Pastor Rick and his wife Lynne are enjoying a period of leave and so for the next few weeks the responsibility for sharing a Reflection will fall to others from the wider church family.
The choice as to a holiday destination can, at times generate conflict! Some love a beach side holiday and are quick to deride those who love nothing better than to don their boots and head off for a walking holiday. Both choices are perfectly reasonable but preference (or is it prejudice and learned experience?) can sometimes see what should be a perfectly reasonable discussion degenerate into a heated and unpleasant exchange.
In Romans 14, we see another example of debate and acrimony because of differences of opinion, tradition and learned experience. “One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them”.
History shows that in the early Church Christians often disagreed with each other and as a consequence created problems for one another and for the wider movement we know today as Christianity.
The reasons for such disagreements are to some extent lost in the passage of time and yet, as we view the world in which we live today, disagreement between denominations; between Congregations and between individual members continues to be evident.
Romans 14 recounts how Paul sought to deal with such differences of opinion regarding rules about food and about days. Importantly, he quickly moves on to advocate that this is poor behaviour that can cause another to stumble. His antidote to this approach is to advocate that the focus should be on pleasing the other person instead of themselves.
And, as Paul also notes in verses 10 -12
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?
Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God
Maybe history does no more than demonstrate that we are slow learners. Are we so bound up in our own beliefs, practices and perspective that we have lost or forgotten the obligation to ‘’Love one another as I have loved you’’?
I spent the last 18 years of my professional life working as a Business Mentor and as an advisor to business on strategy.
One of the tools I used in the course of providing mentoring and advice was the well-known concept of a Venn Diagram. That wonderful and ubiquitous source of information, Wikipedia defines a Venn diagram as
“A Venn diagram is an illustration that uses circles to show the relationships among things or finite groups of things. Circles that overlap have a commonality while circles that do not overlap do not share those traits. Venn diagrams help to visually represent the similarities and differences between two concepts”.
A typical Venn diagram looks like intersecting circles – what follows is an illustration of the intersection of two circles but of course more circles could be added!
The importance of this concept is not the physical diagram but rather the interpretation.
Critically - is our focus on the dark portion where there is overlap or on the lighter sections where there is individuality?
Put another way, if we are to apply the Venn diagram concept to how we live our lives, are we focussed on what brings us together (the overlap) or the things that keep us apart?
Might I suggest that all too often today, in a world and society that is understandably stressed by COVID; economic pressures; climate change and social media and so much more, we are confronted with political, media and business tactics that seemingly have at their base a focus on difference!
If that is all there is then what happens next? Do we simply learn to live with in a framework of winner takes all or perhaps will the seeming increase in focus on difference rather than commonality become the trigger that inspires resistance and alternative action?
In thinking through this dilemma, I am reminded that the strength of a rope comes from the entwining of multiple strands. If the rope was to comprise a single strand, then it will break under the smallest amount of pressure. But, with strands entwined, the rope is strong, resilient, capable of coping with great force.
The following provocative quote is attributed to Nelson Mandela
Our world is not divided by race, colour, gender or religion.
Our world is divided into wise people and fools
And fools divide themselves by race, colour, gender and religion
In these difficult times where (sensibly) the desire to restrict harm and ill-health to others has meant that our capacity to hug and physically support those in physical or mental anguish, or who are lonely or who are frightened about the present and the future has been restricted, it seems to me that now more than ever we need to seek out those things that can bring us together.
Strident, negative voices will always exist but there can be no doubt about the power of quiet, calm, compassionate people working together for the common good. This is a time to stand out from the crowd and to stand up as the people of God focussed on the Good News for the benefit of all.
Loving, caring, forgiving God.
Strengthen us so that we may live out your example of offering a loving embrace to those in need.
We ask this day that you give us the will and the courage to act rather than to judge.
To act with generosity and compassion.
To act not for ourselves alone but for our community – whether in Lane Cove, across Australia or throughout the world.
Help us to remain bold as we strive to bring reconciliation and goodwill to all whom we encounter.