oneness, not sameness
a sermon for the seventh sunday of easter, John 17:20-26
One God. We are Trinitarian people. Our faith in the Creator God, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Advocate in the Holy Spirit, is foundational to our understanding of our faith, marking us as Christians with a certain understanding of how we relate to God and how that relationship with God manifested and manifests itself in this world. We believe in a certain type of oneness. A oneness that expresses a sense of unity. Unity in the understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oneness, unity, in our sense of Christian community that we experience here in this place. Oneness, unity, in the message that we receive here, and in the message that we take out into the world from here. It is a oneness, unity, that comes from the heart. That is based on love. That has an understanding that surpasses all understanding. That informs us and leads us forward in our relationships with our own selves, with each other, and with God. And the beauty of this oneness is that it is not sameness.
Sameness tells us what and how we believe. Sameness strips away creativity, or at least the creativity to exist outside what is appropriate. It is sameness that blurs a unique identity. Sameness that demands uniformity, consistency, perfection. Sameness that leaves little room for doubt, pain, new ideas, fresh expressions. Jesus Christ and God are not the same. Jesus speaks of their oneness, I am in you and you are in me, for theirs is a shared reality, a shared understanding, a unity that connects God to Son. This unity, this oneness enables God to experience doubt, pain, new ideas and fresh expressions. Their oneness is predicated on the understanding that Christ is not sent to teach the exact same way that God has attempted to reach creation in the past. The message itself does not change, but through Christ’s freedom to be in unity with God, to be one with God, and to express that in new ways, we hear anew the message that God has been sending to us. This message is picked up, built upon, followed because Christ was not in sameness with God. This message continues to this day because Christ and God where in oneness with each other, and we were invited into this.
Jesus appeals to God to enable us to be in oneness just as He and God are in oneness with each other. Our oneness is part of the oneness that Jesus and God share. Our oneness is a continuation of that relationship between Father and Son, between Creator and Creation. Our oneness is our call, and we need to do some serious work to live into this reality. Our understanding of our identity as a Christian, as a believer, needs to be built upon this sense of oneness that is exhibited by Jesus and God. We have to live into the reality that we are all connected, that we all possess God, that we all possess Christ. If we can grasp this reality, we can share that oneness with the world. If we can grasp this reality, then we can work to that understanding of being completely one.
Looking around Spokane, around Washington State, around this country, it may be hard to see how we can be made completely one. Hatred has become an acceptable form of public policy in our country. Smug superiority has been its opponent. Hatred has allowed entire states to declare that transexual people should not be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender (with politicians declaring how that gender is to be defined). Hatred has allowed bigotry, violence, xenophobia, Islamophobia, to become the primary issues in our election for President. Smug superiority has fanned the flames of this hatred by decrying how uneducated, how privileged, how dumb those expressing hatred are. Smug superiority posts critical think pieces on facebook and then attacks with so-called sardonic wit anyone they see as not following their enlightened view on twitter. When we look at the fractured world we live in, it is clear that the oneness of God, the expression of God’s love that was taught us by Christ and made our expression of faith, has been replaced by the cult of independence. We are told time and time again that our independence is the most important thing in the world. We are told time and time again that our independence trumps the rights of others. We are told time and time again that our independence is the virtue that most clearly expresses our identity. And it is easy to see how this fracture has occurred.
It is hard to say who we are. I know I can list who I am not. I am not conservative, I am not a fundamental Christian, I am not someone who turns from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I am not afraid to speak my mind, I am not humble, I am not one of those. Even when we can string together some examples of who we are: I am a man, I am a husband, I am an Episcopalian, I am socially progressive, I am a foodie, there exists an inherit “I am not” in contrast to what I am (I am not a woman, I am not single, I am not eating at a chain restaurant). We are so focused on defining what we are not, who we are not like, what we don’t like, what we distance ourselves from, that we forget to find who we really are, regardless of what others may say or think. When we define who we are, we often do so in a manner that expresses how we are not like someone else, how we are not part of that other group of society, how we are a unique individual following the latest trends in fashion, food, and entertainment, at least the cool ones (with coolness of course being a factor determined by my social group). So, how can we experience oneness, being completely one, with each other, if our identities are focused on being not like someone else. How can we turn our focus from this sense of otherness to one of oneness.
If we are striving for oneness, for that hope of being completely one with each other and with God through Christ, then how must we define ourselves. Who are you, if you are in oneness with the world. I am a beloved child of God. I am the unique creation of God, formed each day by those whom I encounter, formed by the experiences I have and I share with others. I am who God has called me to be. I am hopeful that we can have oneness and be completely one with each other and with God through Christ. And, I want this, because through it, the world may know that God sent Christ, that God loves us as God loved his only Son.
It is this sense of identity, an identity that looks to the oneness of God in Christ, the oneness that we too can have, that can begin to heal the fractured world we live in. We know that this message has reached people. There are a multitude of expressions of faith, Christian or not. Our call is not to be the same as each other. Our call is not to have Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists expressing their faith in the same way. However, we are called into oneness with God and Christ. It is in this oneness that we must express the love of God. We must leave behind the fractured identities, the identities that state who we are not, in order to live into the identity of who we are, in God, in Christ, in oneness with our neighbors.
This is an achievable goal. Christ has opened the door for us to accomplish this, if only we listen to the teachings that have been left behind for us. And, in order to spread this message, we must educate through action. We must educate through identifying ourselves for who we are without the baggage of labeling who we are not. We must live into this oneness before we even have it because it is only through an example of striving for that oneness, of striving for the same relationship between Father and Son to be fully realized between Creator and Creation, that we can show others what it means to be in oneness, how it is not sameness, how it is based upon mutual love for each other, just as Christ and God love us.
It will only be through working towards this oneness that the world may truly come to know God. It will only be through working towards this oneness that our differences will necessarily be left behind, that the man-made social constructs that we have built up around us and ours to keep away them and theirs, will be by necessity torn down, replaced with the love of God that keeps us in communion with each other, that respects our differences but loves us anyways. If you can answer the question Who am I without stating who you are not, then you are beginning this work of oneness. If we can begin this work, then we can make this a reality, if we are willing to live into the radical departure from the current social order. If we can begin this work of oneness, then we can begin to truly experience the full power of God’s love working in and through us out to the world. Let us begin.