Summary: Easter 6: We are so good at picking sides - at finding reasons to finding reasons to choose reasons for thinking that we are better than others. The lessons of the early church drive us to question this and to ask: For whom is Easter?
A few years ago some friends from this part of the state visited us when we lived in San Antonio. We took them to lunch at a popular restaurant in San Antonio and there saw a bunch of people wearing “Go, Spurs, Go” t-shirts. Being from the Dallas area – my friend was, of course, rooting for the Mavericks. He was about to open his mouth and say something, but I stopped him saying, “Shhhh – don’t say anything bad about the Spurs here or they’ll take us all out!”
Dividing up into sides has been a cherished past-time of people forever. It isn’t just about the Spurs and Mavericks or the Cowboys and the Texans. It’s also about other stuff. A little drama is reenacted on elementary school playgrounds when teams have to be picked. Usually the two biggest and strongest line up opposite each other. After deciding who goes first, they then take turns picking players. One by one, the ranks of available talent are depleted until the only remaining choices are the dregs. Hi – I’m one of those dregs! If you were ever the last or near the last one chosen, or maybe not even chosen at all – or if you became a sort of pity selection – then you know what choosing up sides can mean. It isn’t always pretty.
Choosing sides didn’t stop with our school experience – it continues. Wealth divides people into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Race divides humanity into those that look like us and those that are different. Culture and customs become other reasons to choose up sides. And what isn’t taken care of by these things, gets divided up by – yes, you guessed it – religion. And as this happens we end up being segmented and separated and then the one-upsmanship game begins. People begin to believe that they are actually better, more favored by God, or some other silly thing like that if they belong to their own group. And we pay a cost for that separation.
Listen, I want us to get real for just a second here. There is absolutely no way that we can do a whole lot better. We carry the reason for that inside of us – sin - the thing that causes us to war against each other and to play the one-ups-manship game. It’s all around us, in the world, in society, in politics, everywhere. We even find it happening in the church. The alphabet soup of denominations is living testimony to the sad reality that Christians have a really hard time finding unity under the Cross.
We even find it happening in this church: You know, we have the first service folks; and we have those radicals in the second service; and then those Spanish speakers in the third service. And when we try to bring these different sides together – well, that’s when you really stir the pot: What? – Me listen to a guitar-led praise song? – Never! What? – Me chant a prayer? – Never? Spanish in my worship service? – Now them’s fighting words! Well, Jesus, so much for being one under the Cross.
In the early Church, the Nazarene – Jesus, turned religion on its head. His take on what the prophets of old had written captured people. He was seen as personally embodying what many of the Psalms of old expressed. Followers of the Way – that’s what early Christians were called – were part of an amazing movement. It spread like a wildfire through dry prairie grass. God the Holy Spirit pushed the frontiers of Christianity – first through Jerusalem, then through Judea and Samaria. And it was clear that this movement would not stop until every corner of the earth had heard about how Jesus had lived a life of love and service; about his unjust death on the Cross – a death that God used to bring all people unto Himself; and about Jesus’ glorious Resurrection, both a symbol and in reality, God’s victory over sin and death.
But this incredible expansion of the Way did not come with some growing pains. You see, the first followers of the Nazarene were Jews. They strictly observed Jewish dietary laws, religious ceremonial customs and observed Jewish rituals and festivals. But as the movement expanded it began to include people from other nations and customs. When people from other backgrounds and customs entered the church, an incredible clash of cultures ensued.
There were those who believed that to be a part of the Way, everybody needed to follow the old customs. This meant that non-Jewish believers would have to give up the foods that they were accustomed to eating. It meant that the non-Jewish Christians would have to observe Jewish Sabbath laws. It meant that males who where non-Jewish would have to get circumcised. To put it in coffee and donuts language, what these folks were saying was that in addition to believing all that Jesus had accomplished through his life, death and resurrection, non-Jewish believers needed to include a slew of other things in order to be followers of Jesus.