Of Pennies and Unity – Easter 7

And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.  Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.                   John 17:11

Father of the famous and influential US Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was a brilliant physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author.  His literary stature was quite sizable, but his physical stature was said to be only “five feet three inches when standing in a pair of substantial boots”.  He once attended a meeting in which the other men present were fairly tall, so one of them quipped, “Dr. Holmes, I should think you’d feel rather small among us big fellows.”  “I do,” smiled Holmes, “I feel like a dime among pennies.”  [Author Unknown]

Well, at least here in Canada, soon there will be a generation who will not understand Holmes’ statement since the government has minted the last penny, and therefore it will soon be phased out of our lives.  After all, a penny is pretty much useless and costs more to make than it is worth.  Gone are the days of truly “penny candy,” in fact, even the “Five and Dime” stores have been replaced by “Dollar” stores.  In our day and age, by itself, there just is not much that a penny can buy, and apparently stores and banks view them basically as nuisances.

Yet, even now, if you get a whole lot of them together, that which is relatively worthless can still have significant buying power.  Each penny can, in fact, become very important.

In a sense that describes the Church.  The world is so large and we are so small.  There is no possible way that we could have any real and widespread influence upon the world.  A Billy Graham, we are not.  We’re just the little, seemingly insignificant people –  the pennies – and yet that is exactly what the Church is made up of around the world.  Just like when you have enough pennies together and you now have some real buying power, the same happens when the people of the Church come together, because there is real spiritual power that resides upon them – only this is not a paltry monetary power, this is the power of the Holy Spirit and of Christ the King’s presence.

Here is the power of God on this earth and surprisingly it does not require a great number of believers – in fact, Jesus declared that even two or three gathered in His Name would cause He Himself and His power to be in their midst [Matthew 18:20].  In fact, Jesus said just prior to that statement, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” [v 19].

This extraordinary value that we together can have stands behind the whole of John 17, of which we read a portion this morning.  This chapter of John is called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, in which He prays for the Church which is about to be created in less than two months.  It is a chapter worth the read when you get home.  In it He is describing the awesome power that this new People of God will have.

Perhaps we pass much too quickly over such amazing statements as the text that I read, particularly as Jesus prays that “they may be one, even as We are one”; then in verse 21: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us”; and finally in verse 23: “I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfectly one.”  These are staggering assertions, if you really stop to think about them!  Jesus is not saying that it would be nice if would have a unity because it would be a helpful thing to do.  He is saying that we have a unity because God is joining Himself to us – GOD is becoming one with us.  Yet even saying it that way just sounds so inadequate to the message those words contain.

Jesus is praying that the Glory of God, which will be powerfully revealed in Himself, in the work of salvation which He is about accomplish on the Cross and in the Resurrection; that this Glory be literally contained in those who believe in Him and follow Him.  The demonstration of this Glory, of this power of God, will be in how these believers will become joined together into one, which will be the explicit reflection of the oneness Jesus has with the Father.

In a sense, that is what is so remarkable about the First Lesson (Acts 1:15-26): look at the accord that the disciples have!  Up to the night before Jesus is crucified, this same group are arguing and having all kinds of spats, the favorite of which was in regard as to who is going to be top dog in the new Kingdom.  Probably a close modern parallel would be the TV show “Survivor,” where the participants are constantly maneuvering, making alliances, bargaining with each other and even stabbing each other in the back to enhance their position, while at the same time trying to make others be less valuable.  In fact, there is even one time when the mother of James and John comes to Jesus, trying to influence Him to give her boys a better position in the coming Kingdom.

Yet look at them now: here is a group that is joined together. They are walking and working together, praying and fellowshipping together, and together they eagerly expect the coming promise from God, the power from on high, the Holy Spirit. The frictions are just no longer evident. This is a community that has a supernatural bond – simply put, they have experienced the resurrected Jesus.
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That is not a pat answer!  They now know something that has dramatically altered their perspectives on the world.  So often on this earth we desperately grab at what we can, because this is all we know, and we hold on to anything we’ve got because, at least, this we know is ours.  We want to leave some kind of mark behind, because we want to matter, to matter more than being just a penny in this universe, to be more than merely an image in some family photo album.  We want to be important, to be useful, to be valuable.

The resurrected Jesus changes all that.  Suddenly these men find out that there is a lot more to life than just this one.  An eternity stares them in the face, seen in the print of the nails and the mark of the spear on Jesus’ now resurrected body.  God has raised their importance to eternal and cosmic proportions.  Now placed into the Body of Christ, these believers are placed into a status even above the angels – they are the children of God, the royalty of the universe.  Yet that is minor compared to the fact that Jesus now lives in them and they in Jesus.

It is after sharing Himself with them in the first Lord’s Supper when Jesus prays for oneness in His High Priestly prayer.  He has just given them His very self – already He is entering them and becoming one with them, already He is answering His own prayer.  Then on Pentecost, as Peter put it in his Epistle: “you are blessed, because the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you” [I Peter 4:14].  In this oneness they  enter the world with boldness to touch human lives with the most fantastic news in this earth’s  history.  No, they are no minor pennies: they have the very power of the oneness of God, with God and with each other to fill their witness – with the demonstration of not merely being unified, but rather having that oneness of nature into which God’s Love brings His People.

We also were once nothing – like a single penny – as St Peter put it, “once we were no people, but now we are God’s People; once we had no mercy but now we have received mercy” [I, 2:10], we too have now received the dignity and joy of being the children of God Himself, the royalty of the universe [v 9], but even more astounding: to actually be one with Jesus, to be one with the Father, to be one with God – “partakers of the divine nature” is how Peter put it [II, 2:4].

Yet too often we are the “before” picture of the disciples – like little pennies squabbling over who should be more valuable, we become preoccupied with all the wrong things as the measure of our worth.  We try to build power for ourselves: we pile up possessions, and beautify the outsides; we elbow our way into being esteemed by others, seeking to be glorified through accomplishments.  In our self-congratulations and our self-defined “progress,” we try to find value in ourselves based on our prowess, power, capability, endurance, or intelligent management.  Fearing weakness, failure and mistake, we despise them in ourselves, and condemn them in others.

Thus preoccupied in our little worlds, we are just a lot of little pennies, each going his own way, merely making a clatter of noise.  Sin has led us toward that rebellion which shouts, “I will! I want!” as the pennies scatter in every direction. There is no unity, and there is no power.

Where is recognition, value and worth to be found?  The disciples had been confronted with the resurrected Jesus:  it was not simply that Jesus had gone through suffering and death and now stood resurrected – it was that He had done all this for their sakes.  Do we want to be significant, noticed and valuable? The resurrected Jesus Himself comes now, here into our midst, with His Body and Blood to touch each of us and to bring the Holy Spirit’s – God’s – oneness into our lives!

Just as with the disciples, Jesus steps before us, calling us to turn aside from our useless efforts to give ourselves value, and to discover the oneness and ability that comes in His forgiveness and in the presence of the Holy Spirit; that as we pay attention to His will, He makes us be joined together and we discern the great value such “pennies” as ourselves have that here make up the New Testament People of God

What a remarkable thing it is which Jesus has done for us!  We actually have a share in the Glory of God!  We experience that Glory in His Person as He now invites us to His Table, giving us His Body and Blood, binding us into one, not just with each other, but with God Himself; giving each of us the offer of eternal worth and life, to be grasped simply by faith.

We don’t need to scramble and step on others to be built up.  In the resurrected Jesus coming now to give us of Himself, the guarantee is solid and sure: here is given to us oneness with God and our fellow Christians in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  This is what fills us with value and worth,  joy and purpose; it fills us with freedom and energy, unity and power.  And then, as the disciples eagerly waited for the Lord’s next step, which was Pentecost, may the Lord also meet our eager anticipation of His next step with the power and impulse of the Holy Spirit, so that our unity in Jesus may turn our worlds upside down, as those disciples did to their worlds, and may we discover that no worthless pennies are we!  We have value and power to God and to each other and to the world.

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