Deuteronomy 6:1-9 Hymns: **54
John 17:18-26 *175
Responsive Reading #26, pp. 154f. **58
And the glory you have given me I have given them, that they may be one
even as we are one.
This is the third in a series-an intermittent series-of sermons that try to
put the essence of our theology into very simple statements. We started
with "There is no wrath of God" and proceeded to "The Lord is good to all,"
and now we come to "The Lord our God is one."
It would be easy to spend a whole series of sermons on the history of the
doctrine of the Trinity, essentially a history of the effort of the
Christian church to deal with some very confusing material in the Gospels.
It is to their credit, I believe, that the Gospels do not give a clear an
unequivocal answer to questions concerning the humanity and the divinity of
Jesus, but instead record an intense debate. Jesus most commonly referred
to himself with a phrase literally translated as "the son of man," meaning
"human-born" and stressing his humanity. By the close of his life among us,
though, he could claim that all power in heaven and on earth had been given
to him (Matthew 28:18), The text may refer to him as the son of God, but in
the discourse at the Last Supper he stressed his oneness with the Father.
If we imagine ourselves as living in those times, or imagine Jesus in the
flesh among us, we can appreciate this confusion. Here is someone who on
the one hand is obviously human, eating and drinking, walking our dusty
roads or our crowded sidewalks, tiring at the end of the day, yet speaking
with bewildering wisdom and working miracles. He seems to see into our
hearts and to treat us as though we were priceless on the one hand and
terribly slow on the other. We cannot help being drawn to him, we know that
we have never met his like, but when we ask him questions about himself he
either tells us a story or turns the question back to us or says something
we cannot understand.
When he was crucified, the disciples must have been totally convinced of
his humanity. Wonderful as he had been, he had been mortal. Then, though,
came his resurrection, and in a way all the evidence of his life had to be
reevaluated. Scholars sometimes question the notion of Jesus's divinity
because it is not clearly asserted before the crucifixion, but surely the
evidence for Jesus's nature is incomplete until it includes the witness of
the resurrection. If anything would make one stop and rethink things, that
would do it.
It is the contention of our theology that the Christian church's efforts to
resolve the question failed, and failed in a way that was particularly
harmful. A picture of the trinity emerged in which the Father and the Son
were such separate individuals that they were essentially at odds with each
other, the Father resolved to consign the human race to hell and the Son
resolved to thwart this intention by offering himself as a sacrifice in our
stead. This runs counter to all the passages that present Jesus as doing
the Father's will and present the Father as the one who is actually doing
the works. It is hard to see how any sense of the unity of God can be
preserved without denying the divinity of Jesus.
Under the surface of all the controversy about the trinity were issues of
political and ecclesiastical power. The church became the sole agent of
ongoing atonement, the legal defense, so to speak, against the righteous
judgment of God. Of all the various images of our relationship to divinity,
this particular one had been chosen and literalized, and everything else
was seen in its light.
Before we dismiss this image of conflict within divinity, though, there is
a passage from our own theology to attend to. It is from Secrets of Heaven
2258:2, and reads as follows:
. . . we need to realize that there are two things that go to make up the
order of the whole heaven and therefore the order of the universe, namely
goodness and truth. Goodness is the very essence of the order, and all its
elements are instances of mercy. Truth is the secondary aspect of the
order, and all its elements are truths. Divine goodness sentences everyone
to heaven, while divine truth condemns everyone to hell.
Listen, though, to a statement from The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly
It is in keeping with divine order for goodness and truth to be united and
not separated so that they are one entity and not two. They emanate united
from Deity, and they are united in heaven.
That is, the so-called "divine truth" that would condemn everyone to hell
exists in theory only. Separated from divine love, it is no longer true,
just as we can take facts that are technically true and falsify them by
using them maliciously. The only way to understand the statement that
"divine truth condemns everyone to hell" is that it is an "appearance of
truth" very much like descriptions of the wrath of God. It assumes our own
notion of truth as something that can be separated from love.
The basic principle is very clearly stated in §37 of Divine Love and
As divine providence works for our reformation, regeneration, and
salvation, it shares equally in divine love and divine wisdom. We cannot be
reformed, regenerated, and saved by any excess of divine love over divine
wisdom or by any excess of divine wisdom over divine love. Divine love
wants to save everyone, but it can do so only by means of divine wisdom.
All the laws that govern salvation are laws of divine wisdom, and love
cannot transcend those laws because divine love and divine wisdom are one
and act in unison.
In fact, it is not easy for us to believe what we are being told about the
unity of goodness and truth. It runs counter to some of our very basic
assumptions. We are being told that love is not blind. We are being told
that we cannot understand people whom we do not love. We are being told
that if we do understand people, we will love them. We are being told that
there is no difference between mercy and justice.
Last week, in connection with the World Trade Center tragedy, the question
was asked, "Why do they hate us?" It is a question that has to be asked
with all seriousness, and the answer will not be found if we are looking
for an answer that will justify "us" and condemn "them." The answer will be
found only as we manage to care about them for their own sakes and not
simply for ours. They see from their hearts, just as we do.
One of the clearest examples of the essential unity of mercy and justice
can be found in what we call "tough love." In the context of Alcoholics
Anonymous, tough love means not covering up for the alcoholic, often not
actively trying to prevent the drinking, but letting the consequences of
the behavior carry their own message.
This does not feel like love, but in a way, love is not simply about how we
feel. It is alarmingly easy for self-concern to become mixed in with our
care for someone close to us. We don't want to feel guilty. We don't want
to see ourselves as insensitive. We want to feel good about ourselves, and
this can blind us to what is actually good for others.
It is hard for us to believe that God is one because our own experience of
oneness is so slight. We are all too familiar with love seeming to pull in
one direction and wisdom in another. We are all too familiar with
apparently having to choose between justice and mercy. We have to do
something, we cannot satisfy both requirements, so we wind up erring on one
side or the other.
The Gospel message is clear and startling. "And I have given them the glory
that you gave me, to the end that they may be one just as we are one" (John
17:22). The doctrine of the oneness of God is not just an abstract theory.
It is a principle that can inform and transform our lives. It is not just
something to believe, it is something to do, and in fact we cannot really
believe unless we do it. It is at the heart of our religion, and all
religion is about how we live.
All of us, I suspect, feel that we have a long way to go before mercy and
justice are one for us, but to the extent that we have actually tried to
step outside our self-concern and understand someone else, we have made a
start. If we have asked, "Am I doing this for you or for myself?", we have
made a start. If we have stopped to look honestly at the results of some of
our well-intentioned efforts, we have made a start.
It may be a long road, but it is made up of little steps, steps that are
well within our capabilities. As the hymn says, under the Lord's constant
providence, the trivial round and the common task offer us the room we need
to deny ourselves and to take the road that leads us daily nearer God. In
fact, it is because we are not one that we have the possibility of changing
the direction of our lives. We can stand back from our impulses and
evaluate them. We can stand back from our opinions and explore them. We can
stand outside our dividedness, acknowledge it, and affirm the best rather
than the worst. We can discover that "The Lord our God is one."
One closing thought. We cannot become one within ourselves without becoming
one with others. We are accepted into heaven when we accept heaven into
ourselves-and vice versa.