Loving Our Differences (begins at 32:18)

August 4, 2019

Series: August 2019

Category: Communion Sunday

Speaker: Sophia Harkins (Ruling Elder)

Colossians 3:1-11

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

 Loving Our Differences

     When I was asked to do this sermon, I was kind of struggling to think of a subject. I mean, what could I tell you that pastors with degrees from a seminary haven’t told you already? But I started thinking all the way back to when I was a little kid, which honestly wasn’t very long ago, and how I got to this point in my faith journey. When I was young, I saw church as something I just always did, where I colored and learned fun stories about old people a long long time ago. The snacks were my favorite part. When I got older, I actually had to learn in Sunday school, which was kind of a bummer. But it turned out I found the history behind all the Bible stories interesting. We started learning more in-depth about the values hidden in the stories. I also started learning about different religions and the similarities and differences between them. But as I got older, I learned more about what beliefs people would associate with a “religious” Christian- like homophobic and anti-science, things contrary to my beliefs. A lot of the time, when I told people I went to church, I would be sure to follow it up with a “but I’m not super religious or anything” partly to make sure people didn’t think these things about me. 

     Today, I can find too many bad examples of Christianity. I see people using the Bible as a weapon. I see people like the Westboro Baptist Church, a notorious Christian hate group, who use disgustingly hateful language against LGBTQ people, Muslims, and Jews and say that God is on their side. These people give a bad name to Christianity by using the Bible to justify their personal hate and prejudice, in the same way that people justified segregation years ago. In school, I’ve always been interested in history, and we often learned about different religions. Many religions started similarly, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity especially. As I learned about the fascinating history of these interconnected religions, I learned about the violence too. I first learned about Christopher Columbus as a villain who caused the suffering and exploitation of indigenous people. I learned about these such conquests and the way that explorers tried to convert indigenous people to Christianity, saying they wanted to teach them God’s love. But they didn’t receive much of this love. All they received was exploitation, disease, and violence. We learned about the Inquisition, where thousands of Jews, Muslims, and even Christians were tortured and murdered for their beliefs.

     While it’s easy to dismiss these atrocities as the brutal history of the time period, that vicious cycle of violence between religions has continued today, most notably between Christians and Muslims. After the Christchurch shooting by a Christian white supremacist, numerous churches and hotels were bombed in retaliation in Sri Lanka. In church, I always heard that the best thing we could do to be good Christians was to love our neighbors. But when I looked in the news and in history, I didn’t see that much love being represented. All these negative things gave me pause about being Christian. But I realized that extremists always get more attention than people bringing love into their everyday lives.  I see so many good things as well, in our own church and throughout the world. For example, when I was in the Pride parade in San Francisco, I saw people holding signs telling others to repent from their “sinful” lives. But I also saw people holding a sign that said “Catholic and straight, but we don’t hate.”

     I see so many amazing examples of love that our church specifically shows. From helping different social justice causes and supporting poor people, this love we show others represents Christianity for me. Like on the mission trips I went on, where I saw people helping others at the Homeless Garden Project, no matter what they looked like or how much money they had. They represented the unconditional love that Jesus and God show us. While I think that love is the fundamental belief of Christianity, others may disagree with me. We all come from different places in our faith and the world. I mean, there are about 2.3 billion Christians. It’s crazy to think about the sheer amount of us there are in the world.  If you wanted to count to one billion, it would take you almost 31 years. In other words, that’s almost exactly twice as long as I’ve been alive.  It’s also mind blowing the diversity of different denominations. So many different branches of Christianity, each with their own defining ideals. These branches become smaller denominations and within them, churches with totally different sets of beliefs. There are so many different kinds of Christianity and they all say different things about the way we should act. We all speak different languages and live in different places. We have different jobs and hobbies and interests. We all have different ideas about who we should love.  It reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer, in a way. Everyone says the same prayer until we get to one verse, where some people say debts, trespasses, or sins. Often, we focus on our differences, the ways we say different prayers, when we should be focusing on all the words we say together-our shared beliefs.

     I think the most unifying theme of the Bible is love. The most popular Bible verses, the ones we remember, are about love. We remember the verses that resonate with us about the love we should give. We don’t memorize the dozens of laws written in the Bible, rules for every aspect of your life. Those laws are outdated after thousands of years. But values never age. Kindness and love and tolerance stay the same no matter how much time passes. An example of one of these verses is our reading today. The verse, which is a letter from Paul to the Colossians, says, “But now you must get rid of all such things-anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” and “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” This passage is really saying we need to stop focusing on what makes us different, like our gender, race, nationality, but focus on what brings us together-our love for each other. If we do this, our differences don’t have to divide us, they can even unite us. We were all created differently for a reason-to learn from each other. Especially in our world today, we need a little more love, acceptance, and tolerance, so we can stop dividing ourselves and start finding what we have in common. We need to connect more with each other-those different from us or similar to us and spread the love that makes us human.

 Sophia is currently a Ruling Elder on Westminster’s Session and also serves on the Stewardship Commission.  She is an active member of Westminster’s high school youth group, and will be a sophomore at Tam High in the fall.