We Americans have always had a high regard for independence. We believe in a staunch individual ethic that leads people to step up, step out, and stand on their own two feet. We look up to those who are able to look after themselves, to take care of number one, to be responsible, to be independent. And we tend to look down on those who are dependent on others for their survival.
This is arguably the greatest virtue of our society, the aspiration of every boy and girl. Study hard, grow up, move out on your own, and get a good job, so you can become self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-supporting. And bookstore shelves and YouTube videos labeled, “Do-it-yourself” and “Self-help,” are filled with books and videos to help us keep our independence. Anything else and you are considered to be a failure, worthless, no count, lazy, good-for-nothing. Yes, in our society, independence is what it is all about.
Many grocery stores now have “self-checkout” lines that are almost always available with no waiting. If you are smart enough to check your own groceries, if you have good ol’ American wherewithal and work ethic, if you are responsible and have learned to really be independent, if you have elevated yourself to a place where the assistance of a Wal-Mart cashier is truly beneath you, then you’ve earned the right not to wait in line.
Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful.
Perhaps more than any other day, we fear the day we lose our independence. It is the reason we save for retirement, eat right, take our vitamins and exercise; so we can avoid the nursing home and remain independent to the bitter end.
This is why coming to church can sometimes be confusing, and oftentimes, challenging. We come to church and open our Bibles only to discover that God’s ideals and virtues are oftentimes very different from our own. We come to church to reaffirm our beliefs, only to have God call those beliefs into question.
On the very first pages of our Bible, we learn that the first thing that God said was “not good” was, guess what? Our independence.
“This is not good,” says the Lord, “I will have to keep working, continue creating, to make you a partner, someone on whom you can depend to help you be the person that I have created you to be.”
So out of the ground, the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.
And then the man searched high and low. He became acquainted with each creature so intimately, that he was able to give a name to each one. But out of all of the animals that he encountered, and out of all of the birds that he watched, he could not find a single suitable companion, a partner on whom he could depend, with whom he could share a mutual relationship and an intimate communion.
But God did not give up. God was not finished. God was intent on helping the first human be the person he was created to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. However, this time, not from the ground; but from the man himself.
As the man slept, God removed one of his ribs and used that rib to make a woman. Instead of forming another human being from the ground, God split the first human being into two beings and then presented her to the man. It was then that the man said:
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
This at last is the relationship for which have been searching.
This at last is the beloved communion for which I have been longing.
This at last is my partner, my companion, my confidant, my sister.
This at last is someone with whom I can be mutually connected.
This at last is someone on whom I can depend.
This at last is what I have needed to be the person that God has created me to be.
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
But this is not the good news. This is not why we are here this morning, mutually connected, depending on one another, communing with one another.
The good news is God was not finished with God’s new beloved community. God knew that an even greater communion was needed if we were ever going to be the persons that God has created us to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. And, this time, God took it one step further.
God looked at God’s beloved community, and God, God’s holy self, decided to join the community! God came to be with us, and God came to be one of us. God became flesh. God became bone. And God’s beloved community called him “Jesus.”
And one night, as Jesus sat with his beloved community at a table, he took bread and broke it, and blessed it, saying, “This is my body.” Then he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood.”
And here we are today. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, signing in one voice:
“This at last is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.”
This at last is the relationship for which we have been searching.
This at last is the beloved communion for which we have been longing.
This at last is our partner, our companion, our confidant, our brother.
This at last is someone with whom we can be mutually and eternally connected.
This at last is someone on whom we can truly depend.
This at last is what we have always needed, all we will ever need, to be the persons that God has created us to be.
This at last is the one who reminds us that we are all interconnected by the love of our God who never gives up on us, who keeps working and keeps creating until the whole creation understands that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One day, I was talking with someone who was dying with cancer. He told me that his illness had demonstrated to him the things that were truly important in life. He said, “And the funny thing is, that they are the opposite of what I always thought was important.”
He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’” Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”
Then he said: “Maybe that is why God created us to depend on one another. It is like a kind of training.”
“Training?” I asked.
“Yes, training,” he said, “because the most important thing in this life is to reach a point where we learn to be dependent on God, to reach to a point sometime before we die, where we have truly put our lives into the hands of God.”
It was as if he was saying: “No more! Because, now I see it. Now, I get it. In my most vulnerable, most dependent state, now, I know it. This at last is what life is all about!”
This at last is why several of you went out in the pouring rain on Friday to cook and serve a meal in the community soup kitchen.
This at last is why we have purchased a missions trailer and are stocking it with tools to help people renovate or repair homes.
This at last is why many of us are planning to go back to West Virginia and Nicaragua.
This at last is why we are having a meeting tomorrow at Noon to talk about truly being the body of Christ in this world, protestant and catholic, black and white. Because despite their beliefs, despite the color of their skin, they are bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. We are all mutually connected, equal partners, dependent. We are one body serving one Lord.
And this at last is why I held Emmit Brinson’s hand this morning in the hospital and prayed the following words:
Thank you for those you have placed in Emmit’s life on whom he depends.
Thank you for the love, the care and the prayers of his church family.
Thank you for the love and care of his children and grandchildren,
for the faithfulness of his partner, LaRue.
Thank you also for the love and care of this hospital,
for the wonders of medical science on which we depend;
for we know they are gifts from you.
Thank you also for Emmit’s faith and trust in you,
and for the way Emmit depends on you, daily.
And please let him know that you are not finished with him.
You are still working with him.
You are still creating.
Remind him, and remind all who love Emmit,
that he is in good hands,
for he is in the hands of the Great Physician.
He is in your hands.
Work through all of these relationships
to bring him healing, strength and peace,
especially through the special relationship he has with you through Jesus Christ. Amen.
This at last is why we are here: to be in relationships; to learn to depend on one another; to care for one another; to understand that at last we are all related; we are all united.
And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend forevermore, the One who came to us at last, the One who came to be with us and for us, the One to show us how to be the people God has created us to be: This at last, our Christ, our brother, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]
[i] Inspired from: This at Last!, An Intergenerational Liturgy for World Communion Sunday, Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost year B, written by the Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri.