Commonality

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:5-13 (NIV)

Over the years of my life, I have been fortunate to encounter individuals who are not a part of my tribe. For those who may not be familiar with the contemporary use of the word tribe, this word is now used to describe a group of individuals who hold things in common. What is held in common varies depending on the tribe; i.e., ethnic background, career, viewpoint on a subject, leisure activities, faith, etc. I have greatly enjoyed learning about tribes which are different from my own. Often I discover more similarities between my tribe and someone else’s than I ever find differences. There clearly are differences but not as many as the commonalities.

Paul writes to a group of Christ followers located in Rome. Some of these followers were Jews and some were Gentiles. All of them are also facing Jews who are not Christ followers. In the passage today, Paul is addressing the uneasiness the followers are having caused by the combining of Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish tribe carries with them the history of being a persecuted group of God’s people, usually at the hands and mercy of Gentiles. In addition, the historical understanding of the Messiah was God would be sending the Messiah to save the Jews. The Gentile tribe carries with them the sense of constant rejection by the Jews and what they see as the arrogance of the Jews who declare they are God’s chosen ones. It is easy to see why there are significant differences between these two tribes of people that can lead to conflict. 

Paul has chosen to address this uneasy division among believers. He calls them all to have the mind and attitude of Christ. He challenges these followers to accept one another in the same manner Christ has accepted them. Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him display an embracing of both Jew and Gentile, continually breaking through the cultural norms to reach out to all. Then Paul uses words from Hebrew Scriptures to show that Jesus came to fulfill the promises God made to the Jews but also God’s plan to incorporate the Gentiles.

We live in a time when tribes of people are inclined to build walls to keep other tribes out. Instead of different views and experiences living in harmony, people would rather divide and conquer. Paul’s words speak loudly to us in the Christian faith. His words remind us that we have commonality in Christ. These words challenge us to adopt the mind and attitude of our Lord. A mind and attitude of acceptance without diminishing our differences. The church gives us a place to practice this so that we can learn to live it with tribes outside of the Christian tribe.

Learning Opportunities

Two recent events has caused me to reflect upon the importance of learning from individuals who are members of faith communities which are different from my own. Unfortunately, both events share the common thread of hatred and misunderstanding.

The first event occurred almost eight thousand miles away in Christchurch, New Zealand. I am referring to the deadly shootings which took place at two mosques over a week ago. We may never understand what led the man to carry out such an act of hatred. What we do know is that lives were forever changed on that day as we have seen it happen in so many other situations. We also know that one piece of motivation for the shooter was the faith which individuals in those mosques practice.

The second event occurred on my Facebook page. Facebook is good at reminding us about various posts, events, and relationships which have shown up on our timeline. This week Facebook reminded me that on March 26, 2017, I joined others at the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show support for my Muslim friends and those throughout our nation. There was fear in their lives due to the announcement of possible deportation of certain individuals who had immigrated from other countries. Words of hatred were being spoken throughout our nation because of fear. We gathered on that day to hear from speakers from a variety of faith traditions. We then encircled the Mother Mosque and sang together to show our solidarity in support of those who practice the faith of Islam.

Until moving to Cedar Rapids, I had little understanding regarding the Islamic faith. I had always been open to learning about other Christian faith communities. However, I had never really had an opportunity to meet and have discussion with a Muslim. After moving to Cedar Rapids, I became part of a congregation which was open to learning and understanding people who were different from themselves. The pastor had met and heard one of the Imams from one of two mosques in our community. She invited him to come and speak on two Sundays to our adult class. I was amazed how much I learned. Then after becoming a member of the staff at the church, I had an opportunity to work alongside the Imam and some of his youth. We began a relationship which was enriching for myself and for the youth whom I was leading. We shared in a variety of service projects and enjoyed some educational opportunities.

These thoughts came rushing back into my mind over the last weeks due to the two events which I mentioned earlier. This has reminded me how important it is for us to take advantage of every learning opportunity we may be given with regard to understanding different faith traditions. Whether that learning takes place within our own faith tradition or when we learn from other faith traditions. This is vitally important because fear comes from the unknown and fear can lead us to do acts of hatred on different levels. By learning from one another, the unknown is taken away along with misinformation. We come to see each other as humans and not as “them.” When fear is replaced by knowledge and relationship, our behaviors show our unity and not our separation.