Across the Pastor’s Desk: Inclusion makes community strong

Published 9:02 am Friday, January 20, 2017

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh

Todd Walsh is pastor at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community.

The Bible is filled with many themes.

Todd Walsh

Todd Walsh

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Some of them are familiar and easy to spot. Others are obscure and hard to fathom.  Some are comforting. Some are not. All of them speak of God’s guiding hand in our lives.

On this day, allow me to lift up one of those themes. 

“We are in this together.” 

That phrase may not be very profound, but it makes the point. We are in this together.

Consider the first chapter of the Bible. It makes sense that this chapter is the first. It is about beginnings. It is about creation, but the subject of the following chapters is not just creation. It is about people. It is about us. Genesis 1 sets before us the harmony between God, creation and humanity.  Unfortunately, that harmony goes south a couple chapters later. The rest of the Bible is filled with the story of God bringing us back together.

Genesis 1 sets up a community of relationships where life is precious and everyone has a place. The 613 commandments of the Hebrew Bible have a purpose in this light. One could call them a guide for protecting both the community and the individual. Those commandments also make it clear that one of the individuals of community is God.

Many have called Deuteronomy 6.4 the core of the Old Testament. 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” 

The oneness of God is supposed to be reflected in the oneness of humanity. We all know humanity is not good at that one, so God gave commandments that speak of caring for the most vulnerable, “the alien, the orphan and the widow.”

Unfortunately, we also know the Bible contains passages that contradict the theme of humanity living together in community with God. There are passages about driving out of the promised land anyone who is not an Israelite — a misguided quest for godly purity falsely justified bloodshed on Earth.

We know the Israelites did not succeed in their ethnic cleansing of the promised land. They drove some out of the land they wanted, lived with others and remained in conflict with still others. They fought among themselves, targeted and were targeted by others in local wars, and were finally consumed by regional wars and themselves the victims of vicious ethnic cleansing.

The prophet Isaiah rightly named the needed correction then and now:  “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2.4).

What is significant is that the prophets of Israel never condemn Israel for failing in the command to ethnically cleanse the promised land. The chief complaint of the prophets God sent to the Israelites is that they have failed to care for “the alien, the orphan and the widow.” Community turned against any individual fails; the inclusion of all makes community strong.

Enter into the story the one named Jesus. He does not defend the ruling class or elites of his day.  He condemns them:  “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11.17).

Jesus returns to that Genesis theme of God’s people living together as one. Notice also his recognition of the diversity of cultures with the use of the word nations.

Jesus also returns to the Genesis theme of the community being whole and healthy when it cares for all, especially the vulnerable. Jesus’ ministry is a travelogue of restoring the lives of those marginalized by society. He lives among the ordinary people of his nation, Galilee. He has no hesitation going to and ministering to foreigners. When the community gives up on someone, Jesus moves in to restore both individual and community. Jesus acts on the belief that the community falls short until all are valued.

Twenty years later, a follower of Jesus pens words that echo the Hebrew Bible’s goal to protect God’s people, both as individuals and as a whole community. 

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12.26). 

Paul knows his past life as a Pharisee and his Hebrew Bible. He also knows and lives the new life of Jesus Christ.

Now we move ahead two thousand years. This week began with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Some have called MLK a 20th century prophet. His word fit his times, times past and our times today. Allow me to share some of them on the theme I have set before you.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Finally, consider the words that appear on some of our coins and the great seal of the United States.  E pluribus unum — out of many, one.

If we believe community falls short unless all are valued, then your participation is vital to the community — this community, this nation and this world. We are all in this together.