“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”

I went online to read the rest of the lyrics of that classic song by Three Dog Night and was reminded that this song falls into the same genre as “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” and “Wild Thang, You Make my Heart Sang.”  There’s not much else to the song except what is said in the lead line: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”

But what else is there to say?  Let the thought stand alone.  Lonely thought.  Lonely singer.  “She went away,” and that’s it.  Alone.  One.

In the story the gospels tell, “One” is a number with which Jesus often has to come to terms.  The story begins with his being whisked away to Egypt because his peers are being put to the sword, and ends with him dying abandoned on the cross.  In between, though Jesus often is with disciples or a crowd, and is in and out of homes and synagogues, he often stands as One.

He stands as one when he alienates and aligns himself.  He alienates himself from authorities and family by aligning himself with those with whom the authorities and family would like to avoid.  Jesus mixes it up with demons by casting them out from the possessed.  He exposes himself to impurity by healing the sick.  He touches lepers, menstruating women and dead bodies; all forbidden in his day.  He sullies his reputation by associating with sinners.  He not only addresses their sins but actually befriends them, eats with them, affirms their place at table, in the community and even in his company of followers.  By “standing with” those who others “stand against;” Jesus isolates himself from those who say, “You’re known by the company you keep.”

What does this mean for those who would follow Jesus?  To be at one with God’s will, and at one with those who are either about God’s work or who need God’s grace, is to sometimes to be in the company of “One.”  Every Christian should come to terms with the reality that in red hot moments, she or he may be alone.

In fact, I pray that every child and young person will know what it is like to be derided because she or he stands against the crowd on behalf of a good or in solidarity with the ostracized.  I pray for that pain, because I think it is a redemptive pain that is necessary for moral character to develop.

Of course, that means I pray the same for adults as well.  In praying for it, I know how much I don’t like being in those lonely moments.  Social pressures; peers, ideologies, and agendas; they all can be almost demonic in their power.  They want to make us their insiders, so that we become their ways and means of achieving their ends.  But when either mercy or justice requires us to stand against those powers, some of whom have the faces and voices of friends, families and those who assume we can be counted upon to be on their side, then the pain of being in the company of One is to be embraced and not avoided.

I can think of many people in history and in recent news who are examples.  I’ll be safe and choose just one who once was rather controversial, but which time and history has rendered acceptable.

Will Campbell, is a Baptist preacher whose first time leading worship required him to read a Bible donated to the church by the Ku Klux Klan.  Yet, he evolved into a Civil Rights leader.  He was the only white minister present at the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, escorted black students into Central High School in Little Rock, met with Martin Luther King Jr. and participated in Civil Rights demonstrations.  In relation to people of his Tennessee home, he once knew what it meant to be in the company of “One,” but in taking a stand for Civil Rights, he is now at one with the Civil Rights community.

Wait a minute.  Did I say Will Campbell was no longer controversial?  In 2006, he intentionally received withering criticism and condemnation from the Civil Rights community because, without changing his views about racial justice, he reached out to members of the Ku Klux Klan in his Nashville community offering ministry and friendship.  Campbell’s response to the critical firestorm of criticism coming now from the left: “Klan members are in no less need than Southern blacks.”  If he’s going to keep identifying with those who need to know the grace of God, including obvious sinners, I guess he’ll never completely fit in with any group.

Should we?

George Anderson is the Senior Minister at Second Presbyterian Church. You may contact him at: [email protected] or visit them on the web at www.spres.org

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