‘One.’ Doug Norris
Anything I have ever accomplished in ministry I owe to my Grade 13 Math teacher, Mr Shelly. Who would be startled and confused to hear me say that. I’ll come back to this shortly.
The text we’ve just read together is a modernized version of the ancient text of the Jewish community, a text known as the Sh’ma.
In its more traditional wording it begins this way : Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, is ONE. Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. It is from Deuteronomy 6. But it is also in Matthew – when they asked Jesus what is the most important commandment – he went to those words. They remain to this day one of the core passages for the Jewish community. In the concert the afternoon as our choir joins the choir of Temple Sinai I’ll get to read these words again and will feel very much like a visitor allowed to handle the family’s finest treasures. I’ll be reminded that anything that has emerged for us as a Christian community has risen out of the original ground of our Jewish family.
Last week I attended a Kirtan at a yoga studio. Essentially, a Kirtan is Hindu chanting, music, silence. Very beautiful music, 5 or 6 simple acoustic instruments, a woman with a fine voice leading the singing of the chants. And I was profoundly uncomfortable. Who is this god Shiva? Kali? Krishna? Ganesh? Gatte? Why am I singing my love to them? And as I was experiencing this dissonance, this feeling of being out of place, my Inner Progressive Theologian was, at the same time, reminding me that I believe God is one, and that any human expression of faith is directed to this one Presence. Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Allah, Vishna, all names for different experiences of this One light. All different lungs breathing the one air. So why am I squirming?
If you are here next week, we will have a delightful event. One of the families sponsored here as refugees from Iraq have just had a baby. We will offer a blessing on this new life. Now, they are originally Muslim, but we are not a mosque, and we would normally offer a baptism, but they are not Christian. They are simply part of the family here. The are in us and we are in them. One. This unity will transcend the labels that could otherwise divide us.
So, being at temple Sinai will be a delight, the Hindu chanting made me uneasy, a vaguely religious blessing for the baby will be a privilege. This religion stuff is a confusing business.
Back to math teacher Mr Shelly. In 1977 Mr Shelly understood two things: that I was headed for University where I would probably do OK, and that I did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the required math course to get out off high school and move on. So he gave me a 51. And the moment I saw it I understood it to be a gift from a friend. 51 in math is code for ‘get this guy out of here, he can barely balance his bank book, but he should go to University.’
Let me say a bit about church math. For a time I was in a church that was fanatic about adding people – go out and bring people to Jesus! Count up the souls you’ve saved! Then later in the United Church, when we got serious about being wide open to people of all sexual orientations, the church was into division in big way. Now we are in a descent, our particular version of Church is falling out of fashion, and we are subtracting. Closing churches, dropping memberships. So we are about to try a lot of different experimental ministries, hoping that multiplication will be the answer.
But the fundamental church math is very simple. The factor of One. The answer to any meaningful question is One. A unity. Ut Omnes Unum Sint. That All May Be One. (United Church motto). Psalm 133 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head…” The endgame of all of our ritual and music and our learned theology is not to attain perfect ritual or soaring music or the smartest theology – it is all to bring us to a longing for unity, participation in the dream of God for peace with justice.
Sometimes I like to take an hour and browse through some of the current science – see what’s going on in the world . I enjoy seeing that as science gets further and further into the profound questions – the nature of the universe, the origin of all things, the search for the so-called ‘theory of everything’, the language gets very vague. Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. Fuzzy logic. These are the people who were killing me in math class! And they arrive as I do at vast unknowns. I take comfort in this. Mystery and humility. But if there is a direction in which their ideas point, it is toward a number. One. A unified field. At the yet-indescribable core of everything is a unity, a field, an energy. And it tilts toward unity.
Listen up, O Israel, God is One! Listen up said Jesus: I am in you and you are in me and together we are in the Father…
We usually start with a world-changing task. Go fix all the broken places ! If we were to put a bulletin board at the back here with all of the posters and petitions and events it would submerge us. This might be an error. It might be that we should start by bringing into view our divided hearts and coming to wholeness in ourselves, Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…
There are two very dear young adults in our congregation who this morning are wrestling with deep struggles. Two that I know of. If Jesus were here in our midst he would not head for the bulletin board and hand out tasks, he would head for where the pain is, the divided heart, and say ‘You are loved, you are part of the heart of God, you are in me and I am in you and together we are in the Father… Do not be afraid.” If you have a moment today send a loving prayer out into the universe for the divided souls. If you are broken in heart today, barely hanging on, know that you are not ever alone. Do not be afraid. Our birthright is deep unity, wholeness, peace.
Here’s what I have for today.
I am either, in everything I do, and in all the words I utter, I am either making a step toward a unity or making a step toward a division. I will not in my lifetime understand the mystery of the Oneness of God, or the Unified Field Theory. I don’t need to. The affirmation that God is One only has to lead me to the conviction that I can be whole, and the conviction that I can make or break wholeness in others.
We are already one. (Thomas Merton) We have just forgotten. We are already one. May it be so.