We are all one

We are all one

May 25, 2014
Stina Pope


In today’s gospel, we hear a small piece of the sections where Jesus talks in circles about everything being one. When I first encountered this kind of speech, I basically rolled my eyes. I don’t remember hearing much of this part of the Gospel of John growing up, so it was not really until I was in seminary and had to translate this stuff from the Greek, and then having to preach on it, that I had to look at it seriously. And the truth was, I didn’t take it seriously. That has changed, although I still think it is a bear to get through. But let me throw out a few things for you to think about.

First we have Jesus saying, in essence, we are all one. There are a bunch of different sentences to try to unpack that a little, I and the Father are one, if you are one with me then you are one with the Father, and so on. But let me suggest that what he is aiming at is a “so simple it is difficult” and exceptionally profound concept that we are all one. At this point, the physical scientists will affirm that we are all stardust, that at root, we all come from the same place, and not only we as people, but everything that exists on our planet, as well as the planet itself. It is hard to get our heads around, but everything has the same root back in that stardust. We are all related, to each other and to everything.

If this is true, and it is, then we need to look at how we treat “the other,” because it is how we are treating ourselves, because we are all one. The Zulus have a great word for this, Ubuntu, which means “I am because we are.” This is pretty much exactly opposite the American ideal of I am because I am. But we are learning how terribly wrong that is, how terribly devastating to both ourselves and our planet. It is important to look at some “I am” concepts, but when we look at the healthy ones we see that they are all grounded in relationship.

Christianity has always provided answers to the “who am I” question, and those answers are at the very core of our faith. We start off with: I am a beloved child of God, forgiven and redeemed. Then there is: I am a member of the church — a community of faith that is universal, and that stretches through time. I am a creature, part of God’s creation, an “Earthling” tied in community with all other creatures. I am a steward — or, in newer language, a co-creator — with both freedom and responsibility in the choices I make about the exercise of my power. I am a disciple of Christ, a follower of the Way, seeking to live in love, compassion, justice and righteousness. Note that being a disciple is different than being a member of a church!

All of those proclamations are ancient, essential elements of Christian belief. Through the ages, the language used to express them shifts a bit, and the relative emphasis given to various points changes, but all of them have been part of how Christians have said, “this is who I am,” “this is who we are.” All of the answers from faith communities — Christian, and most other faiths — have a strong relational component. Who I am is defined in relationship to the divine, to human communities, and to creation. It must be defined in that set of relationships, precisely because ultimately, we are all one.

If we do not recognize that we are all one, then we see ourselves as separate, we see everything and everyone else as “other.” It is a process of objectification that ultimately allows us to kill the other because it is not me. “Kill” is a harsh word, and I know I want to immediately back off from it. I want to protest that I don’t kill anyone!

It is a subtle thing. I was reading the blog written by Soichi Watanabe to accompany his artwork after the tsunami [see www.asianchristianart.org]. Here is what he says:
“My oil painting,
“Having Enough, But Even More” (138.5 x 87.5 cm) was [. . .] based on the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house”. As I restarted working on this painting after the earthquake, I was called to reflect on my lifestyle. I have been unconsciously dependent on the electricity coming from nuclear power. The radioactive pollution from the nuclear power plants destroyed the homes of neighbors, families, children, animals and also nature, and it will continue to do so in the future. . . I realized that the neighbors were not only people inside our country but also people from nearby nations: Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, and other countries. . . Before becoming a believer in Christianity, I was able to listen to lectures and study books about Peace Education by Prof. Mitsuo Miyata in the university. I also learned about the non-violent movement that was lead by Rev. Martin Luther King. At the same time I am also aware of the horrors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Afterwards I was baptized as a Christian. I chose the path of being a Christian artist instead of a desk job. I tried to create paintings on the subject of peace. So these three: Peace, Faith and Art were united into one.”

What strikes me about what he says is first, that it was not until he really reflected on it that he realized that his personal use of electricity was, in small part, responsible for the demand for nuclear power in Japan, and second, neighbors is not just people inside Japan. We are not used to thinking this way. I don’t think about my small use of electricity being joined to lots of other small demands for electricity being responsible for global warming. We don’t want to take that responsibility, at least I know I don’t! And if we do not think about neighbors in the global sense, we do not see ourselves as one.

It is profoundly counter-cultural – but when we take the words of Jesus seriously, we see that he was profoundly counter-cultural. At the end of the gospel lesson, he says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. So the logical question is – what are they? He cites the two great commandments, love God and love neighbor as self. But those were general, those were not his specific commandments about following the way he was teaching his disciples. Remember last week I suggested that Jesus was kind of like a guru that people were following, and so it was logical for him to tell his followers how to live, and this would have been understood as “his” commandments.

So what do we know of his commandments? We have to look at language, commands are given in the imperative, as in “Do this!” complete with exclamation point at the end – at least in English! So here is a list: Repent, Follow Me, Rejoice, Be Reconciled, Keep Your Word, Give Generously, Love Your Enemies, Practice Secret Disciplines, Seek God’s Kingdom, Judge Not, Ask in Faith, Choose the Narrow Way, Fear Not, Forgive Offenders, Be a Servant, Bring in the Poor, Feed My Sheep, Receive God’s Power, Remember Me in the Breaking of the Bread. This is in addition to the Ten Commandments, which were a given. Perhaps one of them speaks to you more than another for this week’s meditation. Perhaps you will write some of them down. They are all aimed at helping us understand each other as “one of us.” That is, when we follow these commandments, we are following the Way, which is bringing us into alignment with God, that is, being one.

They are not easy, these commandments. We are not expected to do them all, and certainly not to do them all perfectly. We are, however, expected to try – to try to do them all, and to try to do better as we go along. For me, it works best to choose one to focus on, get more comfortable with that one, then add another. It is like when I am working with someone on changing their diet. We start with changing just one thing, and pretty soon, that becomes normal, and we change one more thing. After a few months, it is clear that the person is eating totally differently, by just changing one thing at a time. So I invite you to pick one of these that speaks to you. In good Episcopal fashion, I am not going to tell you what to do about it, although if you want, I am happy to sit down and help you figure out what makes sense for incorporating this new thing into your life. Just one thing, but that one thing is very, very important.