Sermon

The Lord Our God Is One

Sunday, September 9, 2001

Location - Bath
Attribute - Nature of God
Bible Verses - Deuteronomy 6:1
John 6:18-26


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THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE

Bath 9-30-01

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.

John 17:22

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

Doctrine:

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

Wisdom:

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.

Amen.

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