God’s Lamb is the Great I Am: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA – May 20, 2012
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA – May 20, 2012
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 – Psalm 1 – 1 John 5: 9-13 – John 17: 6-19
God’s Lamb is the Great I Am
I thank Pastor Lucy Kolin for asking me to serve you with God’s Word this morning. She is at the Synod assembly and we pray God be with her and the decisions that our Sierra Pacific Synod makes there in San Jose. I’ve been unemployed for about three years, but when God is the one who calls us, when God gives us our vocation, we always have divine employment, and God sees to it that our needs are met, because God provides. We also stand in good stead, because our great high priest, Jesus Christ prays for us as we read in our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus prays thanking God that he is glorified in us, that we may be one as the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are one, and that we become sanctified by the truth. I choose only those three petitions among Jesus’ many others.
During this week I asked myself, what does it mean for Jesus to be glorified in us? This is what I figure: When we die to our old selves, to the old Adam and Eve in us, Christ raises us up into new selves to embark on the new way of life that Jesus taught us. Now it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. When Christ speaks of being glorified in the Gospel of John, then he is speaking about being lifted up on a cross, dying upon the cross for us, so that he becomes raised up by God to sit at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty there in the glory of God.
So our glory, joined to that of Christ is suffering and dying to ourselves, so that the life of Christ envelopes all our relationships, everyone whom the Christ in us meets, touches, and heals in body and soul, feels and begins to know that they are in the real presence of God.
Yes indeed, their minds open up to God’s Word, their hearts open up to the good faith, the very good faith Jesus has given us. This gift of faith that we receive becomes active in love and the love that seeks justice. We receive not only the real wonderful Christ in our hearts, but also his Beloved Community, the Church, the Church that overcomes the world.
The word “glory” became intriguing to me while reading Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Luther writes of the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory. They are three levels that we live our lives on and levels of thinking and understanding God’s way with us. What can’t be understood on one level becomes clear on the next. Our Lutheran faith is rather wonderful because it relies so much on grace and we preach and live in the light of grace. As unacceptable as we are, God accepts us unconditionally, and God’s acceptance changes us in the twinkling of an eye, into God’s lovable children. We are not loved by God because we are loveable but we are loveable because God loves us. Now imagine that we can live in a light even beyond that of grace, in the light of God’s glory, the glory of God’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. That is glory!
Wow! It is the Seventh Sunday of Easter and this whole sermon could unfold around the incredible glory of God and the way the glory of Christ can become ever brighter in us like the increasing glory of the stars. That’s how St. Paul refers to the magnitude of stars. We can become ever brighter like stars. Forget those whom our society calls stars. The glorified Christ is in you. Christ is your true self. Are you almost invisible to the naked eye or are you going from glory to glory? Is your true self coming out and beginning to shine in the glory of Christ?
Let me go to the next part, however, because in the glory of Christ, he also makes us one. Christ prayed that we become one even as the Blessed Three Persons of the most Holy Trinity are one, in the love that sent the only Son of the Father to save us lost sinners, to save this sorry world. Because of that divine love we also become born of God and we have the promise that we will not perish but receive everlasting life; we have the promise of abundant life and eternal life.
Christ is God’s very Lamb and as the Great I Am, he now lives, moves, and has his divine Being in us and we are one in him. Now stop and think how hard it is to believe this. Like Alice said in Wonderland,
“There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say,” said the queen, “you haven’t had much practice… Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Dear Lord, increase our faith!
In this oneness, we can all be within each other as new selves in the body of Christ, God’s Beloved Community. Inside us we do not need to have a “Heart-Break Hotel.” Nor does our heart have to be shut down, without any room in our inn, but we can have a full church, a whole congregation in our hearts, like an old usher in our church in Coney Island, New York used to shout: “S.R.O., S.R.O.!” meaning “Standing room only, standing room only!” Meanwhile he came from an S.R.O., which meant “Single Room Occupancy” where those who without a real home could live cheaply. His name was Thomas Worthington Kirkpatrick and he had such a speech defect that it took strenuous attention and listening to understand him. We can have all the people from a congregation in our hearts. How wonderful when our heart becomes a church!
What is really important about the oneness that we receive in Christ is that it is an internal bond, because the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community is within you. Our bodies are like shells and our true selves are mostly within them. So the bond, the tie that binds us, our relationships with each other, are internal. A saying of a French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has always guided me. He said, “True unity differentiates, it does not confound.” True unity does not homogenize us. When we have it we can be as different from each other as we can be. We can be our unique and individual true selves and still cherish each other and the Beloved Community in our hearts.
There is a difference between uniformity and true unity. Soldiers and police wear uniforms, and in these cases, they give them the right to kill. Unity gives us the gift of life. Uniformity makes everyone have to have the same outer shell. It does not penetrate to the heart. So our society dictates the model of a woman’s body and then batters all women to diet and make their bodies fit into that same slender hour-glass shape, killing many women, who do not have a body anything like that, in the process. I remember the girdles my sisters used to have to struggle into to try to have that hour-glass-figure. Maybe men envision their tummies so small, so they couldn’t imagine a baby would form in it! Believe it or not, the girdle is coming back. It is being called the faja. Wednesday it was written up in the New York Times in an article entitled: “A Clasp from the Past!” Women beware!
The inner bond of unity we have in Christ is held together by trust. A newly married man and woman went everywhere together. People noticed that they were never apart. People said, “Look how they love each other!” No way. He was just always watching her because he didn’t trust her. It is called a couple-front, because they did not have the internal bond made out of freedom, love, and trust.
We are not only speaking about women’s bodies, freedom and trust in relationships, but also the freedom to be different and to think differently. In New England where I grew up, some teachers wanted to be non-conformists and back in the 1950’s conformity was important. In those days every school day began with morning exercises. These exercises consisted in a Bible reading, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of reading from the Bible, one teacher read sections from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species to the class. After she read from the book all about evolution, I don’t remember whether she prayed with us or not. I don’t think so. But in her dissent she was being a non-conformist. She championed the individual and rejected conformity with the group. She did not want to be locked inside that shell. But remember Teilhard’s insight, “True unity does not confound; it differentiates.” He also argues that it is a false habit of mind to keep playing the individual off against the group. The non-conformist can still be caught in the same outer shell of the conformist. Christ teaches us to penetrate to the heart, he prays for us to receive the true unity, which is also in the Blessed and Holy Trinity, where the many can be loved in the one and the one can be loved in the many and in that love we can lay down our lives for each other.
These words from Pierre Teilhard have always helped me. True unity is internal; it is an internal bond that makes our hearts one, so that the loving and compassionate heart of Christ beats in us. Why not also use the Catholic expression: so that the “sacred heart” of Christ beats in us. And because this bond is internal, the group and the individual can also be one in a relationship like that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose oneness is beyond number. The internal individual and the group are beyond number.
Teilhard’s word always helped me, because like here in Resurrection Lutheran Church, back in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Coney Island, we were so different from each other. We were African-American, Caucasian, and many different kinds of Latinos – we used to say Hispanics there. We had Guatemalans, Panamanians, Colombians, etc. My wife Nora Zapata is Colombian. I was born in Germany. We were all so different. But because our hearts were one, we could say, “Viva la différence!” Like men say about women: “Viva la différence!”
We were sanctified in the truth, because to have one heart and to be of one heart together when we were so different represented a continuous challenge. If you are familiar with the geography of New York, you would know that Coney Island and Long Island are really attached. Many people in Long Island live there because of white flight; they fled Coney Island. In that way Long Island is not at all attached to Coney Island. We had big Vacation Church School and Vacation Day Camp programs and we visited one generous church in Long Island that helped us fund our programs. In the choir we noticed that every woman was a blond, different shades perhaps, but they were all blond nonetheless. They didn’t even seem to accept any woman who had black hair. Perhaps many had died their hair that color, I don’t know. There we were Puerto Rican, African-American, and Caucasian and they were all into having the same outer shell.
This sermon might become too long to delve into the way Christ prays that we become sanctified by the truth. But briefly, in his prayer, Christ makes true unity go together with truth. The truth should not come at the expense of unity, nor unity be maintained at the expense of truth. [Lutherans have had the weakness of sacrificing unity for the sake of truth. It leaves us with a little picture, a more and more provincial perspective on the world. A relationship is strengthened when it is sanctified by the truth.] Both unity and truth have to come together. The glorified Christ in us is the truth and gives us the gift of unity. Let’s praise God for the oneness we receive because of the glorified Christ in us and for the oneness that God continues to share with us. It is such a marvelous gift! And Christ keeps sanctifying us with the truth. God’s Word is the truth. I am sure that God can’t help answering the prayer of Christ. So it’s a promise: we are sanctified by the truth until we leave these outer shells, these bodies of ours behind us, and in our true selves, we receive the body and blood of Christ in the fullness of God’s joy. Amen.
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey, Ph.D.
 Luther’s Bondage of the Will, LW 33:292 and WA 18: 784-785.
 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, (Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, no date: ca. 2003), page 100. I this beautifully illustrated book, Alice in Wonderland reads from the other side, when you turn the book around.
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, New York: Harper Torch Books, 1964), pages 54-55.
 NYT 5/16/2012, pages A-1 and A-21.
 Teilhard, The Future of Man, page 54.