That They May Be One


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 31, 2020

We read today from the Lord's high priestly prayer from John's Gospel. I want to focus on a short line from it, "That they may be one as we are one." In context Jesus is praying specifically for his disciples since they soon would suffer his crucifixion, death and burial. But I believe there are deeper and broader implications in light of the tragic events of this past week.

Now for a little autobiographical background. 

When I was a child my parents taught me the song, "Jesus's loves the little children, all the children of the world." And it enumerates these children by colors. Red, yellow, black and white, calling them all "precious in his sight." 

You need to know that no matter how ubiquitous this song was in my little hometown, we had no real experience of it, for there were no red or black or brown children there, only one little Japanese girl who was adopted. So racism wasn't talked about. We had no reason to. We did, however, stand reverently in grammar school, when "Dixie" was proudly sung. Verses one and two.

I grew up in a town with a railroad that hired many black men at one time. In 1918 all black people in my town were expelled by a white mob, an event during which one black man was murdered. We didn't talk about that much, but I heard about it all my life mostly in whispers. I even learned that my paternal grandfather had been a member of the KKK for a short time. At that time It was like belonging to the Rotary Club or the Elks it was so ingrained in the culture.

When I first read today's Gospel from John, I heard it as a call to a way of life foreign to my experience, for unity with God and neighbor, for love of all. I never could understand the fear and hatred of racism though I lived with it. It has always been repugnant to me. "That they may be one" sounded like a universal anthem and a call to action. When I left home, I started to explore how a way of life free from racial hatred and fear might look.

As a priest it has been confirmed over and over again that this is the way of life Christ lived and calls us to live. The Incarnation is, in fact, the revelation of the oneness of humanity. In Christ's own flesh the whole of human nature has been inextricably knitted together. The image of God in a black person is identical to the image of God in a white person and any other person. In Christ, to paraphrase St. Paul, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, black nor white, slave nor free.

Human nature is one. Humanity is one. So, he is one with us and we are one in him and one with one another. It has always been so and Christ in his Incarnation has revealed it to be so.

Hatred is anti-Christ. Racism is blasphemy. Christ is the least of the brethren among us and so we can say without equivocation that Jesus Christ was strangled on a street in Minneapolis in the disguise of George Floyd, shot to death in a bedroom in Louisville in the disguise of Breonna Taylor, and murdered in a subdivision in Georgia in the disguise of Ahmaud Arbery. For 400 years Black Americans have suffered from systemic racism and it is time we stood up for them with courage, repentance, and extreme humility.

The Heisman Trophy winner Joey Burrow said it beautifully, "The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen, and speak. This isn't politics. This is human rights."

We cannot ever condone violence. We must, however, find ways to protest injustice and inequality in ways that lift up our neighbors and ourselves and glorifies our Father in heaven. Jesus calls us " the light of the world." This light is love and we must not hide it. He calls us "the salt of the earth" and explains that "if the salt has lost its flavor, it is good for nothing but to be thrown in the garbage." In the Book of Revelation God tells the lukewarm Christian's of Laodicea that since they are neither hot nor cold, he will spew them out of his mouth. 

We cannot be neutral or silent when our black brothers and sisters are being harmed. We must be light in this darkness. We must season the world with the salt of peace, and grace and truth and love. And we must not sit on the fence when the times call us to have courage and speak. And we must always gather on the side of the despised and persecuted, filling the gaping wound with the oil and wine of love.

In the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy we pray explicitly for all humanity and creation. We ask God to "help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us." If we are not willing to help, to save, to distribute mercy, and protect the vulnerable among us, then how dare we ask God to do it for us?

Our responsibility begins when the needs of our neighbors become known. If we know and do nothing, then what good are we? The Epistle of St. James the brother of the Lord says as much. "Faith without works is dead."  And from the same letter:

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, 'Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,' but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?…"

And from the Lord Himself,

"For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in…" (Matthew 25:35)

Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the man left to die on the side of the road. Has that story not played out in front of our eyes this past week? I think the Lord’s message is clear. We must now become Good Samaritans. We must not pass by on the other side.