Sermon: August 12, 2018 – “Finding Common Ground”

Finding Common Ground

Text: I Corinthians 1:10

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

When I used to read this text many years ago, I often just laughed at the idea of everyone in a church having no divisions among them. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite stories is sort of about that. I think I may have told this before, but it’s worth repeating-so here goes.

A man was stranded on a deserted island when he finally got the attention of a passing Naval vessel. He had been on the island for several years and wasn’t certain he would ever be rescued-but the passing Naval vessel saw his signal fire and sent a helicopter over to check things out. As the helicopter was lifting off the island with the rescued man on board, the pilot noticed three huts that had been constructed along the beach. The pilot thought it was odd there were three huts, so he asked the man about them. “What’s that first hut there on the left end?” the pilot asked the rescued man. “That’s my house, that’s where I slept and cooked and so on.” The pilot nodded his understanding and then asked about the center hut-“what’s the one in the middle?” the pilot asked. The man responded that he had built that as his church and that is where he went to pray. Again, the pilot nodded indicting that made sense and then he asked about the third hut. “Then what’s the hut on the far right? What was that one for?” the pilot asked. The rescued man scoffed and waved his hands, “Oh, that’s the church I used to go to!”

Like I said, it is one of my favorite stories and I do think it reveals a little bit about human nature and this is part of the reason I used to not take this particular admonition from the Apostle Paul all that seriously. It seemed like a pipe dream to me that the church could ever be what Paul describes in this letter to the church in Corinth. The very idea of having no divisions among you and everyone being of the same mind, well, that’s just crazy. You can’t choose a hymn for Sunday morning without making someone pleased and someone else a little perturbed, that’s just the way it is. At least I thought that was the way it is. And I have thought that for a long time. Recently, however I have had the chance to reflect more on this text and have received more input and ideas about what it means to disagree.

So I want to look at this text again and see if we can explore together what I think Paul may have been driving at. At first glance it seems like Paul is asking the church in Corinth to not have any disagreements or differences of opinion about anything. He wants everyone to be united in the same mind.  This is a normal reaction to what is written here; after all, that is sort of what it says. But that is our first mistake when we read the text in that context. That first interpretation sends us down the wrong path, and once started down that path, we never really recover.

One of the things which I think gets overlooked quite frequently in this text, at least I know I overlooked it for a long time, is the last word in the last sentence. Actually, it is the last two words, but take a look at what this actually says again. Paul is asking the church to be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. Did you notice that the word purpose is singular? Paul did not say that everyone needed to be united in the same mind and in all the same purposes, but rather just one purpose, just one idea, just a singular vision on which all can agree. When we begin to recognize the singularity of this calling, it seems to me at least, to become more realistic. If we can find one purpose, one calling, one idea that everyone can agree with, then we can build from there. But I see more in this text than just that. Let me explain.

I don’t know how well you can see these, but these are door wedges and you use them when you are installing a door. The idea behind a door wedge is that if one side of the door is not perfectly straight up and down, you can insert a wedge and push the door jamb out a little bit to bring it into perfect alignment. You probably have had the experience of fighting with a door that doesn’t fit quite right, and usually that means it wasn’t installed quite right or the installer didn’t use wedges or maybe didn’t use enough of them.

This didn’t really occur to me right away, but as I reflected on this text, I began to see a relationship between what Paul was saying in the text and these door wedges. See if this makes as much sense to you as it does to me.

First of all, we need to examine a single door wedge and understand how it is made. One end of this wedge is paper thin and it increases in thickness to about ¼ of an inch thick on the other end. Now the thing is about a wedge like this, is that if you use it by itself, it won’t fit quite right. The door jamb won’t rest against the wedge squarely, because it is at an angle.

Now here is the important part; only when you use two wedges, stacked together, running in opposite directions do the wedges actually work the way they are intended to work. By stacking them together, with the thin end at opposite ends, you can adjust the wedge to the desired thickness and it will lie flat against the door jamb. By working together, with no space in between them, the wedges function perfectly.

So let’s assign some metaphor to these door wedges, shall we? This one, say is thin on the right and thicker on the left. The other wedge then, when placed in the opposite orientation is naturally thin on the left, and thicker on the right. I’m asking you to imagine what this left and right designation might mean on a personal level.

When the two wedges are brought together, with a single purpose in mind, with no division between them-in other words they are stacked together tightly, then they function together perfectly and fulfill the single purpose of perfect door alignment. Even though one wedge leans right and the other wedge leans left, when brought together for that single purpose, the function is fulfilled.

Do you think it is possible for each of us to imagine ourselves as wedges working together for a single purpose, rather than a wedge that drives us apart? It’s all a matter of how we understand the purpose of the wedge.

This is what I think Paul was trying to say in this text. Some can lean left, some can lean right, but when brought together, for that single purpose, with no division between them, the church can fulfill that single purpose, that single calling, that single vision-together.

So how is this accomplished? I hear you ask. I have the same question. It is for certain easier said than done.

One answer that I found helpful came in the pages of this book, “The Anatomy of Peace” published by the Arbinger Institute. In this book, a group of people experience together what it feels like to be in dialogue with others that don’t necessarily agree. It is quite an interesting experiment. It reminds me of the words of the late Mr. Rogers when he said “it is difficult to hate someone once you know their story.”

The fact is that we can come together and we can share our stories and we can learn to view each other as real people, rather than viewing others as obstacles or the enemy. There are times when it is the differences that actually work together to create the best solution for any given problem. We can agree on many things and find our common ground hidden from view in those situations. Problems can transformed into opportunities; enemies can be transformed into allies; conflict can be transformed into celebration and differences can be transformed into desired diversity.

We have an opportunity for the beginnings of that kind of exchange of stories and ideas and personal reflection. Next Saturday we have our Luau scheduled, and I hope everyone will be there. When we gather together outside of the context of church, we often have the chance to meet others in a different way, we learn new things about each other and we learn other peoples’ stories. As we learn the stories, we learn how to work together to achieve those common singular purpose goals on which we can agree.

We are not all alike and we don’t all think the same way. We are wedges and shims that must come together to accomplish that perfect alignment. And that is food for thought.

Amen.

 

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