Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Personal — Passionate — Progressive

Becoming an Inside-Out Church (Progressive: Our Diversity)

Sermon, 10/23/11       

Scriptures:
Genesis 12:1-4 … Isaiah 56:6-8 … Matthew 15:10-11 …
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 … Galatians 3:23-29

Becoming an Inside-Out Church
Our BPC Identity: “Progressive: Our Diversity”


Diversity. We accept it. We appreciate it. We celebrate it.

Diversity workshops abound. Sensitivity training, to learn appropriate words and ways both. Post-modernism in full bloom: meaning, realities are plural, contextual. In the extreme, they become relative.

Diversity: We accept it. We appreciate it. We celebrate it.

Yet: Take heed! Some churches don’t know where to rein diversity in. The following is from a (probably apocryphal) list of Churches to Avoid I recently encountered – churches where they let diversity run amok.

 There’s the church where the ushers ask, “Smoking or Non-Smoking?” So much for diversity.

 Then there’s the church with a gun rack in the narthex.

 And finally, there’s the church where the choir wears robes matching the color of the church season. Not necessarily a bad thing … except on Good Friday, they wear black leather.

Diversity. It’s not always a good thing.

But it does present a great leaping-off point. As scientists continue to call into question old ideas of a cookie-cutter God, leading us to understand how every aspect of God’s creation is constantly changing, every moment of every day: Who among us does not feel moved to acknowledge the wide and wild diversity of God’s creative palette at every turn?

Living amidst this bastion of cultural pluralism that is Metropolitan DC, we at Bethesda Presbyterian have been graced with a greater opportunity to appreciate God’s diverse creation than church folks in many other parts of the country. This appreciation of diversity is an opportunity I find our congregation is thankfully embracing.

We had best be, if we wish to reach youth and younger adults today. A highly-regarded church polling group recently noted that young people leave the church today for one or more of four reasons: they view congregations as judgmental, overprotective, exclusive, and/or unfriendly towards doubters. In fact, one in four 18- to 29-years-old responded affirmatively to the statement, "Christians demonize everything outside of the church."1

Maybe we should be more assertive in inviting these unchurched young people – and sadly, in many cases, dechurched young people – through our church doors … after meeting them where they are. Maybe we should go out of our way to point out to young people we know our Statement of Welcome – found on the bottom of page 4 of our bulletin today, and at the end of our liturgy every Sunday. Maybe we should not take for granted that these young people would certainly know they are welcomed here – we’re a church, after all! Wherein lieth the public relations problem, to begin with.

And yet – once a young person, or anyone else for that matter, passes among our fellowship – what do we want him or her to experience? How do we allow him or her the space to encounter the presence of God? For perhaps he is looking for something more than a diverse body of disciples. Perhaps she is looking for a different and deeper diversity than she, and we, encounter each and every day in the Metro DC area. Perhaps they are looking for that something more and something special about this body that would feed a uniquely spiritual hunger the author of Genesis and the prophet Isaiah began to imagine, and that Jesus and especially the Apostle Paul began to realize.

Diversity in a faith framework that would embrace them within and yet release them from more empirical categories of diversity such as these our Session listed, in rapid succession, at a meeting two Springs past:

Age   Gender   Race
Height   Weight   Sexual orientation
Number of fingers   Geographical origin   Occupation
Language   Political views   Hairline
Education   Wealth   Religious background
Attitudes   Beliefs   Marital status
Techno savvy   Permanence/Transience   Appearance
Church attitudes stance   Mental acuity   Emotional maturity
Biblical education   Health   Physical abilities

Perhaps our church guests are looking for something more than these categories – don’t you think? For these common listings of diversity are endless. And exhausting, if we feel we must fulfill them.

So maybe, just maybe, the person passing through our church doors – anyone here, old or new, could be that person – is looking for something a bit more than the external, empirical forms of diversity that meet us and greet us in this church, as well as in our Metro DC environs.

Much as these forms met and greeted and challenged the greatest urban mission worker of the first century church. The Jewish tentmaker who, roaming among the uprooted, teeming Gentile masses of his day, brought the Good News to them all of God incarnate in Rebbe Jesus – and then took it a step deeper and a step further.

Yes, the Apostle Paul preached: You who happen to be Jewish and you who happen to be Greek, yes: You belong! Yes, you who happen to be slave and you who happen to be free, male and female: Yes, you belong, too! Yes, you who happen to be whatever: You belong, and belong together – equals in Christ! Equal children of God, inheritors of the Genesis promise!

Yes, the Apostle Paul preached: You who happen to be. That phrase implied in his Letter to the Galatians, in and of itself, would seem to be a radical enough statement, in Paul’s strictly constructed first century world. Yes, you who happen to be: That phrase implied, in and of itself, would seem a revolutionary enough reality, in his rigidly demarcated society. Yes, you who happen to be: What a pronouncement, in a world where you were otherwise born into a fixed social role, where you would otherwise die in that fixed social role, and where you would otherwise know what that role always would be for you – as well as for your extended family.

Yes, you who happen to be: Jew, Greek, slave, free, female, male. These were only “happenstances”, to Paul – as it eventually seemed to be with Rebbe Jesus. Happenstances, as they have also come to be in many forms here at Bethesda Presbyterian: where all the faces a half-century ago were white, all the ordained leaders (deacons, elders, pastors) three decades past were male, and all the ordained leaders till last year were straight. But over the years we have learned to say, to all who would proclaim Christ as Lord: “‘You who happen to be’: You are welcomed here!”

So much for the Christian community appreciating all attributes of God’s creative humanity: happenstances in life. They all pave the way for the next diversity step Paul leads us along and down. The next diversity step I want us to pay special attention to today.

For it’s this step that leads us from the outward signs of diversity – the “happens-to-be”, for the truly Christian community – to the depths of a new, inward reality: the diversity within us all.

Moving us away from life’s outward markers placed upon us – “there is no longer” this or this or that label, Paul is saying, naming them as he goes. Moving us inward, turning our lives interpreted by our outside-in world inside-out. Focusing us not on the outward labeling, but upon the inward gifting, among our many diverse members and friends.

For I am convinced – as I believe the Apostle was convinced – that our ultimate biblical diversity challenge rests not so much with our salad bowl of physical attributes we welcome into these pews. Our ultimate biblical diversity challenge resides in our stewardship of our spiritual attributes we commission from these pews.

For this is how we – each of us – move with Jesus and with Paul into becoming a truly progressive congregation – the third P of our church identity. Truly progressive: one that thrives on utilizing our diversity of gifts from within, beyond the essential task of welcoming diverse members from without.

All of which begs the question: What spiritual attributes from within – distinctly yours, diverse among the rest – do you bring to serve God and others? How are you stewarding your spiritual gifts?

We sometimes hear in our church about our stewardship of financial gifts. ‘Tis the season, in fact: financial pledge season! Early in November, we will learn through the mail of our proposed budget for 2012. We will welcome with that proposed budget considerably new realities that will bring us to the brink of our first balanced budget in more than two decades – given your generous pledges. Toward making such a pledge, we welcome back Dr. Richard Boyce in three weeks – our second Groover speaker in two months – for his inspiring words. We then dedicate our 2012 pledges November 20.

In short: We are preparing, this financial stewardship season, for a holy release from our pinchpenny worries of our church that’s been living from the outside-in. That is: a release from a way of being church that scrambles to make gains from without – and this could include Del Ray, if we let it! – so that we might somehow survive within.

Always a gathering in – to keep our property, personnel, and propriety up. Rarely a sending out – to serve programs, people: the progressive.

Outside-in – in diversity or otherwise. That’s the vision of this church come to pass in the past. A vision of a church that, in 1983, sent a letter to every member boasting how “our congregation has been ministering to the needs of the church since 1723!”2

Saying, in effect: “Our congregation has been ministering to the needs of the church” …

    outside-in."

Those days – like it or not – have come, and they have gone.

Is that the type of diversity Jesus or Paul both would want us to enjoy?

As they have challenged us, so I challenge each of you: Look within yourself this day.

Say to yourself: I have brought my diverse self here today. And then ask yourself the following:

 How can I send my diverse self out to the world today?

 What are my uniquely diverse spiritual attributes I can be using to serve this church’s Progressive identity in the community?

 How can I become an inside-out disciple, so that this body can become an inside-out church?

Whoever has ears to hear … let them hear.


1Barna Group, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church”, September 28, 2011. http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church.

2Bethesda Presbyterian Church, “Celebration 360” booklet, March 1984, p. 1.


Prayers of the People (excerpts) …

God, we sure are a diverse bunch.
And where 50 Presbyterians gather, there seems to be a hundred viewpoints represented.

We are as diverse as twelve tribes, and twelve disciples of old,
and you are constantly making all things new among us.

May the heart of your ways guide our heads in ours.

May your inspiration within and among us lead us into the new illuminations of your image and kingdom we seek.

May the diversity of your image – the imago dei – gathered to worship you today be celebrated among us --

   more for how we recognize and utilize your spiritual gifts within us for the benefit of your creation,

   than how we socially appear to each other – from without – for the benefit of ourselves …

Yours is a boundary-crossing community created among us, O God – breaking down walls while bound in love – witnessing to your healing in your world.

Yours is a polyculture of the Spirit – liberating us to seek your justice for the marginalized in the world.

As Jesus has taught us, what’s good for the least of these is good for the whole. Beginning with the least of these, your disciples, who he taught to pray … and teaches us to pray …


Charge & Blessing …

2 Corinthians 4:16 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

   This Sunday: Progressive > Our Diversity
   Next Sunday: Progressive > Our Outreach

Last updated by Bethesda Presbyterian Nov 3, 2011.

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