They are small but can make a big impact. They have few words yet speak volumes. They are often right in front of us yet overlooked or ignored. They can inspire us, fill us with good vibes and warm fuzzies, and at times, cause us to roll our eyes in disgust or snap with anger.
I am talking of course about bumper stickers. Bumper stickers. Those annoying but sometimes fun or even perceptive messages stuck to the back of cars, trucks, campers, RVs, compact, and hybrid models of just about anything.
In the year 2000, Jewish graphic poster designer, (Pee-yut Mo-do-zen-etz) Piotr Mlodozeniec created what has become one of the most popular bumper stickers and one of the most challenging when it comes to theology. “Coexist”
Mlodozeniec (mo-do-zen-etz) created this design in response to a contest hosted by the Museum of the Seam, a contemporary art museum in Jerusalem, dedicated to peace and reconciliation. His design didn’t win first place in the contest but it did become part of a 20-poster touring exhibition and was the standout entry in Jerusalem and around the world. He had no idea it would become a viral symbol. It was symply his artistic expression of peace among the three major world religions: Islam. Judaism. Christianity.
Since then, the original design has been adjusted, revamped, and redone giving us today’s version. The current design incorporates the original three symbols, as well as the symbols representing peace, gender equality, paganism, and the philosophical symbol of Taoism.
Before we go any farther, let me interject and make it very clear: I am not using this bumper sticker as a political statement. I am not using it to disrupt, upset, or usurp our basic Christian beliefs at Grace Church. And I am not using it to cause a debate of what is true, right, and good. I am using it to make a point and to direct our attention to a bigger picture. A bigger picture of humanity and our place in it. A bigger picture, I believe Paul helps us understand in his letter to the Galatians.
God designed the church. Through the example and teaching of Jesus and empowered it with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That is the heart of Paul’s message and mission - to be what Scot McKnight calls, “a fellowship of difference and differents.” If we are to be a fellowship of difference and differents; if the church is to be a place to coexist, we should see different kinds of people, different socioeconomic groups, different races, cultures, music, artistic styles, different ages, forms of communication, moral histories, and marital statuses. Do we?
If the church is a place of difference / differents, a place to coexist, we should understand the Christian life and fellowship as a social revolution, as life together, as transcending difference, as honoring differences, enjoying difference, and as the ultimate expression of love, justice, and reconciliation. Do we?
My answer is yes (pause) and no. Yes. Grace church involves a lot of people, men and women with different backgrounds, interests, music and artistic style. Yes we see different forms of worship, communication, experiences, and ages. Yes we do a lot in our community.
AND no. We are not a complete salad. We can do better. I believe we need to do better. There are people within our walls and outside our walls who need us to do better. Your own responses from a survey a few years ago, asking the question, “who are you Grace church?” speaks to the kind of church we are and can be. A welcome church. An encouraging church. A church that values everyone. A church that builds community. If any church can coexist or be a fellowship of differents, Grace can do it. I truly believe that. With all the divisions in our world. With so many people, groups, and causes, fracturing around us. With mainline denominations dwindling and splitting. If any church can coexist, Grace church is the one to do it.
We start by opening our hearts to Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we get out of our own way and be open to those who are invisible and ignored around and among us. Next we have to trust that God is in control, and is big enough to bring us through anything, come what may.
It is Jesus, not us, (not me, not you, not Pastor Andy, or the SPRC, or the music ministry, or Admin. Council) that makes it possible to coexist. It’s our faith in Jesus. It is Jesus, not us, (not me, not you, not the church staff, not our various outreach ministries, or all the programs we are a part of) that makes it possible to be a fellowship of differents. It is our faith in Jesus.
That is what the Christian life is all about; learning to love one another, by the power of God’s grace, so all can flourish as the people of God in this world. Some churches do a great job of loving people inside its walls, yet forget about those outside. Some churches do a great job of loving people outside their walls and forget or lose sight of those inside. It takes both to be the body of Christ.
I leave you this dear church: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile - neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female. For you are all one in Christ.” In other words, there are no longer ethnic barriers to divide us. Oh they are there, but we can do better. There are no longer social or socio-economic classes to pit us one against another. Oh they still show up but we are called to do better. There is no longer inequality of any kind among humanity. Oh our world tries to tell us otherwise and force us to pick a side, but we are called to do better. In Jesus, we all stand on common, level, equal, ground.
I know it is near impossible to wrap your head around that kind of community; to fathom what that kind of place or existence could look like; to comprehend what role we could have in creating such a place for ourselves and others, but dear friends, it is called the Kingdom of God for a reason. It is called the Kingdom of God and we are called to live it out here and now, together.
Go with the love of God and share it with someone else. Go with the peace of Christ and offer it to others. God with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and trust God is at work in you. May it be so. AMEN.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine