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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, July 20, 2003


Isaiah 57:14b-21
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-44
Psalm 22:22-30

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear a talk given by a woman named Hideko Tamura Snider. Tammi, as I understand it, is a psychiatrist, who many years ago moved from private practice into the area of psychiatric social work, in the radiation oncology department. She is retiring from the U of C, and a reception was given in her honor.

Right now, some of you may be thinking, “That’s nice, Jane, but-- So What?” People retire every day, and their coworkers have parties for them-- to honor their years of service, and contribution to the business or community-- or sometimes to simply to celebrate their leaving! And Tammi’s not a particularly impressive figure, at first glance. She’s a tiny woman, barely reaching my shoulder; it would be easy to miss her in a crowd.

But Tammi has a story to share. She is a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. At 11 years old, she lived through the destruction that took her mother’s life, and countless friends and neighbors; and then she was witness to the ongoing pain of the aftermath: the reality of radiation poisoning, and its ugly effects on the human body. A terrifying spectre for a sheltered young girl.

And yet, when she grew up, look what happened. She emigrated to America, to the country that inflicted this damage. And she eventually became a psychiatric social worker, in the field of radiation oncology.

What made the difference for Tammi? What was it that not only kept her from being hate-filled, but that enabled her to later accept work in a field that dealt specifically with the very science (nuclear radiation) that had destroyed the life she knew as a child?

Tammi says that the difference, for her, was found in a group who came over to Japan after the war, to help rebuild the country and the people.

Now, many of the people who came to her area were traditional Christian missionaries. They terrified her, waving their Bibles and talking of hellfire and damnation. (the sort of behavior that one friend of mine has in mind when she speaks of her personal efforts “to be more tolerant of Christians.”)

But one woman didn’t talk, she listened. She was intent, not on saving souls (which, we need to remember, is God’s business, not ours), but on healing. It was not what she said, but how she said it, and how she acted. She cared; and her caring was a witness to reconciling love.

This is the sort of thing that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Ephesians. He’s referring to distinctions that followers were making between themselves, between Christians who were Jews, and those who were Gentiles-- who came from other faith traditions. They were setting up very human standards; the term “uncircumcised” was meant as an insult, as a derogatory comment; a sneer at the uncouth. Rednecks.

Paul reminds us that these distinctions are spurious-- that we have no place setting up walls between one another, or between other people and God. Jesus’ death and resurrection happened in order to tear these walls down.

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it... for through him both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

It’s not about separation, or distinction, but community, and reconciliation.

Brothers and sisters, this problem is not one limited to the church in Ephesis, 1900 years ago. It’s something we still struggle with today. It seems to be part of human nature, to allow different to be divisive. We hear it all the time, don’t we? In the political debates that turn personal; in (often justified) accusations of racism and intolerance; in the jokes we tell one another. I have seen it, sometimes, at the hospital, in the guarded reaction from someone of another race or creed, when I’ve walked into a patient’s room.

And it happens in our church, as well. Our General Convention begins in a week or so, but people have been gearing up for a fight for months, over a couple of resolutions dealing with the issue of homosexuality. Bishop Little has already sent out a letter explaining the specifics, and his stance on them; it was included in our parish newsletter, so I won’t bore you with another recitation of the facts (If you missed it, you can pick one up on your way out this morning). Of hundreds of resolutions before the Convention, these will no doubt take center stage, in the news media and in the minds of the delegates. A lot of time and energy will be consumed, and a lot of people will be convinced that they are right and the other side is wrong; and a goodly number of people on both sides of the issue are foreseeing schism-- people leaving the church if the voting does not go “the right way.”

Now, I’m not here to comment on “the right way.” This morning, I’m more concerned about the way we act, and react, toward one another in the midst of this struggle.

Kevin Martin, the nationally recognized teacher and consultant who met with our vestry a few months ago, puts out an online newsletter. In his most recent issue he addresses this. He comments: “the truth is that few people want to join a Christian community that is at war with itself. As one GenXer said, "If I wanted to fight, I would go home to my parents!" If we are mean-spirited, angry, hateful and hurtful toward those who disagree with us, raising cries of “heresy” and threatening to leave, we are serving the cause of Christ very poorly indeed.

Now, this does not mean that, as Christians, we are not allowed to disagree with one another; that we must accept everything blindly in order to maintain some sort of surface unity at all costs. You know me better than that, I think. But how we disagree as Christians is at least as important as the decisions we reach. It’s in how we work through our disagreements and differences that we become formed as disciples. One of my seminary professors puts it this way:

“When God forms us in the womb, God forms each of us differently, consecrating us differently, to serve different nations and to feed different flocks. God even forms us, sometimes, to wrangle against one another in order that our struggles may bring God’s truth more clearly to the light.”

So please, disagree. Feel strongly, and express it clearly. Speak up. Bicker, and tussle, and wrangle. But remember this: in the midst of our differences, we have something very important in common. We are all, as Paul says, “members of the household of God.” We have a purpose-- a commission-- the Great Commission. We have a covenant: our baptismal covenant, promises made before God: to “seek and serve Christ in all persons;” to “strive for justice and peace among all people;” to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We have our diocesan core values, which include “a committment to one another.”

Grab hold of those guideposts, and hang on.



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