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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 22: Unity ≠ Uniformity

 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:22-23

As a young adult, I was fascinated with Eastern philosophy. A common theme was unity, or oneness. Writers spoke frequently of becoming one with God, or with one’s environment, or with others. In marriage, scripture tells us two lives become one flesh. In my western mind, I thought the whole concept of oneness was repulsive. Why would a single drop of water intentionally fall in the ocean and lose its uniqueness? I remember reading once, about marriage, that the ultimate result of two people becoming one was two half-people. Cynical, yes; but it is a reflection of the western emphasis on individuality, making one’s own way, and expressing one’s distinctiveness.

Interestingly, the point in my life when I was ready to enter into marriage was the point when I had grown tired of my individual expression. I did not like what I had and had not achieved in life, I felt stagnant and stale, and I was more than ready to give up the life I had worked to build for a chance of reaching for something better. Marriage changed my life in wonderful ways too numerous to count, but it hardly stole my uniqueness. Rather, unity in marriage provided a larger context of support where I could develop and express my individual gifts more completely. And that is the point about unity that is often overlooked: unity does not imply uniformity. Unity is about fitting one’s uniqueness into place along with the distinct qualities of others to create something greater. Think of the pieces of a puzzle – each piece has a unique coloration, shape, and place, but when the pieces are fit together as one, the result is far beyond what any one piece was capable of producing.

Striving for unity requires a leap of faith. A person must be willing to risk the self they have identified with in order to attain a larger purpose or goal. The math of unity is 1+1+1=111. There is very little logic to it, but we know two or more people working in unison toward a common purpose can accomplish more than can be accomplished individually. The power of relationship is the immeasurable wildcard. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) It is an early definition of fellowship, and it implies that a supernatural force develops from oneness.

Every trait that made me unique in my single days I retain today, so I lost nothing. Instead, I found a greater context within which to express that uniqueness.

Unity does not equal uniformity. How did I miss that?

uncovering-god-book-and-cd-covers

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Life Notes—April 18, 2013 

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17:20-23

The passage above comes from the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, minutes before he will be betrayed and murdered.  He prays for himself to successfully complete his earthly work.  He prays for his disciples, who will establish his church.  Finally, he prays for us—those who will believe through the Word passed to us by his disciples. There is a common theme in this intimate prayer: Oneness.  Many times throughout his ministry Jesus declares that he and God are One.  And here, in the Garden, he prays that we—two thousand years in the future—will be completely one with each other.  He (Jesus) in us, and God in him, all together as One.

So, what does it mean to be One?  In Genesis 2:24, referring to marriage, it is written, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Could that be the sort of Oneness Jesus refers to?  I am married, but my wife and I are very different and unique individuals.  Yet we are one, according to Genesis.  Certainly, we have all seen how the lives of folks in committed relationships become intertwined by bonds that are painfully difficult to try to break.

There are bonds uniting us all that are beyond our ability to perceive, not just in marriage, but in humanity.  I believe Jesus is referring to a Oneness that is an absolute reality, regardless of whether we are consciously aware of it.  And that sort of Oneness helps bring perspective to some of the more difficult passages in the Bible.  For example, we are told to care for the poor and less fortunate.  If we are truly One, no one can truly prosper until all prosper because we are all interconnected.  It is true in marriage that a couple suffers or prospers together, and it is equally true of humanity.  Such shared fates may not manifest in obvious ways, but I believe they are there nonetheless.  Jesus recognized the importance of affirming that connection, even if we cannot see it.  We are all unique expressions of the One.  But we cannot separate ourselves from that source or our fellow beings; we can only ignore the connection—at our own peril.

Life worship is downtown at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Tom’s sermon is “The Power of a Helping Hand,” based on Luke 10:25-37.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the power of One…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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