The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Jesus said, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
When I was a teenager, my parents had a couple of things that they would often say to me as I headed out the door on a Saturday evening. Sometimes my dad would offer up that old chestnut, “Listen, son, be good out there tonight. And if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t be careful, don’t call me.” But that’s a whole, whole different sermon. More often my mom would say something like, “Remember when you leave this house tonight that you do not leave alone. Whether you like it or not, you take the whole family with you. Everywhere you go and everything you do not only says something about you, but it also says something about us, because we are family. Never forget your behavior has consequences, not only for you, but for all those who love you.” Wow. That was a pretty heavy message to hear when I was 17 years old and just looking forward to the car keys and being out with my friends.
But her words had an impact on me. As I look back on it, it was her way of saying, as I was growing up and discovering my own identity, as I strained to have some freedom in the world, I was free to be myself, but I was never alone. I was, in fact, inextricably connected to a bunch of other people. Like it or not, whatever I did affected them and whatever they did affected me.
In a similar way, several weeks ago, Leonard Hamlin, Kathy Prendergast and I had the pleasure of touring the Washington, DC Temple of the Church of Latter Day Saints during their open house. The temple is beautiful and absolutely fascinating. We were honored to receive our tour from David Bednar, who is one of the 12 apostles of the Church of Latter Day Saints. During the tour, we saw many things, but one thing we visited was one of the rooms where brides dress and get ready for their weddings. It was a beautiful space with two immense mirrors on either end of the room. Apostle Bednar explained that the mirrors were not there for vanity’s sake, but as the bride stood in the middle of the room dressing, she could see an endless reflection behind her and an endless reflection in front of her. And this was a reminder that as a married woman, she and her husband would be forever connected to every LDS ancestor that ever came before, and every LDS descendant that would ever follow. In their marriage, they were taught, they were more than a couple. They were part of an endless connected family.
Now our gospel for this morning comes from a section of St. John’s Gospel called the High Priestly Prayer, which is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse that he gives to his disciples right before he is arrested and crucified. Here, Jesus prays to God out loud on behalf of his disciples and all who would follow them. He beseeches God to help them understand that once he is gone, they will not be alone. Just as Jesus and the father are one, so too all who follow in Christ’s footsteps are one. Bound together forever in the endless love of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Jesus wants his followers to realize their interconnectedness with God, with each other, indeed, with all living things.
Yes, they are individuals, but they are inextricably bound. God is in them. They are in God. And God is by definition, a unity of diversity, three in one and one in three, that great mystery of the Trinity. As Martin Luther King so eloquently puts it in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Or as Howard Thurman said it, “We must proclaim the truth that all life is one and that we are all of us tied together.”
Now, interestingly enough, in quantum physics, this phenomenon is known as entanglement. It’s this radical interdependence of all things. In essence, in the atomic world, if two photons are entangled with one another, connected with one another, then even if they are separated by a distance of thousands of light years, if one flips, the other will flip as well, instantaneously. They are forever connected, even though they are very, very far apart.
Okay, so where am I going with all of this? Well, if you were like me, then this week has been devastating. To hear about another mass shooting so soon on the heels of killing 10 innocent people in Buffalo, New York just tears at my soul. To realize that 19 of those shot and killed in Uvalde, Texas, were young children in their classroom is too much to bear. I don’t know about you, but for me, there is grief beyond words. My friends, let me share some facts with you. There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States in 2022 through May 24, which was just the 144 day of this year. There were 693 mass shootings last year. Mass shootings in this nation have increased 50% since 2020, and nearly doubled since 2017. To date, there have been 27 mass shootings in schools in 2022. And 119 school shootings since 2018. Just let that sink in for a moment.
And just this morning, I received an email from Lauralynn Lee, who is my chief of staff, letting me know that just yesterday, two young people were shot in the chest in Baltimore. Several other young people were wounded, and one was killed in a graduation party in Georgia. And six others were shot and injured in a shooting in Tennessee. Just yesterday.
Now I am a lifelong sportsman and gun owner. But we have a serious problem with gun violence in this country. And we have to do something about it. Moreover, we have a serious problem with a lack of mental health resources in our country. Both the shooter in Buffalo and the shooter in Uvalde were 18 years old and obviously suffered from extreme mental illness. Did you happen to see the 60 minutes on May 8? One of the segments on the show talked about the skyrocketing rates of teen depression and anxiety, self-harm and even suicide. The CDC reports that adolescents who describe increasing feelings of sadness or hopelessness have risen 40% since 2009. And on average, it takes 48 days to get an appointment with a therapist. And it can take literally months for a struggling young person to receive inpatient care.
That’s simply not acceptable. Friends, if we take seriously the words of Jesus to us this morning, then 65-year-old Celestine Cheney, who was killed in that grocery store in Buffalo, New York, was not just a grandmother of six. She was your grandmother. She was my grandmother. 10-year-old Jose Manuel Flores Jr., who was killed in his classroom in Uvalde, Texas, was not just the son of Mr. and Mrs. Flores. If we listen to Jesus, he was your son. He was my son. Jesus wants us to know that we are all connected. We are all one in Christ. These deaths are our deaths. This grief is our grief. Like it or not, we are all in this together.
David Benner in his wonderful book called Spirituality and the Awakening Self, says, “Everything that exists is one in Christ. The old joke about the mystic who walks up to the hot dog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything”, misses the point. I am already one with everything. All that is absent is awareness. To be one with everything is to have overcome the fundamental optical illusion of our separateness. We establish boundaries to try to reinforce individuality, but what we get is isolation and alienation. We think we have bodies instead of being our bodies. And the result is alienation from our bodies. We think we are separate from other people. And the result is a breach in our knowing of our underlying shared humanity.”
Folks, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we have no essential connection to our neighbor who lives down the street, or to that person who lives on the other side of the planet. And the truth is we won’t be able to change anything until we understand that their problems are our problems, that there is no separation. Jesus in his final prayer before his suffering and death prayed that we would consciously perceive and live into this radical union now. That we would see the truth of our essential interconnectedness.
We have to do something about the never-ending trail of death caused by gun violence. I don’t have all the answers, it’s a complicated issue. But I know that it is essentially not a political issue. It is a moral issue. I know that arming teachers in elementary schools is not the answer. I know that an AR 15 is a military weapon that ought to stay solely with the military. I know that requiring universal background checks for every gun purchase, public or private, is a no brainer. I know that we need to crack down on straw man purchases and promote red flag laws for those who are having a difficult emotional time. As a hunter, I know that no hunter would ever need a high capacity magazine as they exist for only one purpose, to cause the most damage possible. I know there is something broken in our society when you have to be 21 to drink, but you can buy an assault rifle at 18.
But most importantly, I know that I cannot see this as someone else’s problem, someone else’s grandmother, someone else’s child. It is all mine. It is all yours. It is all ours. We are connected to one another right down to our entangled photons. We can turn away and try to hide from all the violence and the death and the grief. But we are only fooling ourselves like a grain of sand on the beach, trying to pretend that it is alone. The truth is we are all in this together and the actions of each of us makes a difference. So, in closing, I leave you with the well-known words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Amen.