1 Corinthians 12:4-6 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”
I didn’t really go to the Holy Land with particular expectations. I wanted to be open to what the place had to offer. I quickly found, however, that I was not as open as I had thought. I often found myself annoyed that Christians couldn’t seem to let a sacred place just simply be. No, we have to build churches on them. The Byzantines in the fourth and fifth centuries seem to have started it, sticking churches anyplace that tradition said Jesus had visited or where miracles had been performed. This is Peter’s house? Build a church on it. This is where Jesus was born? Build a church on it. This is where the demons were driven out of the man in the tombs and into a herd of pigs? Build a church on it.
Being the war-weary place that it is, all of those Byzantine churches except one were destroyed. But then came the Crusaders, who built churches on the old church ruins. And of course some of them were destroyed also and people built churches on top of them. At the traditional site of the death and burial of Jesus, you not only have churches on top of churches, you have churches inside of churches and occasionally there is a dark corner with a bit of glass that lets you see through to a piece of rock underneath or a bit of cave over your head. In some location you can descend lots of stairs into church basements to see the ruins of the old Byzantine church and then go a bit further to see partial excavations of the real reason you came to the site in the first place. Even my vivid imagination had a difficult time going back 2,000 years and sensing what it was like. All I could sense in some places was the irony of the incredible wealth now adorning the places once hallowed by the one who said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom.
So it was a surprise to me when others responded differently, entering the places that left me flat with tears and awe. And as we drove past the places where I longed to get out and roam…the drive through the Galilee and back and forth through the Judean hills, where I couldn’t take my eyes away from the windows…I was shocked that others just chatted with each other on the bus and hardly looked.
We are so different, one from another. Our past, our culture, our personality all create a stunning variety of folks who are moved to tears by things that annoy others and that are bored by landscapes where others would gladly pitch tent and live. Some cultures honor locations by putting up a church or a shrine. In other cultures the place itself is the shrine and to touch it is to defile it.
Whether we are differing over how to recognize a sacred site, how to shape a worship service, or how to best care for someone in need, Paul reminds us that we are all inspired by the same Spirit, even if we’re not cut from the same cloth. When it comes to worship and inspiration, one is not right and another wrong. They are simply part of the vast varieties of activity in God’s spirit. But I do confess to being really glad that nobody has built a church in the middle of the Sea of Galilee!
Help us, Lord, to honor and respect our differences. Amen.
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