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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Warm Relationships and Their Significance for Being the Best Neighbors, Authentically--"To What Do You Aspire?:" a Reflection on Acts 1:6-14 and John 17:1-11

Pluralism is a system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority coexist. It is the existence of different types of people, who have different beliefs and opinions, within the same society. Political, religious and cultural pluralism is prevalent in communities and societies.[1] There is no uniform acceptance of any one ideology, religion, political party or experience. We navigate our way by listening to others, building authentic and warm relationships rooted in empathy. We find common ground in unity, not uniformity.

An authentic pluralist, when it comes to religion, would argue that no one religion contains the whole truth, and thus all religions contain an insight on the truth. And, building relationships with Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews can be an exciting experience, in that each of their religions seek and claim truth. In this regard, Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and the emerita Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont writes,

There is no such thing as religion. There are only religious people, who embody the scripts of their faiths as differently as dancers embody the steps of their dances. Until someone grabs a partner and heads to the dance floor, the tango is no more than a list of steps on the wall. The same is true of faith. We have inherited a sacred pattern, a series of artful steps meant to lead us closer to God and each other, but until someone finds a partner and gives it a try, it is an idea and not a dance.[2]

On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, we celebrate the unifying truth of the resurrection. Love wins. Death loses. Do you aspire to partner with God in the dance of the resurrection?

The texts in Acts 1:6-14 and John 17:1-11 assert that followers of Jesus are witnesses of the good news of salvation, united in the person and purpose of Jesus to bring hope, peace, joy and love to others.

In Acts 1:6-14, we learn that as disciples of Jesus we are not to restore God’s kingdom, but instead bring the kingdom of God to others in word and deed.

In John 17:1-11, we discover that we are one with other Christians as we are one with the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father. When we worship, we partner with God in the dance of the resurrection. When we learn about God and connect with others in fellowship, we partner with God in the dance of the resurrection. When we serve others, and give generously from our life’s wallet, we partner with God in the dance of the resurrection. Jesus lives his purpose in and through us. Christians are to be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. In John 17:11, Jesus prays to his Father, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…Holy Father, protect them in your name…, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Disciples of Jesus then and now must seek and experience unity in diversity. To be one with other Christians as Jesus and the Father are one is to be unified in purpose, yet unique and distinct.[3]

Might you agree that disunity has become the leading mark of Christians and the Church? We have the Roman Catholic Church; the Orthodox Church; many Protestant denominations; and a plethora of independent churches. The Church argues about loving the least, working for justice, the relationship between church and state and how to participate in the issues of life that matter most. Again, Barbara Brown Taylor, the author of Holy Envy, writes,

I asked God for religious certainty, and God gave me relationships instead. I asked for solid ground, and God gave me human beings instead—strange, funny, compelling, complicated human beings—who keep puncturing my stereotypes, challenging my ideas, and upsetting my ideas about God, so that they are always under construction…I hope God is going to keep coming to me in authentically human beings who shake my foundations, freeing me to go deeper into the mystery of why we are all here.[4]

If we trust Jesus, then we must let go of our need for uniformity and focus on unity. We would do well to consider a saying attributed to Rupertus Meldenius, an undistinguished German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”[5] The good news of this Seventh Sunday of Easter, the good news of the gospel in fact, is that God meets us in diversity and invites us to partner with God in the uniting dance of the resurrection.

To what do you aspire? Uniformity or Unity?Christians are to be “one” just as Jesus is one with the Father.Aspiring for uniformity in Christian experience is divisive. Aspiring for unity in Christian experience is uniting. The same is true for our common human experience.There is unity for humanity in hope, peace, joy and love.Let’s seek a better way to live by remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus, together. Aspire for unity. Partner with God in the dance of the resurrection.

[1]I consulted Google and the Cambridge English Dictionary for the definition of pluralism. [2]Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2019), 216. [3]In the three paragraphs of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Bradley E. Schmeling, Jennifer L. Lord, Martha C. Highsmith and Kira Schlesinger in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 302-304, 304-305, 314-316 and 316-317. [4]Barbara Brown Taylor, Holy Envy, 213. [5]I thank Ligonier Ministries for this historical citation.

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