Summary: Independence Sunday 1987: We are called to be a distinctive people within American culture, not to follow popular self-centered idolatries.

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The trouble with going to Ridgecrest conference center for a week is that you tend to forget how diverse a nation we are. If you were to spend too long at a place like Ridgecrest, you would get to thinking that everybody was Baptist, and Baptist of the southern variety, that everybody gobbled grits for breakfast and everybody elongated one syllable words into two syllables – see-yun instead of sin, he-yup instead of help. Honestly, it's the most down-home place I've been in a long while, and it sure does help me polish up my twang. Hope you can understand me today.

But the trouble with going to such a place is that you begin to think that everybody shares the same outlook, everybody does the same things. You would think even that everybody looked alike, except that five folks from Takoma and three from Miami did lend a certain variety to the crowd, thank goodness. You would get the impression that the whole world is just one big Southern Baptist church, grooving on the gospel, nibbling ice cream cones, and amening hot preaching.

But then you come back to Washington. Then you come back to reality. And in the real world, there are not only Baptists, there are Buddhists, backsliders, and Benedictine monks. In the real world, where you and I are called to live, there are not only folks who are like us, Christians, sharing a world view and a moral stance, but there are others, many others, who do not share that outlook and who do not live by that stance. The world you and I know best is not caught up in sermons and hymns, scriptures and prayers, but is trapped instead in the pursuit of wealth and in the relentless quest for pleasure. The world you and I experience once we leave this place is not especially concerned about who we are as believers or what we are undertaking here. Instead the concerns revolve around getting ahead, staying ahead, finding some kind of meaning, harboring at least a little happiness before the end comes and snatches it all away. We live, I am saying, in a world which is incredibly diverse, which does not necessarily accept or understand what you and I are about – assuming, that is, that we are serious Christian disciples – and which places some pressures on us - pressures to erode our identity.

And we have to decide how we are to respond; we have to decide just what it is going to mean to live in a world where the enormous variety of styles of life that surround us are always calling into question our way of living, our way of being.

The Christians of the first century had to struggle with that, too, as you might expect. A tiny minority within the massive multicultural, yet monolithic Roman empire, they found that it was not always easy to identify who they were and to make it stick. They found their own values getting lost amid all the competing ways of life. And nowhere did that problem express itself more completely and more pointedly than at the church in Corinth. These Corinthian Christians presented their mentor, the apostle Paul, with what may sound to you like a rather silly problem; but when you examine it closely, you find that it has all kinds of implications.

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