Mind the Gap - thrive UMC Official Blog

Mind the Gap

Right after graduating from college, I took a trip to England.  It was the first time I had been abroad, and the first time I had ever flown on an airplane.  As it turned out, I also ended up getting a nasty sinus infection on the airplane on the way there, so I was down with a fever for all but three of the days I was there.  But just before it was time to go back to the U.S., I was well enough to finally visit London! That is what I had travelled all the way across the ocean to see. And once I finally got there, it was great time. I saw a cool play, ate some great food, and took in a lot of sights I had only seen on T.V. and in movies; but as I walked around for a while, what struck me the most was that I kept seeing this same phrase on a logo, popping up in disparate, random places. There were signs, and t-shirts in tourist shops and even graffiti that all said the same thing. They seemed to be everywhere.

It was like some kind of secret mantra repeated around London that I was somehow missing out on.  “Mind the gap” they all said.  And having just recently graduated from Simpson College, with a degree in religion and philosophy, I was certain these words must have had some sort of deep and telling significance for the entire state of British consciousness.

        Surely, I thought, this must be a kind of coded reference to the class gap between the rich and the poor, or maybe between ethnic groups as diverse populations migrate to the great cities of the world. Or maybe it referred to the insurmountable, existential divide between any two persons, given that we can never fully see the hidden content of any other mind.  Or maybe –just maybe the phrase had spiritual, theological insinuations: perhaps it was talking about the gap between who we are and how we live our day-to-day as opposed to the kind of life God had always intended us to live.

Mind the gap.

Every time I saw it repeated in a new place, the mystery and intrigue seemed to grow and grow in my imagination.  Seeing the t-shirts in store windows, I suddenly wanted one to bring back to Iowa as a kind of sophisticated, in-the-know souvenir. Except, of course, I didn’t know. “Mind the gap.”  ‘Yes, of course, I most certainly will –but which gap?’  It was a puzzle I couldn’t wait to solve.

Some of you out there might already know what I, back then, did not.  So you can already imagine my surprise and profound disappointment when I descended the stairs to what we would call the London Subway –which they call “the Underground” to see the words in their original setting.  There, right along the edge of the platform where stationary ground and train meet, were the words texted in tile: mind the gap.

In other words, don’t get your foot caught in the crack as you step onto the train.  If the same sentiment were translated into American English, it would simply say: “Watch your Step.”

How strange and depressing it was for me to learn that words I had ascribed as being a kind of cosmic insight into an unnamed, eternal-but-imminent truth, were nothing more than precautionary words for walking.  Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying the t-shirt.

But against my salivating sense of betrayal, those mundane words ended up sticking with me nonetheless.  Now and again through the interceding years, I’d find myself in circumstances of misaligned wills and all of a sudden a Jiminy-cricket-esque voice would chirp unprompted into my ear: ‘mind the gap.’

When I was in seminary, and found myself confronted with views and opinions that seemed violently opposed to my own, I’d suddenly catch myself recalling those strange red-and-blue signs I had seen in London: mind the gap.

When I’ve experienced conflict of varying forms in the church, again: mind the gap.

I wish I would have been familiar with such an expression when a girl I briefly dated in college brought up marriage the very first week.  At the time I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe my sudden urge to run far, far away –but somehow that British platform-proverb seemed to describe it all perfectly.  There was a gap between us, an empty space that needed to be crossed, way before anyone will be ready to disembark for marriage-station. There were things we didn’t know about one another, which we needed to pay attention to and to explore, in order for our relationship to grow.  So, hey, maybe we should at least talk about hobbies first.  What do all of you think?

Mind     the     gap.

You could call this a kind of worldly form of advice, but we can see it played out over and over in the scriptures.  For the new series we’re beginning today, we’ll be following along with the short letter of Ephesians in the New Testament.  It was written by the Apostle Paul, or at the very least one of his followers, to a very important Greek-speaking community in what is now modern-day Turkey.  And in this letter, we can see Paul bring people –across a tremendous cultural, geographic, linguistic, and religious divide- into unity. And he’s doing this without violence!  As far as I know, nothing like this had ever been done before in human history.  This is a radical, relational revolution.  Essentially, he is calling people to be adopted by the Jewish God, who are not themselves Jewish.  They don’t speak Hebrew, or even Aramaic.  They don’t know the Bible or all of the commandments.  They don’t practice the Jewish rituals, worship at the temple in Jerusalem, and they’re not circumcised!

It says this:…

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.  

“At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God.  You used to live like people of this world.  You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power,” says Paul.  And then he goes on: “But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group.”

What?

Let me just repeat that one sentence again, because I didn’t see any heads explode, and it’s definitely one of those ‘ruin your neighbor’s blouse with brain-matter’ kind of lines.  It says “[The Christ] made both Jews and Gentiles into one group.”

Now, maybe you don’t understand the gap here, between Jews and Gentiles.  You see: Jewish people, in Paul’s day, were people who worshipped the One God.  They read the Bible and prayed together. They had a huge, long list of commandments that instructed them regarding how to live.  They offered sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.  They had special religious holidays that they celebrated together at certain times.  They were a big, particular, tribal family.  They spoke Aramaic, or Hebrew.  They had dress codes and style-cues to let people know they were Jewish.  The males all had a particular –ahem- intimate surgery.  Why did they do all of those things?  Because that’s what made a Jewish person Jewish: blood, Bible, worship, ethics, language, customs, culture, values, and religion. In short, it influenced and affected every single aspect of their lives.  Being Jewish was about how they lived and were.

Do we have at least a vague idea of what I’m talking about here, when I speak of Jewish people?  Okay, now the term ‘Gentiles’ was a category used to describe, and I’m not kidding you –literally everyone else. When you hear the term ‘gentile’ used in the Bible, translate that into “not Jewish.”  They’re the people who are not in, who don’t belong.

And Paul says: ‘Jewish people and gentiles: one group.’

Imagine, okay, that someone comes along one day, and stands in a place similar to my own –but not me- because I like my job.  But imagine someone else who is definitely not me is up here, who makes the announcement: “Republicans and Democrats are now the same group.”  Or Millennials and Baby Boomers are now the same group.  Or Christians, and literally everyone else are now the same group.

You would immediately get out your pocket dictionaries, or your smart phone (depending on whether you’re a Millennial or Baby Boomer) and try to teach that fool some vocabulary, wouldn’t you?  Because, by their very definitions, those two groups cannot cohabitate.  To be a Gentile explicitly means not being Jewish!  I.e., not the same!  Just like you can’t have a group of pork-hotdog-eating vegans.  It’s self-negating. In the same way, being Republican means not being a Democrat; being a Christian means not being a heathen!  Right?

Because they’re undeniably different.  You can’t say they’re the same, because they’re not. There are differences in practice and in belief and in identity between the two distinct groups.  And those differences matter.  You can’t just pretend them away, or ignore them, because they affect how they share, and relate to, one another.

This matters urgently for us here, because thrive and Valley churches are entering into a partnership together.  And I am well aware of the fact that at least some people are hoping that we’ll become one.  Which, by the way, that’s precisely the language Paul uses here in the original Greek.  Here he isn’t speaking in terms of groups, but he’s doing a kind of math.  And he’s saying the two distinct parties have literally become one.  And some of you sitting here, thinking about the two churches; you hear that and think: ‘yes!  Let’s do that!’

And meanwhile, others of you are perhaps getting a little nervous wondering what would that look like.  Because of course there are a number of ways of becoming one, aren’t there?

            We could try to get them to be more like us; they might try to get us to be like them. Or we can try and come up with some kind of careful compromise.

 

Before we can even prepare to build relationships with those on the other side of our own boundaries, we must first be aware of, and honor, the fact that there is a distance that intercedes between us. First we must mind the gap.  We are each different, and if we ever hope to be together, we have to somehow accommodate our differences.

Paul himself was well aware of all of this.  He was, by all metrics of measurement, a Jewish person, and not a gentile.  But he left the safe, familiar Jewish spaces to be with the Gentiles.  He moved to them and lived among them.  Indeed, that’s what it means to be an apostle: it means to be one sent out.

Several years ago, the United Methodist Church came out with a marketing campaign that said: “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds” but that only communicates that the Church is hungry.  It communicates the vain hope that people will come inside and be changed; and it fails to aspire to our apostolic mission to ‘go out.’

Now look again, if you dare, at the unity, at the oneness Paul speaks of here in our passage from Ephesians.  Notice: neither did the Jews become Gentiles, and the Gentiles did not become Jews.  But, says Paul, “With one body, [Christ] broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.  He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace.  He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended hostility to God.”

Did you catch that?  Here Paul is telling his Gentile listeners that they don’t have to learn or submit to the Jewish Law!  Christ himself has, and I quote, “cancelled the rules of the law” so that they  -the gentiles- could be in! By descending from heaven –by traversing the gap between heaven and earth- Christ shows us how to make for the profound kind of peace which leads to unity: it’s by courageously and compassionately moving across the boundaries that separate us.  Only by moving from where we are out to the people who need God’s good news, can unity become possible.  Christ bridges the gap, and it’s the call of the disciples to follow that holy example.

And listen to this!  Then Paul says “When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near.  We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens.  Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household.”

            So how did Jews and gentiles attain oneness? Through the One God they share. How did both Jews and Gentiles gain access to this One God?  Because Christ traversed the gaps and dwelled among them. That’s the example we have.  Christ didn’t ask them to make the leap and conform first.  Instead, the work of unity happened when Christ, who knew the gap, did the work of crossing over, to set an example.

Remember, brothers and sisters, our call as disciples of Jesus Christ is to follow.  So it is our responsibility to take the scary leap of faith to go and meet the other where they are, so that there can be peace and unity in our divided world. If there’s change that needs to happen, we have to be ready to model a flexible posture of adaptability.  And don’t forget: it actually says that Christ cancelled the details of the Law so that we could be together. So that new people could enjoy a powerful connection with God. That says something profound about Christ’s heart, doesn’t it?  It says that being together matters more than the traditions we’ve built.  Because, says Paul, “Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.”  You are the station and the venue of God’s good news.  You, together!  The primary work of God isn’t activity planning, or institutional incorporation, or a particular style of worship –it’s people-building.  For we are God’s temple –the living and breathing and moving Body of Christ. And that work has already been done.

Very quickly before we close today, I know some of you maybe a bit anxious about what’s ahead.  It isn’t entirely clear what this new partnership will look like, on every point (and what this weird new pastor mean for all of you).  And many of you may have questions about what our time together will become in the days and months ahead.  For that, I have this encouragement to share with all of you: you are not alone.  I have questions too –things many of you might be able to help me with.  So for the moment my first plans involve getting to know you, and listening to you to see where you sense God leading you.   But most importantly, God is here, moving and working in and with and through us.

God is steadfast, doing what God does: God continues to be present and to create. God is here, building something new, in us. God is not finished with us.  We are a work in progress –a creation becoming.

May we mind the gap to witness God at work in our lives together –creating a new way forward.  May we be open to that witness, and ready to follow.

Let’s pray.

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