I had a funny thing happen to me the other day. I read a Facebook status update by a friend of mine on a business trip to Delaware. She said that her hotel was being renovated, so she had to switch rooms. A little while later, I read another status update by one of our congregants at this church: Melissa Roy. Melissa, who is also on a business trip to Delaware, likewise mentioned that her hotel was being renovated, so she had to switch rooms. In a moment of déjà vu, I put two and two together and realized that Melissa and my friend Michelle must be part of the same trip. I had no idea they worked together! We all had a good laugh about it and then Melissa threatened to sing It’s a Small World, After All. For the sake of all that is good and holy in this world, I begged her not to.
We’ve all had experiences like this: little moments when separate points in our lives meet together unexpectedly. People tend to laugh or smile when this happens. I think this is because something deep inside of us leaps for joy at the discovery that we are not alone in this universe. We instinctively rejoice to learn that our lives are connected as parts of a great, unfathomable whole.
Connection is a pretty cool thing. It happens every day at all levels of existence: in the way we do business, in biological ecosystems, and even in the laws of physics. There’s a scientific phenomenon I first learned about a few years ago called quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement has to do with photons (tiny particles of light). I’m not a physicist, so I’ll explain it in the words of Theodore Roszak, which I found in another book by Diarmuid O’Murchu called Quantum Theology (p.32):
Entanglement is a relationship that allows physicists to make twins of photons, and then link them in a sort of quantum web that permits instantaneous communication across light years of distance. At least thus far, entanglement stands as a relational state so strange that it eludes any causal explanation. The very antithesis of isolation and autonomy, it suggests that scientists who approach nature with a sensitivity for interaction, reciprocity, and rich interrelationship will find endless wonders.
Here again we see the miracle of connection taking place. Connection is everywhere. You’ve heard me say this before (and you’ll hear me say it again): the word religion comes from the Latin word for connection. So, it’s no wonder that the very deepest parts of ourselves jump for joy whenever little momentary connections happen in our lives, like those times when we discover that two friends from different parts of our lives also know each other. We say, “Hey! Look at that! We’re all connected!” Moments like that are religious moments, on the most basic level. For an instant, our spiritual eyes are open to the great mystery of the universe and we realize that we are not alone.
In this morning’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians, the author talks at length about this mystery of connectedness. The author of this passage is writing in the name of the apostle Paul, although most biblical scholars agree that it probably wasn’t Paul himself who wrote this. It was probably one of his students, writing in his name a generation or so after his death. This wasn’t at all uncommon in the ancient world. In that culture, it was considered a great honor for a student to write in the name of a beloved former teacher. However, it poses a problem for us modern readers because we like to look for concrete facts that we can take at face-value.
This author, writing honorifically in Paul’s name, talks about a mystery that was revealed to Paul during his lifetime. Most of us have probably heard the story before: Paul (then called Saul) was a devout and educated Jew who made a name for himself by hunting and imprisoning the followers of Jesus. Then, one day, while Paul was on the road to the city of Damascus in modern-day Syria, he was struck by a blinding light and a voice from heaven that identified itself as Jesus. From then on, Paul’s life was different. He became a leader in the very movement he had previously sought to eradicate. He still considered himself to be a faithful Jew, but his interpretation of Judaism was now being filtered through his newfound faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
This interpretive change had all sorts of consequences for Paul and his faith. One of the most significant changes for Paul was that he now believed that Gentiles (non-Jewish people) could be included in the fellowship of the chosen people. For Paul, it was a person’s faith, not his or her ethnicity or religious background, that qualified him or her for membership in the chosen people. Paul himself wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The author of Ephesians expresses a similar idea in today’s passage, saying, “the Gentiles (non-Jews) have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
This new idea did not go over very well with the religious leaders of Judaism in Paul’s day. From their point of view, Paul and these so-called “Christians” were a bunch of liberal hippies, frolicking around and claiming that anybody who wanted to could be part of the chosen people. These more traditional believers were scared that Paul and his Christian friends were undermining the very beliefs, morals, and values that their ancestors had fought and died for. Blood had been shed to preserve Jewish tradition, Jewish culture, and Jewish religion, but now this Paul guy and his students were saying that it didn’t matter anymore. This was a problem for them. It was disrespectful. It was offensive. It put Paul and the Christians at odds with the Jewish community from then on. Paul never stopped thinking of himself as a Jew, but the rest of the Jewish community saw him as a heretic and a traitor. They did everything they could to ensure that he and his students were unwelcome in their synagogues.
But Paul and his Christian students never blinked. They had discovered something so powerful in their lives that rejection from the powers-that-be didn’t even phase them. Their faith was no private devotion that secured their individual souls for an afterlife in heaven. Theirs was a faith of connectedness. Just like my recent encounter with mutual acquaintances, they found that strangers could be family. Just like entangled photons, they found that connectedness itself is woven into the very fabric of the universe. Through their faith in Christ, the early Christians discovered that the umbrella of God’s grace is big enough to include all people, all beings. The author of Ephesians talks about celebrating “the boundless riches of Christ” and “the wisdom of God in its rich variety.” Within the mystery of grace, there is abundance without boundaries.
The joy they found in this ever-expanding family of faith trumped the persecution they faced from religious and political authorities on every side. No less than their ancestors who had suffered and died to preserve the traditions of the Jewish people, these early Christians were just as willing to suffer and die for their faith in the God who’s “got the whole world in his hands.” What they had discovered was news so good that it had to be shared, no matter what the consequences might be.
You and I, as Christians in the 21st century, are the heirs of this subversive legacy. We live in a culture where people see themselves as isolated and divided. They fight for the survival and superiority of their own little groups. Consumerism tells them that “greed is good” and “selfishness is a virtue.” Economic collapse, political corruption, and religious violence are simply the fruits that grow from the seeds of self-centered hearts, minds, and societies.
The gospel of grace stands in stark contrast to this selfishness. In Christ, we learn that we are all connected. As Paul himself wrote: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” This connection is no trivial thing, either. It’s not some feel-good philosophy that warms our hearts once in a while. No, we depend on each other. We need each other. Once again, I refer to Paul’s writing:
…just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’… If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
We are connected, interdependent, and members of the same body. If we understood the truth of this, one would no more be able to demean, degrade, or dehumanize another person than to poke out one’s own eye or cut off a hand. We need each other. We belong to one another because we all belong to God. That’s what it means to be connected and to live as connected beings.
That’s the message the people of this world need to hear. They’re longing to belong so badly that they’ll jump on the band wagon of any agenda or ideology that comes their way, promising peace and prosperity. What they don’t realize is that they already do belong. There is a place for them in this house, this community, this church. The whole world desperately needs to hear this good news, but they won’t hear it unless we tell them.
The church is meant to be a microcosm of that inter-connected community in the universe. We are called to love and to care for each other as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are also called to love and care for outsiders as if they were our own. That’s how the world will come to see and know that they too are loved and connected to the universe in God.
This good news is no sales pitch for conversions, neither is it a “turn or burn” warning of hellfire and damnation. It seems to me that we’ve done a good enough job of making hell on earth already. No, the gospel we preach is food for hungry hearts and medicine for sick souls. We preach it with our lives more than our words. If we live lives of compassion and integrity, recognizing and honoring our own sacred connections to the universe, people will naturally be attracted to us, just like they were drawn to Jesus.
Like Jesus, each of us can become agents of healing and enlightenment for the world. This is our destiny: to remind the world of its destiny and to take this message of faith, hope, and love to very ends of earth.
We are all messengers. Whether we speak up in words or not, the world will receive some kind of message from our lives.
May the message that your life sends to the world be the same as my message to you at the end of each Sunday sermon:
“I love you. God loves you. And there is nothing you can do about it.”
Be blessed and be a blessing.