“We Are One”
(From John 10: 22-30)
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
It was the spring of 1969, when the hit song of an emerging young rock music band named Three Dog Night informed us that “one is the loneliest number.” This song, of course, is of the love song genre; and a jilted lover is feeling the saddened solitude of a lost love. Being single can result in feelings of loneliness. But, the next line of this hit song also reminds us that “Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” This is surely the case whenever two or more are gathered and there is obvious disputing and discord among them. Yet, I suspect that all of us have also experienced times in life when we felt alone in the presence of a whole crowd of people. This feeling of being alone and/or lonely, even when there are others around us, happens when we fail to have or to make any significant kind of personal connection with them. We may make an assessment of these situations, determining that we have nothing in common with this particular group of folks. We just can’t seem to relate to them on an intellectual or emotional level and, hence, are left feeling alone.
Finding a foundation of common ground upon which to build interpersonal relationships can be a difficult matter, especially because of obvious differences that can loom so large before us. Take, for example, the ongoing contentious relationship the Jewish leaders of his time had with Jesus. The background of events surrounding today’s Gospel lesson, from John Chapter 10, inform us that some of the Jewish leaders became angry with Jesus because he healed a blind man on the Sabbath. “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath,” they protested about Jesus’ action of performing a good work of healing on the Sabbath day. Some of the Jewish leaders also took offense at Jesus for claiming to have received power and authority from God to fulfill his earthly ministry. They believed Jesus was speaking blasphemy by making this public revelation about himself, and by adding the bold claim, “I and my Father are one.”
Yet, there were others looking on who saw the good work of healing that Jesus was doing among them-albeit on the Sabbath day. “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” they exclaimed, as they reasoned about the works Jesus had performed that attested to his power. Their words echoed those of the Pharisee Nicodemus, who, in John Chapter 3, came to see Jesus to learn and understand more about him. “Rabbi,” Nicodemus said, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs you do apart from the presence of God.” It was then that Jesus shared with Nicodemus his need to be reborn in the Spirit. Nicodemus found Jesus’ words hard to understand. So, Jesus said to him, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things. No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus then affirmed to Nicodemus that he was the Son of Man, and that he would be lifted up, a reference to the cross, that he would draw all people who believe in him together in eternal life in the kingdom of God. Through Jesus, believers become one people of God, because Jesus himself is one with God.
Perhaps, it was Nicodemus who shared with some of the Pharisees and leaders about his encounter with Jesus. Perhaps it was his testimony, combined with Jesus’ miracle signs like healing the blind man, which convinced some of the Jewish leaders that Jesus, though unconventional in his practices, was indeed doing the work of God. John was surely convinced of this truth, and as we saw in last week’s lesson, he was intent on sharing a Gospel message that would convince others that Jesus was the promised Messiah of God—that Jesus and God are one.
Being one does not mean being exactly the same. God, our Lord, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are one God. Yet, they exist and are ever present as three persons who are equal although not exactly the same. That is the mystery that is the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God; God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer. Just as the Trinity is ever three persons and ever one God, we who believe, though we are many and different, are made one holy people in and through them. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church, called us one body with many parts, each with a unique role to play in up-building the body-the body of which Christ is the head.
The undeniable truth of our humanity is that it is often easier to recognize our differences than to remember our unity in the body of Christ. As Christians, however, it is incumbent upon us to be intentional about overcoming our prejudicial thinking and to open ourselves to celebrating the diversity we find in others. They may not share everything in common with us, but, in Christ, they are one with us. There is a saying that is often attributed to St. Augustine, theologian Ruppertus Meldenius, and to John Wesley, our forefather of Methodism. The saying states, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” It is easy to understand how this saying might be attributed to Wesley, as it is congruous with another notable and known quote of Wesley:
Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist.
Here, Wesley states the essentials—the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and their revelation that Christ Jesus is a person of the supreme Godhead. About all other opinions and differences, Wesley proclaimed “think and let think.” We do not have to be the same to be one in the bond of unity in the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are called to find the glimmer of God in each face we meet. We are all sinners, and we are all saved by the marvelous grace of our God through Jesus the Son. We all have access to the same Holy Spirit who sustains us. This 4th Sunday of Easter, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, we recognize how our loving human relationships mirror God’s unconditional love, compassion, mercy, and grace shown toward us. They call us to follow Christ, taking up the cross of his healing and holistic ministry of peace with justice for all of God’s people. May we learn to see each other as our loving and forgiving God in Christ sees us. For we are one in the Spirit, and they will know that we are Christians, the living body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by our acts of kindness, mercy, and love. Amen—let it be so.