Not just the icing on the cake

But if Christian unity is the icing, then Jesus has a sweet tooth.

Many of us tend to think of Christian unity like my wife thinks of icing. It’s nice and sweet, and it’s a luxury, therefore not really essential.

It might even be detrimental (too much sugar!) to the real work of evangelisation and preaching the gospel to everyone. If our Christian churches are united in love, that is a bonus – the icing on the cake. But if we can’t have the icing, it’s not something to worry about.

As long as we get the cake baked, we need not have the icing. Just spread the Gospel to everyone.

But if Christian unity is the icing, then Jesus has a sweet tooth. Listen to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-21.

“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.”

Four times in John 17, Jesus prays “that (his disciples) may be one”, perfectly united – the idea of being united was so important in Jesus’ mind that he repeated this four times. And in two of these four verses, Jesus makes unity the first step in helping the world believe that Jesus is the Son of God the Father.

Once upon a time, a mother had two brilliant sons. Both were lawyers. The first became the founding partner of a large and successful law firm. The second rose to the position of Attorney-General.

Both sons had beautiful families and everyone who knew them admired and praised them for the success they had made of their lives.

Both of them also provided generously for their mother, making sure she had more than enough to live comfortably. But their mother was not happy.

Oh, of course she loved her sons and was happy that they had done so well for themselves and their own families. Yet each day, she cries and grieves and prays for them. Why?

Because her two sons do not get along with each other. Their childhood competitiveness had developed into a fierce rivalry as they grew older. While there were no longer any heated arguments, this rivalry has settled in to a permanent coolness and quiet separation, without unity or love. They are family by blood, and other than a reunion dinner once a year, there was no real conversation or warmth.

The relationship between the brothers was now one of toleration rather than love, one of distance rather than unity.

The fact that their mother was a much sought-after speaker and author of three best-selling books on “How to nurture loving families” was an irony, as her two sons proudly promoted these books to their friends and clients.

This was particularly sad for their mother. She feels somewhat embarrassed that there is so little love within her own family. Her desire is for her sons and her grandchildren to love one another. This is what she has taught and written about her whole life. Her two sons respond, in agreement for a change. “Don’t be sad, Mum. What’s more important is that we each love you. We’re sorry we can’t really love or relate with each other as brothers, or that our children don’t relate with their cousins. But that’s not so really so important, is it? That’s only icing on the cake, and the cake is what really counts.”

And so the two brothers and their children – and probably their grandchildren – will remain distant and, at best, tolerant of each other rather than united in love.

And as for Mother? Mother remains sad. She always loved the icing.

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The Rev Dr Gordon Wong was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 28 years, and was a lecturer at Trinity Theological College since 1995. This article was based on the sermon he preached at the first service of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held on Jan 21, 2014.