Sunday, June 20, 2010

Being One...

Being different isn't a bad thing, nor is being like someone else, but surrounding ourselves only with people we agree with, look like, sound like, and think like robs us of an amazing tapestry of joy and experience.

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

Luke 8:26-39
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"-for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.
(For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Galatians 3:23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Paul had a problem. He’d brought the Gospel to Galatia, seen the Galatians receive it with joy, then (it seemed) the moment his back was turned, others came in and started tacking on rules and regulations to the pure message of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Most scholars seem to agree that these interlopers were Jewish Christians who required the Galatians (who were probably of Celtic descent) to follow some or all of the Mosaic Law – most likely circumcision and the dietary laws. In Paul’s eyes, adding these requirements to the Good News transformed it into something no longer the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, it was another, inferior and malevolent, gospel.

Paul’s argument was not simply that the Law was unnecessary, but that it was deadly to faith in Christ: In the second chapter, Paul exclaims, “…if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” The Law, though necessary for the times and purposes of God preceding Christ, had been at best a temporary measure; it was now fulfilled: completed, finished, and laid aside.

Paul's passionate argument throughout the Letter to the Galatians, as well as in other of his Epistles, is that while the Law had its place, the Law had never been perfect. The Law could expose sin, but not forgive it. The Law could prevent error, but not redeem the soul.

Yet in the minds of those who had come in to the Galatian church after Paul, the Law served a further purpose: it was their identity; the Law had, for untold generations, set them apart as a race of human beings who alone served the one true and living God. They alone had known God; they alone had served God; the Law had come from God and the law made them unique!

If God was now moving in the lives of men and women who were not Jewish, that's all very well and good; however, they'd need some instruction in worshiping God in the correct manner.
A bit of minor surgery for all the men, and attention to the kinds of food everyone could and could not eat would be a nice start, thank you very much. These new converts needed to look like, act like, speak like the rest of us. Those actions, their adherence to the Law, will prove their dedication to God. Make them Jewish, and then we can call them believers.

In response to this idea, Paul writes one of my favorite verses: “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.”

For a long time I took that verse to mean that all labels, all descriptive identifiers which serve to separate, categorize, and perhaps even limit, people were to be eradicated. We must all approach the table of the lord not as this kind of person or that kind of person, we should not recognize even the most obvious differentiations, we must practice absolute color and cultural and denominational blindness. What I've come to find out, though, is that not all labels are bad labels. There are, for example, some labels I like: husband, father, son, brother, uncle, preacher, writer, musician, friend...

We need labels, and to one degree or another labels are unavoidable. In one sense there is, in fact, Jew and Greek, there is black and white and Hispanic and Asian and Middle Eastern, there is American and European and Australian and Brazilian, there is Alabama and Auburn and Georgia and Georgia Tech and Tennessee and Kentucky, there is Christian and Hindu and Muslim, there is Republican and Democrat and Libertarian and Green Party, there is Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox, there is male and female. We are who we are, and to deny that is to deny sociological reality, and in some large sense to deprive someone of their label is to deny them their personal identity.

What Paul is addressing is a specific area where labeling is equivalent to causing harm: the people who were influencing the Galatian church to embrace the Law were saying that, without the identifying marks which adherence to the Law brought, you could not be included in those who follow Christ. The same thing goes on today; there are many, both individuals and organized denominations, whose doctrine includes a conviction that, unless you follow the rules and regulations they've laid out, you cannot be included in the Kingdom of God. You must be baptized in this way and not in that way, you must believe this thing about the Lord's Supper and not that thing, you must read this translation of the Scriptures and not that translation, you must worship on this day of the week and not that day of the week, and the list goes on and on.

When labels serve to exclude people from even the possibility of inclusion, when our categorizations bar another human being from access to the Good News of God restoring humankind to loving relationship with the Creator, those labels must be destroyed.

As just one example, it has long been my contention that one of the factors which most hinders the Gospel today is the fact that there are well over thirty thousand different denominations within Protestant Christianity, and all too often these denominations choose to war with one another over whose doctrine is most pure, rather than joining together to address the needs of a lost and dying world. Christ's prayer in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, that we would be one in the same way as Jesus and His Father are one, has never been further from being realized than it is today.

Let me correct myself: In one sense, Christ's prayer n John 17 has never been further from being realized... but in another way, it is being realized, and is being realized to a greater and greater degree every day. People of different denominations, different races, different nationalities and experiences are talking, are fellowshipping, are enriching one another's lives and the lives of others simply because they are not letting denominational structures or cultural preconceptions limit the scope of Christ's love.

I say the following as someone who is a Presbyterian by choice; I believe that what Paul is saying to us in the 21st century in the United States of America is this : We best personify Christian community when we do not care whether another person is Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian or Pentecostal. We best personify Christian community when we do not care whether another person is African-American or White, Hispanic or Filipino, Native American or Middle Eastern. We best personify Christian community when we do not care whether another person is male or female, believes in predestination or paedobaptism, votes along the same party lines as we do, or votes at all.

Here at Fairfield Highlands, when we gather around the Lord's Table, you may find yourself standing next to someone you've only just met. You might be passing the bread to someone you had an argument with, or accepting the cup from someone who has a political yard sign that you disagree with. Yet we pass the bread, we accept the cup because these differences are not as important as sharing in the sacrament.

It must be precisely the same way on a larger scale: To say, with Paul, that “...[we] are one in Christ Jesus” is to say that we recognize our differences, but that rather than allowing those differences to separate us, we are striving to embracing the differences – not perfectly, and with fits and starts and mistakes along the way.

Despite our labels, we are indeed one body, united in Christ Jesus, who loves us, and gave himself for us. To paraphrase the Apostle John, we join as one in love not because we agree, but because God first loved us.


  1. This is Hannah Bevills, Editor for which is a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians, to directly fulfill Christian's needs. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the ENTIRE christian community an outlet to join together as one (no matter denomination) and better spread the good word of Christianity. has many great features aside from the obvious like christian TV, prayer request or even find a church/receive advice. We have emailed you because we have interest in collaborating with you and your blog to help us spread the good word. I look forward to an email regarding the matter, Thanks!

    God Bless
    |Hannah Bevills||

  2. "@KenSilva aka @piratechristian posts other people's opinions bcause he thinks that makes him right... ignorance agreed wi is STILL ignorance"


    Seriously man, have thought of seeking some help?

  3. Ken, the beauty of my blog, as opposed to your own, is that I allow people, even people who hate me and my friends, to post their comments freely.

    Allow comments on your own blog, then we can discuss who needs what kind of help, friend. Until then, the plank in your eye should be sufficient to keep you from reaching the keyboard...

  4. I deleted Ken's last comment. He doesn't consider me a Christian, so his supposed interest in correcting me is merely a poor attempt to discredit me. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

  5. Aaaaaand going on vacation, so comments will be held for moderation. Cannot trust someone to play nice who won't allow comments on their own blog, y'know. Y'all have a nice week!

  6. Hello John, Hope this finds you well. I am Persephone419 on Twitter. As I told you before on the twitter-machine I am enjoying the sermons on your blog. A little while ago I studied sermons as a literary genre that in my opinion has been overlooked in the past centuries and I have enjoyed the experience of reading your work. I also came across this one.

    The view expressed in this sermon gives me some hope for christianity. It is a tolerant view, far more tolerant than what is usually expressed in sermons.

    However, I do wonder how inclusive your opinion is. We will all be quite familiar with the exclusive dogma of some denominations (no female priests in the catholic church, gays denied communion in church in the Netherlands) and your sermon makes it clear that you find these discriminatory laws outdated.

    What is not clear to me is whether or not your view is inclusive of other faiths. "We best personify Christian community when we do not care whether another person is Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian or Pentecostal." I would agree that it is not possible to be part of a christian community without having faith in christ. But the question may not be who we see on Sundays (or Saturdays for that matter, or Friday), but who we will see in the next life.

    Do you think Jews can count on a little love from your deity? What about muslims? Are they devoid of salvation from not believing in a trinity?

    Are you saying that christians should be tolerant of other christians, but not of people with different faiths? Or would you say that all believers are part of the in-group? Or would you even go as far as saying that all people are one community? [wow, imagine that! That would be cool!] How inclusive is your god's tolerance? And how tolerant should your congregation be? I am afraid that the tolerance expressed in your sermon has boundaries that are not as reasonable as they appear at first sight. Perhaps you can address this some day.