Augustine Disputing with the Heretics, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55590 [retrieved December 3, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Verg%C3%B3s_Group_-_Saint_Augustine_Disputing_with_the_Heretics_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.
Scripture Reading • Genesis 1.1-5 (NIV)
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
We have been working through a series of sermons I have called “Continuing the Conversations.” In these sermons I hoped to build on our summer study, Bridge Building 101, a study where we thought about how, as Christ’s church, we are called to unity in Christ, and placed in a unique position to bring people together across divisions.
We have looked at some of the things people who study conversations and what makes conversations work well have learned. We looked at respect, love, curiosity, and listening, and connected those core pieces of conversations with core convictions and practices of our faith.
In our summer study many of us, myself included, had a question … The idea of unity sounds awesome, it is something we are supposed to seek as the church, but do we have to set aside our core convictions for the sake of unity? Sure we want to respect and love people, yes we want to learn about and from other people, but what about our own unique experiences and insights … what about our part in the conversation?
When do we get to say something?
The authors of my new favorite book, “Difficult Conversations,” have a response to this question. Here is what they write:
Listening to the other person’s story with a real desire to learn what they are thinking and feeling is a crucial next step. But understanding them is rarely the end of the matter; the other person also needs to hear your story. You need to express yourself … In a difficult conversation your primary task is not to persuade, impress, trick, outwit, convert, or win over the other person. It is to express what you see and why you see it that way, how you feel, and maybe who you are. Self-knowledge and the belief that what you want to share is important will take you significantly further than eloquence and wit … John, a second-year law student, was preparing to meet with a well-respected federal judge to discuss several concerns he had about his upcoming clerkship. The judge had a reputation for being a sometimes prickly and argumentative fellow, and John was anxious about losing his courage once he stepped into the judge’s chambers.
John’s favorite professor offered advice: “Whenever I have felt intimidated or mistreated by someone above me, I remember this – we are all equal in the eyes of God “… No matter who we are, no matter how high and mighty we fancy ourselves, or how low and unworthy we may feel, we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. My views and feelings are as legitimate, valuable, and important as yours – no more, but no less. For some people, that’s utterly obvious. For others, it comes as important news … when we fail to share what’s most important to us, we detach ourselves from others and damage our relationships (Stone, Patten, Heen. Difficult Conversations, pp. 185-186).
In one way or another, this is something, I think, we all need to hear – maybe we are the person who hesitates to share our voice … maybe we are the person who needs to be open to listening to someone else’s voice … We are all equal in the eyes of God … people created in god’s image and worthy of respect and dignity …
Hopefully that challenges us to think more about our voices and what we could offer to the conversations and relationships we are part of.
Sharing our voices … our perspectives … our insights can be really hard.
There are things I regret saying … I hate those nights when I lay awake in bed thinking about something I said, and hoping I didn’t hurt someone … and counting down the hours until it would be an appropriate time to call to apologize. I also hate those nights when I lay awake in bed regretting not saying something when I should have … and for me at least, that kind of regret takes the longest to work through.
As Christians, we are people who understand that words have power.
Jim read us words from the very beginning of the bible, words that reveal the power of God’s voice to bring life.
In the Gospel of John, we hear that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … Through him all things were made … In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1.1-5 & 14).”
Jesus Christ, God’s living-breathing-speaking-doing word invites us into relationship with God.
God tells us we are loved. That we are valuable and worthwhile. And that God would go to amazing lengths to pursue a relationship with us.
God’s words … our words in response to what God says to us and what God is doing in our lives … they all matter … they all can make a difference …
When we are thinking about bridging divisions and conversations there is no better place in scripture to see God bring people together across divisions than Acts.
Over and over, in Acts we see Jesus’ disciples courageously and faithfully sharing their voices when there is a lot at stake.
We see one of those moments in Acts 4.
4 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem.6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.
I bet Peter and John never imagined they would wind up in such a high stakes conversation. As Peter said, this disturbance was rooted in an “act of kindness.” Peter and John met a man who was begging in front of the temple one afternoon. The man was crippled and his friends set him in front of the temple everyday at 3 o’clock. # o’clock was known as a time of prayer and worship at the temple, so it would have been one of the best times of day to ask all of those faithful worshipers for help. Peter and John didn’t have money to offer the man, but they gave him what they had … love in Jesus’ name.
Miraculously, the man could walk … a crowd noticed that guy who depended on his friends to bring him to the temple, suddenly jumping and walking, and praising God. When they saw this, the people were filled with wonder and amazement.
Peter saw the crowds’ response and had to say something about Jesus’ power working in that man.
The priests, the temple security guards, and the Sadducees came up to Peter. They were concerned about this teaching about Jesus and resurrection.
The next day they had a high stakes conversation with Peter and John.
Peter shared his understanding of Jesus.
People noticed Peter’s courage.
Some people responded with amazement … some people responded with faith … some people told Peter he shouldn’t talk about Jesus any more.
Peter’s words mattered … our word’s matter.
But as Christians, our voice isn’t just words … our actions are part of our voice too.
I love Acts verse 4:14 – “But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”
Evidence of Jesus’ love working through the disciples was standing next to Peter as he spoke.
One of the most challenging things about discipleship is making our words match up with what we do. Disciples live in tension between words and actions.
Peter wasn’t just talking about Jesus, the people in the crowd could see how an act of kindness done in Jesus’ name made a difference in the man’s life. Peter didn’t just talk about God’s goodness … through his faithful compassion, Peter was an instrument of God’s goodness.
God has given you a voice … the experiences that have shaped you … the things you have seen … the places you have been … God has given you a voice … and the conversation needs you.