Sermon on John 17:1-11Posted: May 28, 2017
In today’s Gospel, we hear a prayer that Jesus prays to his Father before his death. It’s a prayer that recognizes that he will die. Jesus is still in this world, but prays in anticipation of his death, resurrection, and ascension. His disciples keep on in his absence. They will continue in his glory.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles has not ended. As Christians today, we continue the mission of the Church. God still moves among us. With love for neighbor, with life in community, and with forgiveness for our enemies, we are witnesses of Jesus’ message. God’s work; our hands.
Jesus says, “Protect them with the power of your name, the name that you gave me, so that they can be one, as you and I are one.”
Jesus hopes that his followers can be together in unity. Jesus is Lord of all, not only of one special group. The love of God is immense; God’s mercy is great. Jesus prays for unity: to be together in mission, together in identity, and together in spirit.
Jesus prays for the unity of his people, but he also recognizes the unity that Jesus has with the first person of the Trinity. There is unity and connection. They are of the same divine identity. Many times, there’s confusion about Jesus’ identity. In fact, for centuries. The ecumenical councils of almost two millennia ago tried to respond to the question: Who is Jesus—human being or God? What we confess in the Creed is the grand mystery of the faith. Jesus is completely human and completely divine at the same time. So then, we are mistakenly redundant when we say things like: “God and Jesus love you” because Jesus is God. The Father is God. The Holy Spirit is God. There is unity between the three persons.
I know that the feast of the Holy Trinity is not today, but rather June 11, but this theological doctrine is important to help us understand well what Jesus prays in this high priestly prayer in today’s Gospel: “that they may be one, as you and I are one.”
I love the description of the Trinity according to Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian theologian who has thought and written much about what the Christian message means through the lens of the liberation of those who are poor and oppressed.
According to Boff, the Trinity is community. The three persons of the Trinity dance, function, and work together as a family in community: sharing and moving in harmony. The three parts are a symbol of unity and equality. The three parts—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are all God. One is not more important than the others—Holy Trinity Holy Community. I realize this language is very masculine. The point, for me is not the maleness of God, but rather the relationship of community of God.
In Genesis, in the Hebrew Bible, during the first story of creation, the human beings are created in God’s image. If we, then, are created in the image of God, then we are created in the image of community. To live in community—sharing and moving together in harmony, is to live in God’s image.
However, many times people in the Church prefer to fight instead of reconcile: Disagreement instead of collaboration. Jealousy instead of friendship. Gossip instead of affirmation. So then, to live with so much injustice and division is to live in contrast to our own image and identity. It’s not who we are. As creations created by God in God’s image, our true identity is one of community: equality, justice, and love.
I’ve seen here at San Lucas behavior opposite the Christian message. It’s ugly and wrong. I’ve participated in Synod gatherings that don’t include Spanish-speaking or Mexican Lutherans. I know that there are still congregations, even in our own denomination, that, sadly, do not accept the true leadership gifts of female pastors or LGBTQ leaders. There is no unity. There is no agreement.
But, in the midst of all this, there are hopeful signs of ecumenical cooperation, that is, cooperation between different denominations. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), officially has full communion agreements with various other denominations. This means that the sacraments of these churches have the same validity as the sacraments of ours. A pastor of these denominations can serve in an ELCA congregation, and vice versa. We have official agreements with the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Reformed Church, the United Church of the Christ, the Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church.
This Lent, we tried to put some of this ecumenism into practice with Holy Week services together with Redeemer Episcopal Church here in Eagle Pass. The Episcopal priest preached here at San Lucas for Maundy Thursday, and I preached at Redeemer for Good Friday, processing with Stations of the Cross at San Juan Plaza. I know it is a first step, but I hope that we can have more opportunities to be together in unity.
There’s an old joke: Somebody dies and goes to heaven. There they see the grand diversity of humanity—people of every language and race, every culture and denomination, celebrating together. However, in the corner there is a group of people in a circle, focused only on themselves, ignoring all the rest. “Who are they over there?” they ask. The response: “They’re Lutherans. They think they’re the only ones here.”
As Lutherans, we don’t have a monopoly on God’s grace. We aren’t the only one God loves. The Christian life is more diverse and tremendous than we can imagine. The love of Jesus is for us Lutherans, but it’s also for Episcopalians. It’s for Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. It’s for people we love, but it’s also for our enemies. Christian love is immense and inclusive.
As Lutherans, we have our own beautiful perspective. We teach a theology full of grace and abundance. We celebrate a tradition of reformation. We don’t want to lose that. But we humbly recognize that we aren’t the only Christians. We recognize that God moves in ways we don’t understand. We find unity in the midst of so much diversity.
Sometimes, we need to be uncomfortable so that the other person can be comfortable. Sometimes, we need to focus on the needs of others instead of our own desires. Sometimes, we need to remember that we don’t have a monopoly of God’s grace.
Jesus prays for unity. Jesus shows a hope that his followers may live in the unity of the Father and the Son. Jesus trusts his people into the power of God—God of incredible love and transformative reconciliation.
We are men and women and transgender people, but we are one in Christ. We are Mexicans and Germans, but we are one. We are Namibians and Norwegians, but we are one. We are Republicans and Democrats, but we are one. We are PAN and PRI, but we are one. We are little kids and wise elders, but we are one. We are Lutherans and Episcopalians, but we are one. We are citizens and immigrants, but we are one. There is difference and disagreement, but we are one. We are one in Christ. Amen.
[Preached in Spanish on May 28, 2017, at Iglesia Luterana San Lucas in Eagle Pass, Texas].