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The Basis for Unity

If you go to a synagogue service you will be sure to hear the following words sung, probably more than once: Shema Yisrael adonai elohenu, adonai echad. This central affirmation of the Jewish faith is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 and is translated into English as, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.“ The “oneness“ of Yahweh (the personal name of Israel’s God, translated as “Lord“ to avoid pronouncing the divine name) is the basis for unity, for unity_1corunlike other ancient religions where the national god was seen as one of many national gods who ruled over the various nations, the Hebrew Scriptures teach that Yahweh is not only Israel’s God, but is the God of all and the Creator of all.

If God is one, then the entire universe is to be united in this one God. Even though God forms a special covenant with Israel, this universality of God is made clear. Notice the formation of the covenant in Exodus 19:4-6 where God instructs Moses to tell the people:

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

God is God of the whole earth, but Israel was chosen to be a kingdom of priests who would mediate God’s love and will to the rest of the world.

When we turn to the New Testament we find that uniting all things has been God’s plan from the beginning, even though the plan has been hidden to most. But in Jesus the secret is revealed. Ephesians 1:8-10 says of God:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s goal is to have all things in heaven and earth brought together into one in the person of Christ. Like Israel of old, the church is now called to be the Kingdom of priests to mediate this plan of God to the world.
This message cannot be given simply by proclamation, however. It must be mediated by example. This example cannot come from a forced unity that tries to make all Christians act in the same way and do all the same things. That was not possible in New Testament times, and it is not possible today. In Paul’s day some Christians practiced circumcision and some didn’t (see Galatians 2 and Acts 15). Some ate food offered to idols, and some didn’t (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Some ate only vegetables, and some didn’t (see Romans 14-15).

What should be possible, however, is a profound love and mutual respect for all, even when we do not agree on all the theological details or practice all the same behaviors. We can never tell the world about God unless we demonstrate God’s love in our lives. John makes this clear in 1 John 4:19-21:

We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,“ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

And according to John, this love demands action, as he shows us in 1 John 3:16-18:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

These are not easy marching orders. But unless we can demonstrate this kind of mutual respect and love within our church family and through our family to the community and world around us, none of our plans and programs will be effective.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. May we be so unified in our loving actions that we demonstrate this central affirmation about God to the world.


Contributed by Pastor John Brunt

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