by Ellen Sims
text: Hebrews 2:10-12
This World Communion Sunday, with its celebration of our unity in Christ, comes at a time when Christians in our own nation are angrily divided. Our hopes and prayers for world-wide unity within the Church seem especially naïve today. Yet our faith calls us not just to pray for unity but to trust a vision of the world that seems patently impossible: Worldwide communion of all people and indeed all creation is a fundamental reality that already exists. This union, however, goes unrecognized and unactualized.
If every human being shares with Jesus the same Parent, metaphorically, then not only is Jesus our sibling but so is everyone else. If “Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters,” (Hebrews 2:11) why would we be ashamed to name any other being on earth as our kin?
But the shameful truth is, I am sometimes ashamed to call some folks brother or sister. And today’s excerpt from the book of Hebrews forces me to admit that. It’s easy for me to say, blithely, “Ooo, I love EVERYbody.” But in truth I am, unlike Jesus, often unwilling to claim, deep down, some people as my siblings. I don’t even want to claim some as my fellow Americans or fellow clergy or fellow person-of-mainly-European-descent. I don’t feel a kinship with them. And you KNOW there are many who aren’t eager to claim kinship with ME. Yet I believe this truth that my actions sometimes deny: every person in every part of the world is every bit a part of God’s family as are you and I.
I’m not saying that our sisters and brothers don’t do shameful things at times — any more than I’m claiming I have nothing of which to be ashamed. But the writer of Hebrews is reminding us that if Jesus is not ashamed to call us brother or sister, we should disdain no one — and I’ve been doing too much of that lately. Even people who do shameful things are loved by God, are sisters and brothers of Jesus, and are kin to you and me. This sacred genealogy is as powerful as it is mysterious: we are united in some bloodless bloodline.
And it is that union of humanity and all creation that injects a very Eastern note into Christian theology–where the “Kingdom-of-God” work of Jesus gets more mystical under the heading of the Unity of Christ. Christian theology beautifully fuses Jesus’s promotion of a Way toward compassion with a spirituality that explodes beyond the finiteness of one individual life and way and temporality to encompass all in “the Christ.” The death-defying enduringness of Jesus’s unique life and his inspiring call to a selfless, unitive, empire-ending kin*dom of God recognized, realized, and spiritualized his gritty mission.
Paul theologizes about this not long after the death of Jesus: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Richard Rohr, who is in effect part of Open Table’s unofficial canon (for those discussing the Christian canon in our 9:30 class), puts it this way: “We are already in union with God! There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. At the deepest level, you and I are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) and “the whole creation . . . is being brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The problem is that Western religion has not taught us this. Our ego over-emphasizes our individuality and separateness from God and others.” I would add that the Evangelicalism of my childhood especially focused only on individual salvation and a personal—“just me and my good buddy Jesus”– relationship with the Divine. But Christian theology from long ago and to the present has rightly seen that all creation is part of this Ultimate and Mysterious Unity. https://cac.org/nature-week-1-summary-2016-11-12/
Quoting Rohr again, “When you don’t recognize that the Christ Mystery is universal, that God is present in—-and is saving—-all of creation, you can choose what you respect and what you disrespect, what you love and what you hate.” Or as I asserted earlier, you and I can choose whom to be ashamed of—-when we don’t recognize the universality of the Christ mystery.
Let me continue my confession by admitting that sometimes I so emphasize the Kin*dom Jesus preached and the Way he taught that I say too little about the transforming work of the Spirit. I emphasize following Jesus in our outward walk through this world without stressing the inner journey in Christ. Ignoring spiritual disciplines can be a temptation for “social justice Christians.” One pragmatic concern is that, without tending to our inner life, we wear out or become jaded, even embittered.
For you down-to-earthy Christians, I suspect this talk of the Christ sounds too exalted to you. But you can still hold onto a “low Christology” and recognize the capaciousness of this idea of Christ. It’s not the new name God gave Jesus after his resurrection. “Christ” is not Jesus’s last name! “Christ” is the Greek for the Hebrew word “messiah,” meaning the anointed one, the next Moses or Elijah God would send to save the Jewish people from the latest empire to which they’d fallen captive. Because Jesus followers experienced him and his Way so powerfully, he increasingly was described as the very revelation of God, and he was increasingly re-experienced in practices of prayer and with the gathered community and especially in the memorial meal of shared bread and wine. So a theology began emerging through God-encounters of the early Christ followers—with visions of Jesus and times of ecstasy and extraordinary acts of selflessness and care.
But this beautiful vision of a uniting Sacredness among all creation (which, by the way, characterized the earliest Christian art) (1) gradually transformed into a Christianity often marked by the very thing Jesus had railed against: a narrowness of mind and spirit that drew lines to say who was in and who was out. Earthly monarchs became the spokesmen of God and defended their power with the “divine right of kings.” Salvation very gradually became “privatized” so that Christians focused on their own little, separate selves to make sure they knew “the plan of salvation” that would ensure them a place in heaven one day —- thinking THAT is what all of Jesus’s Kingdom of God talk is about.
But Richard Rohr, like many theologians, says, “I am one with you and you are one with your neighbor and you are one with God. That’s the Gospel!” (I’ll repeat Rohr here: THAT is the Gospel, friends!) “That’s the whole point of communion or Eucharist; we partake of the bread and the wine until it convinces us that we are in communion. It seems easier for God to convince bread and wine of its identity than to convince us.”
He continues, “You’re not here to save your soul. That’s already been done once and for all — in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, and as Christ (see Ephesians 1:3-14). By God’s love, mercy, and grace, we are already the Body of Christ: the one universal body that has existed since the beginning of time. You and I are here for just a few decades, dancing on the stage of life, perhaps taking our autonomous self far too seriously. That little and clearly imperfect self just cannot believe it could be a child of God. I hope the Gospel frees you to live inside of a life that is larger than you and cannot be taken from you. It is the very life of God which cannot be destroyed.”
As Thomas Merton wrote, “We are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we already are.”
And what are we?
We are one in Christ.
God, help us to trust our union in you and to live out your love. Let us give our hearts to you and one another. Amen.
(1) See Brock and Parker’s Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.