[This post is part of an Easter series: President [fill in the blank] and King Jesus.]
Last year, I studied with a cohort made up of the most blessedly bizarre group of people I've ever been a part of. There were about twenty of us, and we came from different places (of the five people in my mentoring group, we were from four different countries), different races, and different traditions of Christianity. We were studying spiritual direction together, so our central question and task for the year was to consider how we could each be more attentive to God's work in our own lives, so that we can become able to accompany others in doing the same. Somehow–from the first time we got together–our focus on that question immediately gave us a sense of being past all of the reasons we typically would have had to be hesitant about one another, or to subconsciously assume ourselves to in some way be better than the ones different from "us".
This felt so blessedly bizarre because I grew up with something of a fear of Christians of traditions other than my own. There was definitely a range involved: some other kinds of Christianity were okay, just not quite as right as my own, while there were other groups who–not only were they not as right as we were, but–were dangerous to us because they believed and did so many misguided things. As a kid, I remember hearing the phrase about another group of Christians in my town, “I wouldn’t touch what they’re doing with a ten-foot pole.” The fear of them set in for years. Later, as an adult, I've come to know, love, and be inspired by numerous people in that very group. No ten-foot poles are needed among the residents of Christ's kingdom.
We live afraid of each other, and therefore we develop caricatures of one another. Sometimes that's true of groups close to home (such as another congregation down the street within the same denomination) and sometimes it gets directed toward groups a bit farther from us on the Christian spectrum. Since I was (and still am) a Protestant, one of the major groups to whom that fear was directed was Catholics. I lived with all kinds of mental distortions about what they believe and do.
The problem with those assumptions, distortions, and caricatures is that they can hold up well enough for a long time. They may come into question, though, when we’re given the opportunity to sit down with someone from one of the feared groups. If we listen to them, it may very well become apparent that the King Jesus who has gotten a hold of you is the same one who has gotten a hold of them. It may even become apparent that this member of a group we’ve feared for our entire lives might actually have a deeper love for Christ and his people than we do. When that happens, the distinctions we’ve lived with for so long can finally fade away.
That doesn’t happen easily, because the distinctions are so deeply ingrained in us. So, as hard as they are for many of us to get beyond, I can’t imagine what it was like for Peter (and, later, the other early Christians), when they realized the way that their King Jesus was taking hold of people who weren’t Jewish. The early followers of Christ were wrestling with this in the passage from Acts for this week. Peter had his vision of unclean foods which he had never dared to eat being declared clean, and then immediately three non-Jews (i.e. unclean people) came looking for Peter and God told him to go with them “and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
Yet so much of Peter’s life and faith was built on those distinctions! How could he–and how can you and I–“not make a distinction between them and us”? Things like this can only happen within the reign of our still embodied, living, and reigning though unseen King.
“…'the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning'….When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has even given to [them] the repentance that leads to life.’”
Whatever our borders are, one of the important, humbling, and mind-blowing lessons of life in Christ’s kingdom is that his reign goes beyond them. Christ is reigning in other groups of Christians in your city and mine. Christ is reigning in people from other cultures–whether down your street or across the world. And, as hard as it might seem to believe, Christ is even reigning in the lives of people supporting whichever political candidate you and I can’t stand.
Perhaps, then, our prayer for the week could be: “God. open our eyes to see how your Holy Spirit has fallen upon them, just as it has on us.”