It is good to be together this morning. I am learning how far some of you travel to be a part of this community for Sunday worship. During the week we connect over email and over the phone and some of us in person, through meetings or visits or volunteering, but there is something special, something powerful and particular, about this gathering, where we come with certain intentions, where those of us who can, show up to one place, at the same time…or around the same time, for all kinds of different reasons.
Some of us come to share our prayers, some of us come to hold sacred space, some of us come to give thanks and give back, and some of us come to connect with Spirit and with one another.
In Christian tradition, the Greek word most often translated as "worship" is proskuneo, which is to kiss the hand towards one, in token of reverence, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead. And in the Jewish tradition, the Hebrew word for worship is Shachah, "To lay prostrate with face touching the ground."
Historically then, the invitation to gather for worship has been about collectively lowering ourselves. The best of this is the occasion to communally remember our place in the order of things. The worst of this is rooted in the paradigm of the “king god,” demanding that the plebeians bring offerings and shortcomings before the throne. Indeed for many Christian communities still today, the Sunday worship service is about lowering oneself, about reminding each one of inherent unworthiness before the Almighty.
But if God is more like a life force than a Santa that never dies, then maybe worship is something more than bowing down?
Maybe part of what is powerful and particular about this gathering, maybe part of why some of us come so far, is that this is our chance to remember that we are part of something bigger, that we are connected in intricate and complicated ways we cannot always perceive… Maybe part of why we come here is to live and practice the wisdom that we have inherited from our shared traditions: that we are one, with every other.
In the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, science confirms, “We are all connected; to each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
We are one, with every other: with the stunning stretch of jagged peaks, the magnificent mountains that tower above us majestically as if to say, “I will be here, long after you are gone.”
As Starhawk reminds us, “All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. No one of us stands higher or lower than any other.”
I hope you have had the occasion to read and study the sacred text from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he eloquently speaks of our deep interconnectedness, of the way we belong to one another. He wrote, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All <men> are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.” 1
We are one, with every other: caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, therefore being one with every other, means not one of us stands higher or lower than any other.
I think this is part of what Paul was saying. He wrote, “As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect…”
In Paul’s First Century context, using the image of the body was not unique. Politicians and philosophers in the Greco-Roman world frequently referred to the image of the body. But here is the part that is the game changer: the big difference is that one reference meant that every body needs a head, and it should be the wealthy, the rulers, and the elite. Scholar Brian Peterson writes, “Every body needs hands and feet to do the hard and dirty work, and that was provided in society by just about everyone else.” 2
And yet Paul turns this on its head, so to speak. Because Paul meant something else when he spoke of the body. Paul took a common metaphor, a common story, a common reference and like Jesus did, he said something like you have heard it this way, but I want to invite you to hear it this way…
Because what he said to them and what this wisdom offers us right now is this: no part is less important than any other. Each one belongs and is connected to the other. No person here is any less important than any other. All of our wholeness is bound up together.
But here’s the hard part, life in much of the West is designed to distance us, from this ancient truth. Our entire economic system is designed to convince of our need for individuality, of our separateness, of our need to succeed and shine on our own.
Modern life in much of the world relies on us to remain distanced from the people and places on the other end of our choices. This is called “living above place.” This term is coined in a book called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community and it speaks of how we can be comfortably distanced and therefore hidden from the cause-and-effect-relationships of those things infecting both the past and present on our planet and in our lives. In order for this kind of global capitalism to thrive, there must be a separation between us and the harm we cause or we would be less likely to participate in the cycle.
Here’s what I mean. Over the course of time, we can create a sort of cocooned way of life, where we end up, maybe unintentionally, but ultimately contentedly; unaware of how our lives really affect each other and the world at large. 3 We are separated from the truth that we are all connected, that we are bound together and part of something bigger.
So we celebrate that deal on those super cheap clothes, without feeling the pain of the workers in Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, who mostly toil in terrible conditions with few rights.
We can celebrate bananas and strawberries year round without feeling the pain of the farmers or the eco-systems being altered to death.
We can celebrate a sensuous meal at one of the many spectacular restaurants here, without feeling the pain of the hungry children in Boulder County.
Those of us with enough privilege can be separated from the impact of our decisions both locally and globally. But I believe that living above place is not what God intended. The Spirit of Life lures us all toward a wholeness that requires we live into our connectedness, that we do not turn away from the parts that are weak or hurting. Because “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
If we know, if we believe, if we aim to live the truth that we are one, with every other: that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, we must strive for proximate lives. I believe we must dare to be connected to the consequences of our choices, even when it is brings us to our knees and demands us to change. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, “we must be willing to face the blues and play the blues, without falling into despair.”
Because no part can be cast aside because with the eyes of faith, our wholeness is bound up together.
Because no part can be left out, the Spirit is indeed working in, through and among what the world will call weakness…
Because no part can be tossed away, with the lens of love, the vulnerable places on the earth and among us, must be tended, heard and protected.
In the upside down world, where we are one with every other, our work is Jesus’ business- the task of liberation and healing; the task is living as one body.
This gathering is powerful and particular. This showing up each week to a people and a place committed to honoring our shared threads in this interdependent web of life; this is our chance to remember that we are part of something bigger. Even when distance serves as a veil, our lives and our wholeness are woven together.
Not one of us stands higher or lower, we are one, with every other. Let us live more fully into this truth. May it be so. Amen.
1 Letter from Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation
3 The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen