A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit with a master potter. It was remarkable to me how he could take a lump of clay, throw it onto the potter’s wheel, and make a beautiful piece of art.
I asked him how he could so easily do it. He told me that the secret was in the centering.
“If you center the clay correctly, then it works well and anybody can do it,” he explained. “But if you don’t center it right, if it is off-center in any direction, no matter how skilled you are, it will be off.”
I believe that “centering” is not only good advice when it comes to making pottery, but it’s also good wisdom for our faith journey. The book of Acts tells us that it is in Christ “that we live and move and have our being.”
In the Christian faith, Christ is the center. What brings us and binds us together is Jesus Christ.
I find it bothersome today when some people want to make issues like abortion, homosexuality, ordination of women, evolution, etc. the issue. All of these are important matters, but none of them is the ultimate issue.
The issue is the Gospel, Jesus Christ, salvation because of the death and resurrection of Christ, and seeking to live our lives today as he lived loving God and loving others. That is the issue. That is why we are here.
I’ve found that there are dedicated and faithful people of God on both sides of every issue. Both sides often have differences in how they interpret the Bible. These differences have been around since the beginning of the Christian church.
For instance, should Gentiles be allowed to join the church on the basis of faith alone, or are they required to keep the Jewish law? Should followers of Jesus go to war, or should they strive to be peacemakers? Should women be ordained, or should they be asked to fill other roles in the church?
In all of these cases, both sides have used the Bible, and felt deeply about their convictions. Both sides have a tendency to want to turn these into ultimate issues. But they are not.
God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, is the issue.
I’ve tried hard to keep the centrality of the Gospel in the forefront as my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has dealt with the issue of homosexuality. Some people in the ELCA, and others, see this as an ultimate issue. They say: “How can you ask God to bless sin? How can you turn your back on the Bible?”
I don’t see it quite that way. Is this an important issue, yes? An ultimate issue, no? Once again, the Gospel is the issue.
Has the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the Gospel, ever brought new interpretations to old verses? Yes! Please read Acts 10. Here, the Spirit is calling Peter to treat people (Gentiles), who would be considered unclean according to the traditional Hebrew understanding, as clean. Peter discovered firsthand how the Spirit of God could lead in a direction that conventional wisdom and established thought would consider unthinkable.
As the ELCA is seeking to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, some might ask, “But what if you are wrong?” To this I would say two things. First, 40 years ago we, as ALC and LCA Lutherans, prayerfully believed that God was calling us to ordain women. The action was described by some as “tradition-shattering” and I remember some people making this an ultimate issue and leaving the church over it.
Second, in the midst of contentious issues, I’ve always appreciated Rabbi Gamaliel’s advice in Acts 5. As the religious leaders in Jerusalem fretted and fumed over the success of the early Christian church, Gamaliel urged patience. He said: “If this plan or undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them in that case you may even be found fighting against God.”
Wherever we are in our faith journey, we are all called to walk in trust. I’ve personally found that living by faith always brings me back to where our focus truly belongs Jesus Christ! Can we keep things centered in him?
May all joy be yours in believing!