Please pray with me:
Teach us your wisdom, O God,
that we may live wisely and eager to learn.
Open our minds to understand our place in the world, O Lord,
that we may sow the seeds of love and peace.
Illumine our hearts to the path of truth, Holy Spirit,
that we may celebrate the ways that lead to life. Amen.
As a young adult at university I met and became friends with a whole group of people who came from different and diverse backgrounds and upbringings. Universities are good for that: creating a community where different thoughts and beliefs can mingle. We learned to listen to each other and to remind ourselves that our experiences are not the same – which also meant that our thoughts and beliefs were also not going to be the same. It took time for that to sink in.
I can distinctly remember times when I, or someone else, would get up in a huff and leave the space my group of friends occupied in one of the university buildings with regularity. It was usually after a friendly discussion turned ugly. And as more and more people joined the fray, the tempers would rise and someone would feel that they were no longer being heard, or acknowledged for their unique perspective, and they would leave.
The curious thing is that almost everyone came back given enough time.
There was one particular time when I was struggling with my beliefs, feeling lost and very alone. The first few years of university had been hard for me as my mind was torn open to new ideas and thoughts and realities. I was clinging to the shreds of my childhood faith and the baggage of what I had been taught in a particular community of people. One day, someone in my group of friends was talking about a particular group of Christians, and whatever they had said, I only remember becoming angry, because what was being said was not what I had learned from those I had trusted. And it ticked me off.
“That’s not right! That’s not what I was told!” I accused, and proceeded to re-educate my group of peers.
The discussion got rather heated from there pretty quickly. People began taking sides, and emotions were getting high. And then I was told that I was stupid for allowing my biases to shape my knowledge into absolutes by someone who proceeded to tell me that they were a member of that particular group of Christians that was being discussed, and what I held to be true was totally incorrect.
Up went the impenetrable mental wall, I rose from my spot, and left.
And something happened. God moved.
The truly wonderful thing about God is that God comes to us – continually. God comes to everyone. Insider, outsider, totally foreign. Everyone, through time and space.
Ruth, a foreigner, comes to Israel with her mother in law, and generations later, Solomon stands in the temple praising the God of Israel, the God of Ruth, and of his father, David, as the one who welcomes all – including the stranger and the foreigner – especially in a time of exile and newly shared communities.
Paul, despite his rather palpable anger with the whole situation in Galatia, advocates and champions a God who is available to both Jew and Gentile. This incredible God, cannot be contained by human rules and limits, brings good news, hope and salvation, to all people.
In the gospel of St Luke, we are given a picture of complete inclusion as Christ responds to the Roman Centurion’s request for healing.
There’s an interesting thing going on in this story: a wealthy Roman citizen and leader, a centurion, sends the Jewish elders to Jesus to implore him to heal the Centurion’s slave, who they declare to be worthy of saving. The Centurion also sends his friends, a little later, with a different message: don’t come because I don’t deserve.
My takeaway is this: Worthiness is a human limitation. Despite the us and them, the differences of opinion, the conflicting ideas, the totally incongruous approaches – despite everything that works to separate us, God comes. Bringing healing and wholeness into the midst of the people.
And then miraculous things happen.
In the midst of the people, collected and gathered with diverse and different backgrounds and understandings, we share something with each other about the beauty of God’s creative paradox of diversity and unity. We bring together different thoughts and beliefs and understandings which we then share to create a collective understanding of the world around us. God grants us the many gifts and talents that we have as a group, I think, so that we can learn that we don’t have all the answers as individuals. Even as individual groups we fall short.
We need each other. In ancient time or in present, we are multifaceted, multilingual, multicultural, and multifaith: gathered through time and space, across the globe, surrounded by the beauty of difference. We celebrate that diversity because it is the foreigner, the stranger, the other, the unexpected ones who startle or challenge us into a deeper awareness of our own connection to God, our faith, and our spirit.
Something brought me back to my group of university friends once I had calmed down. I like to believe that it was the arrival of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit bringing my attention to two things. In particular: my confusion and a need for a community. God came and moved so that none of us would not be alone.
This motley assortment of students, at various stages of education, were my people. They were as much the support, comfort, acceptance, validation, and love for me as I was for them. Something had brought us together, and I had a hunger to figure out what that was.
My confusion and doubt about my own beliefs led me back to them. I had learned much from them prior to the argument, and I would learn much from them afterwards. And as I shared my confusion and hurt feelings with the ones I had argued the most with, it became clear that we were all in similar spaces, trying to figure out what it was that we did believe and why: collected and held safely in the palm of God’s loving hand, together, trusting that the good news that we needed to hear would emerge in our sharing with each other.
Let us pray,
you exist in all that is around us;
you sent your Word to unite us in truth;
and your Spirit to make us a communion.
Help us to welcome the foreigner, the stranger, and the other,
into our spaces,
and celebrating the unity and multiplicity of us all. Amen.
- Daniel Clendenin. “No Other Gospel.” Journey with Jesus. http://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/977-no-other-gospel
- William Culpepper. “Proper 4C: What Impresses Christ?” Modern Metanoia. https://modernmetanoia.org/2016/05/16/proper-4c-what-impresses-christ/
- David Lose. “Unexpected Faith.” Dear Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2592