St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, October 9, 2022
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
THERE IS A REASON for not trusting too much in numbers. Human factors don’t always go by the numbers. Good decisions, good government, a definition of what ‘good’ means may lie beyond counting up a majority, taking a poll, raising hands. Mob rule is anarchy. The many overrule the few. A mob destroys unity. Not in every case do the many make better decisions than the few. And at critical times, it is only one.
One is a special number. How many people - of any description - does it really take to change a light bulb? How many lifetimes do you have? How many people does it take to change our world?
It’s a season for sports and stadiums: excited fans and huge foam hands with a big index finger in team colors, “We are #1.” Sadly, the Giants only broke even this year, 30 games behind and out of the running as post season begins, and the Dodgers won 111, best in the league.
World records can only be held by one person or one team, and Guinness’ Book of World Records has #1 positions for the world’s biggest nose, longest snake, fastest 100-meter piggy-back jump and a host of silly championships. Every year a world record in real events is set by a runner or swimmer, with human speed and agility.
When the chips are down, and life gets complicated, we say we have to look out for #1, meaning ourselves. This is a basic truth, for there is no one else who can do for you the things you need to do for yourself. A very young baby or old person may need to have things done for them, but to live, you have to do some things yourself—eat, sleep, breathe, hearts pushing blood.
Large numbers of people suffering together, dying, sick, or poor, or angry may seem to validate a collective cause or complaint—to cite the system, or to blame others. But the fact is, we are all alone at a certain level. Each person’s life is his or her own responsibility. I can’t blame my inadequacy on anyone else. If I don’t get into heaven, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.
An old spiritual song had that as a refrain: Nobody’s fault but mine, nobody’s fault but mine, if I die my soul be lost, nobody’s fault but mine. I got a Bible in my home, sister taught me how to read, if I don’t read it, my soul be lost. Nobody’s fault but mine. Look out for #1.
Now, this isn’t selfish talk, but our entire economic philosophy is built on a principle of self-interest. It doesn’t sound Christian. We feel we ought to be more concerned with others than ourselves. And Jesus taught us to serve others. But, it’s not a contradiction. When you serve others, you don’t stand there and expect them to serve you, to wipe your mouth and tuck in your napkin, spoon your ice cream and comb your hair, right? You do for yourself as much as you can, and then you serve others. And when you’re done, don’t crow about it.
Jesus loved these discussions. His disciples argued about who was the greatest. He called a little child into the middle and made this tyke His example. “First become like him, and only then can you even enter the Kingdom of heaven. Humble yourself.” “Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Luke 10:21
On another day, Jesus noticed men edging each other out to get the best seats at a feast: our Gospel reading today. The Pharisees were big in their own eyes, so they could critique Jesus healing a dropsied man on a Sabbath. They picked a bone with Him over their supposed violation of God’s Law. Their cruelty was that of like-minded people of every age who would cripple the world and break everyone else’s legs to prove you can’t live your own life without us. The sick man couldn’t heal himself, and no one had healed him either, but Jesus was a healer. In arrogance these Pharisees sat in judgment of an act of kindness. There were many of them, only one Jesus. And He cut them down to size. “If your donkey falls in a ditch and it’s Saturday, will you leave it overnight to die, or pull it out? Is it lawful or not to do good on the Sabbath?”
He then taught them not to seek out places of honor, and for a very practical reason. The host may have to come to you to say, “I had this seat reserved for a more important guest. Go sit over there. But instead of that, why don’t you pick out a low seat, and maybe your host will find you and ask you to come up to the head table?”
If you’re looking for approval, stop giving it to yourself.
Looking out for #1 has come to mean more than I am saying today. It has come to mean selfishness, pride and disregard for others. That’s not even a formula for real human happiness. Did you ever really become happy when you’d shut everyone else out and eaten all the cookies yourself? Being self-centered is forgetting the number one and what it really means.
Once people mistook the many elements and forces in the world as separate deities, able to bless or to kill at their caprice. It was a real breakthrough and mankind’s transformation when we started believing that God is One. He is not in the wind, the sun, or the sea. He’s not part of the earth at all, or even outer space. He’s bigger than that.
I am one. Only one man. You are one also. The fact that we become one in Christ never denies our individuality. The fact we have one God in common affirms our personhood and individuality. That we might help one another along the rough spots—you take care of my needs when I’m sick, I clean up your place when you’re too busy—doesn’t reduce either of us even by a fraction. One is one. God is One. You are one. I am one. And together in Him, we are One. All of us together in this Church today, in Christ—we are One. With the other churches meeting today in Chico, our fellow Christians, we all are One. Churches around the world this morning sing their praises of a Triune God and by His Blood that flows through all our veins, we are One. One, not many.
We validate the Gospel by being One. We give witness to the world that Jesus was sent by His Father, testifying by loving one another. “Love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35 “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:23
People clamoring for change, claiming to represent the masses, can’t grasp the simple power of One. Mankind has its ever ready answer for helping ourselves without God. Claim a large number of discontented people, and cause them to hate. When all the heady feeling of rebellion and self-righteousness wears off, it’s every man for himself. It’s not pretty when it falls apart.
It’s not all about Me. It’s about One. I am one. As Me, I can do very little, and I am always taking and never giving. As one I can enter into the peace St. Paul speaks of, “with all gentle and quiet behavior, taking whatever comes, receiving one another in love; keeping harmony in the Spirit yoked by peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you have been marked out by God in the one hope of his purpose for you; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” Eph 4:2-6
One, not many. One God, one faith, one Body of Christ.
Among all the masses, there are no heroes. Only when a person is one, can he or she also be a hero. God loves heroes. He also loves gatherings and populations: people together. But unlike the world, He loves groups of people for the sake of every individual. He knows that in common, many people together may do some things better than only one alone. One may preach a sermon, behold a miracle, teach a Bible lesson, lay out a meal—and if you have witnesses, you’ve multiplied the benefit. God is not about masses; He is about one-by-one salvation.
He is also about working through another. If I pray alone, I am communing with God. One on one. But if I pray for you, God works in my prayer and lets me join His intention, feel His power, represent His love to you. He and I become one in the ministry to another. And He is inviting you to join Him and join me in caring for others. It grows. And yet no matter how big it grows; it gets no bigger than the No. 1.
Vin Scully has smashed a record for the longest career announcing one team’s games, over 66 years. I remember him coming to Los Angeles with the Dodgers in 1958. At the age of nine, I was in the stands of the LA Colosseum watching Drysdale and Kofax strike out opposing teams. Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers. One announcer, all those years. Ten years later, I became a Giant’s fan, but I still admire the man.
A team has to act as one when winning is their common objective. Stars may shine through individual ability, but a grounder up the middle means everybody look alive! Runners on first and second. Double play is possible. 50,000 people are cheering. It’s up to all of us. And it’s up to each of us.
You are one. You live and you make choices. You take care of yourself. No one else can do that for you. If I don’t get into the Kingdom of heaven, something even a child can do, well then, it’s nobody else’s fault but mine. I got a Bible, and I been taught to read. God’s all ready. A world waits to be won.
A world waits to be - One.