In the final session of our mid-week Lenten series on The Beatitudes of Jesus Our Lord (Matthew 5:1-12), we discussed why the true followers of Christ will be persecuted. And, among other things, one of the primary aspects of the Way of Christ was/is befriending all people of all groups and seeking to bring them together.
Many despised Jesus for his ethics of inclusivity and equality. He was absolutely despised for his insistence that all people are the children of God and they must be regarded equally as such: Hebrew and Pagan, Jew and Roman, male and female, countryman and foreigner, “us” and “them.” So, Jesus gave us the following affirmation:
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).
In other words, when applied to Jesus’ way of building bridges between very different people according to God’s universal grace and truth, Jesus is essentially saying WHEN YOU BUILD BRIDGES, YOU ARE OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD BY BOTH SIDES. However, we need to place our faith in the One God of all and place our ultimate hope in the universal kingdom of God.
When we follow Jesus by building bridges between disparate people and disparate groups of people, we shall be persecuted, reviled, and have all kinds of evil uttered against us. And this is especially true when we follow Jesus by building bridges of understanding, coexistence and cooperation in the following areas of human life: race/ethnicity, religion, gender, politics, sexuality, culture, etc. So, we ought to be prepared for this, and we ought to be prepared for this rejection and condemnation from those of our own demographic groupings.
In particular, within today’s religiously diverse society, how are we as Christians to be reconcilers and bridge builders? How are we to be true to our own spiritual inheritance while we seek greater understanding with other religious groups? How are we to understand our own religious faith and spirituality in relation to non-Christian groups? Is there a positive and constructive perspective on this issue that glorifies God and benefits everyone?
For me, “non-Christian” does not mean “un-Christian.” Furthermore, for me, God is like a great body of water connecting all the various ports and harbors that occupy God’s shoreline. These various harbors are the various religions, and the various piers on which we dock our individual boats are the various traditions within each religion. Consequently, there is a Christianity harbor, a Jewish harbor, a Muslim harbor, a Hindu harbor, a Buddhist harbor, a Sikh harbor, and so on. So, in this metaphor we are all connected by the Great Water (God), but we each occupy a unique and special place on it.
Therefore, we can explore God’s diverse oneness from our own safe harbor (“Christianity Harbor”) and from our own particular dock in this harbor (“Protestant Pier”). So, as with all the various peoples of faith, we can sail out on the great water of God to explore, discover and grow in understanding and wisdom. We can visit other harbors, and we can fish the Great Water, but we come home to our own safe harbor when we are tired from our journeys and are in need of our spiritual home port.
If we look at our own faith tradition (and all the doctrines that accompany it) as our home port on the great water of the almighty and eternal God, then we can realize that God encompasses our faith tradition as well as infinitely more. We can realize that our own faith tradition (our safe harbor and home base) is no more and no less a part of the reality of God as are the other metaphorical harbors.
Therefore, the safe harbor of our Christian faith is our jumping-off point. Our Christian doctrines (the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Holy Trinity, etc.) are not the end all and be all of God. Nor are the doctrines of the other faith groups the absolute end all and be all of the infinite God. Yes, God is truly revealed in these wonderful doctrines of our Christian faith, but God is also much more than is revealed in these doctrines. So we travel out for religious exploration and discovery — NOT for religious conquest and control.
All compassionate religions ought to see their faith traditions as unique and special harbors on God’s beautiful sea, from which believers can launch enlightening expeditions to other shores and friendship-building missions to different harbors — all for the glory of God and the mutual benefit of everyone. So we should neither absolutize our given faith tradition nor devalue it. All compassionate faiths are equally and uniquely a part of the great sea of God.
For me, I enjoy going out into the beautiful sea of God and exploring, but my spiritual home is back at “Christianity Harbor.” So, no matter how far I travel out into the infinite and diverse oneness of God, I (like all people) need to regularly come home.
God is all and in all, but I need to come home regularly to the safe harbor of my Anglo-Lutheran faith tradition. And when I come to die someday, the last words I would want to hear before I leave this life are the words of my Christian faith: Psalm 23, Ecclesiastes 3, John 1, Revelation 7, etc. And the last hymns I would want to hear are Amazing Grace, My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less, and so on.
And while these Christian words and hymns will be the last I hear in this life, I will also pass on having been enlightened by the other compassionate faith traditions of the almighty and eternal God of all.
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
Together in Christ, Pastor Tim