Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not In My Name (Unity is NOT uniformity)

Today I begin with a few KEY questions to help me know a little bit more about this congregation.
Milk chocolate or Dark chocolate? Raise you hands ..
Coffee or Tea? (hot chocolate?)
And looking ahead at Tuesday’s forecast: Rain or Snow?

If we were to move seats and ‘take sides’ our choices and the VOTING on choices would divide us. Just the same as if we were to divide by gender
Male over here and female here.. – its not just a matter of preference is it?
And race or color/
Even marital status or sexual orientation
If we let our differences divide we would separate into groups by gender, color, age, status, and each preference we have until the female, middle-aged dark chocolate lovers were all in a group by ourselves. (but I don’t think I’d be alone)

Instead of those divisions, what do we do?
  • We offer refreshments that include BOTH veggies and sweets.
  • I have BOTH coffee and tea bags in my office.
  • And in November we sell SOUP AND PIE!
We have learned how to deal with differences.  At least for some things, but there are still many things that divide the Christian world. And it seems it all began back in Corinth in Paul’s day.

Some of you are history majors and may be well aware of Corinth’s history:
It is an ancient city but was destroyed in 146 BCE, 100 years later resettled and rebuilt, as a colony for freed slaves and other poor people. So by Paul’s day, it was full of “upwardly mobile folk” there wasn’t much Old Money.[i] Christian evangelistic work had prospered there and when Paul was last there, he left a vibrant, thriving church. We know from Luke’s story in Acts that another disciple, APOLLOS did a fine job in his 1st congregation and the people at Ephesus sent him – with their blessing – on to Corinth to work with the church Paul planted.
But, human nature – being what it is – factions developed. Whether they centered around house church groups, or certain dynamic preachers, we don’t exactly know.  What we have are Paul’s questions as he writes back to his beloved community;
“Do you say your are with Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas?”
He even mocks his audience in a way we can’t really hear in English, asking if Christ was divided, cut up into pieces, and parceled out. Obviously that was NOT the case.  It even seems that some folks say, “I belong to Christ” which on the surface sounds just fine, but evidently was said more like, “I really belong to Christ….but I’m not so sure about you.”[ii]
Maybe Paul’s listeners aren’t the only ones to be chagrined at this behavior.

Look at today’s Christian World::
How many Denominations today? Take a guess? Look up wikipedia on your phone? Depending on your source, 23,000 – 33,000
It would seem that Christ IS DIVIDED UP and Parceled out.

Many Christians have found this so disheartening that they work to find common ground or at least conversation and mutual acceptance through the WCC and NCC and even inter faith groups that extend beyond Christian priorities. This week there is a focus on Christian Unity. It is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity…. The WCC website describes this as “At least once a year, many Christians become aware of the great diversity of ways of adoring God. Hearts are touched, and people realize that their neighbours’ ways are not so strange.” [iii]
For this year, the prayers for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by Christians in Jerusalem, who chose as a theme Acts 2:42, ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ This theme is a call back to the origins of the first church in Jerusalem; it is a call for inspiration and renewal, a return to the essentials of the faith; it is a call to remember the time when the church was still one.[iv] It’s an attempt, to bring us together, even if only for one week or one unity service.

And it’s not easy, for in fact human nature seems to want to keep us divided.
For instance,  How do you feel when you win an argument?
Triumphant? Do you analyze the ways that your arguments were persuasive?  Did you leave with everyone nodding in agreement to your point of view, and go off to celebrate that you WON THE DAY? It feels good, when that happens, doesn’t it?
Yet how many arguments end that way…? How many times have you ACTUALLY WON PEOPLE OVER with your argument?
I remember disagreements over the death penalty during the days after AC passed resolution against it but before the congregation I served has passed their own resolution against the Death Penalty. While the desire to understand the issue was honest, there was great passion on BOTH sides of the debate as we each tried to WIN.
-Those IN FAVOR the DP spoke of JUSTICE.
-Those against the DP said, “Don’t kill in MY name”
-There were debates about the fairness of how the DP was applied and statistics showing convicted murders of dark-skinned races are executed far more often than convicted murders who were white.
-There was talk about gruesome murders where the killer didn’t deserve to live.
-Others argued that no matter how equal or unequal, fair or unfair the system was, killing to stop killing doesn’t make sense. “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world will be blind”
-The debate moved into the legal aspects of appealing a death sentence and the attorney general for Va. was quoted as saying, “Evidence of innocence is irrelevant.”

The debate rages on in many circles today as each side passionately tries to convince the other side.
Regardless of where you stand, can you feel your emotions rise when you think about it?

For Paul, The topic doesn’t matter as much as the emotions. Whether its Death Penalty, taxes, universal health care, or same-sex marriage – we all know passions run deep and rhetoric gets heated as one side tries to convince the other. We (whichever side WE are on) are usually sure that if we can just EXPLAIN our position clearly and MAKE OUR POINTS succinctly.  Then SURELY our opponents will SEE THE LIGHT and be won over. . .
Yet that rarely happens.

We ARE different. We think differently. We all have different experiences that help form our opinions. And when it comes to RELIGION, we have BELIEFS and Preferences that Divide us into separate groups. Paul’s point is that our ONE-NESS extends beyond our differences. The ‘same mind’ we are to have is NOT agreement on every issue, but AGREEMENT that CHRIST IS LORD. We are to have the MIND of CHRIST and be united in ONE purpose – that of sharing the GOOD NEWS of GOD’s Love with the world.

Even Paul recognized that Unity is NOT uniformity – he speaks about different gifts in many of his letters and will later say that it’s ok if some are circumcised and some are not. He recognizes that some people can eat meat (offered to idols) while others cannot. Some should stay single and some be married. In chapter 6 he writes, “..let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which god called you.” (6:17)
We Dark chocolate lovers do not have to convince all milk chocolate lovers that dark is best.  Somehow, we must stop trying to win the argument of the day and learn to live together WITH our differences. …

I can think of NOTHING harder to do. (once again I’m preaching to myself)
Quite honestly I’d rather argue with you, or complain about “them” and tell you all the reasons I or WE are right.
I’d rather, state my case and leave when the rhetoric gets too hot. I’ll take my dark chocolate and go home.
But that’s not what Paul says Christians are called to do.

Paul IS the perfect example here. He’s as human as we are. He often gave into his passions and stated his case while lashing out at his opponents. And yet, he also went to Jerusalem to meet with the ‘old guard’ of the early church and he learned to walk the fine line between Jew and Gentile – keeping BOTH in the church.
He delved into the controversial area of meat offered to idols. He wrote about male and female relationships and although by the standards of our day, he seems conservative, Actually he was a liberal in his day.. . reminding us that – Liberal and conservative – are ALWAYS relative terms.  Paul even walked the line between slave and free – welcoming slave and master into the same congregation and calling them brothers and sisters in Christ. HE did all this, Not because he liked controversy or enjoyed debates but because he understood us ALL to be called to a higher priority, the unity of the Body of Christ.

Paul knew that -however long it would be until Christ comes again, we would not be “of one mind” – on anything. And so, he learned that even HE had to overcome his passions and he had to learn to live with Peter because it took BOTH of them for the Church to THRIVE.
We too are called to work together with people we don’t agree with. We are to be in relationship with other denominations and even other faiths. AND those within OUR denomination who we’d prefer to argue with. We are to PRAY for each other. – and We are to find a way to accept each other, the way God made us.
Because…. “brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, .  . .we must be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (v. 10)
So whether you fish with a pole or a net, Like dark chocolate or milk, are more Pietist or Anabaptist,
You are Called to be one of Christ’s workers and together WE ARE CALLED,- ALL OF US- to be ONE.

[i] Feasting…p. 304
[ii] Richard B. Hays Interpretation 1st Corinthians (Louisville: WJK 1997) p.23

1 comment:

Terri said...

well done! thank you for sharing this. (dark chocolate, middle aged female)...