John 17: 20-23
It felt strange for our coed college service organization to visit the Austin State School for special needs students to host a Halloween party. Most of our group, in those days, had not encountered many special needs people.
The first part of the evening was a carnival and midway set up in the school's gym. We volunteers got to interact with the special needs students at each station and even came to know a few of them. The situation was awkward, but OK.
Then the volunteers cleared the carnival so that we could have room for a big dance. Again, awkwardness. Some of the volunteers danced with the special needs students, but most people stayed in their own tribes.
Then one exuberant special needs student grabbed the hand of a volunteer and began making his way around the dance floor, dancing and romping to the music, collecting more people in a chain of handholding. Within minutes, every person in the gym was part of the chain, which evolved into a huge circle of dancing.
Tears came to my eyes as I looked around the room. Not only were people relaxed and having fun, but as I gazed across the darkened gym, it was impossible to identify who was "normal" and who was "special needs." We were all just people, united, dancing, enjoying each other and the moment.
In a way, this matches the vision of love and unity that Jesus had in mind when praying at the Last Supper, as I describe in my forthcoming book and video study, "From Comfort Zone to Trust Zone: How Jesus Urges Us to Take Leaps of Faith for His Kingdom." Jesus prayed for future believers in John 17: 20-23:
“My prayer is not for (my current disciples) 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 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.”
Jesus intended that the world would be assured that Jesus had been sent by the Father and that both would be glorified by this indication: His followers would be brought to complete unity with each other and with our triune God in a loving relationship.
We are far from this vision of being unified. But unity does not mean uniformity. We are distinct people. We have different opinions. We have different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and traditions. But that shouldn't stop us from holding hands and losing track of our differences, just like that wonderful night at the Austin State School.
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