Sermon delivered May 18, 2008 at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC
2 Corinthians 13:5-14
Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you, now you got someone to blame?
You say one love, one life, when it’s one need in the night.
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby if you don’t care for it.
Theologian, singer, songwriter and U2 front man Bono said of the song “One”:
“It is a song about coming together, but it’s not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s saying, ‘We are one, but we’re not the same.’ It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”
The world is a frustrating place to live. We’re never told that we’re one or that we have no choice but to get along. Instead, we’re told it’s us against them. Us against non-believers. Us against infidels. Us against terrorists. Us against fundamentalists. Us against those who disagree with us. Us against those who vote differently than we do. Us against those who don’t think like we do.
Paul tells the Corinthians to put things in order, agree with one another and live in peace. The church in Corinth had long been divided into us against them. The rich against the poor, the ones who considered themselves moral against those they considered immoral – there were even members there who thought Paul was one of them and questioned his authority. He invites them to examine themselves to see whether they were living faithfully – to figure out if they were truly one – though not the same – and whether they were sharing the one love of God they all possessed.
Did I disappoint you or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love and you want me to go without.
Well, it’s too late tonight to drag the past out into the light.
We’re one, but we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other… one
Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker in New York City decided one day to get off the subway one stop early so he could visit his favorite restaurant. As he walked toward the stairs, a teenage boy approached and pulled a knife on him.
What you do in that situation? Scream? Call for help? Fight the robber? Call him names?
Diaz calmly gave the boy his wallet. But as the teen walked way, Diaz said, “Hey, wait a minute. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
That offer stopped the young robber who asked: “Why are you doing this?”
Diaz told him: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.
The boy accepted the invitation and as mugger and his victim sat at a booth together, everyone from the restaurant manager to the dishwasher stopped by the table to say hello. The kid was impressed and asked Diaz if he owned the place.
“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”
Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”
“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.
When the bill came, Diaz told the teen: “I guess you’re going to have to pay ’cause you have my money. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
The teen gave Diaz back his wallet. Diaz gave his would-be mugger twenty bucks and asked for the teen’s knife – he handed it over.
Diaz said: “I figure if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
Diaz understands, at his core, what it means to be one – but not the same. He’s not like that young robber – but he saw the humanity in the crook and redeemed what could have been a violent situation.
Have you come here for forgiveness,
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much, more than a lot
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.
We’re one, but we’re not the same.
Well, we hurt each other, then we do it again.
A man is stumbling through the woods, totally drunk, when he comes upon a preacher baptizing people in the river. He proceeds to walk into the water and subsequently bumps into the preacher. The preacher turns around and is almost overcome by the smell of booze. But, he still manages to ask the drunk, “Are you ready to find Jesus?”
The drunk answers, “Yes, I am.”
So the preacher grabs him and dunks him in the water. He pulls him up and asks the drunk, “Brother have you found Jesus?”
The drunk replies, “No, I haven’t found Jesus.”
The preacher, shocked at the answer, dunks him into the water again but for a little longer this time. He again pulls him out of the water and asks again, “Have you found Jesus, my brother?”
The drunk again answers, “No, I haven’t found Jesus.”
By this time, the preacher is at his wits end so he dunks the drunk in the water again — but this time he holds him down for about 30 seconds.
When the drunk begins kicking his arms and legs, the preacher pulls him up.
The preacher asked the drunk again, “For the love of God, have you found Jesus?”
The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath and says to the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Some people have taken Jesus’ message to preach and teach the gospel as a call for them to play Jesus and go out and personally save as many lepers as they can. You’ve met the type. Their first words are, “Have you found Jeeeezus?” We, like the drunk, are thinking, “I didn’t realize he was lost.”
There’s an anti-gay Christian Web site out there that frequently posts some of my sermons and writings and tears them apart. They accuse me of all sorts of things – the least of which being an unrepentant lesbian who mistakenly believes that God loves me just as I am. They’ve made me their mission – well, one of their missions. I’m one of the many gay lepers out there in need of their personal saving. They think they’re fulfilling Jesus’ instructions to teach everyone to obey Jesus’ commandments. By spouting bile and vitriol to those they have deemed filthy lepers, they believe they are fulfilling the great commission.
This is not what Jesus means when he tells us to go to all the nations and talk about him. We’re not on a personal crusade to save people or carrying around a tally sheet of the lost we’ve saved. Instead, we are called to live into the compassion and love we’ve found in Christ. We’re called to realize that we’re one – but we’re not the same. We must carry each other, even if that other may be our sworn enemies.
St. Francis of Assisi advised us to, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” Often, it’s not our words that make disciples of others, but how we live. Our very lives must preach the gospel to all the nations – even to those who say we must give up God’s gift of our sexual orientation – or our support of those who embrace their sexual orientation or gender identity. Those kinds of people may say they love others, but they only see that we’re not the same – they don’t understand that we are all still one.
You say love is a temple, love a higher law
Love is a temple, love the higher law.
You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on to what you got, when all you got is hurt.
According to the church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday – a day to celebrate the doctrine that posits that God is one – but not the same. There is a creator, a redeemer and a sustainer – all the same, with three distinct roles – all in relationship. Herein lies the key – we cannot even realize that we are all one unless we’re willing to be in relationship – not just with those we choose, but with those we’d rather not be in relationship with – those who look different than us, think different than us, smell different than us, talk different than us, vote different than us. In God there is no us and them – there is only one – but not the same.
Our role is to preach obedience to Jesus’ command – and what was that command? To love God, self and neighbor. We are commanded to love – to preach obedience to love, to model obedience to love, to be in loving relationship with everyone – even the ones who are not the same as us.
Thomas Merton writes in Love and Living:
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never feel real until we let ourselves fall in love — either with another human person or with God.
That sounds hard – like a life fraught with rejection and frustration. It sounds like the kind of love that leads to heartache, to persecution and perhaps even crucifixion. But, as Bono said, we have no choice. If we are to fulfill the great commission, we must realize we are one, but not the same and get on with the business of carrying each other – being there for those who have no one – being there for those who hate us – being there for those who persecute us – being there for those who would rather we not be there.
In my hometown of Buford, Georgia, we had a convenience store called “Tote-a-Poke.” Can any Southerners here translate that phrase? It means, “Carry a bag.” As followers of Jesus we’re called to be toters. We don’t tote a bag, but a message. We’re divine message toters. That message is one of unity in diversity. That’s a tough message to tote in a polarized and partisan world – but we’re not left alone in our endeavor. Jesus said, “I am with you always – I am with you always.” We’re never left to our own devices.
Breathe deeply – feel that connection – that living relationship to the divine.
In that relationship we become one with our creator, our redeemer and our sustainer. In that relationship our lives become a wordless sermon, drawing still others into God’s realm.
One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should.
One life with each other: sisters, brothers.
One life, but we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., was ordained in December 2003 and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians,” was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.