Summary: This sermon addresses the opportunity and challenge of how to live out our faith in a multicultural/multifaith context such as is experienced in Canadian/American cities.

How Should We Live In A Pluralistic Polytheistic Society?

July 17, 2016

As we begin this morning I want to ask you a question – if you had to move to a different city, a different province, even a different country, how would you want people who live there to treat you? What would you want them to specifically do to make you feel welcome? Let me say that again (2X).

I’m sure some things have come to mind. Now turn to someone next to you and for a minute or so each share your answer.

If you would, shout out briefly some of your responses to the question of what you would want people to do to make you feel welcome in a new locale.

This morning I want to address a topic that we literally face every day when we step out the door and especially so here in the Mill Woods area. And that is, “How should we live in the context of a pluralistic society?”

To begin with I want define the term – pluralism. The term pluralism simply put is a belief that various and diverse religious, ethnic, racial, social classes, and political groups can live together harmoniously in a society.

And with this already happening to various degrees in our very midst, how should we live in the context of a pluralistic society in which we exist here in Canada, Alberta, Edmonton, and Mill Woods?”

But before I go further I want to remind you that at the end of this presentation you will have an opportunity to ask questions on this topic of our expert panel of Phil and Lorry Tayllor. You can do so by emailing your question to

Alternately you could write down your question on a piece of paper and give it at the media center at the back and they will email for consideration.

And in case you are wondering, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is not a stranger to pluralism because Jesus’ disciples including the Apostle Paul first proclaimed this good news throughout the Mediterranean world with its many gods, temples, Greek philosophies and emperor worship. So what we face today is not new, just perhaps new to us.

So how should we live in a literally multi everything society?

It begins with a knowledge of ourselves and our own particular faith.

In The Bible in the book of John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (NLT).

We as Christians believe that the way to God is only through Jesus.

In John 3:16 it says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV).

We as Christians believe there is no other way to heaven except Jesus.

With those thoughts in mind we are reminded in Matthew 22:37 to 39 what Jesus said. You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT).

And so even though people of other religions believe differently, if we are to live in some measure harmoniously with other diverse groups, especially religious groups, I believe we need to love these people, in part by understanding them, just as we ourselves desire to be understood.

So with that in mind, let’s watch this video describing the 5 major world religions. The Five Major World Religions. Fade out at 11:09!

So where do we go from here? Knowledge with understanding are starting points but how do we proceed? Perhaps an important point is to recognize what we have in common as is demonstrated by this Golden Rule Poster

Each of these religions has an understanding which is summed up in the words of Jesus found in Matthew 22:39 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Do to others what you want done to yourselves. We know intrinsically what we each and together ought to do. The challenge is in doing that.

So we do have something in common with all religions, yet at the same time we must not discount the differences, some extremely significant that exist between our faith and that of other faith communities.

Getting back to the description of pluralism, Diana Eck Professor of Comparative Religion and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University said some important things we need to keep in mind in the midst of our pluralistic society.

First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettos (separate areas and communities) with little interaction between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship with others of different faiths will yield increasing tensions in our society as it has done in many parts of the world.

Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessity, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and secularists and others to know anything about one another. Tolerance is inevitably too weak to be sustained in a world of religious differences, and over time it has resulted in many clashes among religious communities in different parts of the world.

It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.

Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. Pluralism does not require us to have no absolutes, that is relativism, leaving behind our identity and our commitments, rather pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, our religious differences, but not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.

Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.

Simply put, pluralism means a commitment on our part to actively engage personally and together with others of varying viewpoints, even viewpoints distinctly different than ours.

So what do we do then? How do we proceed? How can we live in the context of a pluralistic society where we hold to and practice different beliefs?

Well it can begin by simply as saying hello to someone you meet on the street, in the store, in your neighborhood.

But before we go further take a look at these pictures and ask yourself, “How comfortable am I if I were to meet these people on the street, in a mall, as a next door neighbor, in your own home or theirs? What would it take for me, for you to be open to developing a friendship or acquaintance with them?”

Pictures – Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh.

What would it take for me, for you to be open to developing a friendship or acquaintance with them?” Am I, are you willing to do so?

Here in Mill Woods we have quite a diversity of languages, cultures, and religions. Here are the greetings of five predominant language groups of Mill Woods and I am going to ask you to say each one after me:

English – Hello (Generic)

Hindi – Namaste (Hindu)

Punjabi - Sat Sri Akal (Sikh)

Tagolog - Kumusta (Filipino Catholic)

Arabic - Salaam (Muslim)

Now that you have learned these greetings, or least heard them, consider using them in the future. BTW you will find them listed in the sermon notes portion of the Sunday bulletin. My experience is that people who speak these languages greatly appreciate you trying, even if you get it wrong.

And then be even bolder and try and say the person’s name. Look at their name tag at the store or wherever. So often it is just a matter of sounding it out phonetically, in other words, the way it is spelled. People have been amazed that I have said their name correctly and I’ve been amazed too as I just made the effort to say their name.

I remember one day at the store Mandy greeted a woman attempting to say her name. She responded thanking Mandy and mentioning that she had been in Edmonton three months and Mandy was the first person to greet her by name. Three months. I was shocked. How many of may have gone to that store and hadn’t even thought of doing something as simple as saying her name.

This may sound simple and it is and perhaps even simplistic. But how are we ever going to know other people and know what they believe and practice if we don’t step outside of our comfort zone into God’s comfort zone for us.

Otherwise it will continue to be status quo for many, with a us versus them mentality, the building and fortifying of walls and barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding.

We need to see them not simply as Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, or whoever, but rather see them as people, as individuals, uniquely created and loved by God just as we are too.

And when we look at the Bible we see that Jesus did not have a us versus them mentality, a building and fortifying of walls and barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding.

Rather he reached across, he reached over these obstacles whether they be cultural, religious, gender, or whatever, as demonstrated with his interaction not only with Jews but with Romans and Samaritans too, not only with males but females too, not only with the rich but also the poor, not only with those well connected but those of little influence, and so on.

This is reflected in the words of the song Prayer Of St. Francis presented on this video.

Prayer Of St. Francis fade out after 1:00

Let me repeat these beautiful words.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

If we want to make a difference in this pluralistic society we have a choice to make, and it is to be like Jesus or not. If not, we don’t have to do anything different. Just keep doing the same old thing every day.

But if we want to be different we have to seek God’s direction and determine how we can become involved in the lives of those who are different from us. For when we become involved with others we will become more like Jesus, beginning to have influence in their lives, and when we have influence in their lives we will have impact for the kingdom of God.

And BTW the influence goes both ways as I have been profoundly influenced for good through my friendships with others different to me from other religious background.

In preparation for this sermon I canvassed a number of friends and acquaintances of other faiths and do you know what they said? Here are some of their comments:

We have more things in common than most people realize.

We want to be respected and not judged for our differences.

We wish to be treated like we belong and not discriminated against.

We want you to interact with us, to treat us the way you would like us to treat you.

We love many of the same things you do – family, friends, faith, …

And so we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we must move outside of our comfort zone and move into God's comfort zone for us which means we must do and act toward others as we would want done to ourselves as demonstrated by the life of Jesus.

In conclusion I am reminded about a book I read a while ago and near the end the author made a statement about Jesus and then asked a very personal and penetrating question.

The statement is, “Jesus was known as a friend of sinners”, that is people who were considered by society to be unfit, unclean, unworthy of their interest. The question is, “Are you?” Are you like Jesus, a friend of sinners? Are you a friend of anyone who believes and acts differently than you who others may despise?

I want us to listen to this song – Jesus Friend Of Sinners 1:50, 3:05, 4:00, 4:30, or 5:00 (choice according to time available)

10:15 AM

We will now move to our Question and Answer time.

For a copy of the PowerPoint presentation of this sermon contact Bev Sesink at