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Unity In A Diverse World


John 17:20-23

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me.

I once took a personality study to determine my strengths. One of my strongest traits was toward building harmony. It is the “Can’t we all just get along,” philosophy.

When I look at myself objectively, it is a major theme in my life. I dislike conflict, and I avoid situations where there may be disagreements and discord. When I am thrust into dissension, I look for ways to bring agreement, or at least peace.

I believe we can have peace and not agree on everything. I believe we can have harmony, and not have every note be consonant. When I play the piano or guitar, I like playing chord clusters, turning isolated dissonance into something that has more depth and beauty, yet is still pleasing and whole. The reason I like harmony, emphasize harmony, and encourage harmony is because I believe that we are all in this together; we are all one at many levels.

This was a theme that the Jews taught, that Jesus taught, Buddha taught it before him, and Krishna before him. Yes, the Islamic religion believes in the unity of mankind, although we hear a lot about the factions that don’t practice that concept.

The idea of oneness not only refers to people being interrelated, but that all things, all of life, all of Creation are connected.

Jesus speaks of oneness at a spiritual level. When he says, “The Father and I are one,” he is referring to a spiritual connection. When he says that he has given us glory so that we may be one, he is referring to oneness in a spiritual aspect.

He believed we were all Children of God, connected in spirit, through the unseen Life Energy of God. He referred to this when he spoke to a crowd, quoting God in Psalm 82: "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.'

Sometimes we hear these words, and we feel a little uncomfortable. After all, we are told all our lives that we are sinners, undeserving of God’s love, and it is only through God’s mercy and Grace that we are here at all. Yet God is quoted as saying that we are children of the Most High. Jesus has described us as Children of God.

The truth is that we are worthy, and we can still make a mistake, which is the definition of sinner: one who ‘misses the mark’.

When we can truly love ourselves, we can accept ourselves as a Child of God, however flawed we are. Love does not make us anything more than we already are, but it opens our eyes and removes the blocks that keep us from seeing our true divine selves.

This idea of love applies when we look at others. Some of us, however, have tribal vision. Our love only flows to those who belong to our tribe: others who look like us, sound like us, believe what we believe, have the same values socially and politically…if they fit our tribal characteristics, then we can bestow our love on them. If they are outside our tribe we ignore them, or worse, we fear them; and fear leads to hate and hatred to war.

The idea of oneness with someone unlike us is natural to some, silliness to some, and loathsome to others. How can we be one with someone we fear and hate, with someone outside our tribe?

Some Christians tend toward tribalism. There is a song that I learned as a kid that I’m sure you have heard: They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love. It is a nice song with a nice sentiment; but it is incomplete. The song speaks of oneness in the verse, but then excludes everyone but Christians in the chorus. Don’t Buddhists love too, and Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus? Is it only Christians that love, so we can be recognized by our loving natures? Is our oneness solely confined to the Christian faith? Are our viewpoints so limited that we can only love those of our own specific tribe? I have changed the words to more closely convey what I believe is the actual intention of the song. [sing the song]

Something similar happens I think when I hear people speak of the United States as a Christian country. Certainly, there are more Christians than other faiths, yet the Constitution is devoid of any mention of God or Jesus. Only in the Declaration of Independence are we endowed by our ‘Creator’ with certain unalienable rights.

Our Creator…. This is purposefully very inclusive, very accepting of all religious beliefs, and very unifying. Their intention seems clear: the Founding Fathers of our nation were interested in developing a unified nation, guided by spiritual principles that crossed all religious boundaries.

They were not establishing a Christian nation, a Christocracy, but one where all religions, any religion, or no religion at all would be met with approval, acceptance, and appreciation. We would be a nation united by our differences, connected by our diversity, and empowered by the rich variety of thought and belief that results only from a unique amalgamation of cultures.

Jesus taught us how to treat people outside of our tribe. That was part of the point made in the story of the Good Samaritan. In those days, people of Samaria and the Jews despised each other, so for Jesus to use this as an example would have been shocking. But he made the point of how to treat someone, even if outside our familial thinking: you treat them with love and kindness. Our challenge as a nation, and as an individual cohabitant on this planet is not our diversity and differences, it is in our willingness to broaden our tribal instincts.

Our oneness doesn’t stop at the spiritual level. As I dabble in some genealogy, I have been impressed with how many people it has taken to produce me. Of course, my immediate tribe is the Jolly’s. But as each of you are fully aware, there are other names associated with our relatives whose blood flows through us. In my instance, Wentz, Vandersloot, Ecton, Duff, Bauguess, Spicer, Haithcock blood flows through my veins, along with hundreds or even thousands of other names and tribes that I don’t know.

And for each of those names there are hundreds or even thousands of other names, blood lines, that contribute to my being here today, to my DNA. When I look at my children, there are twice as many bloodlines flowing through them as me, because of Mary’s history.

Scientists have concluded that of the people living today, all 7.9 billion, our lineage can be traced back to a particular woman and particular man living in Africa some hundred thousand years ago. From the DNA point of view – we are all one, part of one large family. From this knowledge a great challenge looms: that we treat each other as part of the same tribe, which we all are.

We will eventually run into people, even among our immediate families that we don’t get along with. Does that mean that we are not one? Not at all! Does that mean that we cannot be united in some way? No.

The Bible illustrates that some people we meet will be imbalanced in one way or another: mentally, physically, or emotionally. They will be frightening or disturbing to be around; their behavior will be unsocial, rude, and disturbed. When faced with such a person, called Legion, Jesus did not respond with fear, but with love, and healed the man. Jesus recognized that this fellow was not choosing his misbehavior: he was out of balance, possessed by emotional and psychological disease.

But there are others who choose to believe and think inappropriately, through the limited perspective of their tribe. How do we handle such people? The Bible also illustrates how Jesus managed this type of situation.

Jesus was faced on numerous occasions with similar harassment. How did he respond? Being the Son of God, did he use mind tricks like a Jedi Knight, or perform a miracle to convince them to change the way they thought? No.

Here is what he did. Depending upon the situation, he forgave. He remained call. He would ask questions and speak the truth. He suggested we reconcile with love. In Matthew 5:44-45 he teaches: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

When that didn’t work, Jesus knew when to withdraw. In Matthew 12:9-15, the Pharisees plotted to Jesus him after he healed a man with shriveled hand on the Sabbath. “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place.”

In John 10:22-39, when faced with angry people wanting to stone him – the Bible says he escaped their grasp, he eluded their grasp, he slipped through their fingers, he escaped from their hands, he got away and left them, he escaped out of their hand, he escaped.

In other words, he didn’t try to resist, or argue. He simply left.

In fact, it reminds me of the phrase from the movie and musical Fiddler of the Roof, when the village of Russian Jews are periodically harassed by the Czar’s soldiers and eventually are forced to leave their home for political reasons. The Rabbi of the village is not mean spirited, and perhaps during those dark times offers up the best prayer for the circumstance: may God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us. God bless and keep the aggressively disagreeable far away from us.

Christ’s advice in Matthew 7:6 is: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” There will be times when we cannot have civil discourse; we will face someone who will not hear us.

In these cases, it is useless to share our words and give away our spiritual calm. As some sage once said: “Never wrestle with a pig – you both get filthy, and the pig likes it.” Also: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Simply because we are all one does not mean that we will all agree. Unity is not uniformity. We are not all alike: we do not think alike, believe the same things, speak the same, dress the same, nor should we. It is absurd to expect that.

Seeing each other through the eyes of love reveals our oneness despite our multiplicity. It is my prayer that we realize through love and respect there can be unity in a diverse world. Love opens our hearts to the truth of who we are, and how we fit into God’s Creation and into God’s one family.


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