Surely if there were an issue of our time it would be this! Wouldn’t it? Daily, we’re bombarded with issues of fragmentation and conflict. Talk about nations or ideologies, it’s conflict and fragmentation. Turn to in the UK with its competing agendas and desire to rubbish those bad ‘them’ over against the solely wise ‘us’. Delve into the pain, misunderstanding and even loneliness in countless families. It’s all the same – fragmentation everywhere. ‘Getting it together?’  What chance?  But hold on a minute. Hasn’t it always been thus? I can remember well my very first public speaking engagement. I had recently turned 17 and the speaker for our school team in a public speaking competition. I can quote my subject precisely: ‘The role of UN in a fragmenting world.’ Wow! Some subject – I’ve always been helplessly ambitious in sounding off about things.

At the moment I’m reading a book that rewrites how we went to war in 1914. Blame the Germans was the name of the game for years. But this book takes that notion apart as Christopher Clark shows how all found themselves drifting towards the disaster of destruction, each excusing themselves, all blaming others. It’s tellingly titled, The Sleepwalkers. The world has always been veering towards fragmentation, or struggling to pick up the pieces. I’m not one to preach: ‘life’s never been as bad as today.’

However there are issues of our own time. They’re too numerous to mention and beyond my ability to analyse. But I’ll touch on two that strike me as relevant. Since the Second World War we’ve never witnessed such huge migrations of peoples from different cultures, faith and ideologies. Peoples, cultures, faiths and ideas rub together like the proverbial sticks that spark fire. Our world becomes a global village and differences rub up against one another, frequently with volatile results as well as creative co-operation. This the world of isms and not least ‘Islamism.’ The second issue I’ll come back to is the impact of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Paul’s letter to Christians in the region of Ephesus speaks to our generation as much as those of our predecessors. And he speaks pointedly about God’s plan for togetherness for human beings. And he saw it happening in his day. We often talk about things going ahead ‘on a wing and a prayer.’ Well for Paul there’s a plan, and for Jesus there’s a prayer. According to them we’re going ahead on a plan and a prayer.

A PLAN: So what exactly is God up to? Ephesians 1:9-10
It’s one of those places in Paul where he spells out precisely what God’s up to. In 1:9-10 we have: ‘And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.’ This is what God’s up to! God’s bringing everything together. Some might well comment: ‘He’s not doing a very good job!’ Now I do happen to believe there’s evidence this is precisely what’s taking place. But I’ve not time to argue that here. But just give the idea a chance and look at how Paul develops it. From this idea the rest of his letter flows. Chapter two talks of a new humanity being formed made out of two: Jews and the rest! You couldn’t have a simpler way of dividing the world! But Paul said in his day God had destroyed that dividing wall. These are his words: ‘For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility …. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’(2:14 & 2:22)  Then in chapter 3 he daringly says: ‘(God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (3:10-11) A new dynamic is in town and it’s making its presence felt to the spiritual drivers of human societies. And it’s happening through these tiny communities that integrate Jews and Gentile – something all the might and money, power and persuasion of the Roman Empire never did with the Jews – they were always rebelling! Finally in 4:15-16 he describes what’s taking place in these communities: ‘Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’

Well where does this quick chase through the major theme of Ephesian take us? It’s so obvious we can miss it. It’s not just that there’s a new power in town. It’s also that being together, is not about making a cosy ghetto for true believers to retreat into from a wicked world. No, it’s about being part of God’s first forces breaking into the fragmented territory of human life, and living there peacefully and together – that’s the whole point of what God’s up to. We’re pioneers of the future destiny of the world. This makes the quality of our relationships central to authentic worship and mission. And all this happens ‘in Christ’. So what has this Jesus Christ got to do with bringing things together? Well…he prayed and he prays for us right up to today.

A PRAYER: So how does Christ bring in togetherness? John 17:20-24
He prays ‘that (we) may all be one…so the world may believe.’ But how? The passage is regularly held up when talking about unity – understandably. But what is not so often noticed and dwelt on is this phrase: ‘the glory given to me I’ve given to them so that they may be one as we are one.’ Notice precisely what he’s saying: the ability to attain an experience of unity is rooted in where we get our glory from. We don’t explore that enough even though he says it’s the cause. ‘Glory’ is one of those words that’s bandied around but seems to drift off into a spiritual, bright haze. Strong on the feel-good factor but short on precision and something to grasp. But there’s another occasion when he brings glory down to earth – and with a knock-out punch. In John 5 he’s talking to those who don’t get him – who he is and what he’s about. Then this: ‘I do not accept praise (glory – it’s the same word in Greek) from humans…How can you believe if you accept praise (glory) from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise (glory) that comes from the only God?’ (John 5:41 & 44)  This passage is hugely significant when you understand what he’s saying. The reality is we’re all rather fragile and insecure human beings. We make a great show of having it together and we’ve perhaps refined our technique to put forward a pretty convincing case we’ve got at least our act together. But if truth is known, we all feel inadequate, or not up to it, knowing that we’re flawed with our aching sense of shortfall. To cover over this, we tend to look to others to get a sense of being worth it, their approval or good opinion. If they don’t regard us as worthy, significant, productive etc. etc. we curl up and wander away, head down, tail between our legs. But if they praise, approve, regard, like etc. etc. then we feel we’re having ‘a good day’. And this is where we get back to Facebook. Some people think I’m against it. I’m not. But what I am sure is that as followers of Jesus we need to be aware of the spiritual dynamic that is coursing like a great rip-tide through this and other social media. And if you think there no spiritual force at work in Facebook you’re even more caught up in that tide than you realise. Facebook turns our anti-L’Orial, ‘I’m not worth it’ into an aching void, and so into an addictive habit of a search for significance and approval in the eyes of others. Just observe how you feel when everyone ignores your latest posting you thought ‘really quite good’, from the time when you get 30 ‘likes.’ This is what Jesus is saying: ‘How can you believe if you accept glory from one another and make no effort to obtain the glory that comes from God.’ You see what I mean by a punch! I know this is absolutely foundational. Because when I was 17 I was given a grace that delivered me from a sense of shame of being a failure that I carried around with me from failing the 11 Plus. And I filled that void of shame with a desperate scramble to make myself feel worthy and have significance – the path I chose was a drive to get to university. That was my chosen way, but the ways are as numerous as the rivulets of a receding tide on a wide, sandy seashore. Jesus says the only way into true faith and freedom is to quit this game of seeking the approval of your fellows, and live in the light of God’s absolutely delighting and lavishing love, that deep-down draws you into his flow and freedom. And a miracle happens there. Space starts to grow. Space to see others as you have seen and see yourself, as a needy, insecure and fragile creature, looking for a sense of worth and being somebody. And a compassion grows for others as you become compassionate with yourself. You’ve started the long process of growing into a ‘together-kind-of-person.’ It’s quiet work. It’s transformative work. But it’s real and true and unifying and delivers togetherness. And that’s what Jesus is praying for you now: ‘the glory given to me I’ve given to them so that they may be one as we are one…that the world may believe.’

FOR REFLECTION
1.    What situation of fragmentation and conflict is getting you down at the moment?
2.    What challenges do we face in the human journey, because of the enormous post-war migrations of peoples to live so closely together in today’s society? Where are the signs of strain and anxiety about this?
3.    Look at the trail of scriptures in Ephesians
a.    1:9-10
b.    2:14 & 2:22
c.    3:10-11
d.    4:15-16
Chat about the big picture this gives you while being one little local community of Christians tucked away in Hucknall. What feelings do these verse provoke? How do they challenge the idea of church as a safe, comfortable ghetto?
4.    Why do we look for other people’s approval?
5.    Share stories of what it feels like to not have other people’s approval
6.    Are there spiritual forces at work in Facebook? Share stories about what Facebook does to you. Share any good stories about the positive effects of Facebook and try to think why they were positive.
7.    How does John 5:41 -44 illuminate this and other ways we crave people’s good opinion?
8.    Why is unity linked with where we get our glory from? John 17:20-24