How many of you here would say you enjoy people watching? When you are at an airport or a café, do you enjoy watching the people pass by and observing them? I must admit this is one of my favorite pastimes. Especially in airports. A lot of travel is “hurry up and wait”, so you end up with plenty of people watching time in the airport terminal. As you know, I recently returned from a trip to CA and spent several hours in airports people watching. Often times, I find myself wondering about their story- what goes on for this person in their life? How does their daily existence differ from mine? How is it the same?
Take a look at the front cover of your bulletin- these are the exact words that are on the “Be the Church” banner that hangs on the front of the church and they will continue to be the focus of our worship services throughout the summer months. The “Be the Church” banner gives us some very concrete ways to live out our faith.
A few weeks ago, we took a look at the question “What does it mean to be church?” We discussed how being part of a church means being part of a community- we are not alone on our journey and we have a responsibility to walk with others in the community. The following week, we focused on fighting for the powerless. We unpacked the notion of powerlessness as well as different ways of fighting or standing up for people who are powerless. Then, my friend and colleague, Rev. Megan Snell, talked with you all about ways to enjoy life- I heard it was a wonderful morning when she was here and I am curious how you all unpacked that phrase- “enjoy this life”. Does anyone remember?
This morning our focus is on embracing diversity and we have some challenging scriptures to help us look at diversity in some, well, diverse ways.
Think about the image I was conjuring up just now of traveling and people watching. There are so many different folks in a small space when you are traveling, in an airplane or on a bus, the notion of embracing diversity is a no brainer- you have to embrace it or the journey is going to be a rough one. What about on our faith journey? When you think about the word diversity, what come to mind? Who or what do you think of?
Usually, we think of folks other than those around us- the other- those people over there or from that other place. When the Apostle Paul wrote about the Jews and the Gentiles- he was literally referring to the other Jews, those that did not live in Jerusalem. Sometimes in considering diversity, there can be a desire to avoid the discomfort of the discussion. It is hard to recognize and honor the differences among us. It is also the only way we can embrace the things that make us diverse. We have to be able to see the other person or quality before we can embrace it.
So, who or what would make us a more diverse community?
People of color
People of varying sexual orientations
People who come from different backgrounds
People who have a different level of education
Folks of varying abilities
Let’s keep these groups in the back of our brains as we wrestle with embracing diversity, as we look at the two scriptures we have this morning-and what they say to us about embracing diversity in our lives. These scriptures give us very different ways of considering diversity.
The prophet Ezekiel lived in a very difficult time- he was a prophet of the Jewish faith living in exile in Babylonia during and after the time that the temple of Jerusalem fell. You can imagine how disheartened and fed up the people were. Ezekiel was a little bit like Moses in that he had the unenviable task of preaching and teaching people who were tired and had been through so much. He was tasked with bringing hope and the idea that the various tribes of the nation of Israel would reconcile and be reunited.
In the particular section of scripture that we have this morning, Ezekiel is instructing the people in Babylon as to who will get which portions of land when they return from exile to Israel. In the verses following the ones we heard, he goes into great detail about how the borders and boundaries of the land will be laid out and which tribes will get how many cubits of land. What we hear in this morning’s scripture is Ezekiel stating, in no uncertain terms, that the land is “to [be] allotted as an inheritance for [the people of the tribes of Israel] and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native -born Israelites”.
Listen to what the prophet says, “the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native born and you are to give them an allotted inheritance.” According to this thoroughly Jewish prophet, God is instructing the land that is promised to the people to be divided up amongst them equally whether they have been a life-long member of the tribe or if they are from another land and live there now.
Somehow, some way the foreigner and the native person become equal- the diversity of their situations- of where they come from, what languages they speak, what traditions they hold- all of this is supposed to be embraced to ensure that each family gets a plot of land.
Do you think it was easy for the people of Israel to live into this directive? I doubt it! Easy or not, I wonder how this outlook of treating people from away/the other/ the foreigner the same as we treat each other, I wonder how living into that would change our lives, our faith journeys…
The second scripture that we have this morning is a more familiar passage. We hear from the Apostle Paul as he writes a letter to the church in Galatia. He instructs them that they are all one in Christ. That the diversity of their backgrounds does not matter- “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
I encourage us to be careful here. Bringing people together in the name of Christ is a beautiful powerful thing. However, embracing diversity includes naming the ways we are different and honoring them. We need to be careful that we do not assume we know where another person is coming from. We need to do our best to listen to each other’s stories, to hear where each other is coming from.
This is tough stuff. This passage is challenging us AND empowering us to live boldly into Christian community with one another. Whether we look alike or smell different. Whether we dress the same or think differently. Whether we come from the same background or are spread out on the political spectrum. This passage from a letter of Paul to a small church in Galatia is instructing us to embrace diversity in a big way.
Truly living like this is very difficult. Actually cultivating Christian community is hard work. It is also what Jesus was teaching us to pray for/work towards when he taught the disciples the Lord’s prayer- remember those words?- “Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When we initially broached this topic of Embracing diversity a few weeks ago- you all had some definite ideas about how you thought we could live into our faith in this way. You said things like:
-learn/ educate ourselves & others
-share a meal
-hold no judgement
-welcome people extravagantly
I wonder as you consider the notion of diversity as we have talked about it this morning, what other things come to mind as to how we can embrace diversity?
How can we further live into this part of our faith journey?
In both of these scriptures, we are instructed to consider who is different from us. We are asked to look deeply into our own existence and consider what makes someone foreign and someone native. Further still, we are called as followers of Jesus, as seeds of Abraham, to fully embrace the disparities and diversities that exist amongst us.
Does it mean that we have to like it? Does it mean it will be easy?
But we do, if we want to walk in the way of Jesus, we do need to try.
May it be so.