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Sermon for September 26, 2010

Habits of Healthy Churches: Diversity

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us of these words: For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven (3:1). I think it should say, “For everything there is a nut, bolt, nail or screw, and a correct tool for every activity under heaven.” Do you know people like that -- people who have exactly what’s needed for any home repair job that needs to get done? I’m not like that. I’m the kind of person who grabs whatever is around and tries to make it work. I’ll bang wood screws into place with a hammer because I don’t feel like getting a screwdriver. I had a landlord who covered an unused stovepipe hole in the wall with a piece of copy paper. He painted over the paper to blend with the wall, and then rolled the stove in front of it so no one would know.

Then there are those people who do the job right. They have saved every nut, bolt, screw and washer they’ve ever met. Each fastener is sorted and categorized according to size, use, head shape, thread count, drive type, or diameter. Wood screws, machine screws and metal screws are all separated. Flat head screws are divided from round, oval, pan, hex, button or truss heads. Whatever you need for any job, they have it. They know where to find it, and they know how to use it.

The sorting system I grew up with was organized chaos. My father saved every piece of threaded metal he could find, but they were unsorted. If he wanted a certain bolt, he’d send me to dig around for it in a giant wooden box. I can still smell the rusting metal and grease as I imagine myself sorting through that old wooden container.

There is a different fastener and a different tool for every job. A wood screw just can’t do the job of a machine screw. So, in this case, we like diversity. Trying to get a good result with the wrong tool is frustrating. If you don’t believe me, just try putting IKEA furniture together with the wrong tools. All the parts work together to make a complete project. Skip one step, or use even one wrong-sized bolt, and you will pay with hours of mounting anger. The project may even become dangerous. We want diversity when all the parts create something like a loft bed or a table. We love diversity when it comes to grocery stores and TV programming, and vacation options and restaurant menus, and of course, financial investing.

Diversity is a fact of life. Diversity makes life interesting. If every house on the block looked the same, if every restaurant served the same food, if everyone talked in monotone at us for hours about things we already knew -- well, then life just wouldn’t have much life at all, would it? Diversity makes whole systems possible: You need diverse parts to make a bicycle. A box of handlebars won’t do the job. An ecosystem needs diverse species, making up complex food webs and cycles that keep the whole thing going. Our entire economic system with all its different jobs and products and services and forms of exchange is all totally dependent on diversity.

Diversity is key to resilience. If all our corn is identical genetically, and a powerful bug attacks it, the crop may all be killed off. If our corn is genetically diverse, then some of it will succumb and some will survive. If it’s not genetically modified, the survivors can reproduce, resulting in greater resistance to future attacks. If everyone depends on one mega-corporation for a monopolized product . . . If everyone uses the same operating system for their computers . . . If all the production facilities use the single most efficient form of production . . . If we all get our electricity from a single grid with no distributed local energy sources . . . we make ourselves vulnerable to the collapse of the single things we all depend on. This is what freaked people out about Y2K: that it would knock out some basic central systems, triggering a catastrophic domino effect. This is a nightmare for terrorist emergency response planners: that terrorists could knock out a vital link in some technological system that we all depend on, for which there is no good alternative. Alternatives, diversity -- even redundancy -- are keys to resilience.

Among us humans, diversity is a resource. In particular, we can tap our diverse strengths -- skills, aptitudes, forms of intelligence, experience -- in ways that make us much more powerful than we could ever be separately. This is a principle of modern social organization: Make a lot of diverse specialists, producers and consumers and then connect them up to exchange information, services and products.

In short, we need diversity. We thrive on diversity. We love diversity . . . except when it comes to life in church. We shy away from diversity when it comes to people. Some church growth experts will tell you if you really want to grow a church you’ve got to take into consideration what they call the “homogeneous unit principal.” It says that people like to be with people who are like them. Therefore, to grow your church, target people that are just like you. And build in a comfort zone in the church that will not be threatened by racial or cultural or socioeconomic diversity. We want people to look like us, think like us, believe like us, and behave like us.

Thinking about diversity brings up thorny issues. One is that too much diversity can be a bad thing – at least when it come to civic engagement. Robert Putnam , the social scientist of Bowling Alone fame, researched the effects of diversity on community life. As a self-professing liberal who favors diversity and multiculturalism, he came up with some surprising results. Putnam found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer. The greater the diversity in a community, the less people give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in settings where people are more alike. Levels of trust are not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group. “Diversity, at least in the short run,” he writes, “seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.”

On the other side of the issue, lack of diversity can lead to a pursuit of false purity. In an effort to stay the same and maintain traditions, groups tend to get rid of those who are different. Churches are notorious for this.

One can easily be snared by the trap of exclusion. In fact, think about the enormous number of words in the English language that we have to describe exclusion: omission, segregation, apartheid, banishment, deletion, deportation, discrimination, elimination, exemption, expulsion, expurgation, rejection, and removal. We can ban, bar, blackball, blacklist, boycott, delete, drop, disregard, eject, excommunicate, expel, forbid, isolate, omit, ostracize, overlook, prohibit, reject, segregate, separate, shun, and shut out.

How many words do we have to describe inclusion? If we are talking about the inclusion of people, we have only a handful of words: embody, embrace, encompass, incorporate, and involve. Why is this the case? One reason may be that exclusion is simple. Once we reject others, we don’t have to deal with them any more. No change. No hassle. No worries. Inclusion involves a great deal of thinking, and listening. Inclusion requires time and energy. Inclusion requires change.

Here at TCC, our statement of core values declares that we want to grow a church family that embraces diversity within a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. We desire to move beyond simple tolerance toward genuine understanding. We recognize that all people are free to make choices regarding their own personal and spiritual journeys. In short, commit ourselves to building a diverse, loving community of believers in Jesus Christ. We want diversity. Why? Because God wants diversity. Look at the creation out there. God has made petunias and porcupines. God has made mitochondria and mountains, rivers and rutabagas. God loves to display the diversity in creation.

The apostle Paul thinks that the church ought to reflect God’s unity and diversity, too. In today’s reading, he talks about different people using diverse gifts in order to share the faith. Some are apostles, while others are prophets. Some are the evangelists, while others are pastors or teachers. All work separately, and all work together to make Christ known. Health churches realize their diversity and find ways to use it to heir advantage. Healthy churches recognize that God gives different gifts to different people.
Some, a passion for peace;
Others, a passion for political freedom.
Some, a passion for life and its sacredness,
Others, a passion for forgiveness and mercy.
Some, a passion for a literal interpretation of the Bible,
Others, a passion for a more open interpretation of the Bible.
Some, a passion for evangelism,
Others, a passion for justice.
All of these people use their diversity to work for the common good. Each and every one of these people are inspired by the same Spirit, the Spirit who gives each of us a unique and different perspective.

How do we embrace diversity in ways that honor God and one another? I think it begins by finding unity in diversity. We look for common ground, universal threads that bring us together without demanding that we all be the same. When God embraces us, we must make space for others by inviting them in – even our enemies.

We were created to be a wondrously variegated church, a delightfully diverse community, a people of differences and of relationship. Look around at who the Spirit has brought here.
It’s pretty incredible. Go forth and discover more of those marvelous differences. And may just a little of God’s own Spirit be in each one of our relationships with each other.

God: Mother and Father; Savior and Friend; Unity and Trinity; Lover and Judge; Wind and Whisper; Liberator and Captivator; Lamb and Lion; Suffering Servant and Almighty, enable us, to celebrate our oneness in you and the shared inheritance of your world. Prosper our work as we seek to build bridges of love, understanding and cooperation, that, transformed and renewed by your Holy Spirit, we will be no longer strangers to one another. Together, as diverse members of your world, we always give you glory. Amen.

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