Date: October 2, 2016
Title: “One Bread, One Body”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 133
Ours is a world of diversity. Think for a moment of the vast variety found in plant life – everything from fungi to trees, to flowers and fruits to vegetables. Or consider the incredible differences found in animals, for that matter. There are things that live in the ocean and things that live in freshwater lakes a streams; things that live in the mountains or forests and things that live in the deserts or plains; things that live on the coastlines and even things that abide in the air. Diversity is found in specie and genetic variations, in evolutionary history, in ecological links, and even in cultural differences.
For ours is a world of diversity in the human realm as well. And for years the rallying cry of good-hearted, well-meaning, socially-responsible individuals has been “Tolerance!” We have been prodded and pushed and encouraged to tolerate those who are different from us, for good reason, because tolerance has not always been lifted up as a possibility, much less an ideal.
In 1949 when Rogers and Hammerstein produced their Broadway play South Pacific, they received outraged criticism for its themes of interracial romance and its suggestion that tolerating differences was a good thing. You may remember the song the American soldier sings in the play, “You’ve Got to be Taught”. It goes like this:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught…
Tolerance was a big step forward from that! But tolerance is no longer enough. It is not enough because tolerance allows us to stand side by side or face to face and still pass each other right on by. Tolerance alone does little or nothing to help us build real and honest relationships. It does not give us a chance to discover the commonalities we share; it does not empower us to connect with each other; and it does not call us to love or be loved, to be needed and wanted. Tolerance does not allow us to have the full range of human experience available to us.
While the Psalmist writes about kindred dwelling together in unity (which is of course distinct from “uniformity”), we need to remember that Jesus takes it all a giant step further than that. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not ask us to develop our own little enclave of like-minded souls living with like minds in like situations and likely relationships. Nor does the Gospel ask us to “tolerate” one another. Jesus is very clear on this. We are asked to love others, even as Jesus loves us – which means going far beyond tolerance, all the way to celebration.
If this World Communion Sunday means anything at all, it is surely a reminder of the wonder and the joy of our diversity. And it is a calling for us to celebrate that diversity. Someone else put it this way:
We so desperately need to find a way to be “kindred”… and quite frankly, we don’t have any time to waste. We need to find a way to not be adherents of this religion or that, members of this kabal or that administration, watchers of MSNBC or FOX…We need to be first brothers, first sisters. And while a great deal of the responsibility for that rests on the people holding the guns and drawing up the battle plans, a solid portion of the responsibility rests on us.
It is up to us to regard the innocents and the enemies, the partners and the friends as our brothers and sisters. It is up to us to see all of htem as people who are worthy to be cared for, people worthy of our love and attention.
I know it is hard to do that on a grand scale. The world is diverse, and the human community is comprised of vast differences. It is hard to do it as Christians around the world. We know that people will come to the Table today speaking many different languages, wearing many different clothes, eating many different foods, and even understanding Christ in many different ways.
We know that even amongst United Methodists it can be hard to see those who disagree with us as people worthy to be cared for, people worthy of our love and our attention. Yet, moving from tolerance to celebration means finding the richness inherent in our differences. It means embracing what has come to be my favorite definition of diversity – what Malcom Forbes calls The art of thinking independently – together.
Isn’t that what the Psalmist is getting at? Isn’t that what World Communion Sunday points toward? Isn’t that what Jesus suggests when he commands us to love? We do not walk away from our differences in disgust. We do not hold one another at arms’ length and protect ourselves from connecting by claiming a mere “toleration”. Instead, we find a way to celebrate the fullness and richness that comes when we make room in our hearts for the other, and when we practice the art of thinking independently, together.
There has been a lot of talk of schism in United Methodist circles recently. People on both ends of the theological spectrum, from conservative to progressive, from Biblical literalism to Biblical criticism, have been suggesting the time has come for us to part ways. But I believe that would be a big mistake. It would be like going back to the days of South Pacific’s outrageous reviews.
It would be like giving up on St. Augustine’s grand vision of the Church as the place where we agree “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” It would be turning our back on John Wesley’s hope of ministry lifting up in equal measure a commitment to social justice and a deep personal connection with Christ.
Schism would be letting go of the greatest gift we United Methodists have to offer to the world today: a real, flesh-and-blood example of people who find it possible to celebrate diversity by practicing the art of thinking independently – together. When you get right down to it this is all that Jesus is asking when he tells us to love, not simply to tolerate others. We are called, in the end, to love. And thereby, to celebrate the diversity of us all. Thanks be to God! Amen.