Using the scriptures that we just heard, Brian McLaren talks about the diversity within God’s very self, God the Creator, God as revealed in the humanity of Jesus, and God in the experience of presence that we identify as the Holy Spirit. Three ways of being, and still one God. I’d rather talk about the diversity of all of creation and the unity within it. That diversity speaks about God more profoundly than any constructs that we can devise to describe God. There is more than a semantic difference when we say that there is one God as opposed to saying that God is one. Declaring that there is only one God can be followed by other particularities. God is our God, not yours; we are God’s people, you are not; we believe in the one true God, all other gods are idols. There is only one God and that’s my God.
But let’s look at how the meaning changes when we say that God is one. God made everything and is in everything. God’s being is consistent and unified. The image of God moves from particularity to expansive inclusiveness. God’s creation reveals God’s nature. All of creation springs from the heart of God and reflects a vast diversity that is interconnected. Just think about your body. We are made up of tissue and fluids, cells that are distinct and only serve one function and cells that are universal and can become what they need to be. We have cells that allow us to see, and cells that mediate sound, cells that transmit pain, and cells that protect us from disease. Together, they work in harmony to create one body.
Think of the diversity in the produce aisle at the supermarket or the flower stall. I just traveled from the Tri-Cities yesterday and marveled at the diversity of the terrain and climate. Rolling hills, winding rivers, bleached sand, scrub brush, green fields, rocky outcroppings, mountain passes, towering evergreens, even some snow visible on the peaks of mountains when the temperature registering in my car was 104º.
Annual Conference was a great place to see the diversity within humanity. We are short and tall, slim as a rail, and “big boned” (that’s what my mother always called people with my shape), with straight hair and curly hair, light skin and dark skin, blue eyes and brown. Some of us are fit and healthy, some live with disabilities. There were babies and great-grandparents. We grew up speaking different languages. We were urban dwellers and farmers, engineers and musicians. And we were one body doing the business of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. Sometimes we voted with one voice and sometimes we had to stand to be counted. Once there was a tie and the chair of the committee presenting the legislation noted, “As you can see from the committee’s vote, this is not an easy decision.”
On the Friday morning of Annual Conference the Supreme Court ruled on same sex marriage. There was great rejoicing in the section I was sitting in. I know at least one person asked our Bishop to make the announcement from the dais. Instead, Bishop Hagiya took a moment of personal privilege to remind us that some of us were rejoicing and some of us were lamenting. He called on us to live into each other’s reality as the apostle Paul calls us to weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. The Bishop encouraged us to rejoice from the bottoms of our hearts or lament from the bottom of our hearts, and to hold the other person’s joy or sorrow in our hearts—because we are one people. We belong to the God who is one and all of our brothers and sisters are part of God and beloved of God. No matter how our beliefs, cultures, or skin color differ, we are one because God is one. God is not divided. Listen to the words of Jesus, from The Message:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
There is something about us, though, that makes us afraid of people who are different from us. It is easy to dehumanize people with different skin or customs or language or religion. We saw that played out at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where it was only the color of people’s skin that made them a target of hatred. But the families of the victims of such brutal hatred responded through God’s Spirit with words of forgiveness. The world is stunned when someone demonstrates God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Instead of dividing over race, the people of Mother Emanuel demonstrated diversity in unity. God’s Spirit makes us one people. Not black and white, but one people. Not rich and poor, but one people. Not free and oppressed, but one people. And because we are one people, we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. One person’s oppression is our oppression. One person’s poverty is our poverty. We are diverse in our experience as humans, but we united in the breath of God, the Spirit of God, which gives us life. And we must respond in love, with reverence for the image of God in each human being.
Let me share two poems with you. The first was written by St. Francis of Assisi.
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk
through the world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed he lingered a bit longer
before any face that was
and before any eyes that were
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship
God too would kneel
I have come to learn: God
The second comes from Hafiz, the most beloved Persian poet who lived in the 14th century. It speaks of God as one, of our belonging to God in the wholeness of God, and our obligation to treat each person as sacred. I have probably read this to you before. Listen again.
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His—the Christ’s, our
I have come into this world to see this: all creature hold hands as
we pass through this miraculous existence we share on the way
to even a greater being of soul,
a being of just ecstatic light, forever entwined and at play
I have come into this world to hear this:
every song the earth has sung since it was conceived in
the Divine’s womb and began spinning from
every song by wing and fin and hoof,
every song by hill and field and tree and woman and child,
every song of stream and rock,
every song of tool and lyre and flute,
every song of gold and emerald
every song the heart should cry with magnificent dignity
to know itself as
for all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching—
only imbibing the glorious Sun
will complete us.
I have come into the world to experience this:
men so true to love
they would rather die before speaking
men so true their lives are His covenant—
the promise of
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men’s hands
even at the height of
their arc of
because we have finally realized
there is just one flesh
we can wound.