The Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 12, 2013
Rev. Matthew J. Tingler
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“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 loved them even as you have loved me.”
So often we hear this plea for unity – that they may be one - unity within the Christian Church, unity within our own world, and yet, when I look around us, we don’t seem to be anywhere close to this unity that Christ is praying for. North Korea is pitted against South Korea, political tensions are all over the place in the Middle East. Different Christian sects have different corners of some churches in Jerusalem, and it’s impossible to get anything done for the church because of it. The entire diocese of South Carolina has decided that they don’t want to be a part of the Episcopal Church anymore, so now there’s the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. And we Lutherans are no different. There are somewhere around 20 different branches of the Lutheran Church here in the United States.
It seems that sometimes when we say, “that we may be one,” we really don’t know what we’re asking for. May be it’s that we’ll all be nice to each other. Or maybe we think of some kind of let’s all join hands around the fire and sing Kumbaya kind of unity. And maybe still, we think of being unified like the first Christians were unified, and we dismiss our current fragmentation as something new, a product of our modernity. Yet, Christians have never truly been one. There are different sects appearing as early as the Bible. We had five popes at the beginning of the church, and they played nicely with each other for a few hundred years, but then power drew was a stronger draw than unity, and the western and eastern churches excommunicated each other.
And in what I think is one of the most striking examples of our fractious nature, in the year 897, the reigning pope at the time, Pope Steven, dug up his predecessor, Pope Formosus, and put him on trial. Since skeletons generally don’t do very well answering for themselves, to no one’s surprise, the previous pope was found to be guilty. So you could actually say that two living popes, one reigning and one retired, praying together is immense progress toward unity.
In all of these examples, one of the greatest pitfalls is that when we ask, that we may be one, as Jesus and the Father are one, are we asking for true unity, or that everyone will look and act like us, and so then we will be one? How much are we willing to recognize the possibilities of differences among us, and not just tolerate them, but living into them, and then being truly drawn into a unity that reflects that of the Father to the Son and of the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit, a God that is one because of love.
Last Fall, I took a class in Cambridge at the Divinity School, with a professor by the name of Michael Jackson. Professor Jackson was neither the king of pop, nor a beer connoisseur, but rather an anthropologist from New Zealand. In the course of the class, which was on this idea of ritual, he pointed out that we really have an infinite number of possibilities of who we could be. That at any given point, with different stimuli, even just a few things changed in our history, we might be someone completely different. So for instance, if my mom’s parents had lived just a few hundred miles to the south in Germany, I would most likely be a Catholic. If my grandparents wouldn’t have emigrated from Germany, would they have been forced to be Nazis? If I had grown up with in an abusive household, would I too be more likely to abuse my children? If my grandparents instead moved to Chechnya, then fled to Krygyzstan, and I would have been exposed to a certain set of experiences, and background, I could just have easily been in prison instead of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, or like his brother Tamerlin, been the body so cruelly rejected by all.
So you see, who we are isn’t a fixed possibility, it isn’t predestined, and with just a few tweaks, we could really look like anyone else, even those who we might despise. And if we cut ourselves off from this idea of infinite alternate possibilities, that is what breeds hatred and contempt, and disunity. We forget that Christ ate with cheats, washed the feet of those who denied him, and gave his body and blood to the one who betrayed him.
If instead we realize that we are all created beings of God, and live into those differences, then we have other options. Paul and Silas realized that they too could have been the forlorn prison guard, and they found their captor to be their brother. Since we are all drawn into the body of Christ, since God has drawn all people to herself, like a mother hen draws all of her chicks under her wings, we then can see the faces around us as sisters and brothers, not as different or alien. We can see each other, even those of us who have made horrific choices, as fellow created beings of God. And that unity is what God has given us, because since we are all gathered together, we are also gathered together with God.
When we are linked with Christ, we are linked with the creator of the heaven and the earth, and when Christ ascended into heaven, he brought a whole lot of friends with him, and the life of God changed forever because we are now part of it. We are now part of it, so that we can act in love not hatred, and that we can bring the resurrection to all who we meet. Not in a way that forces others to be like us, but that we can see the face of God in others, and serve all even as we are being served. Alleluia. Amen.