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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In a speech before the British House of Common in 1940, war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill coined a phrase which would ring out around the world. “This was their finest hour.” It was spoken in response to the eight day evacuation of over 300,000 allied soldiers stranded on the beaches Dunkirk, France. Many soldiers escaped on military ships. Others, however, had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in shoulder-deep water where the majority were rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 vessels known as the Little Ships of Dunkirk, a flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, yachts, and lifeboats called into service. Of those selfless, volunteers who journeyed repeatedly across the English Channel, Churchill said, “If the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Twenty-five years later, in 1966, prior to his being elected president, Ronald Reagan narrated a television broadcast, called “Freedom’s Finest Hour.” It was the story of the American colonists’ political and military struggle for independence. Reagan read the letters and diaries of the Boston colonist who placed themselves into moral and political jeopardy, and who were willing to compromise their philosophical and social differences for the purpose of creating out of diversity a single, united nation. Both Ronald Reagan and the authors believed that the founding of this new nation with selfless, goodwill to differing opinions was “freedom’s finest hour.”
Today, my friends, our community, our nation and our world are being challenged by diverse, and at times violent opposing voices. One party or faction or the other believes itself to be right, and refuses to participate in civil discourse. I ask you this day, of whom will it be said, “This was it’s finest hour?”
Of course, this is not the first time that Christians have faced such obstacles. This morning’s lesson is a portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples. He had gathered with them, the night in which he was betrayed. These were actually his final words while they were still together before they would leave the Upper Room to go out and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus understood that his followers would be challenged daily by the world and each other. For he knew that they were not always in full agreement and that they would struggle with one another. Indeed, he knew his followers would be compromised by their own loyalties, allegiances, values, personal stories and dreams. Jesus, however, did not pretend that their differences did not exist. He knew that they could either live for their finest hour or fail miserably, and so he prayed for them. Jesus prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill them with encouragement, patience and hope. He prayed for those who followed him, and he prayed for the future generations that would come after them. And the one thing he prayed for was unity, that t they would all be one; just as he and the Father were one.
Jesus placed a high priority on unity among his followers. It is echoed throughout scriptures. In Psalm 133, we read, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” In 2 Corinthians 13: St. Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” To the church in Rome, the Apostle said, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” You see, unity and compromise are not matters of religious choice. It is a demand of Christian discipleship. And yet, sadly, Christians can be their own worst enemies.
So where do we begin as Christians to build unity in this broken world? Unity begins with a resetting priorities. Mind you, staying firm in your beliefs doesn’t mean that you cannot be moved or changed. Christian unity is learning to count others as more significant than yourself, but that does not mean giving in to uniformity nor agreement on every preference within life. Unity means active cooperation in the midst of diversity. Sadly, Christians often refuse even to speak with those whom they disagree and fight the notion of being “one” as Jesus and the Father are one. Frankly, that action is a sinful, and is a turning away from God.
You can never make yourself the measure of truth. Truth is a person, and that person is Jesus. So you and I must always ask, and What would Jesus do?
Christian unity doesn’t mean that there will never be differences of opinion. It is only normal that we sometimes see things differently. No two married people ever see everything exactly alike; but if that marriage is what it ought to be, the couple will settle those differences of opinion in a spirit of harmony and love. If they do get “out of sorts” with each other, they won’t let that strained relationship continue. One or the other of them will take the initiative, they’ll talk it over, and with a caring spirit of give-and-take they’ll somehow work it out. That is the nature of Christian unity.
Now you may be wondering, so why is Christian unity such an important goal? Simply said, it the tool that God has chosen for proclaiming his love to world purely and freely. A united Christian church has good news to share to share. Through it, Jesus is calling you and me to offer his peace to the world. It is a peace that has a loyalty to God and not simply the world. The church has a message of peace that passes all understanding, “a peace with your present, your future and your past.” It is a peace that finds reconciliation with your neighbor, and it is a peace with God. Yes, God needs a united church, which is not fighting against itself, to proclaim the abundance of this world and the peace of the world that is yet to come.
It was for this unity of purpose and mission and love, that Christ took up the cross for you and for me. In unity with the Father, Jesus transformed the cross from a brutal tool of execution into that a promise of life that we are called to share. “It was his finest hour.”
That is the purpose of Christian unity, for which you and I have been called. It so that we be one in proclaiming Christ for the sake of the world. So let us not stumble and become our own worst enemy. Let us instead work together in these polarized, political times, so that it can be said of you and me, “It was our finest hour.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.