The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 1, 2023 – World Communion Sunday
Racism, classism and age-ism – prejudice, partiality and bigotry – these aren’t just bad habits or lazy mistakes. They’re sins, and their remedy lies in better theology.
For the kind of God we believe in determines how we view others and whether we treat them like royalty or like dirt. If we believe in a God who made every human being in His likeness, who sacrificed His Son for every human being, who longs to make Himself a home in the heart of every human being, and who yearns to spend eternity in the company of every human being, how could we not see every human being as a sacred being whom we should respect, love and bless as much as we can?
Our vertical conceptions about God set our horizontal conduct toward humans! So, if we believe that God values each human being, we will seek to build an inclusive community of love, as wild in its diversity as God’s creation, and we will embrace people from every nation, culture, color, gender, sexual orientation, education level, success level and attractiveness level.
The Bible’s last book, Revelation, gives a picture of the church in heaven – that is, in its perfection. The church there is a wide diversity of people united in the shared purpose of serving God: “a great multitude… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”.
If the church is destined by God to be like that in the end, shouldn’t we try to be like that in the meantime?
Yet, unity in diversity should not be the church’s first concern, for such unity comes about as a natural byproduct of something more important and decisive: a shared devotion to serve the glory of God.
The church is like a symphony orchestra. An orchestra, to serve the glory of beautiful music, must incorporate a variety of different sounds and give each opportunity to make its unique contribution to advance the goal of the whole.
A few years ago, Android ran an ad that showed a young pianist playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. As his hands flew over the keyboard, there scrolled a series of statements: “A piano has 88 keys…Each key is different…But what if they were all the same?” With that line, the pianist switched to another piano and started to play on it. But the 88 keys on that piano all sounded out the same note – a middle C. He then alternated his playing between the two pianos until the final frame read: “Be together, not the same.”
In the orchestra that is the church, each human instrument is to sound out his or her unique note under the direction of the church’s maestro who blends all those diverse sounds into a unity of beauty. This creates harmony, and not cacophony, as long as each unique instrument is attuned to the same one key of grace and each is equally submitted to the same one Maestro. Then our differences become an asset; and our diversity, a harmony. Then full inclusion produces its perfection – and the church becomes like Building 20.
Building 20? On the MIT campus in Cambridge, MA, there used to be an office building with the prosaic name, Building 20. The structure, demolished in 1998, had been hastily assembled during World War II as a temporary shelter to house the overflow from the school’s burgeoning Radiation Lab. Building 20’s hallways were dim, and the walls thin. The ventilation was poor and the roof leaked. The structure baked people in the summer and froze them in the winter.
After the War, the influx of scientists into MIT continued unabated. So the school kept using that unimpressive and seemingly inadequate building. This resulted in its housing together, all in one place, a wild mix of different disciplines – from nuclear science to linguistics to electronics to everyday machine repairs.
Because Building 20 was nothing worth preserving, its occupants felt free to reconstruct its space as their projects needed. They reconfigured walls and halls, and moved equipment hither and yon. For example, the engineer working on the development on the first atomic clock tore out two floors above his lab so he could install the three-story cylinder needed for his experiments.
Many believe that the throwing together of diverse researchers, in a facility all felt free to rework, fostered interaction between folks who wouldn’t otherwise meet and gave birth to a spirit of cooperation and collaborative inventiveness that generated countless technological breakthroughs. Building 20’s seemingly unsuitable space incubated great creativity and scientific discovery.
In the same way, the church, into whom God throws together all kinds of folks, can by growing more diverse and inclusive, incubate great creativity and discovery in the purposes of God. If the church fosters collaborative inventiveness, folks will feel free to make changes that accomplish higher purposes than preserving any status quo and to alter all sorts of things for expanding the church’s capacity to bless the world beyond it.
This church is anything but perfect. It falls short of the ideal in any number of ways. But it is praying and it is persevering in its pursuit of its perfection. Thus, it is drawing in on the realization of the best version of itself.
But we have to be patient, and we often have to believe in its potential by faith and not by sight!
But that is something we can do if we remember Who is the Maestro of this symphony orchestra and Master of this modest incubator of great glory!
Dallas Willard was once asked if, given how often churches disappoint, he was ever tempted to give up hope in the church. He smiled and responded with a strong “Never!” “How can you not?” the surprised interviewer asked. “Because,” Willard replied, “Jesus is the head of His church, and He knows what He is doing.”