Be Your Own Thread

by admin on June 11, 2013

The Well at Springfield 32206As we continue to move through Paul’s letter to the Galatians, this Sunday’s message was based on Gal. 2:11-21, and is posted below.  Following the message, people were invited to particiapte in a “Theological Worlds Inventory” as introduced in W. Paul Jones’ book, Worlds Within a Congregation: Dealing with theological diversity.  The inventory will help guide our dinner group discussions this week.

Be Your Own Thread
Rev. Susan Rogers

Sharing the gospel has always been a delicate task. In our excitement to share the good news, at times we have been guilty of sacrificing what truly makes the news so good. In our enthusiasm to share the life-giving power of Jesus, we have been guilty of sharing something that is inconsistent with the life and ministry of Jesus.

Imagine living in West Africa when missionaries arrived on your shores.  They came telling stories of a man who turned a small meal into enough to feed 5,000 – stories of a man who gives living water, causing you to never thirst again.  Imagine how eager you would be to learn more – so eager that when those bearing the good news began to gradually strip away the customs, rituals, and clothing that made you truly African, you did not think twice.  You let go of what was unique and beautiful about your heritage, what was unique and beautiful about you.

Stories like these are real and have been the source of a terrifying identity crisis.  No longer fitting into their dominant culture and trying desperately to live out an American or European version of Christianity, these native Africans were left with a faith that was not their own and no one to help them navigate their new identities.

The good news was that God loved them and wanted to bring them the gift of new life.  The not so good news was that they had to forfeit their uniqueness in order to become more “Christian.”

The word “christian” makes a very challenging adjective adjective.  Writer, professor and priest, Paul Jones believes that “there is no such thing as the Christian faith, in the sense of anything resembling a common, agreed upon substance of belief, held … by those calling themselves Christian.  Currently there are more than 250 denominations, which together weave the tapestry of American Christianity.” (Worlds Within a Congregation, 35)

It all started here in places like Galatia, as the gospel was making its way out of a central place, out of a particular nation and into the lives of very different people and cultures.  We can already tell that this time of transition was a difficult one.  Paul heard about Jewish Christian missionaries sent to Galatia who were preaching a misleading gospel.  They were telling the Galatians that to be truly “christian”, they had to return to strict adherence to the Jewish law.

Paul knew and had interacted with those similar to these missionaries. He tells how they initially blessed his ministry to the Gentiles. Yet, he explains how men like Cephas and Barnabas had been inconsistent in their relationship with the Gentiles.  Cephas for example, was content to eat with  Gentile “sinners” until those he considered the real authorities showed up.  Then he wanted nothing to do with them.

Paul had no patience with these Jewish Christians who were unable to grasp the idea that Jesus was just as active in these Gentile sinners’ lives as he had been in their lives.  Paul had no time for those who could not let go of thinking that to be truly Christian meant becoming a Jewish-kind-of-Christian.  Paul had no patience with those who wanted to control the gospel instead of letting the Spirit of God work in ways beyond our understanding.

To put it plainly, Paul believed that a Gentile Christian would look and sound different than a Jewish Christian.  And, that was okay because being a Christian is not about us all looking and sounding the same.   We are each unique, and the gospel takes root in our lives in different ways.  The Christ who lives in each of us will look, sound, and express the good news in a variety of ways.

If we are honest, we want everyone:

to talk about God like we do,

to worship like we do,

and to pray like we do.

If we are honest, we want to surround ourselves with people whose conversation we can predict and whose choices we can easily understand,  but is striving for this kind of filtered sameness really God’s mission?

Or is is possible that God invites us to be people of faith threaded together as we seek the way of Jesus in our differences?  Perhaps, becoming a tapestry.  Yes, having many differences, but also holding the more important things in common.  {People were invited to name out loud those things we hold in common}

We do not look and sound the same yet we share a common confession and a common mission.  Namely, the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the mission to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Tapestries are intricately woven together; they are not threads that hang loosely.

What if, instead of allowing our differences to isolate us, we moved in closer and really listened to each other and to really heard one another’s stories?  

What if, instead of trying to become the same, we shared and even embraced our differences?

What if we allowed room for each of us to be the unique thread of the tapestry that God has created us to be?

I have to believe that because of our many life experiences, because of our different personalities, and because of the different colored lenses through which we see, we could make something very beautiful together.  And, that maybe, just maybe we could be a fuller, more adequate expression of the body of Christ.

Christianity can be used as another way to cover up who we really are, stripping away the beauty of our uniqueness – it happened in the early church and it happens today.  It is interesting that Paul did not scold the Jewish Christians for their emphasis on the law, but he was infuriated that they imposed their religious system on those seeking to follow the risen Christ through their world view.  And, he scolded the Galatians for not living into the freedom they had received through Christ.

Each of us has been made and equipped to express the gospel in different ways.  It will be a challenge, but with God’s help what has divided others does not have to divide us.  And, if we allow it, we can become a tapestry of many different colored threads for the glory of God.

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