Click here for worship video.
A few days ago Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together, voting to take up a $1 trillion dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill. The step paves the way towards funding significant upgrades for roads, bridges, rails, transit, water. Better known for being bitter rivals in recent memory, the two parties set aside their differences, finding common cause they could both support. Many crossed an aisle that more often than not divides. What was separate had been united. Their shared efforts favor a greater good that benefits all. The two came together, almost magically it seems, as one.
This past week we watched as over 11,000 athletes from 206 countries came together at the Tokyo Olympics, joined by a shared passion of competitive sport. Setting aside differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, language and governance, it is a spectacle to behold. We naturally cheer for our country (go USA!) Yet there is so much more beauty to this must-see TV than merely rooting for lines drawn on a map. The Olympics represent a celebration of difference, amid a backdrop of jaw-dropping human achievements that constantly amaze. Billions worldwide, for these two inspiring weeks, become a global village, of one.
One of the biggest stories from Tokyo so far is that of Sunisa Lee. Sunisa’s family immigrated to the US from Southeast Asia in 2003 when she was a toddler. Part of the Hmong ethnic group, her family settled right up the road in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Sunisa’s past year was marked by multiple challenges that made her Olympic path more difficult than most. Sure, training during the unknowns of pandemic couldn’t have been easy. But there was more. Two close family members, an aunt and an uncle, died due to COVID. Her father suffered an accident, becoming paralyzed from the chest down. Then came increased anti-immigrant sentiment. Increased anti-Asian sentiment came too.
Nevertheless, Sunisa persisted, making history as the first-ever Hmong American Olympic gymnast. Earlier this week her lofty performance earned Sunisa the gold medal of the women’s all-around. With the achievement she entered rarified air.
We celebrate triumph, amid adversity.
We celebrate –
A recent immigrant.
Finally, we celebrate, most of all, a fellow child of God.
For out of the many groups Sunisa claims, it is that final identity that binds us together, into one.
As I sat at the local library to prepare this message, I watched as a white woman approached a black man, and asked him to turn down the volume on his headphones. I could hear the sound of hip hop tunes being played ever-so-slightly, twenty feet away. Once corrected, he complied; the playful beats disappeared.
Noticing the environment we shared more now, I then heard several other conversations nearby. Each conversation was louder than the offending music. At least as best I could tell. If volume weren’t the criteria for his correction what was? As I looked over at the 6’3” black man with a head full of braided dreadlocks it was difficult not to wonder why he had been shushed. It was a reminder that the two, for far too long, have not been treated fairly, or consistently, as one.
On any given day 115,000 couples here on earth get married. Each member of the pair brings all they are to that moment, by way of DNA, family history, life experience. They share their strengths, their weaknesses, their everything. The sacred act of marriage is a public commitment to have and to hold, from this day forth, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, to cherish and to love. To do all that, with any luck, for the rest of their lives. Still unique beings, differentiated in so many ways, a new creation in this joining has been formed. The two, in the eyes of God and all those assembled, have become one.
From those sacred unions the two are united, not just in Spirit, but in flesh. And when their union comes together just so, and the creative spark of life gestates to completion, it is a miracle we relish. A new life is born. And those news lives are so cute! The family of two has become three. Later they may become four, five, more. Regardless of size they share this common identity. As a family, the many still, God willing, are one.
For the 2.4 billion Christians in the world that claim the faith, in many settings there is an almost automatic next step, baptism. We bring that adorable new life to the community, and by water and the Spirit they are reborn anew, joined to the body of Christ. Parents, Godparents, and all those gathered commit to bring, nurture, support this new life in their faith journey. When asked if we will do all this, the community replies, in unison, we do. With that vocal commitment we walk with the newly created one, their whole life long, for the sake of the One.
Every weekend Christians globally come together outdoors, in homes, in sanctuaries. We join, either in person, online, or thousands of miles away, alongside fellow believers in the holy catholic church. We stake claim to the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting. We eat the bread, broken for you, drink from the cup, shed for you, taking it into our innermost being. With that singular act Christians set aside differences large and small, joining their savior across time and space. With that singular act billions are united, together, as one.
And when our life here on earth is complete, and it is time to say goodbye, we gather, a final time, to celebrate the transition from one state of being to the next. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We pray that rest eternal grant us, O Lord. We imagine light perpetual shining on us, now and forevermore. We look forward to reunions, and peace, becoming fully connected with our Creator and all of creation.
In that moment of transition, from the here to the hereafter, all those various identities we claim fade away. In their place we are unified, once and for all time, into the One.
In just three verses from the opening of Ephesians 4, the author repeats this theme of oneness seven times:
One God and Father of us all.
A holy number.
A complete number.
A perfect number.
Repetition signals importance. The Ephesians writer must have sensed divisive energy in the faith communities of the early church. Divisive energy that exists still among us today. Divisive energy that far too often keeps us more apart, than together, as One.
At the library, the black man with muted headphones caught my glance. The two of us got to talking. Devante moved here from St. Louis recently. He appreciates his new town, in many ways, very much. But how he’s treated, I learned, based on the color of his skin, unfortunately follows him everywhere he goes.
We lamented this reality.
Devante then shared his vision of the future. “One day I hope a black man can pass a white man on the street and neither of them think twice about it. They just trust each other from the start. Why wouldn’t they? That’s the future I dream of.”
I found myself nodding along, also desiring this utopia.
While society slowly bends toward the long arc of justice, if we’re honest with ourselves, we must confess that we’re not quite there.
But we can be.
As we look to the future, let us stake claim to our faith. A faith that calls us, in no small way, to set aside our differences. To join together. To love, support, cherish, respect, honor and be, alongside all of God’s creation. Bringing creation together, once and for all, into the One. Amen.