Shavuot 2023 – E Pluribus…Unum

The following is a joke told by the brilliant and twisted comedian Emo Phillips some years ago. He said, “Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, ‘Don’t do it!’ He said, ‘Nobody loves me.’ I said, ‘God loves you. Do you believe in God?’

He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Are you a Christian or a Jew?’ He said, ‘A Christian.’ I said, ‘Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?’ He said, ‘Protestant.’ I said, ‘Me, too! What denomination?’ He said, ‘Baptist.’ I said, ‘Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?’ He said, ‘Northern Baptist.’ I said, ‘Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?’

He said, ‘Northern Conservative Baptist.’ I said, ‘Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?’ He said, ‘Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.’ I said, ‘Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?’ He said, ‘1912.’ I said, ‘Die, heretic!’ And I pushed him over.”

I’d like us to listen again to Acts 2, verse 5:

Now, there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven…

These were observant Jews who, seven weeks earlier, had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, which the Torah requires, and remained there for the 50 days until Shavu’ot (the second required pilgrimage holiday). But as Luke tells us, these Jews were visiting from far-flung nations. So how, and when, did Jews end up living in countries all around the earth? The answer is that in the 8th century BC, the Jewish people living in the Northern Kingdom of Israel were scattered when Assyria invaded the land, and again in the 6th century BC, when the Jewish people living in Jerusalem and Judea were scattered when Babylon invaded the land. Fleeing ahead of these invasions, Jewish people established communities as far away as North Africa, Europe, and Asia Minor.

So, by the time of the events of the Shavu’ot recorded in Acts chapter two, these Jewish communities had been in existence for centuries. So although they were all Jews, and shared a common faith, their life experiences, their cultural expressions, and the languages they spoke, as you might imagine, were quite diverse.

But at the moving of the Holy Spirit, all these Jewish people heard the Gospel, the Good News – each in their own dialect – from the mouths of a handful of Jewish Galileans, and 3,000 of them immediately responded to the message of salvation and became disciples of Messiah Yeshua. So, out of many, ONE NEW MAN!

It was an auspicious beginning. But as wise King Solomon once observed, the end of a matter is more consequential than the beginning. Would Messiah’s followers maintain that unity? It seemed so, initially. Acts 4:32 says, All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

It is clear from the Scriptures that God wants His people to live in harmony with one another. There is no excuse for us not to.

I. Unity is Beautiful and Desirable

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever (Psalm 133).

If there is any encouragement in Messiah, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).

When Messiah’s people walk in unity and humility, it is attractive. It also makes a difference in terms of our effectiveness in advancing the Good News. Of course, it is God who does the saving, but our unity, or lack of it, with either help or hinder those contemplating the Faith. Are you a stepping stone or a stumbling block?

II. Unity is Rooted in the Nature of God

Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? (Malachi 2:10)

As Rabbi Loren often says when we recite the Shema, “the supremely authoritative and all-pervasive Fatherhood of God is the basis for our unity”. If we walk humbly and if we’ll walk together, it is a beautiful reflection of the One we serve. And don’t we want to accurately portray who He is?

III. Unity Honors God and Honors Messiah

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity,

so that the world may know that You sent Me…(John 17:20-23)

If you love Messiah Yeshua, you will obey His instruction, and you will make every effort to please Him and keep His priorities as your own. And, as we see by Yeshua’s words, the world is watching us. What are they seeing in us? Do they see people walking in love and harmony, or do they see pride, selfish ambition, and distrust? Will our conduct help or hinder those who need salvation? If we love God the Father and Messiah Yeshua the Son, we will make the effort to be gam yachad.

IV. Unity isn’t Homogeneity – we still have individual gifts and callings

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).

We weren’t made with a cookie-cutter. From the moment of our conception, God gave each of us unique personalities and unique proclivities and innate abilities. Likewise, though the message of the Good News is unchanging, and though there is only one way of salvation – through Yeshua the Messiah’s atoning death and resurrection, each of us came to faith through different circumstances, and perhaps very different presentations of the Gospel.

We each have unique gifts and abilities, so while we are to be one, it doesn’t follow that we are all going to be the same. Nevertheless, for the sake of honoring God by our unity, we give one another grace and room to be different, even as we serve Him together.

V. Unity is Not an Unreasonable Expectation (we have help!)

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another… so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah (Romans 15:5-6).

We live in a fallen world, and given our own natures, and the many distractions around us, it is very easy to lose sight of the big picture of announcing salvation, and become self-centered. But we aren’t expected to attain unity in the Faith in our own strength. God is at work in us, and Paul’s confident prayer was that the Lord Himself would grant us to be like-minded, and to praise Him with one voice.

But as the expression goes: the ball is in our court. At this very special and wonderful time of year, Shavu’ot, as we look back on the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in bringing life, and making us one; when we contemplate the awaiting harvest of humanity, will you consciously make the effort to live in harmony with your brothers and sisters?

My last words for this part of the message are those of Rabbi Paul, addressed two thousand years ago to the believers in Ephesus, and now to us:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).