Sermons

By Pastor John Johnson

July 22 -- “Get the G.D. English Out of Ireland!”

August 24, 2018

In case you are puzzled by why on your bulletin and on my “title” slide for today, there is a picture from a Tibetan Buddhist shrine or temple, and the “Tibetan” part indeed defines a difference from the Buddhism that many imagine. My purpose is neither to do a travelogue nor to show off; there is a reason for this picture that I trust will emerge in a few moments.

But let me back up. I have probably bored you before talking about the newspapers I peruse — although not all of them every day — on the Internet. There already were too many, but when a month or two back, I was offered a free six-months online subscription to “The Times,” that famous London, England, newspaper whose front page used to look like a want ad page in a US newspaper since it featured only announcements and advertisements, no news, when offered that free subscription, I could not ignore the opportunity. That front page practice ended some decades back, and my experience shows that “The Times” has obviously gone digital; what I receive is a daily email that has links to the articles that I then read in my one of computer’s browsers.

One series of news items this past week began with and built upon the headline,

Catholic priest ‘spat on and abused’ during Orange march

Does anyone know what “Orange” means in this context? I admit that I was somewhat thrown by where this incident occurred: Glasgow in Scotland, Scotland, from whence arises the form of Calvinist Protestantism know as “Presbyterianism. “Orange” is more frequently encountered when discussing disturbances, sometimes violent, in Northern Ireland, Scotland’s neighbor across the Irish Sea to the west.

And what is the origin of the hatred that would lead to an attack on a Catholic priest within what I would hope was more or less a Presbyterian, and thus, I would hope, Christian, community?

Well, as an item in the Cambridge, England evening newspaper that I read fifty plus years ago said, “Several rowdies, believed to be Irish.”

Which reflects the contempt at least some English held for the Irish, and that helps to explain why many Irish would resent the English, and this ultimately relates to this “Orange” business, but I get ahead of myself.

In Northern Ireland, in particular, on one level amongst at least a good number of individuals, there is no love lost between Protestants and Catholics inhabiting the same cities, let alone the same nation. And that religious difference does have some nationalistic component.

Until 1922, the entire island of Ireland was part of what then was “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,” the two major islands that made up that nation. Anyone living on either island the past hundred years knows that “Orange” usually refers to Irish Protestants, most of whom live in what the world knows as “Northern Ireland,” a small part of the island it shares with the mainly Roman Catholic, though, sadly, increasingly non-religious, Republic of Ireland. This division came as a result of a three year “War of Independence” waged by Irish Catholics against long felt — and my Cambridge newspaper experience would support the Irish’s so feeling — dominance, suppression, and discrimination against them imposed or waged both by England and the British government, and — at least my Irish wife tells me, and I think she is correct — by Protestants in Ireland and England. Then as now, the United Kingdom recognizes a state church — the Church of England, considered to be Protestant, because it was formed by Henry VIII’s breaking away from Rome over whether he could divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. The British crown’s control over Ireland at that time was not so strong as to lead the Irish away from the Catholic Church, so most of the people remained Catholic. But not people in some counties in the northeast, which became Protestant and remained loyal to the British Crown. In this Protestant Northern Ireland, as in Glasgow, today there are many Presbyterians (we do more-or-less come from the Church of Scotland); many of you will recognize the name of Ian Paisley from several years back, a trouble maker claiming to be a Presbyterian minister.

As most of you assuredly know, in Northern Ireland itself, there has been a distinct lack of peace and at times even violence fomented by members of both of these “Christian” divisions, the Protestant Orange and the Roman Catholics. The violence has abated more recently, and the names that most of us know are “Orange” and, from the other side, “IRA,” the Irish Republican Army.

Well at any rate, while the Republic of Ireland has become one of the world’s greatest economic success stories, that is a development of the past forty or fifty years. While there is essentially full employment and prosperity there now, when Patricia’s paternal grandmother was young, she left Bally Castle in County Mayo in the northwest of what is now the Republic of Ireland to go to northern England and a job as a nanny. It was there, and not in Ireland, that she met Patricia’s grandfather, a native of Galway, Ireland, who, so Patricia understands, was working in a coal mine on the run from Ireland because he had been an IRA member, and his own brother had apparently been arrested in Ireland and hung. This Irish Catholic couple met and had most of their children while living in England; Patricia’s father, John, was born after they emigrated and settled in Pennsylvania.

From age 7, Patricia was raised by this grandmother — and, Patricia would add, the nuns of the Catholic boarding school she attended from that age through high school, — and every day, her grandmother would say to her, “Get the g**d***** English out of Ireland.” I suspect that Patricia’s grandmother, whom I never met, would have had difficulty accepting that Patricia, raised Catholic, would both become and marry a Presbyterian, let alone a Presbyterian minister, given her life’s experiences.

“Get the g**d***** English out of Ireland.” The division of the Irish from each other is horribly sad; it is even sinful in the sense that there has been outright hostility between two groups identifying themselves by the differences between their Christian Churches.

My oh my! Protestants against Catholics in Ireland and now in Scotland, Orthodox Christians against Roman Catholics in both Ukraine, where so far as I know it has always been peaceful, and in the former Yugoslavia, where it has not been so peaceful — and where, to boot, the issue of Muslims is also present.

And here in the US? Our history is tarnished by anti-Catholicism, perhaps as onerous as what transpired in recent memory amongst Christians in Northern Ireland. Today, we certainly have Catholics and Protestants, who according to the Pope, well, I am not sure how this one will ultimately come down, but I know how previous popes came down, and so though anti-Catholicism has waned, Catholics and Protestants cannot share the Lord’s Table. And while I defend the Catholic Church’s position, since the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is interpreted differently — that is, the nature of the bread and what is in the cup are interpreted differently among denominations in a way that is crucial to existing Catholic theology, — and since in contrast to most Protestant sects, the Sacrament is at the very center of Catholic worship, more important than Scripture readings or sermons, I defend the Roman Catholic Church’s stand. But it causes me sorrow, for if Christians can not come together around the Lord’s Table, where can they come together?

But more intense, I think, than any differences between most Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church are those divisions within Protestantism. Particularly in Valparaiso, Indiana, I have enjoyed strong friendships with a number of members of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church — maybe some of you have been members of that denomination, — but the Missouri Synod itself would look upon me as an apostate; their clergy are not allowed to participate in worship or in ecumenical activities with clergy of other denominations, and even Lutherans of the mainstream Evangelical Lutheran denomination are not allowed to participate in the Sacrament in many, if not most, Missouri Synod churches. There are almost unfathomable, largely indefensible, differences among and between Protestants. Within Protestantism we also have division between Evangelicals and — while I hate the term as applied to religion — “liberals”; indeed, within our own denomination, we have division based somewhat along the lines of “Biblical literalists” versus Biblical interpreters, of which I consider myself one.

And to be uncomfortably honest, I tend to look down my intellectual nose at those who are literalists, completely forgetting not only that I sin in doing so, but that I certainly am judgmental against the attitude of some in the Missouri Synod,

. . . and in doing so, I overlook and forget that literalist Evangelicals and Missouri Synod folk, and, of course, Roman Catholics and Orthodox and Pentecostalists, are my brothers and sisters in Christ, not “merely” fellow children of God, but brothers and sisters in Christ.

. . . as perhaps I should also say of Mormons, of whose religion I know too little.

I am sure none of you are as guilty as am I of judging other Christians, or of judging, say, Mormons, as I have just confessed I am guilty.

It is possible to observe division among Christians within the early history of the Church, when Paul was not the only one seeking to bring both Jews and pagans to accept Jesus, and through Him, to accept the “God of Abraham.” And while the letter from which Carolyn read a few moments ago, Ephesians, is not by Paul, it is, like Paul’s own letter known to us as “Romans,” concerned with the essential unity in Christ irrespective of whether one came from a pagan — Gentile — or Jewish background. Unspoken in our Gospel reading today, though I have put it in your bulletins, is that according to the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus himself traveled alternately from Jewish areas to Pagan-Gentile areas. Gentiles are in fact the target of the Ephesians letter; “Ephesians” is the name given to people of the Greek city (although it is in modern Turkey) of Ephesus. In Romans, the emphasis is that Christians and Jews share being Children of Abraham, and at least at the time the New Testament was written, one would create zero division among Christians by saying, “Because Christians and Jews worshipped the same god.”

And if Christians as “children of Abraham” are in some sense brothers and sisters with Jews, as Paul implies in Romans, why cannot Christians recognize that they are brothers and sisters in Christ with each other?

Christians should seek to be as one rather than to grow increasingly disapproving of the sometimes difficult-to-comprehend understandings of other Christians. Do members of any of the sub-groups into which we might divide Christianity dispute that Jesus is their Lord and Savior? Is not acceptance of that idea, that belief, what defines one as “Christian”? and not whether one believes it is wrong or right to sing “Amen” at the end of a hymn, or whether wine turns into blood or bread stays bread, nor whether a Pope’s words bind one and not another.

That we can differ on matters of doctrine, differ on what may indeed at times be important matters of doctrine, does not and cannot define one as “Christian” and others as something else when both regard Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We are one in Christ; when are we going to act like it? When will we discuss our difference with compassion, not with condescension or hatred for the other?

Maybe, despite the incident in Glasgow to which I referred at the outset, there is hope on the island of Ireland. That incident was not the main focus of news in “The Times” this week, the problems — and the wisdom — of the United Kingdom’s leaving the European Community were. Under the rules of the European Community, there is free travel and free trade between members, which means that there has been no real border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; this, we understood from a cab driver when we visited Ireland back in 2002, is one of the reasons the divisions between those in the Republic and those in the north have been breaking down, why being Irish is less likely to require hyphenation. What is called “Brexit” represents a threat to that growing sense of belonging to a larger community than their religiously segregated neighborhoods, and that desire to keep moving toward larger community might explain why voters in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit.

And it is in the larger community and not just in our small communities that we are called as Christians to love our neighbors.

Which helps me to explain the picture of that Tibetan Buddhist shrine or temple. Wow; last September, Patricia and I were with about twelve or fourteen others on our trip to Mongolia and China and Tibet (which, I know, China claims, and we as a country recognize, as part of China). I had written in your newsletters about how it was contact with people and realizing that we are in community with distant peoples that left the greatest impression on me from that fabulous trip.

Our three nights in Tibet, we slept two miles above sea level! As we were still adjusting to that altitude on our first full day in Tibet, and as we were walking toward that temple or shrine, a young man, whom I believe to have been a newlywed groom, motioned and indicated he wanted to take a selfie of himself and his wife with me. I don’t know why he assumed I was not a Tibetan. We included Patricia in the selfie, and then our whole group wanted to be part of a picture. That group included other Protestants like me, several Jews, at least two Catholics, and probably some non-believers, so the picture of the group is one of happy people with religious differences, not division, differences. Differences, but probably all who had religion — Tibetan Buddhist, Jewish or Christian — agreed on at least this point: everyone in the picture is a child of God. All rejoiced at sharing this moment with one another.

Paul and the writer of Ephesians and certainly Jesus himself sought to have all Christians understand that concept, and that because everyone is a child of God, everyone is deserving of our acted-out, not just “proclaimed,” but our acted-out love, to have all Christians recognize that not only are they united with one another, but that we are indeed united with all of the children of the world, for all are God’s creation.

But we cannot begin to understand and to act out love for all the children of God if we harbor in our hearts and minds hatred or even resentment — resentment, as opposed to sorrow — over those secondary matters. What matters is, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior”; secondary matters can sinfully divide one Christian from another.

In the name of He who calls us to be as one, Jesus himself. Amen.

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