The Gift of Diversity

This article first appeared on the A Positively Poetic Priest blog on May 22, 2018.

I want you to take a look at your hand.
Right or left, it doesn’t matter.
Every day our hands do impressive amounts of work.
They influence our experience of the world.
Look at your fingers.
You probably don’t think about them often.
They are very similar in nature to each other,
yet each is different.
Each is unique from the others.
Even our fingers have diversity!
Each of our fingers have different purposes and gifts.
The fact that our thumbs are at an angle and move slightly
differently than the other fingers… opposable thumbs!
What a gift our thumbs are in our daily lives!
(Especially when you consider animals without opposable thumbs,
we have all seen those internet memes.)
We may look at our hands and think they are all the same.
In fact, we have diversity right in our hands.

The word diversity really means a range of different things.
Not that it has a range of different meanings,
it quite literally means, “a range of different things.”
Having a collection be diverse means that there are different things in the collection.
So speaking about diversity in the context of people
requires two things: community and different gifts.

This is where we go to the passage from acts,
the bedrock of Pentecost.
The passage starts with the community.
“The disciples were all together in one place.”
Here we have a collection of people, already diverse in nature.
Tax collectors, fishermen, carpenters,
all gathered together in a room because of the same glue.
It’s quite obvious that the only reason the disciples ever managed to stay together
was because of Jesus.
Together, this little community of men
has an amazing experience.
A rush of wind and tongues of fire,
a change of heart and feeling of presence,
and a sudden new knowledge filling each of them.

Diversity is one of the first gifts the Holy Spirit ever gives to the church,
simply by giving the disciples the ability to speak different languages.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day of Pentecost,
it didn’t tell the disciples to go only
to the Aramaic speaking good Jews to spread the good news of Jesus.
No, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples new languages,
the gift of speaking to people wholly different from them.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit there were going to be
Egyptian followers of Jesus
and Parthian followers of Jesus
and Mesopotamian followers of Jesus.
People from all over the known world
who didn’t all have the same background or the same ideas.
The Holy Spirit came and made the disciples more diverse, even than they had been before.

I love the fact that someone thinks this rush of speaking in languages from Jews
is because of wine.
As if having some wine could give us the ability to speak a new language.
The work of the Holy Spirit in this way
was so new,
so amazing,
so profound,
no good excuses could be made to justify the event away.
Someone in the crowd tried to blame it on wine,
but we all know that was simply out of fear.
You can see the bystanders trying to push the idea away,
out of fear, out of wanting to stay away from the unknown.

Unfortunately, for many the gift of diversity looks like a threat.
The unknown quality of people being different from one another leads to fear.
Thankfully, this fear can be overcome.
Recognizing and accepting diversity does put us outside our comfort zones.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit,
and God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.
In a world increasingly separating into groups of like minded people who do not play well with people or groups who
are differently minded,
the world asks the grace of living into our gifts as diverse people.

However, everyone is different in this world.
Everyone deserves the dignity and respect which we each crave for ourselves.
Everyone is different and has different gifts.
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person
is acknowledging them as uniquely themselves.
It is only by working together,
using all the gifts which we bring to the table,
can we really ever accomplish anything.
The world is worth working with other people who are extremely different than us.
Not everyone can speak Spanish or German or Hindi or Swahili,
but the Holy Spirit has given us the gifts that we need in order to work together.

Many people feel that the church is, and has always been,
a place for people who all think, feel, believe, and look the same.
You have to be and act and speak in a particular way in order to be a part of the church.
Unfortunately, there are many parts of the church in which this is true.
There are rules governing what you can wear, what you can eat or drink,
who you can talk to, and so forth.

By no means am I advocating a standard of lawlessness or anarchy,
there are standards for being a follower of Jesus
however none of them are based on what clothing you wear
or what you can eat or drink.
In fact, Jesus would probably have broken any and all rules
given to him by the religious authorities of his own church
in order to be involved and part of the lives of the people who needed him.

Diversity is a strength, not one of the church’s greatest strengths,
though thankfully one that we are more and more recognizing the need for.
Here in this community, we have a range of diversity
Episcopalians, Lutherans, a few Catholics,
we have people who speak languages other than English,
we have people who are differently abled,
we have people who can program electronic devices,
and people who stay as far away from such devices as they can,
and all these diversities make for a better community.

We come together today to join our diverse hands
to be together as a community with different gifts
experiencing the Holy Spirit in this time and in this place,
so that when we go out into the world
we can meet God at work through the Holy Spirit
in all the diverse places and people we experience.
God sends us out to find ourselves and Him
in all the beautiful diversities of His creation.

Amen.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

More From Presiding Bishop Curry

A wonderful video where Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offers a Word to the Church.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And The Top Ten Things You are Likely to Hear in a Michael Curry Sermon:

(Assembled by the Diocese of North Carolina Standing Committee and presented at a reception held for the new PB in D.C. the night before the installation.)

10:  “This morning I lift my text from…
EVERYONE: Anywhere but today’s propers!”

9: “Now bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this!”

8:  “God didn’t put you on this earth just to use up oxygen!”

7: “I’m not going to be up here long”

6: “If you’re breathing, God’s calling”

5: “We have a God! And that God raised Jesus from the dead.”
EVERYONE: “I don’t know how he did it, but he did!”

4: “When Israel was in Egypt land,”
Everyone (singing):  LET MY PEOPLE GO!

3: “One more thing and then I’m going to sit down.”

2: “There is a balm in Gilead…”

And the Number one thing you are likely to hear in a Michael Curry sermon:

GO!!

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Sermon by The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons from October 18, 2015 reprinted from the blog Pulpit Ponderings

408475371f2248ee_castIt has been said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  We can all probably think of examples in our own lives and culture where this is true.  When we see a fashionable outfit or a hairstyle we think is particularly attractive or that communicates a message we want, we work to re-create it for ourselves.  Thinking back a decade or two, remember the ‘power tie’ for men or the ‘red power suit’ for women?  We saw those fashions on people we perceived as having power and influence, and we thought to ourselves, ‘If I just wear that, I can garner that kind of respect and power, too.”

We see this dynamic happening in the gospel today with James and John as they ask Jesus for coveted seats of power in glory, the seats at his immediate right and left hands.  If we can’t sit in the seat of power, we should sit right next to it.  Those sons of Zebedee know there is something special about Jesus, and they want to get some of it for themselves.  Even though they’ve been following Jesus around – they have been listening to his teaching, watching him heal people and cast out demons – and they do believe that he is the promised Messiah, they still think he’s going to be a military ruler. The kind of king who wields armies and fear.  And that power looks mighty appealing to these humble men, who have been fishermen and disciples of an itinerant teacher.  ‘Come on, Jesus, you’re going to kick this dusty road and sit in glory.  Just let us sit right next to you and share that glory.’

Jesus on the other hand, has no illusion about what the road to his ‘glory’ will be.  And he asks them, quite pointedly, if they really understand what they are asking for, “Do you really think you can drink from my cup, that you can be baptized with my baptism?” In their ignorance and arrogance, they say, “We are able.”  ‘I’ll take a sip of that cup of power.’

And their friends find out!  And those other ten guys, they are mad.  Mark doesn’t say why the other disciples are angry.  I wonder if it’s because they didn’t think to make this overt move to imitate Jesus’ perceived power themselves.  Nonetheless, Jesus calms the angry disciples.  The explanation Jesus gives completely debunks James’ and John’s assumptions about what his power really is.  Instead he talks about what power in the kingdom of God really looks like.

James and John, they think greatness comes from status, the kind of power over wielded by tyrants and oppressors.  In response, Jesus does what Jesus does all the time.  He turns power completely on its head and he says that power comes from serving other people.  Not from oppressing them with fear, but from serving them.  We will either willingly and joyfully serve others, or we will become enslaved to our illusions that we can be free and secure through status and power. In our culture, we might say through having a respectable job and the right friends.

Jesus asks, who will we serve?  Will we serve the voices of the culture that say that we can (and must) be free on our own and at any cost?  Or will we hear and heed the voice of Jesus?  Will we find our freedom and our true selves through serving our neighbor?

Why do we have a God who is always asking us to serve our neighbor?  Always pushing us to consider the needs of someone else before ourselves?  It goes very much against our culture, and even went against the culture of Jesus’ time, to put the needs of someone else before our own.

God delights in our relationships.  God delights in God’s relationship with us, and God delights in our relationships with other people.  Whether they are at home, at school or work, or with people, strangers in our community.  It is through our relationships with other people that we discover ourselves inextricably linked – “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – linked with those around us.  We cannot deny that when we open ourselves to know someone else, we are they and they are we.  There is some bit of us, some bit of God, reflected back in the face of the other.

Jesus’ description of his life as giving himself “as a ransom for many” reflects that same priority on loving the other before self.  Jesus does not buy us back from God or the devil, but instead pays himself out in order to rescue us from ourselves.  To rescue us from our delusion that we are somehow self-sufficient and independent, self-made men and women.  Perhaps in this world we can make that claim, but not in God’s.  From this point in Jesus’ story to the end, his whole life and death challenge our assumptions about power.  As we watch the story unfold, we learn that even as we give ourselves in service to others we find ourselves living more fully than ever before.

Our power derives from our imitation of Jesus’ service to us.  That power which is rooted in our status as beloved children of a merciful and gracious God. Being loved unconditionally by God, regardless of our power or position in this world, helps us all to realize that we are blessed.  We know that blessing first in our baptism, when we emerge from the water as Jesus did and we hear God say, This is my child, my beloved. We return that blessing to God, by returning our lives to God.  Our stewardship flows from this same font of blessing, blessing all others through serving them in God’s love.

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  Maybe in this world.  When it comes to God, I don’t think so.  God doesn’t ask for or need our flattery or kind intentions.  God asks for even more: God asks for our whole selves.  Our whole selves, given to God in imitation of what God gives to us:  his whole self.  God gives to us generously, completely, with no strings, no time limits, no expectations.  Whether we realize or reciprocate God’s love or not, God’s love is still there, as big and bold and available as ever. God gives to us with love, so that we can grow in that love.

In our imitation of our great God, we are asked to give of ourselves, of our time and our passions and our money, with love and generosity, without condition, without expectation of return, so that God’s love can continue to grow in us and in the world around us.  So that the kingdom of God can come near – to us and to everyone else who needs to hear that word of hope.  Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons, St. Stephan’s, Fairview

photo