Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Unity - for Ecumenical service

A man was walking on a bridge one day when he was a woman about to jump off.  He immediately ran over and said, “Stop!  Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” she replied.
“Well, there is so much to live for.  Are you a person of faith?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Well, are you Christian?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“So am I!  Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant,” she said.
“Well, me, too!” he responded.  “What denomination?”
“Oh, I’m Presbyterian” she said.
“Well, how wonderful!  So am I!  Are you a member of the PCUSA or Presbyterian church of the Americas or...?”
By this time the woman really was beginning to smile again as she thought in amazement of all their similarities and the providence of having met this man at this time.  She replied therefore to his question with enthusiasm, “I’m a member of the PCUSA.”
The man looked horrified for a moment, then yelled “You heretic!” and pushed her off the bridge.
               15 years ago I attended a General Assembly which is when our National Presbyterian Church meets every couple years to work through issues and make decisions.  That particular year was another banner year for infighting over issues.  I went to General Assembly and spent most of my time in the chapel praying.  The whole time I was there, there was only one other person who came into the chapel to pray, and she, too, came daily.  The first day we met there we fell into discussion and it became very clear that we were on opposite sides of pretty much any theological debate and in particular those many issues that were on the floor of GA that particular year.  For the first several days this successfully isolated us from each other.  We no longer talked, no longer made eye contact.  But rather we sat on our opposite sides of the chapel each praying earnestly for the other persons’ enlightenment and even redemption.  It would have been easy for me to start seeing her as “the enemy” and as a prime example of a reason why I would have been perfectly fine with our church splitting over some of these issues.  By the last day it was obvious that neither of us had been changed in our stances or opinions by the other person’s prayers. 
               And yet, at the same time, both of us were changed.  Because, by the last day, we sat together and as were both about to leave the chapel to attend the GA session that would decide some of the issues we disagreed so strongly about, we decided instead to spend the time praying out loud together, each respectfully and earnestly caring for one another and for the whole General Assembly as sisters and brothers in faith.  Afterwards we spent some time talking, getting to know one another more personally, hearing each other’s stories.  We came to truly love each other, and in so doing, were able to have more compassion for all of those on the other sides of these issues.  She could no longer be “the enemy”.  She was family, and not someone I could or wanted to push out of “my” church.

               Unity is elusive at this point in time.  We are a country divided, not only by our politics, but by every wall that we can possibly dream up.  We are separated from each other by differing faith beliefs, by differing appearance, by different heritage, by different genders and sexual orientations.  But under all of that what separates us is fear: fear of what is other, fear of what is different; but even more, fear that we won’t have enough, that there won’t BE enough for all of us and that I therefore have to take what I feel I deserve, and keep it from others. Behind the fear is lack of understanding and compassion, lack of recognition that we are all connected, and that the other is just another person on the journey, like us. But God has given this world ENOUGH.  There is enough.  And we are called not to fear one another but to love one another.
Jesus is clear about this: “In everything you do, treat others exactly as you would have them treat you” (Matthew 7:12), as well as “Whatever you do to others, you do to me” (Matthew 25:40), and John 17:20-23: I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. ...I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
As long as we fear each other and build walls between us we will not be able to be in complete Unity as Christ calls us to be.

The thing is, everything we do affects the next person which affects the next person.  We are all connected, and with all of our different journeys and experiences and stories, the bigger story, the one in God’s mind is just ONE.  One story of which we are apart.  A circle that has no beginning and no end but is connected and united.  When we remember that, there is no division.  And we can live as Christ called us to live.