What deeply rich passages we have this morning when we read them as speaking of God himself and our relationship to him – not as separate passages, but rather as different levels, metaphors, figures – of understanding how God has come to gather and transform us.
Let me start with rereading the gospel lesson to you from John’s testimony: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Jesus has completed his mission – his work of opening the way for us to be reconciled to God our Father in him. Because he and his Father are one, so when we are brought into his own life (which we mark by our baptisms), we can say, ‘yes, I am with my Father, because I am in his Son, my brother, Jesus. He binds me to him in his Spirit.’ The little catch that you and I might miss though, if we’re not careful, is that we don’t always live out our lives, we don’t always seem to realize or be willing to witness to this new reality. We – as Paul puts it – so often fall back into sin, into the things of the flesh. What are these things? Basically an endless, nuanced, and often complex assortment of acts and words that contradict God’s intention for our lives, and that contradict the shape of his own life that he calls us to follow. We know this story. But it’s worth remembering that Jesus acknowledges there is a difference between his relationship to his Father, and our relationship to God in him. Notice Jesus does not say, ‘and now they are one as you and I are one.’ But instead he says, ‘make them one – these ones you have given me now – and those who, following my disciples, will come seeking me. Make as all one.
This is pretty important to recognize that we are not yet one as the Father and Son are one (I’ll leave the ontological distinction aside and only speak about the matter of time and of sin). Jesus doesn’t say, ‘they are one’ for a primary reason: not all yet believe. Not all have seen or acknowledged or known the reality of their creator, and his power and ordering of their lives. And I’m not speaking here simply of non Christians, but of Christians themselves. So instead, what we hear is a plea to the Father, but also, a calling or mission for us: Father make them one. And so it follows that if Jesus asks the Father to make us one, that we ought to be open to being made one. And herein lies one of our great challenges. Do we look as if we are open to responding to Jesus’s plea to the Father? To be made one? Most of our history is replete, in fact, with well, to be really blunt, SIN. The sin of constantly dividing over so many things, where every one of us wants to do what is right in our own eyes, to the point we refuse to actually engage anyone who does not follow us.
And why is this a sin? What is it problematic? Let’s ask Jesus. Why do we need to be open to being made one, Jesus? I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. What is implied in Jesus’s words here? That being open to being made one is essential for mission, for bringing people to God through his body, the Church. Why might this be the case? Can’t we all sort of figure it out for ourselves in our own way? Get to Jesus in a million different ways? Here’s my fundamental problem – and not just mine, but seemingly Scripture’s problem with it – when people do, as Judges tells us, what is ‘right in their own individual eyes,’ we tend to end up worshipping our own idols – whether that’s a false happiness, a false materialistic contentment, a malformed sense of self that ends up in self-hatred, or just a lack of belief that following Jesus isn’t the equivalent of following the ways our culture sets out as good and right without question and examination – and in worshipping these things, we actually too often stop being open to being made one in God. Instead, we might be one small fragment of a thousand different sects, each with its own little limited, partial and self-confirming, never challenged, never transformed, stagnant self, frozen in time like a pillar of salt without taste; without capacity, that is, to witness to the good food or fruit of the Gospel. How can we testify to our one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if we refuse to be open to being transformed, to being made his body, and therefore to embodying his own life of unity with his Father in the world?
If we look at our story in Act – a very concrete story of mission in the world – through this lens of being open to being made one, joined to the Father through the Son in the Spirit, what do we have? Imagine the events of the story in Acts as the Persons of our Triune God. We hear of an Earthquake that blows open the doors of the prison in which Paul and Silas, Jesus’s disciples, have been unfairly detained for speaking the truth. Think for a minute about what that Earthquake represents: this Earthquake is the Father, the waves that follow after the earthquake are the Son sent – as the waves are sent out – into the world, shattering the prison of sin and damnation, opening the doors so that we might be raised from the prison of sin, into the life of God himself if we are willing to stand firm and hold fast to Jesus as the quake reverberates around the world, through our city, our culture, our struggles and triumphs, through time, through history, through all that is. The chains that bound Paul and Silas, like the chains of sin that bound all people everywhere, are broken, unfastened, and even remaining just where we are as Paul and Silas did in the prison, so we are set free by God to take hold of life now and eternally, when we open ourselves to him, allowing him to make us one, allowing him to – whereever we are, whatever our struggles, whatever our disagreements that make us want to run from other Christians – hold fast to him, hold fast to the faith. In him we are being made one. Let us take hold of that reality and live it out, not running away, not lashing out, not building up barricades, or withdrawing, or going ahead with whatever we think is right, but holding fast to engagement with one another where God makes us one in his body. AMEN.