Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Devotional: Religious differences

Ezekiel 37:15-28 (NIV)

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’ 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding,[a] and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

John 13:1-15 (NIV)
Words of Christ in red

13 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

What do these scriptures have in common that makes you think about being united with Christians of other denominations and communities?

This is one of those questions that is deceptively simple, but by no means easy to work with once you actually get into it.

Ezekiel is given a very straightforward image in his narrative, with two sticks, each one clearly labeled as representing different tribes within Israel, bound together as a symbolic union. One small detail here is that a stick is not some random thing in the time we are talking about. A respectable length of hardened wood can be used to carry things, pry things loose or even as a formidable weapon if needed. The people of the time would likely not have looked at a "stick" as something useless, but rather as a very helpful tool, farm implement, or other such device.

The two-in-one reference here is not unique in history, either. The Tudor Rose was a piece of English heraldry fashioned as a cross between the heraldry of the York and Lancaster households following the ugly (and bloody) War of the Roses. The original houses wore their respective white and red flowers as identifier that ultimately told people who to kill and not to kill at the most violent periods of the war. Following the end of the conflict, Henry VII fashioned the combined red and white flower as a symbol of a newly united force, combining the one-time enemies.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the statements aren't even symbolic, but rather straight-forward; there is only one God, one faith.... well, you get the idea. The idea that two people can worship the same deity  and not agree with each other is rather... silly when put in those lights.

John's story of Christ washing the other's feet is one of the more striking stories because of these three, it is the only one where we have a leadership figure more or less relinquishing his authority role amongst his students.

As hokey as this may sound, I see some parallels between this and the cinema moments such as "and so the student became the master" and "show me... wax on, wax off". The idea that a student can reach a point in his training where he is capable of then teaching others in the same fashion is not a small matter.

What we see here (to me, at least) is much the same thing. Christ is demonstrating to his students that they are now ready to go out in the world and do for others as he has done for them.

The important "takeaway" for me here is the union of differences that the collective passages talk about. I don't think anything personifies the differences in philosophy between the current christian denominations that the differences between the Apostles. Perhaps the one I most relate to in that group is Peter; the man who lashed out with a sword to defend Christ. Even though he was wrong in doing it, the idea that he would still act when the odds were against him speaks highly of his character, and will to protect that which is important to him. Also, he was the man who denied Christ three times, a crime for which he never fully forgave himself, as I recall. I'm not perfect, and never claimed to be, but In Peter's story, I see a lot of myself in the narrative.

Just as Peter was very different from his comrades, I see a great many differences in the current Christian denominations, yet all of the apostles were there at the last supper; a telling footnote to the story.

Conversely, I do feel compelled to point out that the passage in Ephesians highlights one of my larger reservations about interfaith cooperation. I have been exposed to people who firmly and honestly believe the fundamental principle that Christ was crucified for their sins, and that he was the Son of God, born of a Virgin.

However, (and unfortunately) these same people are absolutely candid and upfront with their proclamations that "in the name of God", if they had their way, they would visit untold violence on every catholic, homosexual and Muslim in the United States.

The point is that while their is only one God, the current circumstances of the world being what they are, there are too many differences in how he us understood.

For my part, I have considerable problems with a number of faiths, yet still am glad to welcome their members into my home, to my table, and even call them friends. And furthermore, I would willingly put my life on the line to protect another's right to worship and believe as they so choose.

And that fact in itself has alienated me from at least one Independent Baptist congregation from my indolence.

I'm going to go ahead and end this here before it turns into a rambling diatribe about what I do hate about modern organized religions. I'm not an agnostic, not by any measure, but organisation is a two edged sword.

The point here is that there is more to faith than just doctrine. Before we say "different" or "alike" we need to take a good long hard look at the person across the table from us, and then take a good long hard look at ourselves.

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