September 4, 2016
Rev. Linda Fernandes-Bailey
Variety is the spice of life don’t you think?
Anyway, that’s how the saying goes, but I wonder if we believe it anymore. It seems to me we often seek friends that are like-minded and even get entrenched in the routines of our lives and variety becomes actually very rare. We seem to crave same-ness and predictability because it is quite comfortable. We often believe that our way of thinking and being is the best, so we seek like-minded people to affirm our rightness. When we surround ourselves with people who are like us we don’t ever have to examine our way of thinking and we don’t have to stretch our minds or hearts much. Sometimes we like our lives to be quite bland.
Throughout history we have divided our neighborhoods by culture, race, and economic status. During the huge influx of immigration in the 1800/1900’s neighborhoods quickly divided into Irish, Italian, Jewish…I even remember the neighborhood where my grandparents lived in Waterbury, a section where many French Canadians lived and even the church said Mass in French. Now, we prefer gated communities of 55 and up so that elderly and children don’t have to mix.
I just wonder is this what God had in mind…since creation is naturally filled with diversity?
Sometimes it seems that variety is a bit too spicy for us…it burns our tongues and upsets our stomachs!
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul names the barriers of separation of his time and reminds the Galatians that if you are in Christ these walls of separation are torn down. We are ONE.
If you think about it, Jesus models this unity when he ministers to rich and poor, males and females, people of different religious and cultural backgrounds, children and adults, slaves, prostitutes….everyone is included and welcomed! Jesus did not appear to see or care about the distinctions hat the culture he lived in used to separated people. In fact, Jesus got himself in trouble on a regular basis because he refused to live within the walls of separation. He talked with, healed, and dined with those people others thought should not be included.
Many scholars and practitioners from the contemplative tradition of Christianity believe that Jesus was functioning from a whole different consciousness…a different mindset you might say that enabled him to see things and live in the world in a different way. He did not put things into black and white categories. He didn’t think in terms of either/or the way we are prone to do. His mind and heart were more prone to a both/and way of thinking and being that included seemingly opposites and paradox.
So, when Paul says be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus he is talking about “the transformation of human consciousness” as Cynthia Bourgealt calls it in her book Wisdom Jesus. She then goes on to use a computer metaphor that is helpful saying:
“we human beings come into existence with a certain operating system already installed in us. We can make a choice to upgrade” The operating system we come installed with is that either/or thinking that puts the world in narrow categories and makes judgment of others quite common. The upgrade….the mind of Christ calls us to both/and thinking. It is the kind of thinking that no longer sees Greek or Jew, male or female, slave or free but ONENESS. It is expansive (which is the way of the universe) rather than contracting. With this upgrade we see the world with open minds and hearts. This new consciousness makes it easy to live with “not knowing” and we are not so prone to certainty. Contemplatives would then go on to say that the way to get this transformation of consciousness is through prayer and meditation. It takes some work to upgrade our operating system!
E. Louise Williams executive director of the Lutheran Deaconess Association in an article on Galatians 3:28 says it beautifully:
“To know the truth of oneness, to long for unity is painful. It is tempting to retreat to our cliques of people who are just like us, where we can be safe and comfortable. But Galatians 3:28 compels us to be together, to live as one with those who are most radically different from us, even those we believe to be most distant from God’s embrace. Living that oneness in Christ is not just doing what is politically correct, nor is it practicing non-discrimination that the law requires, it is to have a change of heart. Living that oneness means confessing that we are sometimes the barrier builders and the weapon wielders. It sometimes means bearing the consequences of the pain of those who were relegated to the outside. It sometimes means listening and listening and waiting and waiting until trust can be restored. It means entering into the hard work of reconciliation.” She then asks, “If we were to allow ourselves to feel Christ’s own longing for unity, Christ’s own aching over our separation and divisions, what difference would it make in the way we behave toward one another in the church?”
I would add what difference would it make to the way we behave towards one another outside the church….In the world…in our families, in our work place and in our communities?
The words from Paul…there is no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female, you are all one; almost sound like poetry…or an idealistic nirvana. Is this oneness really possible? If we claim to be in Christ do we have to change…do we have to do anything or do we just believe? How does transformation of consciousness happen? Where do we get this upgrade? What does oneness look like in day to day living? What difference would it make?
IN the same article on Galatians by E Louise Williams she shares this story:
“Some years ago I worked with others in the Lutheran Deaconess Association to hold gatherings for mothers of young children. A grant form Aid Association for Lutherans allowed us to invite not just mothers who could afford the registration fee but also a group of women from Chicago’s uptown neighborhood, mostly single mothers receiving public assistance. After two days of talking, worshipping, playing, and feasting, we sat small groups to evaluate the event. In a poignant moment, one of the Chicago’s uptown mothers turned to a well dressed, neatly coiffured pastor’s wife form New York and said, “Yesterday when I first saw you, I thought it was a mistake that we were assigned to the same small group. I was sure we had nothing in common. But now I know how much we share. Some of our problems and frustrations are different, but we have the same hopes and dreams for our children. I’m glad I got to know you.” The two women embraced and knew they were ONE in Christ.”
What bonds us is our humanity. For all the walls of separation we build if we give those who we have decided are “other” a chance we will find that we all share joy, laughter, sorrow, tears, hopes and dreams. We all want the best for our families. No matter where we come from, what clothes we wear or what religion we practice we are all God’s people.
In the Hymn from the New Century Hymnal We Are Your People the words of the third verse read, “Rich in Diversity help us to live closer that neighbor open to stranger able to clash and forgive.”
Diversity is the word we use instead of variety…it’s still the spice of life. BUT it is not an option…diversity is the way of God’s creation! Variety is God’s favorite spice. Oneness is the way we live in Christ.
Notice that Paul named only three barriers of separation Greek/Jew, Male/Female, Free/Slave. Unfortunately, how many more we can name for our world today…rich and poor, LGBTQ and straight, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican…and in the area of religion Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu to name a few….and even within each religion there are walls of separation…Catholic or Protestant…what kind of protestant…you get the picture…and even in our churches there are divisions, disagreements, conflict that build walls of separation.
The need for an upgrade of our minds and hearts has never been more urgent.
Paul reminds us that in Christ there is no Greek/Jew, male/female, free/slave…We are all ONE…We are all God’s people bonded in our common humanity…may we live lives that tear down the walls of separation for all people. Amen