I’ve been listening to a song all week—one of my favorite songs, the Beatles Come Together. You know it! “Come Together, right now, over me!” It’s part of the soundtrack of the 60s! Quintessential. People—coming together—right now. It’s positive, it’s urgent, it’s fun. Great song!
Have you ever listened closely to the other lyrics of Come Together? Right after the chorus, they go like this: “He bag production / He got walrus gumboot / He got Ono sideboard / He one spinal cracker / He got feet down below his knee / Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease.” John Lennon once referred to these lyrics as quote “gobbledygook.” But then there’s that chorus—bright, bold, and inviting “Come Together, right now, over me!”
The 60s were a watershed decade in American history. And it’s easy to romanticize the past as a simpler, more innocent time. But just scratch the surface and you see what an oversimplification that is. There was Camelot, sure, and there was a presidential assassination. There was the Civil Rights Movement and civil rights legislation, but there was also Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, the assassinations of Black leaders, and church bombings. There was the summer of love, and there was the war in Vietnam. There was the moon landing, and there was the Cold War and bomb shelters. Even the song Come Together itself was originally written by John Lennon to be the campaign song for Timothy Leary (the guy who popularized LSD) as he was running for governor of California against the famous actor turned politician, Ronald Regan. Only in America, people! Some things in American politics have been with us for a long time. And just like today, in the 60s there was culture and counterculture. It was a time of polarization and division in American life.
And then at the tail end of 1969 here comes this song and this incredible chorus, so necessary and transformative: “Come Together, right now, over me!” But then if you leaned a little closer to your AM radio or if you turned up the volume on your record player a little hoping for some insight, all you heard in the rest of the song was just a jumble of nonsense: “He roller coaster / He got early warning / He got muddy water / He one mojo filter.” Huh? Say what?
It’s almost like the song is saying, “We know the medicine we need to heal what ails us as a people. We need to come together. But we don’t know how to write the prescription for that medicine. We don’t know what to say that will actually bridge the divides, overcome the fear, and get us working together again. So, we’re just gonna fill in that bit with a little bit of playful babble and hopefully you all don’t notice before the chorus arrives again…” Come Together, right now… but we don’t know how.
Obviously, there’s a reason why I’m listening to this song now. It’s our second Sunday back in person together in the sanctuary. After more than 16 months apart, we need to come together again. After 16 months of being dragged behind the wagon of life together and of community, we need to get back on that wagon and take the wheel. What I believe is that we don’t want a tepid return to community. After the drought of this pandemic, we need to jump back into the deep end and commit ourselves (maybe even more than before) to figuring out how to swim together again.
As 21st century Westerners we generally have a problem of thinking of everything in terms of being consumers. Marketing experts say we’re exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day, all reinforcing the idea that we are, first and foremost, the consumer. Many of us work 40+ hours a week trying to make consumers happy (it’s called a job), reinforcing the mantra in our minds that the consumer is king. People used to have personality. Today we all have “brands.” We used to share photos of our vacations and our kids. Today we market ourselves on social media.
We think of everything in terms of being a consumer. Do I like this product or not? Am I happy with the service I’m receiving or not? But the problem is, of course, that community is not something that can be consumed. It cannot be consumed, it can only be participated in. And that participation is a give and a take, not a take and a take and a take and if I’m happy with the product or the service, I’ll think about getting involved. It’s oxymoronic. It can’t possibly work, right?
So, it’s important that we jump back into neighborliness and back into the work of church, which is offering the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, because if we all hang back at the edges to see if the community spontaneously produces a product or a service that we like, and want to invest in, and associate with our brand, we’re all going to be disappointed. We cannot consume community, we can only make community, and we can only do that if we come together. We cannot consume church, we can only be and do and offer the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we can only be and do and give if we come together. But that’s not always easy for us. It’s getting harder and harder. Because we’re mad, we’re scared, we work too much, and there’s too many good shows on TV.
The other reason I’m thinking about this song right now goes way beyond church reopening. There is so much at work to divide us in our larger culture right now: COVID has kept us apart—literally, physically apart—and it’s divided us politically. Racial inequities and ideological disagreements about how to even talk about hose inequities continue to plague us, keeping us apart from one another. Our national conversation is devolving. We’re more interested (or at least more successful) at hurting the other side than we are at doing the most good for the most people. We’d rather fight over political sideshows than cooperate on the pressing matters that affect all of our shared interests.
In the past it was credibly said, “Let’s make the world a better place. Let’s leave it better than we found it.” And now many of us feel that we don’t even have that option anymore. The pending environmental catastrophe due to climate change, just beginning, will require our unprecedented best efforts just to leave the world less worse off than it might be rather than better than it was. The only way for us to begin to tackle global catastrophes is with global solutions which can only happen if we come together. The only hope for our polarized infighting is to turn outward with a shared goal and vision, which can only happen if we come together. But that’s not easy. It’s getting harder and harder. Because this hard work is essentially spiritual work. It will require repentance, compassion, sacrifice, difficult conversations, commitment and courage. And we’ve pulled up our own roots out of that spiritual soil. We’re on another journey now. The religion of Jesus is not the religion of victory over enemies, it’s the religion of turning yourself entirely over to God’s purposes and to the great benefit of all people. Isn’t that what coming together is? And it isn’t easy.
Well, it wasn’t easy for the churches that Paul founded to come together either. And we see that in our scripture reading this morning the letter’s author believed that the churches needed a little reminder. The reminder was not to come together, the reminder was that God has already brought you all together. God, as usual, has a different perspective. As the Bible tells us on more than one occasion, “With God, all things are possible.”
It is possible for us to come together because God, through Christ, has already broken down the boundaries that separate people. “You’re a Jew, I’m a Gentile. It won’t work.” “Yes, it will,” says God. “But I’m a man, you’re a woman, I’m a slave and you’re free, we’re not the same, we’re different you and me. We can’t come together. I listened to that John Lennon singing that song, and you know it was just a bunch a baloney other than that chorus!” “But you’re already together,” says God. “You just don’t know it yet. You just keep on forgetting my ways, how I work, what I do.
“First, I broke down the boundary between myself and you. I sent Jesus Christ into the world. I emptied myself into the limits of flesh to be as close to you as skin-on-skin. I lived with you, taught you, died for you. Whatever boundary was there, I wiped it away.
“And when I did that, I broke down the boundaries between people. I taught you to love your neighbors. I commanded you to love your enemies. I said yes to the Samaritan, yes to the Syrophoenician, yes to the Ethiopian eunuch, yes to the lame and the blind, yes to the tax collectors, yes to the Roman centurion, yes to the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth I said YES. I brought you all together in me. You’ve already come together. You just keep forgetting who I am, what I do, what I ask.”
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Beloved, faith in Christ means that we believe and live as though the boundaries that once separated us from others no longer exist. Through Jesus Christ reconciliation and community is always a possibility. The only thing that can separate us from one another is putting our faith in divisions and hatred, rather than in the unbounded ocean of love that is God all around us.
We can’t ultimately control what other people think and do and say. But we are responsible for our ourselves, for our response to God’s grace. It’s up to us to live out our lives as an offering to community, rather than seeing community as a product to be consumed or a service to be rated with one-star reviews. And if we can live our lives as if this truth of the Gospel is true and alive and liberating, if we can live out the truth that God has drawn near to us, so close now that God dwells within us, and if we believe that one person alone cannot stand as a temple to God, but that all of us together in love and justice, without division or exclusion, can become God’s dwelling place on Earth, then I believe we can all come together.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations