“Unity in Many Parts”

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy is probably  THEEEE. MOST. IMPORTANT. scripture in all of Judaism.


Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

It is recited by Jews every morning and every night, and it is repeated throughout Jewish prayer services. It is so revered that often Jews will cover their eyes with their palms while saying this one line in order to rid themselves of any other distraction.[i]  (Just as an aside … what verse in the Bible would YOU choose to do that with?)  [pause]


In fact, in 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver was sent to Europe to help reclaim Jewish children who had been hidden during the Holocaust with non-Jewish families. How was he able to discover the Jewish children? He would go to gatherings of children and loudly proclaim Sh’ma Yisrael – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

Then he would look at the faces of the children for those with tears in their eyes – those children whose distant memory of being Jewish was their mothers putting them to bed each night and saying the Sh’ma with them.[ii]

With what we’ve been reading in the Story, we know that the Hebrews were wandering around in the desert and, as we saw last week with the Golden Calf, even out there they were being influenced by neighboring cultures and their gods. This ONE LINE sums up the uniqueness of their theology once and for all.

So today … very quickly because we have so much going on (World Communion and Peacemaking) I want to get us thinking about three different things (because I’m a good little Trinitarian J) that, hopefully, will give us food for thought all week. The three aspects of this statement I’m focusing on are:  (1) a little word study about one of those Hebrew words;  (2) remembering to look at Scripture through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist; and (3) how that applies to us today. Okay?   Here we go …

  • Word Study.


Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

It’s echad, the last word that we’re going to focus on for a minute. It is often translated as the word “One.” But it is just as rightly translated as meaning “compound unity.”[iii]  Interesting, isn’t it? “Compound unity.”  Sort of along the ideas of E Pluribus Unum … the motto of the United States … “from many, one.”

“Compound unit.”  Now, this word is ALSO found in Genesis 2:24, where we read about Adam and Eve: “the two shall become one [echad] flesh.” [iv] And Christians have to be very careful to NOT read OUR theology into this. It is NOT saying that all of the gods that people worship are the same as the god of the Israelites. And it’s NOT saying, as many very conservative Christian authors have put forward, that this is PROOF of the Trinitarian God (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit).  But it DOES a very beautiful and complex meaning all its own.

Echad can mean  “one … each … every … a certain one,”  It can mean, “only … once for  all … the first.”[v]

So what does it mean to say that GOD is echad?

As one Jewish source writes:  “The Sh’ma is a declaration that all events are from the One, the only One. The confusion stems from our limited perception of reality. One way of understanding God’s oneness is to imagine light shining through a prism. Even though we see many colors of the spectrum, they really emanate from one light. So too, even though it seems that certain events are not caused by God, rather by some other force or bad luck, they in fact all come from the One God. In the grand eternal plan, all is “good,” for God knows best.

“This runs contrary to the Zoroastrian doctrine of dualism, which propounds the idea of two conflicting powers – good and evil.”[vi]   And this dualistic understanding  also played out in a lot of GREEK philosophy which had a HUGE influence on early Christianity.

So today’s passage is saying that everything.  Everything.  EVERYTHING comes from God. We are ALWAYS in the loving hands of the One who created us and who said it was good.

  • Cultural Anthropology.

So what does it mean to look at Scripture through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist?  We’ve talked about this for the last several weeks that one way to read this book (The Bible) is to recognize that it was put in written form over 1,000 years and by multiple authors. When we look at it THAT way, we see that it reflects the times in which it was written and we are able to see the development of how humanity (at least THIS part of humanity) developed an understanding of, and a relationship with, its deity … whom we call, “God.” It’s like an arc … it begins with God being very human-like … anthropomorphic … God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve … and then later we see in Exodus? God is ABOVE. How do we know that? Because it says God came down to be in the burning bush. Right?

And then there’s this Moses guy who has a relationship with this God but cannot look God in the face (unlike the neighboring cultures who built idols so they could see and touch their gods) … and the whole Golden Calf thing that we talked about last week.

This is the next VITALLY important step in the development of the Hebrew people, because NOW they know that no matter what happens to them … no matter where they may go (and remember that this was ORAL tradition that was written down LATER on when they were in EXILE) … that no matter WHAT … EVERYTHING is part of God and they are CONNECTED to each other THROUGH this God.  Think of that light and the prism. ALL of them … all of US … no matter where we are … we are LINKED to the one GOD.  We have “unity in many parts.”  We have “compound unity.”

This is a PERFECT realization for World Communion Sunday! We are all connected because the Lord our God is ONE … EVERYTHING is connected. Unity in many parts.

  • How that applies to US.

But the THIRD part of today is how that applies to US at New Life and South.

On Thursday night, twenty-three of us gathered for a potluck supper at New Life in order to get to know each other and to begin talking about our future. What is it that God is calling us to BE and DO.

The 23 people included 2 children and also four of the pillars of the churches:  Barbara Judd and Gladys Coakley from New Life and Gordon & Stena Rickner from South. It also included Matthew from Bible & Brew who represented our Acts of Faith members who are not part of EITHER church. There were 13 from New Life and 6 from South with a couple from BOTH (Katrina and me).

And it became clear during those two hours that we are, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “a new being altogether.”

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he or she has BECOME a new being altogether. And although we didn’t use EXACTLY those words this week, we frequently say them during our Assurance of Pardon.

Our two churches and our Acts of Faith are leading us to become a new MODEL of ministry … a new way of doing CHURCH.  (Although *I* would argue that it’s not so much a NEW way as it is reclaiming the first century way of being the church. J).

We are NOT what some of us remember as a Yoked Parish … two separate churches who share a pastor. And we are not talking about a church MERGER like the one that formed Downtown Presbyterian (which I know some of you are aware of because you were part of that merger).   We don’t quite know WHAT to call this, but on Thursday night, when I said that I’m seeing it as a blended family, sort of … one person said, “Like the Brady Bunch” … y’know that TV show where the mother had 3 daughters and the father had 3 sons and they got married. It was on TV from 1969-1974.

I LIKE that because anybody with a blended family now understands the issues … the frustrations … the shared dreams that get modified because you’ve added someone new into the mix. But through it all, we are stronger together than we are apart.  And the REASON for that???? Because of echad. Because we are all One. Because we all come from the same LIGHT … we are just multiple colors … multiple identities … we just have to remember what UNITES us and not what divides us.

We are just like the Christian Church around the world on World Communion Sunday: By remembering that our God makes us ONE, we are able to be PEACEMAKERS in the world, because we are all connected to the same Source.

Another really interesting thing came out of the potluck discussion. Someone pointed out that most of SOUTH’s Acts of Faith have to do with the head and THINKING (book studies, Bible studies, etc.) and most of New LIFE’s have to do with the body and ACTION (Monroe Milers, RAIHN, working in Nicaragua). So take it one step farther and we are stronger together because we are more BALANCED together. We are able to offer more chances for people to “bump up against Jesus” TOGETHER.

Let’s face it … together we offer a LOT that we can’t do separately …

Early worship? Go to New Life.              Later worship?  Go to South.

Mid-week worship?    Starting THIS week … Thursdays at  6:30 … go to CHARLOTTE.

Sunday School for kids?    New Life.     CLASS ACT for Senior Spirituality?   South.

Bible Study?  Working at the Psych Center? Book group at the Diner?  Mt. Hope World Singers?   Both.

How COOL is this??? J     WEIRD … but cool.

God is doing a new thing altogether!  And like the Hebrew people, we are in a time of great transition … some would say we’re wandering in the desert.  *I* would submit that we aren’t doing that at all … we are following the call of Christ to trust Him and say YES! to possibilities … we are choosing LIFE – as scary as it is sometimes … we are choosing LIFE and it is exhilarating because it means we are breathing IN the Spirit of God …  the ruach … God’s BREATH.

And that leads us right into our next chapter.

If you don’t have a book you can pick one up for free at the Concierge Desk of the Meadows at Briarwood. No charge. It is more important to read this than it is to worry about the money to pay for it. And this week we will all be reading Chapter 7. And if you’re just starting, read 7 and go back to read the others later.

And THIS week, hold on to your hats because we are going to be reading about Joshua … the change in leadership away from Moses … and how Israel becomes a fighting nation.

May God bless us on our continuing journey together as we ALL remember that we are all One … from the same God … having Unity … just in many parts.


Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

[i] “Jewish Prayers: the Sh’ma” as downloaded on October 3, 2015 from https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Sh’ma.html

[ii] http://www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48954656.html

[iii] “Echad” in the Sh’ma. Downloaded from http://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/hebrew/echad.html
on October 3, 2015.

[iv] http://www.bible.ca/trinity/trinity-oneness-unity-yachid-vs-echad.htm

[v] http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/echad.html

[vi] http://www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48954656.html


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