I used to envy my Jewish friends. They had a connection to each other before they ever even met. It was blood, it was family, it was history and it was God. Nothing, no academic rivalry or romantic furor could undermine the identity they shared so easily. And it was big. It stretched back thousands of years and all across the globe.
When God sent Abraham off to Egypt, he promised him protection. He also promised him many descendents. This multitude of people issuing from Abraham became the people of Israel. Their history which we know so well, is a tribal history. They were ethnically connected. They were bound by belief and by the covenant under which they operated. They had enemies and fought them, sometimes winning. They have a history which they, even now, repeat to themselves and to each other with regularity. They are a tribe. They are one.
To this day, these people are a People; they see themselves as a people. Do they have their differences of opinion? Most definitely. But the identity which the Bible tells us God created in them is still there. After nearly four thousand years of history and despite a Diaspora stretching across the face of the earth, this people, this tribe, still lives their story and practices their faith.
Christianity, of course, proceeds from Judaism. We Christians continue the story of the Israelites on a tangent, so to speak. Our Messiah is the Messiah for which Jews waited and prayed all through their history. Our faith is based on Jesus’ fulfilling the Mosaic law and the Hebrew prophets. But are we a tribe? What unity can we claim?
Jesus set us on a different path with a different idea of unity. The old ties were no longer enough.
Did Jesus care about blood ties? He said that his brothers and sisters were those who heard the word of God. (Luke 8:21)
Did he care about nations? He rebuked tribe-only attitudes and almost got himself assassinated for it. (Luke 4:25-29)
Did he care about property? He advocated divesting oneself of all property and following him. (Matthew 19:16-22)
Did he care about rules? He ate with sinners, healed on the Sabbath and violated purity rules. (Luke 5:27-32; Mark 3:1-6; Mark 2:19-20)
Yes he was a devout Jew observing all feasts, quoting scripture, praying, blessing, and teaching, but he preached a togetherness that went far beyond his own people. Or, rather, he considered his own people to be all those who accepted his word.
This was a new concept and one that we still have trouble with. There are some 41,000 different denominations of Christianity. Some get along quite well with their neighbors; others are in a constant war of words with everyone else. When Jesus prayed that his disciples, and those who believe because of them (ourselves, in other words) become one with him and one with the Father through him, I think he meant a oneness that transcends our small divisions.
There is but one Gospel. There is but one Messiah. There is just one God and Father of all. I do believe that Jesus’ vision will come true somehow. I have to believe that the Gospel will enlighten everyone who hears it, that a seed of truth will be planted in every heart.
People are weak. Our petty concerns and squabbles are nothing but dust against the power of God and the will of Christ. Our errors can be wiped away in the blink of an eye when the time is right.
This means that I have to find a sense of oneness, of tribe, if you will, with all my Christian sisters and brothers. That means finding oneness with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church as well as with the snake handler in Kentucky; with the Lutheran congregant who's almost just like me and with the "Evangelical" sitting in a mega church looking at a jumbotron; with my own dear vicar as well as with Mark Driscoll.
I cannot write anyone off.
This is not a human bond; it does not appeal in human terms. It does not offer the cozy feeling of family. It is a unity of spirit. As our Savior reminded his apostles,we are no longer of the world. We are of the Spirit and our hearts must live on spiritual things. Following Christ, living the Gospel, bringing the kingdom of God – this is our purpose and it is one we share with every Christian.
I have much pride in my church. I'm a bit of a snob both liturgically and doctrinally. I have spoken disdainfully of those “others” who do not worship or understand as I do. I have spoken worse about those who use their religion to hurt others, to wield power, to shame, to deride. This has not helped me spiritually, nor has it served Christendom. It has not brought even one person to know Christ.
I cannot write anyone off.
If God can see around all my flaws, I should be able to stand back from my own sense of rightness to find the soul in whoever it is that is before me at the moment. The Body of Christ into which we were Baptized and called daily is one Body. However differently and imperfectly we manifest our faith, the love that we find for each other is the only thing that will bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.