As a society and community, we are very prone to spend a lot our energy focusing on our differences. We have legitimate differences. But too often our differences become walls of separation. We can spend, or in many cases, waste, our lifetime building up the tension between ourselves and others.
We all face the temptation to insulate ourselves from the realities around us. We pour our foundations in our own ideological concrete. We build walls with the lumber of such realities as gender, race, economic class, religious affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, chemical dependence and criminal justice. As we insulate ourselves from these realities we bring further alienation and lack of understanding between God's people.
If our loving and gracious God is confined to our personal comfort zones, then we are doing a great injustice to our inclusive Lord. What a friend we have in Jesus is a song for all people.
Jesus himself suffered inside the walls of religious and political injustice. He was crucified outside the wall of civility and propriety. He rose again to break down the walls the separate people from God and from one another.
God's unconditional love invites us to rid ourselves of conclusions, such as these: some are worthy and deserving of God's love, while others are not; some people are fully, totally, and completely acceptable before God, while others are not; some can fully participate in worship and service of God, while others can not. Ephesians 2: 8 puts in perspective our shared source of hope, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."
God opens to all people a future that is full of life, possibility and hope. We can all play an important part in being healing agents in our community and society. Our respect for diversity enhances our living and growing.
The opportunities for us to be healing agents are tremendous. For example, 30,000 people enter our Alaska criminal justice system every year. If you take into account the family and friends, we suddenly realize that one-sixth of our state population is directly impacted every year. These are, of course, the victims of crime and abuse and their family and friends. We can add to that the many people who live with mental illness and other brain disorders such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and their families and friends. In addition, substance abuse plays a tremendous role in the pain experienced by the users and their families in our state. We may be living with different realities, but it quickly becomes obvious that many of us are in need of love and understanding. The reality is that no one in our state can categorically say that they are excluded from the possibility of such painful realities.
What a blessing that God-given sensibility, understanding and love can be a resource in each and every scenario of life. God's generous inclusivity gathers up the pieces of life rather than destroys us in our puzzling realities. When we eliminate people from our arena of concern, we perpetuate divisions that diminish us all.
God invites us to involve ourselves in hearing, telling and enacting, peace, justice, and liberation. God engages us in life giving and encircles us with love.
May the walls we are so tempted to build between us and others crumble as we are brought into God's way of love. John 3:16 reminds us that God's love is for everyone, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
Larry Rorem is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
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