Unity and Outreach

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

March 24th, 2023

John 17:20-23

            Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent. We have been working our way through the prayer of Jesus found in John 17. Today we are only looking at 4 verses.

            By most measures, Christianity is on the decline in Canada.

            In the last census, 54% of Canadians identified themselves as being Christians. That is down 14% in just 10 years. Only 37% of Canadians between the ages of 25-34 identified themselves as being Christians. That is down 20% in 10 years. These are people who identified themselves as Christians, not people who actually are Christians.

            In 1950 two out of three Canadians attended church regularly. 66%. In 2019 about 6% of the population attended church. That number is probably a point or two lower post covid. If it wasn’t for the immigrant population, that number would be significantly lower still.

            Asbury feels this dynamic. Twenty years ago, this church was two-hundred people on a Sunday morning. Now we’re a little less or a little more than half that- depending on how we count online attendees.

            So, what do we do with that? Well, obviously, we need to see more people come to know Jesus. We have some wonderful outreach programs and some great people in our church with the gift of evangelism. Alpha is a great place where people are introduced to who Jesus is. Youth does a great job of talking to unchurched kids about Jesus. Mops introduces people to Jesus. I know a number of you look to share your faith in Jesus – that is awesome.

            But obviously, we would love to see more people follow Jesus. Today’s scripture helps us with that, but maybe not in the way that you would think.

John 17:20–23 (NIV)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

            I find these verses both challenging and profound. It is the night before Jesus will be crucified. He prays that the world will know who he is because of the unity of the disciples.

            This is consistent with what he told his disciples a little earlier.

John 13:35 (NIV)

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

            If you have been in the faith for even a little while, this won’t surprise you. We are to be known for our love. Jesus is praying that the world will come to know him because we are unified.


            Here is why I find this challenging. Jesus said a little while earlier,

            Let me ask you a question. Have you ever known somebody who became a Christian because of how Christians loved one another or because of how unified they were?

            I have known people who have become Christians because of how Christians loved them. Because of that demonstration of love, people chose to love Christ. But I don’t know that I have ever heard the testimony of a person who said, I just saw how those Christians loved each other and how they were really one in Spirit, and because of that, I wanted to become a Christian too.

            So, like I said, this is a troublesome passage. There are three options in dealing with a passage like this. You can say that scripture is wrong – that it doesn’t know what it is talking about. You can say that the real meaning of this scripture is something different than the straightforward reading of the passage. Or you can say we are not living in the way we were called to live.

            I reject the first option out of hand. I have been around long enough to understand that the Bible is much wiser than I am. And whenever I have found a discrepancy between my life and the word of God, experience has taught me that the word of God is right. I know some of you still wonder about this, but all I am saying is that for myself have experientially proved the authority of the Bible in my own life.

            So that leaves us with the final two options, either we have misinterpreted the passage, or we are not living out the passage. My guess is that it is the latter. If that is true, coming to terms with what Jesus is praying here could be a life-transforming experience. It could be a church transforming experience. It may be that as we look at this passage today, God may give you a different vision of what you could grow to be.

            This vision of what we could be is profound. But before we go there, I think I probably have to deal with false views of unity.

            Unity is not trying to merge all churches into a single entity. Some people think that if we were all just one denomination, then that would be an answer to Jesus’ prayer. It wouldn’t. The evidence of that is that people in the same denomination are often not unified.

            Unity is not thinking the same way about everything. I talked about this a few weeks ago. The disciples were from different walks of life with different perspectives on life, politics, and to some extent, values. What gave them the possibility of unity was that those things took a back seat to following Jesus. Unity shows up, not by conformity or uniformity, but by gathering around Jesus.

            One of my values is good theology. What you believe is important. But some of my closest fellowship has been with people who love Jesus but hold to a theology that is different from my own. My Baptist and Anglican friends have walked with me well.

            So, if unity in the Christian sense is not conformity – what is it. Here is where the prayer of Jesus comes in. Let’s take a closer look at verse 21

John 17:21 (NIV)

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.

            How is the Son in the Father and the Father in the son. Well let me take a few moments and talk to you about the Trinity. The world trinity never shows up in scripture, but it is a theological term that is used to explain what God is like.

            As I am sure you know, there are three members of the Trinity. (Explain chart)

            I get that this is a mystery. 1+1+1 doesn’t usually equal 1. But in the case of God, it does. I know that some people have used the three states of water to explain this – ice, liquid, and steam. But God doesn’t switch back and forth between those states. He is all of those things at the same time. I get that this is beyond our understanding. But I am asking of you to live in the mystery of that because the scripture leaves us with this mystery.

            Jesus said, I am in you, and you are in me. I and the father are one. If you have seen me, you have seen the father. I could go on, but I want to keep on track with John 17 this morning. I don’t have time to talk about the Holy Spirit. But he is part of the Trinity. 

            So we get this picture.

            There are a lot of things that we don’t understand about the mystery of the Trinity. But there are some things that the Trinity helps us to understand. It is this community of love. This is a triad of holiness. It is the perfect community.

            We know from scripture that the Father, the Son and the Spirit talk to each other. Can you imagine the divine conversation that is going on inside the Godhead? We know that God is love, so this community is permeated with love. We know that God is good, and so the conversation amongst them is good. We know that God is Holy and righteous, and so this whole conversation takes place in holiness. There is not a tinge of jealousy or selfishness or greed, but a purity of heart towards each other.

            God the Father Son and Holy Spirit’s relationship with each other is not strained, it is not deceptive, is not hidden, it is not controlling. The Father loves the son and the Holy Spirit, The Son loves the Holy Spirit and the Father. The Holy Spirit loves the father and son.

            As Baxter Kruger, a theologian who I like, puts it, “The Trinity is not three highly committed religious types sitting in some room in heaven. The Trinity is a circle of shared life, and the life that is shared is full, not empty, abounding, and rich and beautiful, not lonely and sad and boring.”

            Imagine the richest conversation that you have ever had – that kind of conversation takes place within the Trinity all the time – except so much richer and fuller than we could ever imagine.

            Their shared life is “full and rich and passionate and creative and good.” And it is certainly not static.


            When you understand the awesomeness of that community, then you can get the logic of creation. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit created us to share what they have with us. If I could have you understand anything about the Trinity, it would be this – the goal of the Trinity, the goal of God in creation, was to bring their creation into the life of the Trinity. It was to share their life with us.


            “The idea of the Trinity does not come out of divine boredom or loneliness or sadness. It flows out to their shared life together. They wanted their awesome life together to be played out in out lives.” (Kruger) Part of what Jesus does is put the joy and peace and love he shares with the Father and the Spirit into our lives.

            Now let’s go back to our passage.

John 17:21 (NIV)

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.

            Father, you and I are one. You are in me, and I am in you. Let them be in us.

            The apostle Paul expands this idea. He tells us that because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, we are forgiven, we are cleansed, we are made alive. He says we were crucified with Christ. He talks about how we are in Christ. Here is what he says in

Colossians 3:3 (NIV)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

            You see if you get a glimpse of the fullness of joy and the vibrancy of life in the community of the Trinity, and you understand that the purpose of creation was to share that life with creation – to share that life with us.

            When you see how Jesus came into this world to show us real life. When you understand how his life, death and resurrection made a way for your sin, that held you apart from God to be dealt with. When you get that as a Christian that you are in Christ and Christ is in God – if you can see all of life through this lens, then it helps you to understand what life was meant to be.

            Baxter Kruger put it this way. “Jesus is the light of the world. He is the secret, the key which unlocks the mystery of babies and baseball, of fishing and barbecues, of romance and love. He is the light which illuminates the mysteries of our humanity from cooking supper and managing a hardware store and painting houses to friendship and laughter and music.” (Baxter Kruger (location 350) These are all ways that the life of the Trinity is being played out in us.

            If you get this, then you will know that prayer and Bible reading become important – because they create space for us to communicate with God and God to communicate with us – but you will also get that your whole life is a prayer. You are intended to live in such a way in relationship, in creativity, in purpose, in grace where you are living out the community that Christ has brought you into.


            You are in Christ and Christ is in God. That divine conversation the Trinity has amongst itself is swirling around you. You are included in parts of that conversation.


            May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. When we live that way – where life is a prayer, where life is flowing out of this great community of the Trinity, where we have been invited into – it will mark you as different.

            My words feel so feeble to describe a vision so grand. But if you could see into the community of the Trinity and see the lack of striving but the fulness of purpose that is there – maybe you could take on that lack of striving and fulness of purpose.

            If you see the holy intensity by which they love one another, and you have been invited into that dance of love – maybe you could risk loving others – since you are coming out of that place of love, and maybe they could see enough to join you in that community of love.

            If you can see into this wonderful community of God as the Father and Son and Spirit move together in harmony, and they invite you to move with them, then maybe you could step away from a God that religion has created that is remote and austere and angry and spiteful – and fall in love with the God who is.

            Maybe then we could see sin, not so much in the light of moral obligation or breaking of God’s laws but something that is out of step with the community of God, something that is out of step with the ongoing purposes of God, for which he created us. Something that poisons the life that God created for us rather than enhances it.


            Now think of a church full of these kinds of people who are united around that vision of God. A people whose life was a prayer – whose core came out of being included in the community of the Trinity.

            I think people would want to be a part of that. I believe that is what Jesus meant with his prayer – may they be in unity so that the world will know how I am. It is unity around being included in the life of God.

John 17:20–23 (NIV)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (I am praying for the people of Asbury) 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Sermon Questions – John 17:20-23


1. What are you thankful for today?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging In

3. Read John 17:20-23 – How do these verses relate to John 13:35?

4. Unity is something that is often misunderstood. What are some of the ways that we misunderstand unity?

5. Explain this Chart in your own words.

6. What are some things that God might talk about amongst himself?

7. Read John 17:21 and Colossians 3:3. What to does this tell you about the Christian?

8. If we are “In Christ” and Christ is “in God,” then what does this tell you about what the Christian life is supposed to be.

9. How will this help the world see who Jesus is? (John 17:21, 23)


10. How does our life become a prayer?