One as We are One
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
May 4, 2008
Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17: 1-11
“Holy Father, keep in your name, those that you have given me, that they may be one as we are one.” — John 17:11b
Jesus’ prayer that his people, those whom God has especially given him out of the world, may be one as he and his father are one, brings me to the sublime hidden in the ridiculous of the painfully paltry politics of the current campaigns. One has to have the endurance of a hedgehog and the taste of a hyena to be able to bear for a nanosecond the ignominy of Clinton and Obama, respectively the exterminator and the bloviator. Whatever happened to gravitas? As for the other chap, he calls to mind that wise saying, “There is no fool like an old fool.” Only that terminally pompous black power preacher, whose name sticks in my craw, is worse than these politicos. He displays all the recklessness of a professional outsider and all the subtlety of the semi-educated, which he conveys in the clownish mode of the old plantation preacher.
So, in our hour of deep need the republic has four egomaniacs, – three of whom are already long since corrupted power junkies, and one a terminal narcissist – stepping up to the plate, and a country with so many gifted, wise and successful people will soon re-elect an incompetence as bad as – if that can possibly be thought – the catastrophe we chose for our current humiliation not once but twice.
What is “the sublime hidden in the ridiculous?” It is the miraculous unity that God gives us in response to the prayer of Jesus. There is a unity of the human race in God, given by the death of Jesus, but founded on the prior fact that God created us all in His own image and tasked us with using this life to become his likeness also (Genesis 1:26). The intuition of this simple fact of creation lies deep within the pagan idolatries that pass for Christianity among the politicians and preachers of the public square today. The power of the prayer of Jesus makes it a provisional reality here and there, now and then.
Most of what passes for Christianity in these current campaigns and the black power counter-campaign, is idolatrous, because it translates the work of God into the works of man and worships fleeting fads – free markets, political equality, economic justice, cultural entitlements – as if they were the divine goals of all creation. They substitute ideologies for the Gospel and moral heroes for Christ. Look at the current administration’s Christianity! See how it rams Jesus down your throat while it shafts you from behind. (By now you begin to see that a university preacher can hold his own with the South Side of Chicago).
Christianity should not be excluded from politics, but hypocrisy definitely should, and when hypocrisy goes, the miracle of the divine unity will come. For God is not contemptuous of this world; he loves us so much that he gave his only son to death for us. He also gives us unity; but in order to make that gift effective we have to allow the divine grace of truth to open us to it.
What will we see and hear if the divine grace should overtake us and open our senses? I believe we shall see the fact that this country, like most of the human race is racist to the core and the chances for a black man to become president are slim at best. This does not make us especially wicked; I bet the Chinese, Arabs, Indians (They even have a formal caste system, presently illegal but I bet not inoperative) could tutor us in the brutal art of discrimination and prejudice. We might even be the least racist society on earth (Let the blathering black power preacher go preach in Riyadh, or Beijing) but the fact remains that if you are black in our town your life is harder, your burden heavier, your hope slimmer, and your health less robust. (Of the contemptuous Condi Rice I say, “One sparrow doth not a summer make,” and she is simply dishonest when she claims to have “made it” without the help of affirmative action; see her father’s uncertain career at the University of Denver, an affirmative action officer in office entirely because of affirmative action).
I fear we are coming to the end of this sermon but not to the end of my disgust at the vapidity of our current public discourse, and I find myself without anything positive to say. At times like this I thank God that he has promised to put an end to our suffering in the second coming of Jesus and the final judgment. I even said as much in an interview this week when asked by the University News Service how we are going to “dig our way out of this mess.” I answered, “We are not going to succeed in doing that;” and she asked, “What then?” and I said, “The Second Coming of Christ.”
Let me end with the story of the Miracle on the River Kwai. Thousands of allied prisoners were building the railway across Burma as part of the Japanese preparation to invade India in the second war. These laborers were reduced to animal brutality, and all civility disappeared. The writer was left in the death house to die, when there appeared a prisoner who simply enquired how he was. This was such an event, – that anyone should care how anyone else was,- that the writer began to take note again of life in this world. The visitor returned, bathed the wounds, and then the recovering man joined him and the two of them visited the sick. Well you can see what’s coming; the whole camp was transformed, and even the Japanese guards began to behave more gently. I asked the teller of the tale what he knew about the pre and post history of the miracle worker who began it all by a visit and an inquiry. He was a Methodist Christian from Yorkshire, and he was ultimately crucified and disemboweled by the Japanese. That is Christianity without hypocrisy; that will make us one; that is what we are chosen by Christ himself to do, and that is why he prays especially for us. We are to be the hope and light of the world.
This man was one of the people God gave to Christ as his special ones, and this special one made manifest in the very maw of pain and hopelessness that we who are already one in Christ do carry that oneness to the world and enable people to rediscover the image of God in each other. The miracle of the river Kwai is the miracle of a Christian in the belly of the beast, without hypocrisy. How much of the Christianity of these self-serving politicians would survive in a Japanese labor camp?
“Holy Father keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. ”