Seventh Sunday of Easter [c] June 2, 2019
20 “[Jesus said,] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In the Name of Jesus.
Jesus is ascended to Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. That’s where we are in the Church year.
We’ve had Holy Week where our Lord institutes the Lord Supper for his Church and then goes to the cross; on the third day after the crucifixion we’ve had Jesus being raised up from the dead; and three days ago, the Church celebrated the Ascension of our Lord to Heaven.
In Heaven, he is in conversation with his Father and the Holy Spirit.
A conversation between the Three Persons of the Trinity—it has been this way from the beginning. Even the creation of the world and of Adam and Eve didn’t happen arbitrarily. Rather, God created out of the conversation between the three persons of the Godhead. Genesis 1:26 and 27:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” … 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The “us” in the “let us make man … male and female he created them,” is the three voices, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
They are three unique persons, yet they are a unity—one God. No division, no break between the three—oneness, unity. From their conversation with one another, they create.
Then, when creation falls into sin, when the Man and the Woman bring themselves into death, the conversation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit becomes one of redemption, of grace and salvation.
In this conversation, the Son intercedes to his Father with his own blood. The Father declares the sinner forgiven and innocent by virtue of his Son’s blood.
As a result of this conversation between the Father and the Son, the sinner on Earth is justified. The Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit, so that in Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit delivers the conversation of justification from the Throne room in Heaven to sinners, to us, here on Earth.
From their conversation, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, justify you and me. We are cleansed. We belong to life.
On Earth, the Holy Spirit works through the means of Word and Sacrament to call and gather sinners—that’s you and me—to the holy Name. There, at the holy Name and there, at the location of the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is forgiving our sin, cleansing our consciences, and binding us together in oneness with our Lord, Christ Jesus. Binding us in oneness with Jesus, he is also binding us together in oneness with each other.
So before he ascends to Heaven, Jesus prays to his Father for us.
By this prayer he speaks on Earth, we are given to know what is his continuing to pray to his Father as he is enthroned in Heaven where he continues conversing with his Father and the Holy Spirit. In this conversation, he faithfully continues to intercede for us, until he comes again to judge the living and the dead. John 17:20:
[Jesus said, “Father,] I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.
What is this “oneness,” this “unity” Jesus wants for us?
Our world talks a lot about unity. Or at least about how it’s bad to have division and conflict. How many times do we hear that the problem in our country is that there is too much division? The political parties are working against each other. Everyone is on a different page, working for opposite goals. Nothing’s moving forward.
But when our world wants unity, we find her often trying to have it by coercion. She tries to have unity by enforcing conformity.
But unity and conformity are not the same thing. Conformity has to do with the form of things. It has to do with the outward shape of things, with how they look.
So you get conformity by coercing things into the accepted forms.
This can be done by having everyone dress in acceptable ways, or having everyone listen to the accepted music, or speak and hear only the approved words and phrases. If someone steps out of the approved forms, they are out of conformity, they will be ruled as not being acceptable, as being outside the unity.
We can think of examples of how we see people trying to achieve unity here on Earth. Even a criminal gang has an accepted dress code and gang signs, accepted language and phrases. Step outside of this, and you won’t be in the gang.
Even the hippie movement (back when some of us were youths), everyone who wanted to be considered part of the movement was expected to be in conformity. You had to have long hair, wear dirty Levi jeans, say words like “cool” and “groovy,” and if you’re caught listening to Andy Williams or Doris Day instead of James Taylor or Joan Baez, you’re not part of the movement.
Is this what Jesus prays to his Father for when he prays for the unity of the Church? Is this unity an outward conformity? Can it be established or maintained by coercion, like requiring everyone on the team to wear the right jersey? Or by intimidation, like a hippie looking over his shoulder wondering if he will be excluded for listening to Doris Day?
What does Jesus pray to his Father for when he prays for the unity of the Church?
He is not praying for conformity. He is, obviously, not praying that the Church all dresses the same or has the same haircuts or listens to the same music on Spotify. The Church is the body of Christ. Into his Church,
he gathers tax-collectors and thieves and drunks. He gathers carpenters and fishermen, military officers and farmers and sellers of purple. Into his Church he calls Jews and Greeks, those who speak Latin, those who speak Greek, those who speak Hebrew, or any language in between.
Into his Church he calls sinners. And sinners do not all look alike. It’s not about outward sameness.
But the sinners in his Church are one. They are in unity, even as he is in unity with his Father.
Unity does not mean conformity. It does not even mean sameness. A man and a woman are not the same. You’re either a man or a woman, it’s a matter of creation.
The man and the woman do not have sameness. Yet they can have oneness. As our Lord says, the two become one flesh. This oneness, this unity of the two is, of course, marriage. Neither the man nor the woman loses what they are or who they are, the man doesn’t become less man nor the woman less woman, yet the two are in unity with each other.
So with oneness there is no loss of who you are, no diminishment of your specific gifts and particularities. Jesus places us in oneness with him and with each other, even as he is in oneness with the Father, yet remains fully who he is as the Son.
What is this oneness, then, if not an outward sameness, not a coerced conformity?
He binds us in oneness in his Word. It’s a unity of Word and doctrine. He is in oneness with his Father as he converses with his Father. In that conversation his Father is giving him gifts and they are both bringing forth creation.
As Jesus is in oneness with his Father, he speaks those words with us. It is the speaking of the Gospel. In that conversation of his Gospel, he is forgiving our sins, cleansing our consciences, joining us in oneness with him and his Father.
When he joins us in oneness with him and his Father, he is joining us in oneness with each other. In our oneness with each other, then, he gives us his words to speak, to encourage and comfort one another, in oneness.
In the Name of Jesus.