Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lent: Open, Mark II

One of the things that attracts me to the person of Jesus, despite my frustrations with Christianity and the failings of people like me who claim to follow him, is how open he is to other people, and the vision he presents of the Kingdom of God as one with open borders.

Someone in the past year made a bumper sticker that says "Even heaven has a wall," which technically is true. The book of Revelation portrays the heavenly city of Jerusalem as one with a wall -- a wall with 12 gates of pearl that are always left open.

Earlier in the book, St. John of Patmos describes seeing a worship service in the Kingdom of God. It is attended by men, women and children of every tribe, nation and language.

That means the City of God includes Iranians speaking Farsi, Egyptians speaking Arabic, Indians speaking Urdu, Mexicans speaking Spanish, and Americans who speak all of those (and even other languages). I suppose there may be a few Esperantists in there too, speaking Esperanto.

I attended a worship service like that once at Dave Wilkerson's Times Square church. Worship that week was in Tagalog, and it was among the greatest worship services I've ever attended.

When the church started out, it was called the Way, a sect of Judaism that distinguished itself by professing that the Resurrection of the Dead had begun with one person. It started out with about 120 people who spoke Aramaic. On the Day of Pentecost, the first day the Way became a distinct movement, about 3,000 more people joined, representing a dozen or so different groups of the first diaspora.

Over the next 40 years, the church spread throughout Judea, Galilee, Samaria, the Arabian peninsula, Africa, Greece and the Roman Empire. Each place it spread, it picked up new members with their own cultural backgrounds and different languages -- primarily from the lower classes of Roman society, but also including wealthy and powerful landowners, the educated and the middle class.

Some people felt that new Christians had to assimilate into a Jewish lifestyle in order to be real Christians: get circumcised, keep kosher laws, observe the Jewish festivals. There are at least two books in the Christian Scriptures that present theological arguments rejecting this. The belief of those writers was evident: the Kingdom of God is open to everyone, including people from every ethnicity. We don't want you to integrate into us, it's on us to integrate into your life and experience.

I think it's clear from the biblical record that God values our cultural differences, and his dream for humanity is that we welcome others in, and celebrate their culutral uniqueness. Our greatest moments as a church have come when we've opened our doors to others with other ideas, other views, and other ways of doing things. Our greatest shame has been when we have shut that door.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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