Us & Them & We

(Galatians 3:23-29; John 17:20-26)

Sun, July 10, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Monday, I went to a family picnic and met some long-lost relatives.  I knew Grampie and a bunch of his family were to be at Port Maitland beach, so I found them.  I walked over to this group of, well, mostly strangers, and I was welcomed! There were three or four great-aunts and uncles I did know, and a couple cousins. But I got to meet a brother and sister of my grandfather I’d never met, plus several of my first cousins once removed, second cousins, etc.  I was immediately welcomed, even hugged by perfect strangers.  They fed me hot dogs and potato chips.  They laughed & told stories. We’re strangers no more.

That was, of course, an easy moment for Us and Them to become We.  We were family after all, the White family.  Some of us just had not met yet.  

Many other moments in life the ‘Us and Them’ doesn’t naturally become We.  We have plenty of ‘Us versus Them’ in our society, in our lives.

Politics in Canada, Great Britain, the United States, and everywhere, is always Us vs. Them, eh?  The tragic violence we have been hearing about this past week – shootings and the like – show the heart-breaking destruction of Us vs. Them.  The beauty of diversity and differences among us humans has a dark shadow of hatred and mistrust and competition.

How do ‘us and them’ become ‘we’?  Outsiders become insiders?  Strangers become friends?  It actually starts, as it did for me at Port Maitland beach the other day.  We start by learning that we already are made to be one by God.  And because of that, we are all more alike than different.

You are all one in Christ Jesus, wrote Paul to the Galatian believers.  Even among churches, there are such barriers and a lack of team spirit and family living.  Sometimes we Christians are so different from one another; sometimes the slightest small differences are the molehills we make into mountains.  I have had no contact, in two years, with the Pastor or people of the Bible Believers Baptist Church, near here.  One might expect various Baptists to get along, but sometimes the closer we are in name, the less cooperative we are.  We get to celebrate with Grace United today as they covenant with their new Minister.  Despite how different we may be from them – and some of you left them to become part of us – I trust that we are one in Christ.  One with Grace United, one with Bible Believers Baptist, etc.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  (G 3:28)  More than anything in this strongly worded letter, Paul is telling some congregations to be what they are: act like it!  Not telling them what to do to become one.  Telling them they ARE one – now be who you are.  

These are remarkable words of Paul.  Paul who wrote this letter as an early Christian missionary.  Paul who had been a Jew, even a religious expert in the law, and a Pharisee.  Paul who would know well the daily morning prayer of the Jews that thanked God that “Thou has not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”  Paul turns this on its head with his statement.  Those age-old divisions are broken down by Christ crucified.  All are included.  All are one.

We remembered today, in that great prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, that the Saviour, before He died, asked that all those who followed Him and His Way would be ONE.  As He and God the Father are One, so may they be one / we be one.

So know this… and live it.  Perhaps this begins with knowing the oneness God creates in us.  Then, taking steps to live together as one.  Knowing the lengths the Creator has gone to reconnect with humanity – the Jesus story – and remember that with everyone we ever meet.  

Lee Bilcher put out a little statement on July 4th:

So I am an American who lives in Canada, who is celebrating our Independence Day. Just a few days ago my brothers and sisters in Canada celebrated Canada Day. At the end of the day, do we serve someone whom is elected when an election is called or every four years? Aren’t we all citizens of heaven and serve the One [who] is the same yesterday, today and forever?

Indeed.  Amen!  Lee is remembering teachings like Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We will not know every other citizen in heaven who lives in our own town with us.  We will not like every other citizen of Christ’s Kingdom we do know.  We will not get along perfectly with everyone else on Jesus’ team in Digby County.  Yet in Christ we can still remember and respect each one who is with Him.

The longing of believers for us to get along – and to get together – is sometimes a strong but sad longing.  We wish for cooperation and fellowship, but know it ain’t gonna happen.  A Canadian worship song I like a lot – which we might learn someday – is ‘Deep In Our Hearts,’ by John Oldham (1995).

Deep in our hearts there is a common vision;

Deep in our hearts there is a common song;

Deep in our hearts there is a common story,

Telling Creation that we are one.

Deep in our hearts there is a common purpose;

Deep in our hearts there is a common goal;

Deep in our hearts there is a common message,

Justice and peace in harmony.

Deep in our hearts there is a common longing;

Deep in our hearts there is a common theme;

Deep in our hearts there is a common current,

Flowing to freedom like a stream.

No matter what you are, what kind of person you are, you are:  Created by God.     Valuable to God.

Like all others. A hurting soul.  A hurter of souls.      

Can be saved by Grace thru faith in Jesus the Christ.

Relate to God the same way as all others.

There is amazing welcome, reconciliation, fellowship, cooperation, and ministry possible for people.  Not because of us; because of Christ.  But it takes our willingness to cooperate with what the Spirit of Jesus desires to do among us. In this world we shall be light.

Amid the violence and hurt between people that is so painful right now, or still aches from events long in the past, Christ can take us forward.  He may desire us to let go of prejudice and privileges we have, to be a brother or sister to others.  He may guide us to listen long and hard before we spout off our opinion, our answer.  Jesus may open our eyes to know the power and responsibility we have to make a difference in our society. You are the salt of the earth: light of the world

I met Mark Buchanan years ago on a Pastor’s trip to Bolivia. I soon learned he was not only a Baptist Pastor in British Columbia, at that time, but also the author a several good books.  

Mark wrote the feature article in Mosaic, the spring 2016 issue – our Canadian Baptist magazine.  Did some of you read his article, The Day I Stopped Driving By, about fellowship and ministry and reconciliation with First Peoples?  He ends the article with this story.

Ray Aldred is a Cree storyteller and Christian theologian, and a dear friend and colleague of Mark.  Recently, they both spoke at a church conference on missions.  They decided on the final evening of the conference to weave their talks together, back and forth, circling each other’s stories, building off each other’s insights.  It was like a tribal dance.  Obviously, they had to choreograph it.

“I think you should invite me up right at the start,” Ray said.  “I will honour the traditional occupants of the land and thank them for allowing us to be here.  And then I will pray with smoke.”

Praying with smoke is a Cree tradition (shared by many Plains Tribes) of burning sage or sweet grass  in an abalone shell(the fragrance of which bears an unnerving resemblance to cannabis), snuffing out the fire, and wafting the smoke, with an eagle feather, until its fragrance pervades the room, all the while inviting the Spirit to come from all four corners of the earth and, like the fragrance, fill the room.

Mark: “Um, ok.  You know people will freak out?”

“I know.” said Ray.  

“I’m good then.  Let’s do it.” said Mark.

So they did.  And people freaked out.

Mark was up next.  “I sense,” he said, “that many, if not most of you, are deeply uncomfortable with what just happened.  I’m going to ask you to do something with that: neither reject it nor embrace it. I’m inviting you, instead, to hold it in open, upturned, outstretched hands.” – he modeled this as he said it.  “And I’m asking that you give both Ray and me an honest hearing.”

That seemed to settle things down, and so Ray and Mark spoke, back and forth, moving in and out of each other’s space, doing their dance.  They talked about the broad sweep of the Canadian church and government relations with First Nations people throughout our shared history.  They talked about the tribal, ceremonial, and storytelling roots of biblical faith.  They talked about how the church had repeatedly missed opportunities with First peoples to share the full gospel in all its wild, profuse, subversive, scandalizing extravagant beauty and potency; had failed to incarnate the wide-open arms of God, and yet every once in a while had got it right.

By the end, Mark sensed a new readiness and openness among those present.  He stood on the platform and held out his open, upheld, outstretched hands.

“Some of you,” Mark said, “still aren’t sure what to do with what you saw earlier.  But I’m sensing that most of us – maybe all – want to be part of a new story.  We’ve heard enough of the old story to feel some appropriate guilt and shame and heartbreak.  But what use in getting stuck there?  Let’s resolve to create a different future.  I’m not even sure what the next step is, other than it involves a fierce ‘Yes’ to that different future, and unswerving commitment to write a new story.  If you want to be part of that, would you stand, and with open, upturned, outstretched hands, say to God, ‘Yes.’

As far as Mark could tell, the whole congregation stood.

Us and Them can become WE.  Thanks to God.  ‘There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer European and Cree, there is no longer black and white; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise.’  

This is our Faith. That Jesus makes us Children of the family of God.  We can be Clothed with Christ.  The Us vs. Them become One, become We.  

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