We are one

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

It’s Mother’s Day, and God drops a scripture passage in our laps that speaks of the love between the Father and the Son, and you think, “Isn’t it ironic?”[1] And then God drops another passage in our lap, and it speaks of God giving birth to us and, like any mother and her children, wanting to see us all live together in peace as brothers and sisters.[2] We are children of God and we love it, but most of us know how difficult it can be to live with siblings.

On Mother’s Day we tell our mom that we love her, we send her a card, we give her a call, we insist that she stay in bed until we bring our best breakfast to her, we take her out for lunch and draw her a picture. Mother’s Day is all about her, except that it’s also about us, or, more precisely, about me, because I want her to love my picture better than my brother’s, I want her to know that I made the near-perfect scrambled eggs and that it was my little sister who burned the toast and spilled the coffee. And Mom? “I LOVE these eggs,” she says with a broad smile and I grow an inch and a half, but then she continues, “and this is the BEST toast I ever tasted. And the pictures you drew, I must say, you’ve outdone yourselves. Thank you so much! You are the kindest, most thoughtful and generous children any mother could wish for.”

I don’t know about you, but I always found being my mom’s child much easier than being the brother of my siblings, and I guess the same is true for them. Rivalry and love make an explosive mix, and I imagine that many a mother had to step between her feuding children, telling them to stop it and be more loving with each other. “Why should I love him? He hates me!” they both protest, and she doesn’t say, “Because I say so.” She says, “Because I love him and I love you.” You gotta love your brothers and sisters, because she who gave birth to them and to you loves them as much as you.

I thought I’d sing us a song today in honor of our mothers. It’s a great song for brothers and sisters to sing together.[3]

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored:

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land:

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride:

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,
And all praise to Christ Jesus, God’s only Son,
And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one:

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
They’ll know we are Christians by our love.

This simple, little song was written in 1966 by Peter Scholtes. He was a priest at St. Brendan’s, on the South Side of Chicago, and the parish was Irish-catholic and black-catholic, about 50/50. It was the height of one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S. history, and Scholtes was moved by the testimony of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, and others in the civil rights movement. He was also steeped in the worldview and language of John: By this we will know whose we are, the writer of 1 John says midway through his composition, by the love we enact as children of God “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”[4]

Truth and action. “We are one,” Father Scholtes taught the youth choir at St. Brendan’s to sing; he had written the piece in less than half a day. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and our faith, our walk, our work, our lives are for the restoration of that unity.

When Dr. King came to Chicago on his first trip north, Scholtes and a friend hung a welcome sign outside the church, a testimony to love in truth and action, and he weathered the protest of white parishioners that ensued. And he watched in disappointment as white congregants continued to move out of the neighborhood. He wanted to teach them to sing, “We are one in the Lord and we hope that all unity may one day be restored.” He taught them to sing “one day” hoping that today might be the day of restoration, that the day of love’s faithful labor toward unity would be today, always today. But those who could, moved away; to them “one day” meant “some day, not today; not us, not now.” The writer of 1 John insists that love and love’s demands cannot be postponed but must be lived, must be inhabited.

Love, love, love, parent, child, obedience, commandments, and conquer, conquer, conquer, this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. The phrases grow like branches on a vine, they spiral and twist, interlace, entwine, they twirl and tangle, and a reader may get carried away by the current of words and experience verbal vertigo. The vision given expression in this tangle of words and phrases is a vision of life: God and the children of God, inseparably united in love. Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down, weaving us and all things together in one covenant of love, making the joy of heaven complete in life on earth, all the children of God living as brothers and sisters in God’s garden, receiving, sharing, and fulfilling the most excellent gift of God.

The extravagant whirl of words in 1 John, aiming to match the exuberant circling of God’s love throughout creation, this swirl is centered in a life, in a name and a testimony: Jesus is the Christ. It is a name. It is a life, not a simple answer to all questions. It is a testimony that all things converge in Jesus the Messiah. He is the center at which life in its confusing complexity and life in fullness come into focus: “Abide in my love,” he says, abide in the love my life embodies. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. This is my commandment that you love one another as I haved loved you.[5]

The love of God poured out in the gifts of creation is our dwelling place, our habitat, our home. Likewise, we become God’s dwelling place when we allow love’s flow to continue through us. Obeying Christ’s commandments we abide in love and love abides in us, and his commandments are not burdensome. Wait a minute; not so fast. Not burdensome? Loving one another is not burdensome? You have to wonder if the author lived alone all his life. Perhaps he never had to put up with a sister who occupied the bathroom for an hour every morning. Perhaps he never had to put up with a brother who not only ate the last two pop-tarts, but put the wrapper back in the box and then put the box back in the cabinet. Perhaps he never had to put up with a spouse who paid no attention to the toilet seat, never put the cap on the toothpaste, and thought the floor was a perfectly good place for dirty clothes.

Loving one another is not burdensome? Our life says otherwise, doesn’t it? Putting up with each other’s foibles day in and day out is indeed a burden, and I think he knows that. I think he wants us to understand that love is of all the burdens the lightest. He wants us to fully grasp that lovelessness is always the heavier burden. Love is not burdensome because love and love alone has the power to overcome estrangement, to drive out fear, to reconcile and heal. All things have their beginning in love, and only love can bring all things to fulfillment by restoring the unity of creator and creation.

Believing that Jesus is God’s Messiah, we are born into the family where love flows freely. In this family, love is invited and offered, never forced; it is motivated by faithulness, not by fear or shame; it is mutual in the back-and-forth of giving and receiving. This is the faith that conquers the a loveless world, like light shining in the darkness. The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining, we read in 1 John 2:8. The true light is already shining brightly at the center where the word of God became flesh and lived among us, and the true light is reflected in every act of obedience among Christ’s brothers and sisters, in all our deeds of love in truth and action. The true light is already shining, and one day it will shine through all things, and all unity will be restored.


[1] John 15:9-17

[2] 1 John 5:1-5

[3] With thanks to Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, p.490-94

[4] 1 John 3:18f

[5] John 15:9-10, 12