On Bonfires, Love, and Jesus

This Sunday we’re continuing our worship series on “Welcoming One Another.” A crucial part of this “welcoming”—this “accepting” each other, this “receiving” one another—is coming to terms with our differences, even celebrating them. In fact, that’s the key idea in Romans 15:7: we come from different backgrounds and experiences, we think and act differently, and so each must “welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.”

Here are a few of the thoughts in my head as I reflect this week on “celebrating our diversity”:

In order for us to accept our diversity as a church, even to celebrate this diversity, we must have a good sense of what it is that unites us. Our diversity is not without any unity, though this unity is not uniformity. We are diverse in our unity, and we are united in our diversity.

Too often Christians have a merely doctrinal approach to unity. We think of unity in terms of those beliefs that we hold in common. Sometimes that list can get quite long, well beyond any biblical or historic summary of the essentials of the Christian faith. But the longer the list the harder it is for everyone to agree, and so these lists of unity essentials become divisive.

But ignoring doctrine and taking a practical approach is not any better. Trying to determine what practices or rituals unite us as Christians can lead to the same problem. There is something else—I would say Someone—behind these beliefs and practices, in whom we are united.

Too often, also, Christians have a “fence” approach to unity. We think of our distinctive beliefs and/or practices as a fence that separates us from those who are not us, and this fence defines who we are together, it defines our unity.

Bonfire at San RiverBut it’s much better to have a “bonfire” approach to unity. The Someone who unites us stands at the centre like a bonfire on a cold night, and we are drawn to the warmth and light of the fire from all different directions. We huddle together around this fire, we tell our stories, we sing our songs, and we share our bread and wine. Our unity has a centre, but no boundaries.

And what is this bonfire around which we gather? It is Jesus, and it is love.

Read the New Testament; behind all the New Testament’s diversity stands Jesus, on every page. Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and taught and healed and suffered and died and rose again, Jesus the Christ, Israel’s Messiah-King and the world’s true Lord—this Jesus is the one to whom the Scriptures witness, he is the heart of the gospel, he is the one who shows us who the Triune God is, the one in whom we find deep, abiding life and discern humanity’s true purpose.

And alongside Jesus throughout the New Testament—in fact, only fully discerned through Jesus—is the call to love: to give ourselves for the good of the other, even if they are the different, the stranger, the enemy, even if we think they don’t deserve it, even if it costs us our very life. This Jesus-love is the sum of the Law and the Prophets; it is the mark of Jesus’ true disciples; it is the virtue that binds together all other virtues; it is the more excellent way and greatest good that always remains; it is the sign that we have truly come to know God, who is love.

When we see unity not as bordered but as centred, when we see this unity as centred on Jesus and Jesus-love, when we refuse to allow ourselves to be distracted by boundaries and walls and disputes over “who’s in and who’s out” or questions of “do they believe the right things or do things the right way,” when we see “welcoming one another” in love as at the very heart of who the eternally Triune God is, who God is as shown in Jesus, and who we are as Christians—then we can find the freedom to truly accept our diversity, and even to celebrate it.

Some of the thoughts rolling around in my head…

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.