It’s so good to be together. Together is such an important part of church. Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 12:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
One body. He goes on to use the illustration: No part of the body can separate itself from it because of its feelings of inferiority–every part is needed in order to be complete. And no part of the body can separate itself from it because of feelings of superiority–every part is needed. A body cannot be one part.
Together in our differences–in our strengths and weaknesses, our highs and lows, our gifts and gaps, our perspectives and understandings, our experiences and unknowns, our successes and failures–we, though different, have one Spirit and form one body.
It seems as if this is something that Paul talked about and mentioned over and over and over again. One Spirit and one body.
Paul was not the only one with this perspective. In the creation narrative in Genesis 2, God looked at Adam and sighed:
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
In Exodus 18, Moses had just led the people through the Red Sea. They were now free from their slavery in Egypt, and Moses was dealing with every issue and problem. His father-in-law visited and scolded him.
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:13-14)
Alone doesn’t work. Alone is not sustainable. Alone is crippling.
I love the story in Luke 10 where Jesus is sending out 72 followers. What do they need? Not more money or more supplies. Not more resources or more training. They need each other.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” (Luke 10:1-4)
I love the words that the author of Hebrews uses. These are encouraging words. They can also be heard as guilt-causing words, but I really believe that the goal of the author was not to cause guilt, but to spur on. Together is doing and together is encouraging.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Look out these windows. Go to a grocery store or the mall. Drive on the highway, go out to eat, walk down the street, visit the beach, go to the DMV, or stop in at a coffeehouse. There are people everywhere!
If feeling alone is not always disrupted by the presence of other people, what actually moves people from feeling lonely?
Today we are starting a new series called Questions. Over the past weeks we have had the opportunity for you to share questions or conversations that you would like to address. So many of you put in great questions and topics–thank you! We will not get to them all over the next weeks, but we will keep them all in focus in this series and in the weeks and months to come.
There was a theme that came through in a majority of what was submitted. This week and next week, we'll be building some foundation as we work on and towards the topics and questions that were shared. This week we are focusing on the foundation of togetherness in spite of differences.
In our culture–in our world–there is a complex paradox at work. Culture values equality, AND culture has a breakdown when differences surface.
Remember where we started today: we are made to be together. But together is not that simple! Let your mind run wild for a minute over all the incredibly divisive topics and realities that exist in our world.
Many of you wrote questions and topics surrounding those things. As a pastoral team, we were talking as the list of questions was growing: where to start? And it became so clear–our calling for love in spite of difference. Connection, care, compassion, relationship, support, synergy, passion, empathy–IN SPITE OF DIFFERENCE.
This sounds beautiful. But what a beautiful COMPLEX paradox we have just in that short phrase: love in spite of difference. Process this:
What is the cost of demanding that relationship be only with worldview-clones of yourself?
In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were about to go on another missionary journey together. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark. Paul didn’t want him to come. They both had their reasons, and the conflict was so sharp that they parted ways.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)
What is the cost of parting ways easily? What is the cost of never parting ways?
And here is one more question, before we jump into some text. Paul and Barnabas had their reasons: We should bring John Mark because… We should not bring John Mark because…
What are some of the challenges in hearing other people’s reasoning for their perspectives, views and/or beliefs?
Remembering our foundations already processed today–the causes of loneliness, the cost of demanding cloneness, the cost of parting ways easily and the cost of never parting ways, the challenges of hearing other people’s reasoning–I want to take a quick look again at Paul and Barnabas.
They had a disagreement–something that probably happens often when you’re traveling all over the Mediterranean for an extended period of time. Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians some of “the road trip fun” he experienced:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
I can imagine these things putting me a little on edge or making me a little cranky! I am the one grumbling about where to eat, where to stop, when to go, running late, and I am sure these things happened. But this disagreement was different.
Paul & Barnabas had been through a lot together. They were always surrounded by controversy. Barnabas stood up for Paul. They shared deeply-held beliefs about how the Messiah came for everyone and the Gentiles didn’t have to become exactly like the Jewish people to be welcomed into this family.
Then Paul and Barnabas brought John Mark with them, Barnabas’s nephew. And then John Mark abandoned them. This was emotional, painful, and trust-breaking. John Mark just went back to Jerusalem, leaving them high and dry without an assistant. Strike 1.
Then there were some discussions where Barnabas started questioning some of their beliefs about Gentiles not having to follow all the same rules the Jewish people did. Strike 2.
Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance and bring him along on the trip. Strike 3.
And they blew up. They had a blazing, horrible fight between the two of them in front of the people in their church. It was intense. It led to estrangement between friends, completely going separate ways.
And then Paul was lost–he didn't know which direction to go. He went one way, then God told him to go another. It was a moment full of confusion and frustration.
I see this moment between Paul & Barnabas and I feel it. It is not a moment that I struggle to imagine or picture. I have no problem feeling the emotions and feelings that had to be felt.
Our society has huge disagreements about big issues. A lot of the questions we received were about those big issues.
I think most of us can say that we know how it feels to have a conversation with someone that completely opposes your view. They don’t respect it. They just talk about their viewpoint and don’t listen to your viewpoint. Or you just talk about your viewpoint and don’t listen to their viewpoint. In real life, it gets a little awkward. Online it moves beyond awkward to bullying. People you thought you knew suddenly become very different people in your life.
The political world opens this door. We may be on opposite sides of an issue. We may never have learned how to see someone else’s view. Different sides may refuse to or be unable to work together. The goal is always to get our way, not to move forward together.
And we all have different ways we handle those disagreements. And some of us LOVE debate, love the conflict, love looking at something from multiple angles or playing devil’s advocate.
Then there is the other side of this, where we just don’t want to disagree on anything. We’d just rather move on, sweep it all under the rug, change the subject and pretend it never happened. But internally we might be raging: That person has no idea what they’re talking about. They won’t ever listen to me. They always have so many opinions and don’t care what mine are. I just want to get out of here and never speak to them again. Outwardly you look like you’re letting it all go, but internally, there is no peace.
Think about last week when we talked about our different personalities. How do different types of people respond to conflict or debate?
How do people like you tend to process conflict?
I think it’s important to understand how other people handle conflict. If we don’t take a moment to understand each other, to understand how another person is going to react to your style of handling conflict, the tension is going to grow. People are going to push each other away. People stop talking and we lose trust in each other. We hold people at an arm’s length.
When we look in the New Testament, we see, time after time, Jesus interacting with people who were different from Him.
The Samaritan woman was one. Jesus traveled to Judea, met a woman in Samaria, and asked her for water.
First, there was a cultural divide between these two that would keep them from speaking to each other. She was a woman. He was a man. She was a Samaritan. He was a Jew. She had been married 5 times and was currently living with a man. She was a person discarded and abandoned by her husbands and by society.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:7-10)
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:16-18)
Jesus met her, He asked her for water, He spoke to her, He told her that He had living water for her. He told her He was the Messiah. None of the differences between them kept Jesus from talking to her, from sharing who He was with her.
Another was Zaccheus, a chief tax collector. He was a wealthy man, and also a man hated by his fellow Jews because of his profession. Jesus came right up to Zaccheus and told him to come down, because He needed to stay at his house.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)
People were shocked that Jesus would go and stay with this tax collector. This man was a traitor working for the Romans as a tax collector. And Jesus welcomed him, befriended him, even stayed with him.
In spite of every difference, Jesus didn’t demand change before coming over. Jesus didn’t say that he had to come to Jesus’ house because He didn’t really want to see into his world. The change that came in Zacchaeus was out of relationship, not out of demanded change.
And then in Luke 7, Jesus met a centurion. A centurion was a high-positioned person in the Roman army, commanding about 100 men.
He had a slave that he loved, but the slave was sick to the point of death. Jesus was asked to come to him and heal the slave. And Jesus went to heal the slave, but on his way, the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus that the centurion was not worthy to have Jesus come into his household. He said, “Instead, say the word, and my servant must be healed.”
So Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof! That is why I did not presume to come to you. Instead, say the word, and my servant must be healed.” (Luke 7:6-7)
Jesus was amazed by this Roman centurion’s faith. Nowhere in Israel had He seen any faith like this.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him. He turned and said to the crowd that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!” So when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well. (Luke 7:9-10)
This wasn’t a person that grew up in the Jewish faith tradition. This wasn’t a person that Jesus shared the same views with. This isn’t a story about who the centurion was, or his lifestyle. Whoever he was, Jesus still healed the slave, He still was amazed by the centurion’s faith, and the centurion still was an example of faith to the Jewish people.
The repetitive theme of Jesus’ life is a story of how He welcomed the outsider, the outcast, the forgotten–people who are different from Him.
We see his love for these people. What we don’t see is Jesus tearing apart their worldview or making them change before He moves in their lives or making them become a follower before He heals anyone. He opened the door for everyone.
What stands out to you about Jesus’ interactions with people who were radically different from Him?
We are in a world of many differences. We still need each other. We are in a church world of many differences. We still are the body–it is what makes us the body.
So what do we do? Great question. One thought and a final question. Here’s a moment of Paul and Barnabus again:
Fourteen years after that first visit, Barnabas and I went up to Jerusalem and took Titus with us. I went to clarify with them what had been revealed to me. At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry. (Galatians 2:1-2, The Message)
Paul could have shouted his story loudly on social media or with a bullhorn on Nicollet. Instead, he took it to the ones who mattered. Paul discussed it privately. He didn’t want his concern to raise controversy and increase tension. He didn’t want his good works (past, present and future) to be destroyed by controversy.
There are times when we may need to limit who we engage with when it comes to opposing views. If our good works and/or people’s opinions of God are going to be marred by what we say, we need to consider whether it’s worth engaging in conversation about opposing views. And I’m going out on a limb and saying it: Maybe as Christians, blasting our opposing views with a bullhorn or on social media isn’t the most effective. I think we all know someone who has been offended by “Christian views” and wants nothing to do with God or church. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
Holding on to all of this, let’s look at our last question:
How do you think Christ would interact with the people in your world that are notably different from you?
How can you stay unified with someone who is different from you?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Ephesians 4.
- Who do you really get along with in your world that is very different from you?
- Paul is emphasizing the theme of unity in 4:1-16. How do you know that he’s not also emphasizing uniformity or sameness?
- Reflecting on today’s conversation, what are ways to deal with loneliness?
- Think of a person you’re close to that you don’t agree on everything about. How do you stay close to them?
- Resources that help us deal with conflict:
- Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brene Brown
Bible Reading Plan:
- 1 Kings 18
- 1 Kings 19
- 1 Kings 20
- 1 Kings 21
- 1 Kings 22