Talking about Tolerance
Eph 4:1-16 Jn 17:20-23
What we are doing, meeting here today as Christians, actually has a counter cultural element to it. The reading today tells us that as believers we are in this together, we are a community, we are one body united in service of God. We are called by God to come together as church. We have a mission and a purpose.
Our modern Western culture prises the individual, the pinnacle of achievement in our society is to have the freedom to be who you want to be, when you want to be it. To be independently made, not to need or rely on others, to be a self-made person. As the song celebrates, I did it my way…
However an individualistic focus is also isolating. We become detached from others who can support, guide and help us. If we think we can do everything on our own, we miss opportunities to learn from one another.
If we don’t think we need help from other people, why would we think we need help from God.
We may be one, but as U2 sang, we are not the same, we have differences of opinion, perspective, different ways of doing things and different expectations. So how can we be united?
Through love, love brings us together and keeps us together: Love is shown by us, and in our church by our being humble, being gentle and being patient, by our being tolerant. Sometimes it is worth stepping back from situations and asking ourselves, are we being loving, are we being humble, are we being gentle and patient. It is not easy, if it was easy we wouldn’t need God’s help.
Question? What would you like others to be tolerant of with you, and what do you need to be tolerant about with others? When does Church help you be tolerant and when can it lead to intolerance?
Ephesians tells us both that Jesus came down to Earth and returned to heaven, in doing so he gave gifts to people, not only that but that each one of us has received a special gift.
Now some of these gifts are specified:- apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We shouldn’t view this as an exclusive list however, but more of a summary of some of the gifts.
Ministry is about giving back, there is a cost involved – we plant a seed and it seems to die but something bigger and better grows as a result. The same is true of us, each of us have a ministry, each of us have a purpose, be it as a teacher, an apostle, evangelist, pastor, or prophet
But whatever our particular gift, whatever our particular ministry, we have an overall goal of raising up others to take our place. We are not to be a people who jealously guard our position from others who might take our spotlight. Quite the opposite, we are to be a people who actively seek to grow others to outshine our own ministry.
To do this is not easy, especially not if we take pride in our own position, authority or place in life.
Jean Donovan was leading the good life, a masters in economics and an executive post in Arthur Anderson & son, meant that her only worries were those common to many young urban professionals – insecurities about her weight, her looks, and if she would ever marry and have children. But there was an emptiness in the centre of Jean Donovan’s young life. “Don’t laugh too loud,” she told her friend who was a priest. “I’ve come to talk to you because I think I have to change my life.”, the priest told her: “You’ve got everything. You should think about giving a little back to God.” With a gut feeling that her motivation was to be a missionary she enrolled in a program for lay people.
In 1979, despite the objections of her family and friends she went to work with the poor of El Salvador. Even as she left, she was consumed by self-doubts. “Why would God want me?” she asked in a letter to a friend. “I’m so inadequate and no good.”
But when asked to come back home due to an escalation in government violence towards the church she had this to say.
“Several times, I have decided to leave El Salvador,” was her reply. “I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favour the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friends. Not mine.”
The key thing I want to draw out of her story for today, and there is a lot more in her story that I would encourage you to explore, is the comment: you’ve got everything; you should think about giving something back to God.
What motivates you about God? Where do your gifts lie? - Ephesians tells us that we are one, we are a team. Being an effective team relies on knowing your skills and giftings in relation to the other members of the team.
To use a football analogy, it doesn’t help the team if you are in the wrong position, for example if you are a forward being made to play as a goalie. Knowing what you are good at is imperative if you are to make a strong contribution to the team. But at the same time being part of a team requires you to prepared to step up and do those jobs if the situation requires it.
Doing what your good at will benefit those around you, having a go at something you don’t think you are good at will directly benefit you in expanding your own awareness and ability, and you may just stumble upon a hidden talent.
Question? So for my second question I would like you to think about what motivates you in your faith? What are your giftings? I would like you to talk to the person next to you about what you are good at what you enjoy, then let them give you their perspective on what they think your gifts and calling may be.
Towards the end of the Ephesians reading we find an interesting nugget. After explaining at length that we must be loving, humble kind and tolerant we get the poke in the eye that is ‘speaking the truth in love’
This is a key aspect that makes Christian community distinctive, it is not just a warm reassuring huddle, it is also a place where we are honest with each other, where we challenge each other.
This is true Christian maturity, to be humble, loving, gentle and patient, but in the midst of that to be able to present a challenge to situations where loving truth is needed.
The reason this is a mature task is because it is not easy to be truthful and loving at the same time, it takes a lot of balancing to avoid falling into critical judgement. Key to retaining a loving aspect to truth is the honest recognition of our own failings, of being humble enough about our misdeed and appreciative enough about the forgiveness we have received, that we do not want to condemn others for their failings, but extend them the same compassion and forgiveness that we have recieved.
We are usually very good at subconsciously spotting our own sins in others, which is why it is so important not to judge but speak with love if we are going to be truthful.
So for my last question I want to ask you to think of where this might apply to a situation. For example, if someone was truthful but unkind, a situation where you thought you were helping someone but it was not received well. Try and explain the situation, and then consider how, what you have heard today might provide a different perspective on the way the situation could have been handled. What could have been said or done differently?
The questions are:
What do you want others to be tolerant of, what should you be more tolerant of?
Think about what do you enjoy doing, what might your gifts and calling be?
Thinking of a situation where someone thought they were helping someone but it was not well received and caused hurt, what could have been said or done differently?