A family member of mine recently proclaimed that they would immediately leave a worship service if it became political. Indeed it is a divisive and divided time in this country and I am guessing this sentiment speaks to that. But it is not uncommon for preachers to hear such things. Over the course of my ministry, I have heard this on occasion. Often what people are really expressing is the hope for a place where there isn’t tension around very much of anything, let alone differences. And this all got me thinking, what if there is no such thing as an apolitical Christianity?
Of course the word came long after Jesus, polettiques first appears in English in the mid 15th century 1, but from the start, Jesus’ life and teachings were political.He pointed to a hierarchy that is flattened. He taught that the last are to be first, that those who make peace should be our focus, that going down is how you go up, that we are one humanity. And if we take seriously living these out as individuals, there are political implications.
I am not denying that each application of the teachings and traditions handed down to us is subjective. But Jesus’ life and death should at a minimum spark conversation around the death penalty and state sanctioned violence. And it was a flat-out political statement to make room for women to lead, to offer healing without payment, to give energy toward uplifting those on the margins, especially in the First Century.
The piece you heard from the Gospel of John today is known as the culmination of Jesus’ teachings in what is called his Farewell Discourse. It is not exactly noted as a political speech, rather this piece of Christian scripture, is celebrated for its poetry and piety. It is intentional with intensity and metaphor. In part because it is the end of Jesus’ long goodbye and it has the feel of someone trying to cram everything in before time runs out.The words come across almost as if he is pleading, “that they may all be one…” “The glory I have, you have too, so you may be one, as we are one.”
Of all the words of wisdom to highlight in the final stretch, he focused on oneness, he told his followers, if you forget everything, remember that we are one. In a modern translation called the Message, the teaching goes like this, “the goal is for all of you is to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, God are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us….
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.”
The goal is for all of you to become one heart and mind—
Remember we are one.
The worldview in Jesus’ time did not include all of the knowledge we have gained of the vast connections under the surface, but still he taught of oneness. We are one. All of us- different expressions of the Universe, connected beyond our perception.
And now we know that oneness is confirmed by science. As you heard from Adrienne Maree Brown, “E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G—is connected. The soil needs rain, organic matter, air, worms and life in order to do what it needs to do to give and receive life. Each element is an essential component… Nature teaches us that our work has to be nuanced and steadfast. And more than anything, that we need each other—at our highest natural glory—in order to get free…”
We are one and we need each other in order to get free.
So perhaps what Jesus was really saying was, “that they may all know they are one…” May they all act into the fact, that we are all connected. Whether we like it or not, we are one.
But what does oneness mean now in this time where the tides of hate are rising? What do we do with the truth of our oneness when our ability to imagine beyond corporate funded fear is being stifled?
Perhaps right now, we are made to feel as if it is our right to hate- Hate the people from out of state ruining the price of housing. Hate the immigrants and the ones “stealing” jobs on assembly lines. Hate the ignorant and uneducated for electing our shadow self. Hate the wealthy parents using bribes as college applications. Hate is showing up in all corners.
And in order for hate to have gained this kind of power and influence in all of our lives, in order for it to be running some of our biggest companies and countries, in order for us to have arrived where we are, fear and fragmentation are required, division is needed, othering is essential.
And yet… we know that we are one and we need each other, in order to get free. This has political implications.
Because if the goal is for all of us to become one heart and mind, then I must value you, separate from my own point of view or what I think you should do.
Oneness is not to be confused with homogeneity or forced sameness. Oneness is not civility. Oneness acknowledges that more than anything, our wholeness is bound together, in our difference, in our complexity.
As abortion bans sweep the nation, I have been thinking of oneness. I have suffered a pregnancy loss, but I have never had the experience of choosing to terminate one. Imagine if I was imprisoned for this pregnancy loss? I understand that thoughtful people can come out in vastly different places on this issue, but most of the time, it seems Christians are bold on only one particular side, claiming to know what God would want.
I have found myself emotional over these weeks about this issue, and this has been a hard couple of years! I think it is in part because in my lifetime, I haven’t had to face the idea that another person, or group could intervene in such an intimate and complicated matter of the human body.
Jesus’ teachings are frequently used as weapons, but I believe they are meant to be a salve for all of the suffering, I believe they are meant to shift power and privilege to uplift, to value the freedom of individuals, to affirm the dignity of each one. It is just as much a Christian position to support each ones’ right to choose.
We are one: When you harm one, the whole will hurt… When you deny freedom to one, the whole world is less free.
When he was down to his final words, Jesus said, the goal is for all of you to become one heart and mind: we are one. And right now, maybe living into oneness means, even when we hold another perspective, we will fight like hell for each of us to have freedom and agency and autonomy. Because we are all connected and we need each other, in order to get free. When it’s all said and done, whether we like it or not, we are one.
1 politics (n.) 1520s, "science of government," from politic (adj.), modeled on Aristotle's ta politika "affairs of state," the name of his book on governing and governments, which was in English mid-15c. as "Polettiques." Also see -ics.
Politicks is the science of good sense, applied to public affairs, and, as those are forever changing, what is wisdom to-day would be folly and perhaps, ruin to-morrow. Politicks is not a science so properly as a business. It cannot have fixed principles, from which a wise man would never swerve, unless the inconstancy of men's view of interest and the capriciousness of the tempers could be fixed. [Fisher Ames (1758-1808)]