Today we are reminded of the reality of our two citizenships and the struggle between our earthly and heavenly commitments. Jesus was confronted with this question in Matthew 22 when he is asked about taxes. Jesus reminds us that God and civil authorities have their claims on us, but we should not forget what part of our life belongs to each. Current events highlight the struggle to govern and the way that our brokenness has real consequences. The government shutdown shows us just how hard it is to find ways to find unity in the midst of divergent world views.
I find this especially ironic today. My main task for this day is to put the final touches on our worship for World Communion Sunday this weekend. The irony is that while differences are causing heartache in our country we are getting ready to celebrate the fact that diversity is a good thing.
The contrast between the ways we struggle with diversity is a wonderful insight into the power of God. To many there is great comfort in homogeny. For centuries the church has been such a place. The fact that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in our nation tells us that part of our sinful nature is that we surround ourselves with those that are like us. This of course is true not just when it comes to race, but also our theological or political perspectives.
I wonder what lessons we can learn from the current folly in Washington. Regardless of where you stand on the issues that are at hand it is clear that what is happening is not working. I am fortunate to have friends who have varied views on all sorts of issues. My Facebook news feed is full of “liberal” and “conservative” posts on the situation. I am struck by a few things that I see from both sides. Most folks are in a win-lose mindset and are more than willing to place blame on the other side. I truly believe that this comes from a sincere place of conviction. I am blessed to know people who are highly committed to their ideals and beliefs. For many this is a positive foundation for their actions. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the way it is expressed has led us to a righteous place.
Our tradition has seen this very same struggle between convictions and positive action play out countless times. From the start of the reformation to current struggles over sexuality, it has always been easier to demonize the other, rather than engage in transformative conversation. Jesus’ critics were adept at this way of life as well. The continual desire by the Pharisees to show Jesus as being a perverter of the truth who associate with sinners was the very same practice. It would be a lot easier to deal with this behavior if it was the purview of one side of the argument. The fact of the matter is that the one thing that unifies us is the practice of demonizing the other. This is true in our two-party governmental system, our international relations and our interfaith dialog.
So then, what does this have to do with World Communion Sunday? Sometimes the only way to overcome our ills is to immerse ourselves in treatment. I believe that, especially by the end of this week, the experience of common worship expressed in the midst of the diversity of creation is the right prescription. Christ Presbyterian Church is blessed with a dynamic opportunity to express the true hope of the Gospel. The fact of the matter is that our World Communion Sunday worship is a brief example of how we are intended to live.
This year World Communion Sunday offers us a respite and moment of hope as we are faced with the harsh reality of the brokenness present in the world. We often talk about the power of the Triune God to cause unity to overcome estrangement. During our worship this week we will seek to capitalize on the diversity God has placed in the world as a way to find a deeper unity. For as those who profess faith in Christ, we find our unity in Christ. We can celebrate the differences we have, and in them see the very grandeur and magnificence of God.
As much as I find myself frustrated and squarely in the middle on most issues, I found opportunity to be thankful today. While I truly feel for those suffering economic effects from the government shutdown, I was still thankful that we live in a country that can survive debate and disagreement without violence. We are able to have the diversity we have, and sustain it in relative peace. Be it political or religious issues, or any other myriad of situations. Other countries are not nearly so blessed. So, while it causes many temporary discomfort, in the long term these differences are an opportunity to learn from each other – even if we just agree to disagree.