"Can The World Be One?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 7/20/1997

Ephesians 2:11-22

     One of the interesting features of Scripture is that it frequently communicates concepts that we simply do not believe. That statement may appear a bit strong so let us soften it by saying that some concepts in Scripture have not proven themselves to be true in our experience. There is a concrete example in our lesson today. Paul wrote these words: "For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies" (v. 14). Paul reworded this same concept in our lesson when he said, "It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in one Spirit into the presence of God" (v. 18).

     When we listen to the evening news we quickly learn that this 2000-year-old message is simply not true. When we look in our immediate communities we find neighbors suing each other, people being critical of everything that does not suit them, and people ignoring the freedoms of others while appearing to engage in the aggressive pursuit of their own.

     Even the Church is not exempt from such struggles. We find Christian bodies who have emphatically stated that women have no place among the ordained clergy. Lest we believe ourselves to be progressive as a denomination, there is a large United Methodist Church 40 minutes from here where women are only permitted to collect the offering once a year on "Women's Sunday." Women in that church hold no leadership positions outside of the Sunday School Department. What a mixed message to send to a congregation where women are the majority.

     A couple of weeks ago a large Christian convention decreed that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. Those individuals not in agreement with this "profession of faith" were invited to leave the church. This attempt at protecting "the truth" of the Scriptures has proven itself to represent yet another division among its people. Some people left. Apparently some Christians feel they must help God maintain the integrity of what and how God communicates. You decide, is this an act of faithfulness or an act of control.

     A more thoughtful study of the convention's decree made by several scholars of that denomination suggested that what was stated as "infallible" was not the Scriptures but the consistently narrow interpretation of those Scriptures, an interpretation that the leadership mandated must be used across the denomination. The professors who had the courage to sign their declaration were invited to leave their faculty positions in a number of that denomination's seminaries.

     We can certainly hear again and again that "God so loved the world that he gave us God's only Son." We can hear that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself," but where is that reconciliation happening? Where is this harmony and peace about which Paul wrote?

     There is a very obvious answer to these questions. The answer is that it is up to us. Jesus asked us to go into all the world. Most of us face, however, one persistent danger. There is the tyranny of unrecognized beliefs that operates within many of us. We fall prey to them all the time. We create the very barriers we wish were not there. Our suspicions, our prejudices and our own lack of faith in God's creative process cause us to see incorrectly. We cannot see with clarity when our mind suggests we are seeing something else.

     Over a year ago, our son Steve was working for a garden center. The owner saw a black woman walking among some of the outdoor plants. He came out from his office and said, "Steve, I want you to keep a sharp eye on that woman. People like that you have to watch. As soon as you turn your back on them, they will rob you blind." Do we even recognize within ourselves the tyranny of unrecognized beliefs?

     I wish all of you had the opportunity to know in more depth our two children. They do not like to hear this type of observation. Steve could not let this comment go unchallenged. He knew the woman because he had helped her in the previous week, but that didn't matter. Without the slightest hesitation, Steve looked his boss straight in the eye and said, "What you just said is not true! I helped her last week. She is the wife of the ambassador of an African nation. Last week she spent $2,300 on shrubs and even commented that she liked what we have in our inventory. And that Mercedes over there -- that is her car." The owner was lost for words. He lowered his gaze and walked away. Do we confront such thinking in others as well as in ourselves?

     Each one of us can play a key role in the healing process when we recognize the opportunities that appear right in front of us. Some time ago, I had gotten off of the Metro train a couple of stops beyond National Airport. There was a woman standing alone on the deck terrified and sobbing uncontrollably. As I approached her, she began to back up. No one else was around. I soon learned that she knew little English. She spoke a Slavic language.

     Since this incident occurred before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, I was still very much viewed as the enemy. She was suspicious and deathly afraid of me. We stared at each other until we could figure out some way to communicate. Her two pieces of luggage suggested to me that she may have landed at National Airport.

     Somehow I had stumbled on two words that she recognized. I mentioned "Metro Center." As soon as I said that, all the ice melted. She had taken a train in the direction opposite from where she needed to go and was confused. We walked over to the map and non-verbally communicated on how she might get back to Metro Center by counting the stops on her fingers.

     I accompanied her to the other side of the tracks so that she would board the correct train and she began speaking to me very rapidly in her native tongue. Her body language was smiling, and she nodded her head in gratitude. We both laughed because we knew that I understood without knowing a single word that she was saying. I walked away knowing the truth of our lesson today -- we are one! Do we need language to make this happen? I don't think so. We need to be open for every opportunity to communicate this truth.

     As many of you know, this past week I concluded two weeks of study at Wesley Seminary so that I wouldn't be tossed out of the ministry for not having enough continuing education units. My class had six Koreans in it. Such thoughtful, gentle people! A Korean woman who sat on my right was the "in-resident artist" at Wesley this year. Our class took a half hour to visit the seminary studio where she creates. Her art had an enormous impact on me.

     She had captured scenes that were familiar to many of us from the Vietnam War. One showed the young girl running naked through the street. Another showed the Viet Cong officer firing his revolver into the temple area of an enemy's head. There was a child who was starving to death. But the one that inspired my deep emotion was an oil of an anguished woman attempting to breast feed her infant. The mother was so undernourished herself that she could not generate the milk to feed her child that had just died.

     Her art was a universal language. No one needed words to understand what she was saying. Human conflict, regardless of its justification, always produces scenes like these. It is only when we realize that we are one that we become motivated to extend our hands and work for solutions that do not produce pain.

     Our culture can easily insulate Americans from what life is like for the rest of humanity. For example, we have all known people who have just experienced surgery and they show us three inches of forms that deal with Medicaid, Medicare and insurance. As they flag these papers in our presence they might ask with frustration in their voice, "Can you imagine having to process all of these papers just to have my hip replaced?"

     How might that sound to a person whose homeland has one physician for every 25,000 people and one poor, antiquated, understaffed hospital for every 2.6 million? How many nations have MRI or CAT technology within their borders? Try less than an eighth! Many of us simply do not know how our brothers and sister live in other parts of the world.

     When we begin to think in terms of our personal responsibility, we sense why Christ came to reconcile all of our differences, to heal all of our wounds and to bring all of us peace. His desire was for us to make it happen. Jesus did not say, "Go into all the churches and preach to the choir." He said, "Go into all the world and help everyone understand that they are one. What you do for one you also do for me."

     One of the ways we can see the absolute accuracy of our Scripture lesson is by creating an environment here in our church, one that reminds us of the United Nations by its complexion. The environment and atmosphere that is being created at St. Matthew's is saying, "God so loved the world." It is happening here because of who we are. It is happening here because in truth there is no difference between us.

     Paul could never get away from this truth. In his letter to the Romans he wrote, "Whoever believes in Jesus will not be disappointed. This includes everyone because there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles; God is the same Lord of all and richly blesses all who call to him."

     There is a constant frustration that comes to thoughtful Americans when we realize what the United States has the potential to do on a global scale. Have you noticed that we do not become involved with countries that "have no strategic importance" to us. Is it such a radical point of view to suggest that since the "Cold War" is finished that we might divert some of our national resources, resources that had been formally used for strategic weapons, to help build the infrastructure of nations that simply do not know how to do it by themselves? Do we believe that building a national communications system or roads that last is somehow an innate quality?

     Can we in good conscience go into the 21st century without bringing every country in the world along with us? Who has no strategic importance to us? Who can we leave out? Who is so unimportant that they do not matter? The time is now! This is not a task that we can leave for another generation to do. The time is already late. Two thousand years ago the Master said, "Go into all the world and love one another as I have loved you." This is not saying, "Make everyone in the world just like us." It is saying, "Help everyone to develop the spirit of self-determination! Lead them from a spirit that cares about them." So long as people are starving to death, we are failing at even helping to provide the basic building blocks of life.

     Each of us can play a part by asking God to purify our thoughts. We need to tear down the barriers that our fears have created. More of us need to be involved. Some among us went to Juarez, Mexico to build safer houses replacing the little cardboard huts which had no protection from the elements. Our teens gave to the people of Appalachia the gift of enabling them to live with more dignity.

     Just imagine if we could generate this kind of spirit on a global scale. We need to take medicine and science to places where they do not exist. We need to take our communication and transportation skills to places where they do not exist. America came into being because people came to these shores from other countries and taught generations being born how to dream and build what enhances the quality of life for all of us.

     As the world continues to grow smaller, we need to export everywhere the message that we are one! Jesus Christ was so sure that this would happen that he bet his life on it. Likewise, we must be so equally sure of his message that we bet ours.