In Perfect Unity

In Perfect Unity

by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

May 20, 2007

Scripture: Revelation 22:12-14; John 17:20-26

“…I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me…” –John 17:23

Yesterday I received my copy of the first volume of the Pope’s new book on Jesus, just out ( Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, translated from the German by Adrian Walker {New York, etc.: Doubleday, 2007}). It is the first volume not because the whole work is so big but because, as the Pope rather touchingly remarks, he does not know if he will live long enough to complete the whole and he wants urgently for us to have what he has so far finished, because the subject matter is the foundation of the faith. Amongst all the literary output of this most brilliant and productive theologian, this simple book on Jesus seems to have for him climactic importance. He seems also to regard this task as of the essence of his responsibility as number one teacher of us Christians. He describes his motivation for writing as a desire to counter the impression, now widespread, that we have “very little certain knowledge of Jesus.” “This is a dramatic situation for faith,” he writes, “because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air (p xii).”
Let me share a few more quotes from Benedict’s book:

“(My book) sees Jesus in the light of his communion with the Father, which is the true center of his personality; without it we cannot understand him at all, it is from this center that he makes himself present to us still today (p. xiv).”

“For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on earth…et incarnatus est (and was incarnate)- when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history (p. xv).”
“This Christological hermeneutic, which sees Jesus Christ as the key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity…(p. xix).”

I am astonished that the Pope agrees with me so perfectly! Couldn’t have said it better myself. (I trust you see that I am making a joke). Seriously, I find it most refreshing to read so clear an understanding of the heart of the faith, from so public a source, in these days when so much of what passes for Christian theology is a Babel of contending ideologies, and being Christian is equated with having correct views about gender, sexual orientation and third world debt. Some years ago I noted in the inaugural address of the president of one of the Berkeley based theological seminaries not a single reference to Jesus, not a single naming of that name, except to identify the speaker as a minister of the United Church of Christ. One of the horrors of godlessness in our time is that many, many of the attacks on our Lord are coming from within his own church.

We turn now to our text for today in the 17th chapter of John. What better expression could there be of Benedict’s “Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends,” than “I in them and thou in me, that they may be perfectly one (John 17:23)? ” Clearly we are back again with the overarching theme of the chapter, namely, “the life of God in the lives of human beings,” also called “love.” The key to the present discourse is the last verse, “I made known to them thy name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (vs.26).”

There are several lessons one might draw for the application section of this sermon. I could berate us for the embarrassing disunity of the Christians – we are like marriage counselors who are unable to sustain a marriage relationship, corruption fighters who are corrupt, cowardly lions, and wimpish wizards behind the thunder machine. Is Christ’s love not supposed to make us perfectly one? But I shall not, for various good reasons.

Rather let me point out that we have been listening in on the prayer of Jesus to his father, that is, to the communication within the very Holy Trinity, and have leaned from this that loving relationship is the heart of the truth of all existing and transcendent things and persons. To know God as we do through Jesus is to know this fact of all facts. To refer again to Benedict; he writes about Jesus, “…in the light of his communion with the Father, which is the true center of his personality; without it, we cannot understand him at all, and it is from this center that he makes himself present to us still today (op. cit.).” The gospels reveal the relationship Jesus has with his father for all to see and learn from. And what do we learn? That God is love; that God can be in us as love, that Jesus is the name to use when we call that love to take possession of us, that his portrait in the gospels is the authoritative picture of love, that love therefore is human and divine, and that love alone can make us perfectly one.

Perfect oneness, complete unity…Is that not the longing at love’s core? In our most sublime moments of love we can even imagine dying for the beloved. Jesus did that; and can you fathom that the beloved for whom he died is you yourself? His divine love so longed for you that he went to the extreme of possibility in this world, to win your love.

Well, I am just going to stop here; I have reached the limit of what I can say, and we surely have enough in the simple facts of the faith to feed our meditation and our imagination, and to enhance our “intimate friendship with Jesus on which everything depends.”