Friday, October 06, 2006

Embracing the Different
I John 11-16
John 10: 11-18

A brown skinned calloused hand reaches heavenward fingers gently grasp the firm red fruit and pull it gently into a felt lined bucket. Soon enough that apple will sit on a grocery self if Peoria or perhaps Charlotte or perhaps Brazil. When it does something of us in this little hamlet is joined to another community and another family – one we don’t know. The rain and sunshine which has showered us yesterday now feed another and we are connected – even if we don’t realize it. The world has always been connected but never as it is in our day. As I worked on this sermon this past Wednesday I began with a conversation with a colleague in Oman on the Persian Gulf and listened to music from a radio station in California. We can’t avoid each other – we’re wired together – economically dependent upon one another. And that can be good and rich and that can feel bad and vulnerable. For most of us the different is scary and uncertain business.

It was for those who heard Jesus message that day – the day he told them about the Good Shepherd. Most spins on this old favorite stay with the cozy images of nurturing and shepherding and belonging. But read on past where I left you – where most lectionaries take us – read verses 19 through 21 – go ahead take a peek – I’ll wait for you – there are Bibles in your pews. For those lest acquainted its on page____.

Apparently when Jesus finished his seemingly pleasant lesson the unpleasant reared its ugly head. His listeners “where divided” by what he had to say – they actually accused him of the demonic – of his being out of his mind! Now go back a scan what he said – protection – safety – belonging – love – love to the extent of self sacrifice. What could all the ruckus be about? Any ideas?

Take a look at verse 16;
16I 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.

It seems the problem is not that Jesus has come to be a nurturing, protective, loving savior – it’s that he does it for more than those who were listening – they’re not exclusive recipients of this grace. They’re special enough but so apparently are a host of unnamed others. Thoughts probably swell with in the minds of some who heard him; Who! Who else Jesus? Other sheep? We’re the flock of God - the chosen of the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel – Who else Jesus – you’re crazy! It can’t be.

Two weeks ago we reflected upon the human tendency to sort sift and differentiate – to marginalize and distinguish between people and to use those distinctions to our advantage.

This morning we are challenged to consider what God does about this? Does God do this sort of sorting? Of course the well versed among us may call our attention to the familiar story of judgment in Matthew 25 – the one where in the last days the same Good shepherd sorts out the sheep from the goats. But let me caution you as you go there – notice even there that the reach of the shepherd is universal as all the nations will be gathered. (Matthew 25: 32). If we’re to find justification for exclusion or some sort of divine favoritism we won’t find it here. The loving embrace of the Good Shepherd is universal.

We al know what a stretch this was to the Jewish listeners of Jesus time but I wonder if we realize how it stretches us?

The lesson before us in the Gospel tells us there are no strangers – no one should feel out – we’re all in – we all know and are known. And that can lead us to believing that we’re the insiders – it’s all about us. And I suppose that the original listeners felt pretty good thus far. The words of Jesus through verse 15 fit in the world view and faith framework of his listeners. It sounded like familiar paradigm Jews in – gentiles out – chosen – not chosen.

And those of us who stand in this 21st century in a flattened world may think shame on them. We know better – don’t we? One woman recently asked why Belhar was under discussion at all – wasn’t what it says obvious?

Well let me take you again to the confession under consideration and it context. The Belhar is written in such a way that it states explicitly what we believe and also what we don’t. It lists rejections of doctrines which at first glance we might think obvious. One such rejection is:
Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutises either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutisation hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church.
If we go back to the origins of this confession we can see the importance of stating the seemingly obvious. I fear that the lessons of apartheid in South Africa may too easily be forgotten. There was a day not so long ago when people of our particular faith – Reformed Faith – Dutch no less – finagled and corrupted the words of Scripture to justify what they wanted. In their case it was to justify social policy which radically and violently separated people according to skin color. And not just black and white but separating out those of mixed race as not belonging to either of the others much like the way it was done in Rwanda by facial features ( you may remember that powerful film Hotel Rwanda and if you don’t make I suggest you consider viewing it as a follow up to this sermon). In South Africa the underlying roots were economic – white landowners needed to justify exploiting and controlling a cheap labor force – and acquisition of land that wasn’t their own. They used our Reformed Faith to justify what they did. It was – they suggested the way God had intended for things.
Of course that left those of color asking what kind of God would do such a thing.
Belhar asks us to consider if we believe there are others who belong and if we are willing to embrace those who are different from ourselves and to acknowledge that they also belong to our God.
In our day the challenge continues – none among us I trust would come close to agreeing with the architects of apartheid. Yet allow me to apply the Gospel to our new day. What about sisters and brothers of Mohamed? Could our God be at work in the faith of Islam? Could that also be of God? How sure are we?

Its interesting that the common lectionary places these words of Jesus with the reading I shared with you from the First Letter of John. The reading sets the stage for what it has to say by reminding us of two bothers and the violence that can occur when one brother cannot accept the fact that grace is offered to the other. Cain’s jealousy leads to death. The answer to such brokenness is love. For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (vs. 11) We know this John says that he (Christ) laid down his life for us. (vs.16).
This love - we learn is not just theory – or good philosophy – it is something modeled for us at great expense. In Christ’s action on the Cross we learn how to love and how to act in love. It leads us to consider, that the love which led Jesus to the Cross was love for you and me as well as for those who we may not seem to be like us – for those who believe differently and look differently – sometimes very differently.
I’m wondering if we are ready for that? Will our world view allow it? Will our fear of terror place such ideas to the side as we attempt to secure our selves from that which is different. Will we dare to see the loving arms of the Good Shepherd embracing those who are different from ourselves or will we justify our behaviors which profile and separate in the name of security or even theology?
Are we ready to live and act embracing those who we think are unlike ourselves? Are we prepared to discover that they are more like us than we realized – that they are the other sheep belonging to the other fold also loved by God?



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