On Being Together

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we had our sceond Combined Service. It’s a time when the three different congregations making up Hobart Baptist Church came together to worship at one service and celebrate our diversity. The children did not leave for their programs in the middle of the service, but remained with us for the entire time; and later we continued our worship by sharing a meal together.

We shared a delicious lunch together yesterday

Why would we do something like this? Why expend all this effort to change our normal pattern?
In Galatians 3:28 Paul says we are “all one in Christ,” “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” He reminds us that God does not see his people as the world sees them. God does not operate in categories of ethnicity, status or gender, but is in relationship with each person in the same way. When we gather together in our diversity we are reflecting something of the way God regards each one of us. Making room for each other and treating each other in the reality of that “oneness” becomes of itself an act of worship.
Throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament letters, there is a theme of the promise of God of a New Creation – a world where everything is set right. In it, God’s Spirit fills everyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or class. It is a place where that same Spirit gifts everyone for the common good of all. It is a place where broken lives and relationships are healed.
That’s why Jesus commanded us to be in unity. John records him saying (13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Being in unity despite our differences is a command of Jesus.
From this passage, the American theologian Francis Schaeffer concluded that according to Jesus, the world has the right to decide whether we are true Christians based on the love we show to other Christians. So when Jesus said we are to love on another he was talking about something real and observable, something that needs work, yet it is something that is at the heart of what it means to follow him.
That’s why we take being together seriously and why we make the effort to worship God in all our wonderful diversity. It was an enjoyable time together yesterday. For some there may have been things that happened that were not exactly to their taste and therefore a little uncomfortable. I encouraged those people to, as an act of worship, move past the discomfort and choose to celebrate the diversity God has blessed us with.
Perhaps you too find it difficult to embrace all God’s wonderful diversity and choose to stay in an environment where you are safe and comfortable. Let me encourage you too, to look past these things as your act of worship.
Stephen L Baxter

The Sacred Nature of Unique Relationships

My grandma, Dad’s mum, was a very special person and I had a special relationship with her. Who she was, and what she said, still has an influence over me today. In her later years she wasn’t well, and she slept very little. But rather than complain about it she saw it as an opportunity, and thanked God that she had more time to pray.
At one point when I was in my early teens, Dad came up with the idea that my brother, sister and I should start calling him by his first name, Graham. We were a bit uncomfortable and embarrassed by this and slow to take up Dad’s suggestion.
Around this time we were visiting his parents and having a cup of tea in their sitting room. Dad announced his new idea. Quietly without any fuss Grandma drew me to herself, took both my hands and stared deeply into my eyes. She said, “Don’t do it Stephen! There is only one person in the world you can call ‘Dad’ and don’t rob yourself of that.” Well, that was the end of the matter. Dad never mentioned his idea again.
I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.

I love you Dad
Grandma had tapped into something that resonated deeply within me
I’ve reflected on that moment and told the story many times, and it hasn’t lost any of its potency nor is it any less profound. Grandma had tapped into something that resonated deeply within me. Today I would say that she tapped into something we can often lose sight of and discard – the sacred nature of unchangeable, unique and special relationships.

She tapped into something we can often lose
sight of and discard

Sacred is not a word we use much and when we do, we use it in a variety of ways. But I believe it is appropriate in this instance. Sacred is very similar to the idea of holiness, that is, something that is set apart and different from the ordinary. With a few words my grandmother described my relationship with my father as being different from every other relationship I have in the world. It is a unique relationship that no one else can have (although I may have relationships that approximate it) and the reason for this is that there is only one person in the world who ‘begat’ me.
I did not earn this relationship; it was a reality from my conception. I did not obtain it; it was given to me as a gift. I did not own it. I didn’t possess it. All I could do was live it, experience it, enjoy it, and honour it. In this sense it is sacred, different from the ordinary, set apart from every other relationship. Its uniqueness is reflected in that it is included in the Ten Commandments where it says to honour our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16).
My grandmother taught me something profound that day. There are certain relationships in the world that are givens and it is important to acknowledge them, to live in them and bring out the best in them for the good of all. I could spend my life fighting them, or trying to disown them and change them; but in the end all I can do is work to live within them. Fighting only brings bitterness and estrangement and will not change the basic essence of them.
It is not surprising that the commandment goes on to say that we are to honour our father and mother “so that your days will be lengthened on the land your God gave to you.” Honouring has its own rewards.
I don’t think calling my father Graham would have been a mistake or a sin, but it did have the potential of diminishing a relationship which is precious and sacred. I am sure I could have called my dad ‘Graham’ and honoured him. But Grandma reminded me that there are some things in life that are precious and sacred and it is worth taking the time and effort to keep them so.
Stephen L Baxter