What of This Thing Called Unity?

UnityI read a statistic some years ago. If anything, the number has probably grown larger.

At that time, there were some 35,000 different “Christian” churches throughout the world.

Think of that. In two thousand years, the Christian community has managed to splinter into so many diverse belief systems, that virtually anyone can pretty much choose their flavor of Christianity. Go into any American city, grab the Yellow Pages and see for yourself. Pages and pages of “denominations”.

What is at the basis of such a plethora of choices? Why nothing less than the honest belief on the part of each that they have “got it.” By got it, I mean, the true and correct understanding of the bible.

Add to that the incredible number of people, who (given the above) with some ( and I mean only some) justification, feel that they can cut to the chase so to speak and go to no “organized” church at all. If there are that many ways of interpreting scripture, then who is to say that I can’t do as well all by myself. Thus is born the non-denominational phenomenon, churches aligned to no recognized Protestant “church”, those that arise around the charismatic leadership of a single pastor and his/her personal interpretation, or the greatest non-denominational of all, the “unchurched,” but “spiritual” category.

The waters continue to muddy as the non-denominationals become mega churches themselves. In the end, a miasma of variety is offered to the average person that belies any “true” Christian faith at all. We truly are a Baskin and Robbins affair, replete with our own 31 + thousand flavors.

To be fair, any serious look at the early church shows pretty much the same picture. The Roman Catholic Church became the “winner” of the heresy wars, able in the end to define heresy as anything that we agree is wrong doctrine. All the others who had been arguing that they preached the “true” faith, faded into the history of doctrine that failed to win the day.

Truly, from the start, we have never agreed about what Christian doctrine is. This fact is recorded first in Acts when we learn that Paul and his followers had a much different idea of what Christianity consisted of than did Peter and those in Jerusalem. We are assured that  all was worked out amicably, but of course the bible we read today avoids the Gnostic “problem” and others. All those “other” Gospels float around from those earliest of days to suggest that there was always plenty of dissension among the believers that never got ironed out amicably or otherwise.

Yet Jesus talks to us of unity.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them.”

Jesus knew, as we all intuitively do, that in unity is power. Not the power of dominion and rule, but the power of persuasion. In their unity, they would illustrate forcefully that indeed the Father had sent Jesus to “save” us from ourselves. Save us, not in the unhealthy way of dying for our sins in some atonement sense, but save us from our own petty selfish selves by teaching us to live rightly.

We all know that the most powerful convincing tool in any arsenal is living the life one is preaching. Jesus really tried to teach us how to live. That convinces other more than anything we say. How do we live? How do we project the love that we know through this Jesus who lived and died so long ago? If our lives reflect a way of being that is attractive to others, then we truly preach the Gospel.

That is the unity. That is the template we should be seeking.

Instead we argue about doctrine all day and every day. We do this of course under the guise of proving that we are rightly interpreting this Jesus. It has never been and will never be about this thing we call a bible. That is a collection of human writings. It is and will always be about trying to live out the way of life as the Master announced to us. And quite frankly, much of that is pretty well understood by even the most limited of us.

Love God. Love each other. Take care of each other.

It’s all so very simply. All the rest, is as someone said,  is mere commentary.

What a powerful force we “Christians” could be, if only we simply lived as Jesus asked us to–in love.

The Truth Will Make You Free

John tells us:

If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.” [Jn 8-31]

These much quoted words echo in these last days of the desert walk. And yet, we remain ofttimes unsure of their meaning.

Do we, like the Jews listening to Jesus immediately exclaim, “We are the descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone, . . .” or do we sense as Jesus suggests that this is not the kind of freedom he is talking about?

When Jesus, by way of example, says that sin is slavery, most of us stop there. “Oh,” we say, “this means that we are to try to be as sinless as possible in our lives.”

Well, yes that is true. But too often that simply means to many, that they follow the dictates of their church teachings. Be good orthodox Catholics or Methodists.

I think this is not at all what Jesus was getting at. Notice he uses the phrase, “make my word your home,” and if we do so, “you will learn the truth. In other words, internalize what I have been saying to you, stop trying to be “good” religious folk, instead love God and love  your neighbor as yourself.

This internalization is what we call “putting on the mind of Christ’  and is nothing less than a total immersion in God, until the false ego gives way to the Spiritual Self united to God eternally. When we can do that, we will learn the truth. We will learn the truth from the Father, and Jesus makes that clear in verse 40,  “[truth].  . .as I have learnt  it from God.”

Where we err is, I think, in looking for some “interpretation” of truth. Another blogger pointed this out. Wherever we go, to theologians, biblical scholars, faith creeds across Christendom, we find different opinions. There is no unanimity as to “what Scripture means” and we look to scripture to determine “what God wants.”

We are looking in the wrong place. Scripture is a guide. It reflects work already done in reflecting on who God is and what God wants. But it is not definitive. It attempts to give us the “words of Christ” but only through the lens of what the writer is trying to get across. We must take all such things “with a grain of salt” therefore. They help in not having  to redo work already done, and they serve as a guide to “The Way.”

Can there be any doubt that if we dwell within, loving God, loving neighbor, that truth will emerge? Love is the truth, and until we embrace that love into every fiber of our being, we will not know the truth that Jesus received from the God, that we too can receive from God by following as his disciple.

The freedom offered by Jesus, is the freedom to live life in utter freedom, freedom from fear, from want, from any desire no in keeping with the good of all creation.  It is the freedom to be fully human, secure that we are united with all of creation and with the Creator, eternally. That freedom is the ultimate freedom.

Come, follow me!

Amen.

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