Us and Them

Identity is important. The feeling of belonging, balanced with a sense of self within the group. I observe the tendency for individuals to feel like outsiders. That everyone else is in, part of some special clique, but they are out. Information that the cool kids know, but they don’t. The belief that everyone else feels secure and wanted, except them. 

To create unity, a sense of purpose, leaders encourage a group identity. This is who we are. You belong. Here are the markers of what makes us. Over and against them. Replace the insecurity with certainty. Distinguishing characteristics that create comfort. Channel that need to belong into a group cause that will inspire, building the base and cementing the strength of the leader. 

This is true of churches and religions. Of clubs and schools. Of tribes and nations. Us and them. A leader’s success depends on their ability to create that sense of purpose, usually against some outside threat. A sense of being better than. A feeling of disgust for the other. 

Don’t trust leaders;
    don’t trust any human beings—
    there’s no saving help with them!
Their breath leaves them,
    then they go back to the ground.
    On that very same day, their plans die too.
 Psalm 146:3-4(CEB)

Watching The Story We Tell, I noticed the assumption of hierarchy that predated the construction of the concept of race. Differences were defined by status- primarily of economics and freedom- but also by religion. Europeans defined themselves as Christians, an identity that could be taught or embraced. Which became inconvenient for maintaining economic power over the laborers on whom they depended to bolster that wealth. 

The problem with indentured servants is that they do their time and earn their freedom. They too want to move up in the world. Poor Europeans aspired to the American dream of escaping their previous class designation by obtaining land and building wealth. Leaders garnered support with promises of a better life. 

We live with the results of the narratives that justified taking Native American lands. That rationalized establishing a permanent source of labor based on a “science” of hierarchical “racial” difference. That encouraged identifying Mexicans as the enemy to expand the new country’s borders through war.

In our discussion, someone brought us back to Jesus’ radical command to love our enemies:

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:46-48 (CEB)

Fascinating that Jesus’ two examples of othering are economic and religious. Two groups of people that inspired disgust. Two groups of people to whom his listeners felt themselves superior. 

What is unity?, I lie awake wondering. How do we tap into a sense of belonging that doesn’t depend on either superiority or disgust? Strangely, when I was listening to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians this morning, I was surprised to hear the proposal of creating unity through giving. Paul’s theory of economics was quite different than the system we created to benefit ourselves at the expense of others. 

While the churches in Macedonia were being tested by many problems, their extra amount of happiness and their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity. 2 Corinthians 8:2

Paul challenged the Corinthians to excel at giving sacrificially as a complement to their faith, knowledge, and love. But mostly what stands out to me is the upside down understanding of how to get ahead, of how to become rich. It all hinges, though, on our identification of who is our family in the Lord. 

When I met with Pastor Williams at Restoration Urban Ministries, I asked him what happened when he took their congregation to other churches. “Don’t you lose money,” I asked, “since you don’t take up a collection? How much does it cost you to skip having an offering for the week?” He insisted that wasn’t the point. The Lord takes care of the money. 

Indeed. God’s economy is one of surplus, not of scarcity. In an economy designed to benefit those in predominantly white churches like ours, I am… humbled. Repeatedly. But not shamed. Honored. Grateful to partner with our brothers and sisters across town. 

It is a small thing to share the proceeds of this Sunday’s offering with Restoration. Or is it a big thing? Maybe just a small step in the right direction. Believing that God is big enough to take what we offer and provide for all of our needs.

It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. 2 Cor 8:13-15 (Ex. 16:18)


ps. If you would like to contribute to the joint offering with Restoration, write “Unity Sunday” in the memo line when you Support NCF’s ministry. Or mail to NCF at 124 W. White St, Champaign IL, 61820.
Bulletin: 6/16
Order of Service: 6/16
Sermon: Pentecost: Going All In

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