Summary: Special sermon for a combined bilingual service at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, TX
The last few weeks have been different, to say the least. Three weeks ago today, my family and I were worshiping with the church in Córdoba, Argentina. A week ago today, I was on a trip for Herald of Truth to Matanzas, Cuba, worshiping with the brothers there and witnessing several dozen baptisms. Now we’re here, enjoying the first combined service that I’ve been a part of since we moved here three years ago.
It’s always interesting when traveling to other countries to observe those that are doing so for the first time. Having studied Intercultural Communication, I’m especially aware of the concept of culture shock. When people arrive to a new place, they generally step off the plane in honeymoon mode. How cute. How quaint. How interesting. Everything is wonderful. After a time, however, the honeymoon ends.
At first it’s: “Isn’t it fascinating how everyone crams into the buses like that?”
Later it’s: “Can’t I even take a bus without people hanging all over me?”
At first it’s: “I so enjoy hearing their beautiful language”
Later it’s: “Doesn’t anybody here speak English?”
What was new and appealing becomes tedious and disagreeable.
I think something of the sort happened to the church in Jerusalem in the book of Acts. We’re going to look briefly at an incident in chapter 6. In the first few chapters of Acts, we see a united church, an excited church, a growing church. Jews from all over the world are coming to Christ and joining this dynamic body. They meet daily for learning and for worship. They share food together in their homes. They show a willingness to sell what they have to provide for others. At some point, however things began to change. What was once exciting becomes annoying. What was interesting and invigorating becomes irritating and inconvenient. The variety that was the spice of life becomes the root of bitterness that causes trouble.
Let’s read in Acts 6: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1)
The Grecian Jews were, well, those that spoke Greek. They came from other lands, possibly having come to Jerusalem for Pentecost, staying after their conversion to Christianity. The Hebraic Jews spoke Hebrew or, more properly, Aramaic. They were from Palestine. This was their homeland. The language they spoke was the language of that place. Isn’t it interesting that the first recorded “church fight” was provoked by language and culture? Notice that Luke doesn’t say who was right; he merely reports that a conflict arose. The fact is, when the unity of the church is threatened, nobody’s right. When brother criticizes brother, when neither side is willing to compromise, the battle is already lost. No one can win in that situation. We’re not talking about doctrine, this isn’t a doctrinal problem here in Acts. It’s a problem of language and culture. Jews had flocked into Jerusalem from around the world, many of them staying upon becoming Christians. Can you imagine how the Jews from Jerusalem felt? At first it was fun. But it must have gotten old. “Aren’t they ever going home? If they’re going to stay, couldn’t they at least learn the language? Can’t they try to fit in?”
Putting up with people that are different than us isn’t easy. We grow tired of accommodating, we become weary of compromise. Why are we always the ones who have to change? Why can’t they give something up once in a while? Why can’t they do things our way for once? Isn’t anybody thinking about us?When the terminology of “we” and “they,” “us” and “them” makes its way into our church vocabulary, a storm is brewing on the horizon. Our unity is in jeopardy. Our very identity as the Lord’s church is in danger. For you see, Jesus is all about bringing people together. Eliminating differences. Breaking down walls of division. It’s not “us” and “them.” It’s always “us” and “us.”
Jesus brings people together. That’s why I’m so excited about what we are doing here today. It’s important for us to remember that we don’t have two congregations meeting under one roof. We don’t have one congregation here in the auditorium and another in the chapel. It’s not “you people” out here and “us people” in there, nor vice versa. It’s the University church. One body. Brothers and sisters. Anglos and hispanics. Blacks and whites. People of Asian descent and African descent and European descent and Latin descent, all joined together in one family. We may speak different languages, but we speak with one voice. We may come from different cultures, but we are family. Our passports may say otherwise, but we are all citizens of the same kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.