Last week, we talked about what can be gained by sticking together, even when it means we might sometimes rub each other the wrong way. Togetherness, we said, goes to the heart of who we are as human beings. We need each other. We’re fundamentally social people. But, there is one thing we have to remember in the midst of all of this: Our togetherness can’t be mistaken for sameness. We’re not all identical, and that’s a good thing. Let me explain…
Holy God — our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer — guide us this morning by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
“Take My Life and Let It Be” — Frances R. Havergal (YouTube video for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/lQ93HVuYd5Y)
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee; Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love, at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee; Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King, always, only, for my King. Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for thee; Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold, not a mite would I withhold. Take my love, my God, I pour at they feet its treasure store; Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for thee, ever, only, all for thee.
My kids have a book called When Charley Met Emma. I remember picking it up one day in the local coffee shop because my daughter, who is named Emma, grew up with a little boy who — yep, you guessed it! — he’s named Charlie. I thought the book taught a good moral, and I hoped the title would be a good “hook” that might make my Emma want to read it.
When Charley Met Emma is all about difference. Its big lesson, repeated by Charley a number of times, is catchy: “Different isn’t weird, sad, bad, or strange. Different is different. And different is OK!” It’s a lesson Charley learns well when he meets Emma at the park one day. Emma has no hands, and she uses a wheelchair. She’s different, Charley thinks, but maybe a little too different. That is, until he actually decides to talk and play with her. Together they discover that they have a lot in common and a whole lot of fun. Different isn’t just different, Charley realizes as the story ends. Different is great!
The Bible talks about differences, too, and it also describes them as great. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” The Apostle Paul goes on to describe our differences as being great because they complement each other. Some of us are good at teaching, some of us at leading, some of us at caring for others. The list goes on. These are all important things for us to be doing, but rarely is there a single person who can do them all, so it’s important that we work together to be the people of God that we’re supposed to be. Different is great because we’re all made to complement each other with our God-given gifts.
But, there are other differences out there that we’re not so sure about — differences in the way we see things or what we believe about things or how we view the world. Differences born of different experiences, different passions, different goals, and different understandings about what life is and how we should go about living it. We might wonder if these kind of differences are all that great, and we wouldn’t be alone in doing so.
In fact, the Bible is less clear about what we’re supposed to think about these kind of ideological differences. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to describe the Bible’s gospel as calling us to adopt its own particular ideology. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Differences in ideology might be worse than just “not great.” They might be outright bad.
The problem is, How do we know? How do we know our particular ideology is the right one? How do we know ours is “good and acceptable and perfect”? How do we know our gospel is God’s gospel? Christians have struggled with this for ages, and not just with our surrounding cultures but with ourselves, too. People we today would call saints and martyrs have been burned at the stake by other Christians who believed they were in the right and had the gospel down pat. Our track record simply isn’t very great.
And, strangely enough, I think most of us can agree that’s not a good thing. We should be kinder, more generous, more loving toward each other. We should listen better. Maybe our differences don’t, after all, have to be divisive. Maybe they can instead be seeds for growth. “As iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) might mean more than just keeping each other accountable. It might mean pushing ourselves to ever higher heights, and this suggests that our differences can actually be good for us because they can help us figure out what is true together.
In 1997, a small group of Baptists came together to talk about how this might work in practice. They talked about our Bible studies and said that we should usually do them as a community and not individually, where there are no differences that might push or challenge us. “When all exercise their gifts and callings, when every voice is heard and weighed, when no one is silenced or privileged,” they said, then “the Spirit leads communities to read wisely and to practice faithfully the direction of the gospel.”
No doubt that would be different, but it’d also be great.
Holy God, help us to be your disciples who through your grace and your sacrificial kind of power listen to our neighbors and our strangers with charity, proclaim your truth with boldness, and perform your justice with compassion. We ask this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- Amy Webb, When Charley Met Emma, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard (Minneapolis, MN: Beaming Books, 2019).
- Mikeal Broadway, et al. “Re-envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America (1997),” http://www.baptistcenter.net/confessions/Re-envisioning_Baptist_Identity.pdf.