Monday, January 3, 2011

God’s ways are different. Always…

Have you heard the tale of the Blind Men and the Elephant? Multiple Eastern religions have adapted it. Celebrated Sufi mystic Rumi had his version. American Poet John Godfrey Saxe penned a famous 19th century rendition. But in case it’s escaped you, or it’s been awhile, here’s the abbreviated Rev. Isner version:

Three blind men walked into a large room, where a King had tied up an elephant. The King said, “Before you is a beast of great power and wisdom. Please describe it.” So the first man grabbed the elephant’s leg, and declared, “My Liege, this beast is like a pillar!” The second man, feeling the ear, disagreed, “No! It’s more akin to a fan.” The third man inspected the tail, and quickly jumped in, “You are both fools! The beast is most like a rope.” But the King said, “You all are right. And you all are wrong. The elephant is all of this, and more besides.”

As a metaphor for knowing God, I like this story. Each of us can say something true about the Lord. And yet, we’ll always be limited in how far our understandings or experiences can reach. Paul says in the Love Chapter- 1 Cor. 13- “Now we see in a mirror, dimly…then (the afterlife) I will know fully, even as I’ve been fully known.” Amen!

As a metaphor for how Christians act, this story’s many versions can also be instructive. In one telling, attributed to the Buddha, the blind men fight and punch as they disagree about who’s really right, while the King looks on delighted. The story ends with, “O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim/For preacher and monk the honored name!/For, quarreling, each to his view they cling./Such folk see only one side of a thing.” In another version, the blind men calmly declare their thoughts, and await patiently as the King resolves everything. Others fall in various places between. Likewise, Jesus’ followers have fought about our differences, celebrated them, awkwardly abided them and/or simply ignored them. God’s Children are myriad, indeed!

This year, 2011, I hope Plymouth Creek will take these differences head on. That we will be honest- with God, ourselves and especially our neighbors- about our deepest faith convictions, our inevitable limitations, and endlessly curious about what we could never have come up with ourselves. As a Disciples of Christ church, one of our greatest strengths and identity markers is the Open Table, i.e. the fact that we never say, “No, communion for you; you’re unacceptable.” Such unconditional hospitality and radical openness, however, can be tough. Some want to pigeonhole us- “What does your church believe about…” The only appropriate response is, “Jesus is Lord. The rest is up to us.” Many prefer churches with but one style of music, or dominant generation, or ideological agenda. We think we’re better off remaining open, even if that means a slower growth pattern.

But rather than focus on the struggles of our openness, I want us to explore its blessedness this year. So in keeping with recent years, we’ll have a theme to emphasize that idea all year long. Here it is, what you’ve been waiting for (and probably shorter than expected!), the PCCC 2011 Annual Theme- God’s ways are different. Always…

In sermons series, scripture studies, activities and more, I hope that throughout 2011 we’ll embrace the holy wonderful strangeness of our Lord. Yes, God’s as caring, compassionate and forgiving as we’ve always believed. But in many ways we sometimes ignore (preachers more than most!), God is different. God’s vision is vastly more expansive than ours could ever be. God’s love is radically more inclusive than our hearts allow. God’s hopes are more realistic and daring than our most personal dreams. So rather than be a church contented with ever repeating the same formulas and beliefs, let’s prove to ourselves, our visitors, friends and neighbors what an open church this can be!

Why? Because striving always to adapt our ways to God’s ways is a life-giving way to be. Besides, imagine how better this world would be if more folk followed the different trajectory of God’s Kingdom.

Grace and Peace,

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