I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. 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. (John 17:22-23)
Unity vs. disunity it is the great battle of humanity. Ever since Cain killed his brother mankind has been plagued by disunity. When we work together great things can happen and when we battle each other the greatest harms to humanity do happen.
But what causes disunity or unity. As most of you know I spent four years as a United States Marine stationed most of that time at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Being a Marine was a transformative experience for me, some was good and some was bad. One of the good things I saw was the unity most felt toward each other and to something bigger than ourselves.
Unity seems to come from one of two sources. One is a common enemy which causes us to set apart our differences to bind together and give a united front to the threat or enemy. WWII was an example of this. People in the 1940’s were divided politically, religiously, racially and in many other ways, but all of that became secondary to the common threat of the Axis powers. The problem is that when the common threat is overcome disunity again begins the process of separating us.
The second is when we are united behind something greater than ourselves. Often this one may be patriotism or a cause we believe in. In the Civil War we saw the cause of freeing fellow men and women and maintaining the Union of the United States on one side. We saw the maintenance of the system that provided life’s necessities through slavery and the protection of State rights on the other. Both sides felt they were fighting for something greater than themselves, people on both sides united to wage that war. But that war was the most divisive event in US History.
The problem with most causes is that they too are human in their origin and perspective. One person’s beliefs are in conflict with another’s. No country, no political party, no religion, no race, and no person has pure and objective motives for what we do or believe. We are all broken people with broken and limited views and have selfish motivations.
Because of this we can never truly unite on anything. Our unifications are fleeting and temporary, because all of our “greater than ourselves” are too small. In the first few months of this year we saw some significant unity in the U.S. against the common enemy we call COVID-19. People were at first willing to give up freedoms and cooperate together to protect ourselves and others from the spread of that disease. But soon, the impact on our livelihoods and the forced isolation began to tear at our unity and the disunity began to slither back into our lives.
Even when many unify in calling for justice it somehow falls apart. When we saw what happened in Georgia to Ahmaud Arbery and to George Floyd in Minneapolis, people of conscience all across the U.S. were heartbroken and cried out for things to change. But when some inside that unity turn around and use it for an excuse to steal, burn and destroy through selfish and unjust acts against others, we again find ourselves in a place of disunity.
So does humanity have a common enemy? In the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects we see a line that is a modern version of an idea quoted all the way back to 1836:
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”
But the Apostle Peter warns us that Satan is very real and I know in the things I have seen that he is the greatest threat to humanity that has ever existed.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
And boy does the devil devour us. We need to recognize that he not only exists but is active all around us; that his goal is our undoing. You see “Misery loves company” and he wants all people everywhere to join him in his misery. I know that sounds familiar. We see it all the time when we are not living in the love of God. It is why we strive to bring down those who do.
And what about “something bigger than ourselves”? Today, as I was thinking about what the Father wanted me to write, He told me clearly that I needed to watch the movie “Woodlawn” again. Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama was one the first schools integrated in Alabama. The racial tensions were tearing the school and the city apart. The center of this story can be found in a memorable quote from Coach Tandy Gerelds when he asks “Jerry is this real? How does a whole team convert? How is it that the only place in this whole city that blacks and whites get along is on my football team?”
It was “real” and the “how” is found in the one thing big enough to unite humanity, LOVE. Many of us are old enough to remember what it was like in the 1960’s-70’s. The division we saw then, the destruction, the hatred and fear were all around us. But in the midst of that great American upheaval something amazing was happening. God was teaching people about the power of love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Take a moment to think about the people you love. Can you say that you have always loved them as described by Paul in the above passage? I sadly admit that I have not been able to live up to that standard and I know of only one that ever has. But there is more, not only has He, but He continues to love that way in every moment that has ever existed. The Apostle John put it this way:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)
So my brothers and sisters what can we learn from this. We can see that love is the greatest unifier there has ever been. We see that we all have a long way to go in order to love people the way God defines love. We see that we also have a common enemy and that he is working always to divide us. We know that Jesus told us in the first passage listed above that the world will know us by our unity under God and we also know that they will know us by our love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Amen: (sure; abstractly faithfulness; adverbially truly: – Amen, so be it, truth.)