwell was called to his eternal home in heaven.
He had breakfast that morning with his long time friend and co-worker, Dr. Ronald Godwin, the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Liberty University in Lynchburg Virginia. Falwell went to his office, and Godwin went to his, right next door.
When Rev. Falwell didn’t show up for an 11.00 appointment, Dr. Godwin went to his office investigate. He found Rev. Falwell on the floor, unconscious. He was rushed to Lynchburg General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12.40 pm, Eastern Standard Time.
I don’t know how you feel about Jerry Falwell. Personally, there are areas where I don’t agree with him. His theology hasn’t always been on target. Plus, I feel that he has taken things too far and maybe gone beyond where should have gone. However I still have respect for the man. And regardless of how you might feel about him, we all would have to agree that he was a very powerful and influential individual. Most certainly his heart has been in the right place, even if he has “stuck his foot into it” from time to time.
Following his formal education at the Baptist Bible College in Springfield Missouri, he started the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia. The year was 1956, and he was 22 years old at the time. 35 adults had gathered in a school cafeteria (a school which Falwell had attended as a boy) for that first service, and the offering was $135. From those humble beginnings, the church grew under Falwell’s leadership to a membership of over 24,000 and now meets in a 6,000 seat auditorium, with an additional 1,000,000 square feet of educational space. They hold four services each week.
Almost from the very beginning, Falwell began his broadcast of the Old Time Gospel Hour, which was a broadcast of the services of Thomas Road Baptist Church. Today it is broadcast on every continent except Antarctica.
In 1971, Rev. Falwell began what was then called the Lynchburg Bible College. It began with 154 students and four full-time faculty members. Today it is known as Liberty University, and has an enrollment of over 20,000 on a massive campus. It is fully accredited, and offers degrees in numerous fields of study. It was Falwell’s dream to have an educational system where students could be taught by Christian teachers with Christian principles throughout their entire acadaemic career—starting with pre-school and elementary education in a parochial school setting, and continuing through graduate school at the university.
Jerry Falwell, as you probably know, was quick to identify problems with the moral fibre in the United States. He not only found fault with some things being taught in public schools, but also with numerous social issues. Abortion, gay rights, drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, and national defense were among the issues.
He knew that he wasn’t alone in his feelings. And so he set out to unite like-minded Americans by founding the Moral Majority in 1979, which was a conservative political lobbying movement. The people needed to unite to “take America back” as he put it. And unite they did—in the first two years of its existence, it attracted over a hundred thousand members of the clergy, and nearly seven million other people, all dedicated to stop the moral decline in America. The media dubbed this organization as the “religious right,” and often used the phrase “radical religious right.”
Falwell’s idea had merit, and he knew it. One of the most effective ways Americans could be heard was through the ballot box. When people enter a voting booth, they vote their conscience. The Moral Majority endorsed various candidates whose values and objectives were in line with what they stood for.
Falwell contended that things couldn’t change unless Americans exercised their right to vote. People couldn’t stem the moral decay in society by sitting at home on Election Day. And so people responded. They got out and voted. Plus, new voters registered by droves. A unified group emerged, and was responding.
It worked too. The Moral Majority and the religious right were largely responsible for the election of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Supreme Court nominations were also affected by this, along with other areas of public policy. Even though Falwell was sharply criticized for mixing church and state, yet all he did was help unify people and allow them to vote their conscience.
The reason I’ve gone on for awhile about Jerry Falwell, is to show what can happen when people unify under a common cause. A united people can carry a strong message. They can get things done. They can be a key chapter in history. And they can be Christians, advocating Christian principles.
Jesus knew this too. He knew that the Christian Church would not be strong if it were left to a few apathetic people scattered here and there. Christians needed to be united and speak with one voice. For the Gospel to spread, it needed strong representation. For the Church to survive under persecution, it needed dedicated individuals. For the Church to make a positive difference in the lives of the people, that difference had to be seen by others.
In verse 23 of our Gospel lesson today, Jesus says: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The Apostle Paul echoes these sentiments when he writes in I Corinthians 1, 10: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
One of the first questions we might be tempted to ask, is, “How can there be unity if people are so different and unique from each other? How can we be perfectly united in mind and thought?”
The first obvious answer is the fact that you are sitting here this morning. Each one of you is unique in your own way. We each have different personalities, different likes and dislikes, different thoughts and desires, and different gifts and abilities. How do we make these differences work together? How can we be united? Where is our common ground?
Like I said, you are all sitting here this morning, and that proves one thing. We are all united in Christ. Regardless of how different we are from each other, Jesus Christ is the uniting factor in our lives. This needs to be seen in several different areas.
The Bible is the fundamental area where this unity begins. We believe that God has given us his Word in the pages of Holy Scripture. The Bible is the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God himself. We believe that God does not lie to us or give us half-truths in the Bible. We believe that God says what he means, and that he spoke what he wanted to speak through the inspired pens of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. There is nothing contained in the Bible that God didn’t want there, nor is there anything left out. So we are united in Biblical truth.
Secondly, unity in Christ means unity in the Gospel. The Gospel is the message of love God gives to us. It is the message of forgiveness that is there for all true believers in Jesus Christ. It is the message of hope we have, knowing that heaven is a sure inheritance for us.
Jerry Falwell identified the problem of sin so very well in his assessment of the country. Sin seems to crop up all over the place. We see sin as the biggest enemy in Iraq. We see sin take its toll in the crime and turmoil on our streets. We see sin happen in our home and in our own lives.
As individuals, we take this sin of ours and turn it over to Jesus. Regardless of what we have done and when we have done it, Jesus removes this burden from our shoulders. As different and unique as we are, we all need this forgiveness Jesus has to offer. Regardless of how different this disease of sin has affected us, the prescription is always the same in every case.
We come to our Saviour in faith; and we do so knowing that there isn’t any sin too great or too unique for him to take from us. We come trusting in Jesus, knowing that God sent him to this earth to be our Saviour. When we believe in Jesus our Saviour, the message of the Gospel is made very real to us. It means that we can live our lives as born again men and women, who have been born from above, given a rebirth from God himself. A born again people are a unified people, brought together as a result of God’s grace.
And finally, having Jesus in our lives gives a positive effect on how we live our lives. We are Christians at home, at school, at work, and even in the voting booth. Our words, actions, and consciences are guided by Christ, and we are constrained to do the God-pleasing thing in our lives. Despite our differences, we can be united in our purpose.
I heard a pastor say one time that Christianity wasn’t so much about what a person believed, it was about what a person did. Now if we had a religion based upon our good works pleasing God, then what he said would have been correct.
However he had it completely backwards. Our actions stem from what we believe. The fact that Jesus abides within us is reflected in what we do. Our faith provides a strong and sure foundation for our actions. Our acts of Christian love and the exact way we show our faith will not always be the same; however our unity comes in the confession of a common faith and a common Saviour.
This morning, it was not my intent to eulogize Jerry Falwell. Like I said before, I don’t agree with everything he said and did. I am not in theological agreement with him. Plus, he wound up with his foot in his mouth on numerous occasions by stating things he shouldn’t have, or by taking things to the extreme. But I do respect what he did and why he did it. He didn’t show his faith in the same way I do, or in the same way you do for that matter. He at least was proud of the fact that he was a Christian; and as a Christian he tried to make a difference.
We can learn a valuable lesson from him. We can see what can happen when people, especially Christian people have a united cause and a common goal. Things can get done, situations can be changed, and history can be written.
When we are united by a common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, a lot can be done too. Souls can be won, charitable acts can happen, and names can be written in the Lamb’s book of life.