Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd." ... Again the Jews were divided because of these words.   --  John 10:14-16, 19

This passage is so fitting for me this week.  Once again I am wrestling with how to honor unity in the midst of diversity.  It's a continual challenge to honor the other, the one who thinks differently, as much as you honor yourself, and your own opinions.  There is this creeping tendency to want to shout, "But I'm right."  I certainly have this tendency to want to defend my own opinions.  Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, I also have an even stronger tendency to want to shout, "It doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong.  All that matters is that you love each other as you love yourself."

So many issues have divided us Christians, and continue to divide us:  who was Jesus, what did his death signify, what does the eucharist mean and who can partake of it, what baptism signifies, who can be clergy, is divorce a sin, what kind of worship music is appropriate, what worship style or liturgy is best, which Lord's Prayer is preferable (traditional or modern), who can marry, etc.   Christians have different understandings on all of these issues, and more.

If you took all of the issues that Christians have divided themselves over, or could divide themselves over, and listed all of the possible choices on each issue, do you know what the odds are that any two people would have the same answers?  It would be as near to zero as mathematically possible.

The problem is not how we answer any of these specific issues, the problem is the idea that we all have to think alike or we can't be united.  This is a problem especially common in churches.

And yet, if we look to our families and friendships, we know that we don't all have to think alike to be united.  Where love binds us together, differences do not tear us apart.  My sister and I approach Christianity differently -- she leans toward the conservative, I lean toward the liberal.  My husband and I approach faith differently -- he leans towards atheism, I lean towards mysticism.  All of my friends and family members are in different places when it comes to their beliefs.  And yet, with these people, it doesn't matter that we don't agree.  It only matters that we love each other.   
So if a church is made up of people like this, people who all come to Christ from different cultures and different denominations, with different baggage and different gifts (which it is), how do you keep them united as one body?  What do you teach that wouldn't be divisive?  Is there anything that we could all agree on?

I would say... Teach them to love God with all their being and to love one another as they love themselves.   Focus on that.  Do not deviate from that.  When differences on any other issue arises, remember to love the person more than the difference.  Try to understand why the person thinks the way they do.  And if you forget to love, or the other person does, then as soon as possible repent or forgive, and return to love.

Only those who cannot love another as they love themselves must be separated from the flock.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


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