For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. -- Romans 8:14-17
I attended the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod Assembly this last Friday and Saturday, and felt very clearly God's presence there, working on me.
To start, the worship service on Friday morning had for its Gospel reading John 17:20-26: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me.... This is the same Gospel reading that was the focus of the national Conference on Christian Unity in 2009, which was the last Christian gathering I attended. This made my ears perk up, I can tell you!
Then the Bible Study on Jonah spoke so wonderfully to me, as it did to many at the Assembly. I especially appreciated Rev. Timothy Swanson asking us to think about what is Nineveh for us personally. What is it that we, I, want to run away from?
Well, I've been tempted, more than once lately, to give up on trying to promote Christian unity. Because I'm beginning to learn that Christian unity means much more than getting Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodist, Pentacostals, etc., together for fellowship opportunities or work projects. Those are very good things, but that is not where the real division lies. The real division in Christianity, and with all people of faith, is between those who want to exclude and those who want to include. The most inclusive includers want to welcome all people into one, world-wide, Kingdom of God, while the most exclusive excluders want to build protective walls around their members who alone represent the Kingdom of God. (In my journal, I drew a circle to represent includers, and a square to represent excluders, but I can't figure out how to put that in this posting!)
Now, I know that God has been calling me to promote Christian unity for the last four years. However, since the excluders want no part of what the includers want, I am at a loss as to how I am supposed to even try to bring these two groups of people together. Seeing how impossible this calling is, I want to run away altogether. Just like Jonah wanted to run away from evil, wicked, crime-ridden, corpse-filled, Nineveh. It seemed an impossible task, to Jonah, to turn the hearts of the Ninevites to God. But God insisted that Jonah proclaim his message.
Driving home from the assembly, I was listening to a lecture on The Archeology of the Holy Land (The Teaching Company, Great Courses Series). In lecture 6, Prof. Jodi Magness discusses the beginnings of the deep divisions between Israel in the north and Judah in the south which began after King Solomon died. I learned that the divisions became more than just logistical because the Israelites to the north, who later became known as Samaritans, practiced an "inclusive Yahwism', while the Judeans to the south, who later became known as the Jews, practiced an "exclusive Yahwism". For example, the Israelites/Samaritans intermarried and they built their own temples for Yahweh. The Judeans/Jews, however, became focused on blood purity, especially after their return from exile, and they insisted that Yahweh could only be worshipped in Jerusalem. (Tough luck on anyone who lived far away).
This reminded me of one of the verses we studied when I went to the Conference on Christian Unity mentioned above. In Ezekiel 37:16-17, God asks the prophet to take two sticks representing the two divided kingdoms, and God promises to make them one stick, in order that they may be one in my hand.
And I was reminded of the many times that Jesus associated with Samaritans in the Gospels. Jesus preached that God's Kingdom was within reach of everyone: Jews, Samaritans, even non-Israelites. He tried to tell people about God, who, as even Jonah knew, is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.... (Jonah 4:2) But not everyone believed his message.
Thinking about my Nineveh provided some clarity to me, reiterated clarity, as to what God is asking me to do. I wonder if God always calls us to what we find most difficult, not only to enlarge his kingdom, but to teach us what we need to learn about that kingdom.
I am an includer. I want everyone to be an includer. I am really bothered by those who exclude. I have expended my energy, and lost a lot of sleep, trying to make a square look like a circle. What would happen, I wonder, if I simply draw a bigger circle, one that embraces the square? For if I only love those who think and act like me, what more do I do than others?
Dear and Heavenly Father, please keep showing me what it is I need to do. For I can do nothing on my own. Love always, Pam