”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
The Rev. Canon J. Robert Wright was a professor at Union Seminary and also one of the principle architects of Called to Common Mission. That was the document that brought the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America into full communion with The Episcopal Church. Without his work there would be no Lutherpalians. Without his work there would be no… US! Called to Common Mission was first ratified in 1999. The year I was ordained. The year of the Columbine school shootings.
Personally, I’ve had… not a love/hate relationship with Called to Common Mission… that would be way too dramatic. It’s more that I’ve had a love/eye-roll, or a love/longing relationship with it. I have loved the idea of our two churches living intentionally and practically into Jesus’ prayer that we read part of today… “That they may all be one.” I have loved the potential of that agreement, the possibilities for the work our churches could do together in the world. That’s what I’ve LOVED about Called to Common Mission. But I’ve also always rolled my eyes a bit and frankly, been a bit disappointed that the document seemed to me to be mostly an ivory tower, scholarly, and theological exercise without any intention for it to have any practical application in our world.
It wasn't a waste. It took care of the theological nitty gritty which needed to be done for sure, but it always seemed to me that's where it stopped! It felt to me like this had just been the latest theological “Wordle” for the big brains of both denominations and once the theology puzzle had been worked out, they patted each other on the back and went back to their respective ivory towers to drink beer and/or sherry as the stereotypes demanded! When I got their work out again up in Maine looking for practical help getting a Lutheran and an Episcopal church to play nice together, that’s how it felt. I went looking for something practical and I found absolutely positively NOTHING. NOT ONE bit of practical help for a real life pastor in a real life church trying to get real life people to work together and understand that they didn’t have to “change religions” to do it! So, without any help from the big brains, we just made it up along the way!
That’s how it felt until just last week when I heard that J. Robert Wright had died and read the funeral sermon given by Episcopal Bishop William Franklin. With that sermon, my small brain gained new insights into what the big brains had REALLY intended for their work. Their goal had actually been to unite the "Communion of Saints", and NOT to have that singular feel good moment back in 1999 be the end! Their goal way back then, and apparently was the continued longing that Robert Wright shared with Bishop Franklin at the end of his life, was to continually ask the question, “how might the power of this Communion of Saints be used most effectively in the terrified world outside these doors, beyond the Close (of the seminary grounds), around the world?” Bishop Franklin continued, “We witness a dangerous war in Europe, the rise of Christian Nationalism, and Replacement Theory Fascism played out in the bloodshed at the Tops Market in Buffalo... God has used God’s people to accomplish great things in the past. How will God use us — if we will but respond to the divine initiative — to accomplish great things today?”
It had apparently been Father Wright’s work and desire over an entire lifetime, NOT just to get these churches together as a theological “Wordle” puzzle of the day, but to strengthen the Body of Christ so that TOGETHER we would be in the position to take on the seemingly impossible issues the world continually faces… as ONE! Bishop Franklin finished his sermon by quoting another bishop’s recent Facebook post… Bishop Doyle of Texas wrote prior to this week's school shootings in Texas, “Every tradition needs to clearly denounce White Supremacy and Nazism. What we see in Buffalo is part of a well-established neo-Nazi movement in the US. We cannot underestimate this movement. White Supremacy is a global lie that perpetuates a false god, faux theodicy, and violence.”
I don't have a solution for any of it. I have yelled, and screamed, and protested, lobbied and logic-ed, and theologized all the same things over and over and over again since I was ordained in 1999... Since Called to Common mission was approved in 1999... Since Columbine, in 1999 and today I have been forced to face the reality that what I have done has not worked. What the Episcopal Church has done has not worked. What the Lutheran Church has done has not worked. It was all profoundly important to try all that has been tried, but the hard truth is that to do more of what has not worked for 20 years is insanity.
BUT perhaps we can find a new, potentially effective path forward if we decided to genuinely look for it TOGETHER, as ONE, just as Jesus prayed we would. Could it be that the way to confront the problems of Christian Nationalism, Replacement Theory Fascism, and gun violence we first met in Columbine in 1999, was also given to us that very same year in Called to Common Mission? Is it worth it, at least to try something different... to genuinely and deeply and physically and practically live into Jesus’ prayer to be ONE and into our Call to the Common Mission that flows from that prayer?
At the end of Bishop Franklin's sermon he asked just that. He asked, "And what if many traditions were to stand together, this as a communion of Communions, one United Body? At this hour of urgency, may we all be bound to that mission for which J. Robert Wright dedicated his life: that we all may be one!” My fellow Lutherpalians, I have no idea what that path might look like and I am certain we will have to completely make it all up as we go, but the truth is, as Lutherpalians we've walked this road more than the rest of our two denominations combined and I am fearfully hearing the call that WE are the ones to show our churches how being One, is done. May God help us rise to the call. Amen!