Sermon by the Rev. Dr. James A. Gibson III
Sunday after Ascension
Texts: Acts 1:15-26, 1 John 5:6-15, John 17:11b-19
Collect of the Day
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
|St. Caesarius of Arles|
“There are two cities, dearest brothers,” writes Caesarius of Arles. “The first is the city of this world, the second, the city of paradise. The first city is full of labor, the second is restful. The first is full of misery, the second is blessed. If a person lives sinfully in the first, he cannot arrive in the second. We must be pilgrims in this world in order to be citizens of heaven. If one wants to love this world and remain a citizen on it, he has no place in heaven, for we prove our pilgrim status by our longing for our true country. Let no one deceive himself, beloved brothers. The true country of Christians is in heaven, not here. The angels are our fellow citizens. Our parents are the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs. Our King is Christ. May we live, therefore, in this earthly sojourn in a manner that will enable us to long for such a country during our stay here.”
There is a world that is passing away and, along with it, all the temporal pleasures and desires that make it something less than the world God intended. The love of the Father for the world he created endures forever. Yes, it is the love that will abide throughout the world to come. It is the love that already abides in “whoever does the will of God,” as John says earlier in his first epistle (1 John 2:17), thus bringing forth into this world, the world that is passing away, the world that will never pass away. John writes to those in whom the Father’s love abides in varying degrees—“little children,” “young men,” “fathers”—to encourage them to continue in that love, that they might indeed “abide forever.”
This is what Jesus was praying for when he prayed not only for John and the other apostles, “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” (John 17:20-21).
The prayer of Jesus, still fresh in John’s mind when he wrote his epistle, surpasses any mere desire on our part, noble as it may seem, for some kind of organizational unity among believers across denominational or sectarian lines. The unity for which Jesus prays, the unity that manifests God’s glory to the world, is nothing less than incorporation into the divine community itself. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them,” Jesus prays to the Father, “that they may be one even as we are one, 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” (John 17:22-23).
|Basil the Great|
“The Lord says ‘all mine are yours,’ as if he were submitting his lordship over creation to the Father,” writes Basil the Great, “but he also adds ‘yours are mine,’ to show that the creating command came from the Father to him. The Son did not need help to accomplish his work, nor are we to believe that he received a separate commandment for each portion of his work. Such extreme inferiority would be entirely inadequate to his divine glory. Rather, the Word was full of his Father’s grace. He shines forth from the Father and accomplishes everything according to his parent’s plan. He is not different in essence, nor is he different in power from his Father, and if their power is equal, then their works are the same. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. All things were made through him and all things were created through him and for him, not as if he were discharging the service of a slave, but instead he creatively fulfills the will of his Father.”
So, as Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one,” he is praying for a unity that is beyond mere human conception. It is the unity established by the Father before the world began; a bond of eternal love between the Father and the Son, into which are incorporated all to whom the Son has made the Father’s name known, that is, all to whom the Son has imparted the divine nature through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To his apostles, Jesus imparted the very word that is truth, the same Word of God that he himself made incarnate. He “kept them in [the Father’s] name” and “guarded them” so that “not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
Jesus, the very Word of God made flesh, has entered into this world that is passing away and has opened for us the door into the world that will never pass away. He has shown us the way of truth and, by his example of self-giving and self-sacrifice, has demonstrated that truth cannot exist apart from love.
Pilate will later cynically ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Jesus has the answer. “Your word,” that is, the Word of God the Father, “is truth” (John 17:17). It is the Word that Jesus himself has made incarnate. He not only gives the answer, he is the answer. Jesus himself, the very Word made flesh, is the embodiment of the truth, the full revelation of the will and purpose of God from the foundation of the world. To be “sanctified in the truth” is to be sanctified in Christ, made holy as the Father is holy through the truth abiding in us through the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), whom God has sent to lead us in the way of righteousness.
To abide in Christ, the Word made flesh, the truth incarnate, is “to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). That way is the difficult road of selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love. For, as John reminds us, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:9-10) because the light in which he abides is Christ himself.
Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another. Only in Christ are the two made one; and only in Christ may we be sanctified in the truth to shine forth the glorious light of his love.
+IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.