From a Distance John 1:29-34; I Cor. 1:1-3
We were with Natsuko’s family in Japan on vacation several years back and I had a free day. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years: climb, more like hike, up a mountain. Mass transit took me to it’s midpoint, and above that I climbed railroad ties and then above the treeline it transitioned to well placed rocks, though not too steep. Even though the crowd thinned the higher up, there were still a few hikers with me. My calf muscles were aching a bit, but I was good. This google picture seems too austere.
The best part of the hike was enjoying the vista. Other peaks as you see here. The cars streaming into the parking lot looked like ants. The rice fields to my left. The city with the train station to my right. From a distance the sun-kissed world below looked peaceful, of one whole piece. Is this how God sees the world? Like Bette Midler’s song:
From a distance we all have enough, and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance you look like my friend, even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend what all this fighting is for.
And God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.
Oh, God is watching us, God is watching. God is watching us from a distance.
So on Christian Unity Sunday and MLKing weekend how do we deal with difference?
The gospel passage talks about that intended to bring us together, the Spirit’s baptism. Yet from the very beginning we notice great differences in the church’s teaching on the Spirit and baptism. Fr. Joe and our Catholic cousins up on Rt. 22 see the Holy Spirit as being physically present in a baptism guaranteeing it’s effect. We Reformed folk see the Spirit being spiritually present helping, but not guaranteeing, the parents and church keep their promises. Our Pentecostal friends between St. Bernards and our church see the Spirit as being supernaturally present, not so ordinarily in the water but in extraordinary expressions of tongues and healing. Philip Yancey tells us that the church has created 34,000 different denominations and sects the world over. We can’t even agree on baptism! Much less to chronicle the wars that have been fought over it!
Theological differences. There are also religious/social differences; particularly between Christians and Muslims in our world right now. Tonight our churches will gain a greater understanding about Christian-Muslim relations in Darfur through the Dr. Barbara Cooper, an expert on the subject, at St. B’s from 7:30 PM. Recently Rudy Guliani fired his veteran’s coalition co-chair in New Hampshire for saying things like:
Muslims need to be chased back to their caves…I don’t subscribe to the idea that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. They’re all Muslims.
How does God help us to deal with difference?
We tend to look close (lift glasses). We magnify the differences. For the differences that we dislike we assign blame. Last Sunday we baptized twins. When I do a baptism I invite all the children to come forward and watch the baby baptized. One of the twins had an obvious red birthmark right here. The little boy who sat closest noticed it, stood up and pulled on the pantleg of the father saying, What’s wrong with your baby?
But from God’s distance we notice more similarities than difference. The epistle lesson addresses Paul’s entire letter to… both their LORD and ours. And so among Christ-followers we assert that there is more that unites us than divides us! And even between we Christians and Muslims we can say that we are all Abraham’s children.
Last Sunday we experienced a type of contemporary service and then gathered in this sanctuary to try to discern together God’s will on our worship service format.
Does God want us to keep two, virtually identical blended services?
Or does our mission call us to have one service with more contemporary music and another with more traditional?
Guess what? We didn’t agree. But I was proud of how we spoke honestly and directly to the issues involved, especially given the emotional nature of music preferences. But I was most proud of how at the very end we all joined hands for prayer. There a traditional music lover; there a contemporary music lover. Not two churches but one family in Jesus. That’s the church at her best. Able to see more similarity than difference to the point that we pray together. Now pray for consistory to have wisdom in its decision.
Imagine a church that looks upon difference as God does…from a distance.
Imagine a church that doesn’t see Protestant and Catholic but Christian.
Imagine a church that recognizes each other’s baptism.
Imagine a church that welcomes each other to the LORD’S table.
That’s the church that looks upon differences, like God, from a distance. Amen.