HEBREW BIBLE LESSON: Psalm 36:5-10
EPISTLE LESSON I Corinthians 12:1-11
SERMON: “Weird People Everywhere”
A member of the British Parliament appeared one day at the Gates of Heaven and demanded entry. "Sorry, sir," said the Admitting Angel, "but sexism is a sin, and our records show you to be a Male Chauvinist Pig. There is no room for you here."
"Humph," said the MP, "I suppose you got that nonsense from Maggie Thatcher! I see her over there, gloating at me."
"More bad news, I'm afraid," said the Angel. "That's not Mrs. Thatcher. That's God." (1)
Men prejudiced against women; women prejudiced against men. Christians prejudiced against Jews. Jews prejudiced against Christians. White folks prejudiced against black. Black folks prejudiced against white. One of the great challenges facing our society today is that of diversity. Why in the world did God create so many Weird People? According to the title of one book, MEN ARE FROM MARS AND WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS.
You'll always find exceptions to the rule, but research and experience consistently point to basic differences between the way men and women act, think, and feel. For example, men generally base their self-esteem on achievement. They are more competitive and aggressive than women. Women generally base their self-esteem on relationships. They tend to relate to other people on a more personal level. A University of Pennsylvania study conducted by brain researcher Ruben Gur demonstrated that women were better able to read emotion in facial expressions than men. And a survey conducted by GLAMOUR magazine showed that 60 percent of conversations between women are on emotional or personal topics, compared with 27 percent of similar conversations between men. (3) Men and women see the world through different eyes.
But that's just one kind of diversity. We are different in many ways. They say even the order of our birth can help determine our brand of weirdness. First-borns, middle children and youngest children tend to have certain characteristics, but then you gather a group of “baby of the family” folk and discover that they aren’t all that much alike.
Various researchers have found a tendency for first-borns to choose studies such as mathematics, engineering, physics, architecture, and chemistry, and yet in my family of origin, it is the middle child who pursued a Ph.D. in mathematics and ended up working with computer programs for a company that does scientific applications contract work with the military.
Later-born men and women make up the majority of those practicing the creative arts. One study found, for example, that writers tend to come from the ranks of later-borns. But my oldest sister is the only one of us who has a published book. (available on Amazon.com)1
So we are different by gender, birth order, skin color, ethnic heritage, life experience.
When I was a psychology major at Kalamazoo College, I became convinced that it was “nurture over nature,” when it came to how children grow up and their personalities develop. For the most part I raised my two children with as much of the same values and experiences as possible. But they are not biologically related to me or to each other, and they are as different as night and day. When Paul reconnected with his birth family about 20 years ago, we all learned the role genetics plays in personality.
We are a wonderfully diverse people. Men, women, oldest child, only child, baby of the family, short people, tall people, skinny people, large people, black people, yellow people, brown people, white people. People who take pride in their descent from a particular ethnic group " Italian, Greek, Hispanic " and people who take pride in their particular area of the country " Boston, L.A., Charleston, Dallas. What a diversity of people.
The Declaration of Independence asserts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I won’t dispute that God’s will for every human being includes abundant life, liberty and happiness. But really? All men created equal. Then why aren’t we all NBA MVP’s like Michael Jordan? He made the big bucks precisely because of his differences from you and me.
EVEN IN THE CHURCH WE ARE DIVERSE. Especially in the church we are diverse. St. Paul talks about spiritual gifts. To one is given the utterance of wisdom, says Paul, to another the utterance of knowledge. To another is given the Spirit of faith, to another gifts of healing. To another is given the working of miracles, to another prophecy, etc. Paul seems to be saying that the same diversity we confront in the world is also found in the church.
Have you noticed that not all of us in this church have the same tastes? Some people are comforted by the old hymns. Inwardly they groan when we ask them to learn something new. Others are tired of the old hymns; they want something new as often as possible. For some, singing is the high point of the service;
others wouldn't mind if we dispensed with the music altogether.
Years ago I was fortunate to participate in a three-year program in the Presbytery of Lincoln Trails. At one of our biannual gatherings the presenter was Jay Hudson – something of an expert on the generations (another huge difference between folk!). Talking about music in worship he posed the question “How many of you get in your car and tune the radio station to something that will play organ music?” His intention was to indicate that pretty much none of us would, and yet I thought, “I would.” I love great organ music. Then he played a CD with some contemporary music – not the gentle stuff we do here! I’m talking hard rock and more. While I didn’t come away convinced that I wanted that type of music in worship, I did get it, that if my kids hate my music as much as I hate theirs – now wonder they don’t come to the traditional worship that appeals to so many of us. We all have different tastes.
We come from a wide variety of backgrounds and that affects our relationship to the church.
Did you know that men and women may hear the Gospel through two different sets of ears? Here we can be guilty of over-generalizing, but think with me for a moment. If the experts are right and men think competitively, whereas women think more in terms of relationships, what does that say about the life of the church? Might it be that men respond more positively to a word of challenge, to the setting of goals, to building a bigger and better church, while women might be more concerned with improving the life of the church we already have? Women might be more concerned about creating community than setting goals or accepting challenges. Each of us listens to the Gospel through a unique set of ears.
Some people have heard enough fire and brimstone preaching that as soon as they hear about the sheep welcomed into the kingdom and the goats being cast out, they react with indignation anger and rejection. Others hear that passage as a reminder that it’s not just about what we say (not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom), but a reminder that whatever we do, good or bad, help or harm, we do to Jesus, for the Spirit lives in each of us. So, if nothing else moves us, then our love and respect for the God who created us and gives us life through his son will direct us at least “to do no harm.”
Did you know that left-brained people hear the Gospel differently from right-brained people? The way we think may be determined by which side of our brain is dominant, scientists tell us. Left brain dominant people tend to be more literal, more fact-oriented, more opinionated, more verbal, whereas right-brained people tend to be more creative, more emotional, more visual. The left-brain person wants the sermon to be doctrinally sound. He or she wants the pastor to get all the facts right. The right brained person wants to feel better when the pastor gets done talking.
Those things may not be that important to the right-brained person. The right-brained person wants the pastor to tell some good stories, insert some humor, be warm and accepting. Did you know
we have both kinds of persons in this church? Silly question.
Many of you know that one of the questions I asked PNC co-chair Dan Hula in the interview process was “Where is this church theologically and politically?” His answer: “All over the map.” When the session met with Rev. Rachel before I went on sabbatical, she asked me what my hopes and expectations were for her during those three months. My answer: “Rachel, pasturing this church is like trying to herd cats. If you can just hold these cats together until I get back, I’ll be happy.
People brought up in a rural environment look for different things in a church than do people brought up in an urban environment. People who were brought up very strictly look for different things than people who were raised permissively. Younger folks have a different agenda than do those late in years. We are an amazingly diverse group! But here is what we need to see.
SINCE GOD MADE US ALL THIS WAY, A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF DIVERSITY HAS TO BE GOOD. What a dreary and dull world this would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, had the same perspective on life. If God had not wanted us to be diverse, God would have stopped with Adam. Adam could have been God's friend and God could have made Adam eternal. But it's evident that God wanted richness in His world. God wanted a multitude of persons and God wanted every person who came into the world to have his or her own unique place. Think of it, if that was God's purpose, then there would have to be an enormous amount of diversity so that each of us could be a unique and precious individual.
What St. Paul is urging these diverse members of the church at Corinth to do is to respect one another's differences and to understand that each of us has a place in God's family. And I believe that is God's message to us. I am not exactly like you, but I am a unique and precious person in the eyes of God. And so are you, and so is everyone in this room, and so is everyone in this world.
We’re about to inaugurate President Obama for a second term. Some of you think Obama is the best president since FDR, or maybe since Lincoln. Others of you weren’t all that crazy about FDR and as far as you are concerned Obama is the anti-Christ. Whichever side of that conversation you take, what we all need to remember is that God chose to make us male and female, right-brained and left, short and tall, oldest child and youngest, rural and urban, liberal and conservative, brown and white and black and yellow, speaking different languages and coming from different backgrounds. This was God's plan for reasons only God can know. And, if it is God's plan, it must be good. It must be beautiful. We can only live and work and have our being in God’s plan.
That is what God wants from each of us. To love God as God loves us and to love one another. We are a diverse people. That is the way God created us. Let's honor that diversity and pledge to respect one another as members of the family of God.