Some of you know this. I have a rule that I stole from somebody—I don’t remember who—that I call the eighty-twenty rule.
It goes like this:
We should all be okay with our church experience about eighty percent of the time. Some of that eighty percent might be stuff that thrills us. Some of that eighty percent might be stuff that inspires us. Some of that eighty percent might be stuff that we’re just… okay with.
And we should also have about twenty percent of our church experience that stretches us or confronts us or convicts us or makes us uncomfortable. Some of that twenty percent might be stuff that makes us a little nervous. Some of that twenty percent might be stuff that makes us complain. Some of that twenty percent might be stuff that we just straight up hate.
And we should all have the grace to say, “I know that the things that are in my twenty percent are in someone else’s eighty percent. And I am willing to do the stuff that I don’t like so that my friends and neighbors have he things that they like.”
We should make room for each other. And that goes for me, too. Believe it or not, there are things that we do as a church—even in worship—that are in my twenty percent. But I make sure that we do them because I know that they are in someone’s eighty percent.
And I know… very few people have been getting their eighty percent lately. Online worship is not in most of our eighty percents. Zoom meetings are not in most of our eighty percents. Not being able to have events at the church—from Crafty Stitchers meetings to the Beef Dinner to graduation parties—is not in most of our eighty percents.
And that’s probably going to go on for a while. We’re going to be figuring stuff out. We’re going to try to be the church and follow the science and keep people safe all at the same time. And we might end up spending more time this year in our twenty percents than our eighty percents. And I hope that we can all remember that this is one year out of an entire lifetime (I hope… I pray).
And, again, that goes for me, too. The last few months have not been part of my eighty percent. I have been missing a lot of my eighty percent.
But I have also seen some names in our watch parties on Facebook on Sunday mornings that I’m not used to seeing at church on Sunday mornings. And I know that Zoom committee meetings have made things a little more convenient for some folks. So, maybe, some people are getting little pieces of their eighty percent.
And that’s good. We like different things. We need different things. And we do some work and make room for each other, even if we can’t always get what we want, if we try sometimes, we might find, we can get what we need.
If you’ve been listening to my sermons for the past few weeks, you can probably do this with me. Today, we’re continuing our series titled Be the Church. We’re going through that list that the United Church of Christ has. That list that was on a banner in front of our church before a storm took the banner stand down. That list that will be on a banner in front of our church again.
Be the Church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.
And this week, we’re on this: Be the church; embrace diversity.
And our reading today—from the book of Acts, from Luke’s sequel to his gospel—is this:
A while ago, there was a disagreement between the Jewish people who believed in Jesus and followed him, and the Gentile people who believed in Jesus and followed him. And the Gentile believers went to the Jewish believers—to the apostles themselves—and said,
“Hey. You know how we hold all things in common and distribute to each person as they have need? Well, we’ve noticed that the Gentile widows are kind of getting left out of that, and we’d like you to fix that.”
And the apostles said, “Well, we shouldn’t neglect prayer and preaching just to make sure that your people are getting food. You choose seven people to make sure that people are getting what they need. You can do that, and we’ll keep praying and preaching, and everyone will get what they need.”
So they did, they chose seven people to distribute food to widows. And almost immediately, those seven people went out and started preaching, instead. And Philip was one of them.
Today, an angel tells Philip, “Walk that way and see what happens.” So he does.
And on his way, he meets this Ethiopian. Now, this Ethiopian worships God… and visits the temple… and reads the scriptures. And he is sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah. And in those days, it was normal to read out loud. And Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading Isaiah. And the Ethiopian asks him to get in the chariot, and they ride along the road, and they talk.
And Philip shares the good news of Jesus Christ. And the Ethiopian believes. And he says, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
And Philip does not say,
Well, a bunch of things:
You’re a eunuch, and we as a community haven’t really thought about how people like you fit in.
And we’ve been talking for, like, five minutes, and you really should go through the catechism and a class and we should make sure your values really align with ours.
And that’s water on the side of the road. We should really get you to a worship service on Sunday morning after that class you should take and use nice clean water.
No! They hop out of the chariot and go to the water and Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch. And when the Ethiopian comes out of the water and turns around… Philip is gone. And the Ethiopian goes away rejoicing.
Because even if Philip thought those things (and I’m not sayin that he did) he knew that there was enough room in the church—he knew that there was enough grace in the body of Christ—for an Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized with some water at the side of a road, and who would head back to Ethiopia and be the only Christian there.
(And I’ll bet he knew that there was enough room in the church—enough grace in the body of Christ—for people who were uncomfortable with that… for people who would say, “That’s in my twenty percent.”)
There are a lot of ways for a community to be diverse and we are a church in a small town in Iowa.
There are ways that we proudly embrace our diversity. Our church community embraces young people and middle-aged people and old people, boomers and Xers and Millennials and whatever comes after that.
There are ways that avoid talking about our diversity. I know that we have liberals and conservatives—Democrats and Republicans—who are passionate about their politics. And we just leave that outside. And I wonder if we shouldn’t embrace that a little more, and set an example of how to have some hard conversations that our country needs to have.
There are ways that we could more fully embrace diversity. We are a pretty white church. We are a pretty straight church. And I know that we try to welcome people. And I know that we could do better at that. And I trust that we will work on doing better at that.
Because here’s the thing:
It would be easy to reject certain kinds of diversity. It would be easy to say, “That Ethiopian eunuch is in my twenty percent, and I’m just going to ignore him.”
And it would be easy to tolerate certain kinds of diversity. It would be easy to say, “That Ethiopian eunuch is in my twenty percent, but I guess he’s allowed to be here.”
And it would be easy to try to overcome certain kinds of diversity. It would be easy to ask, “Why can’t that Ethiopian eunuch just try to pretend to be like the rest of us.”
And that’s not just true with people, like the Ethiopian eunuch. Those are easy things to do with stuff. It is easy to just not come to worship when it’s gonna be weird… or to grimace through a modern worship song… or to say to the pastor, “Well, I trust that we’ll never sing that hymn again!”
But we are not called to reject diversity, or tolerate diversity, or overcome diversity. We are called to embrace diversity. We are called to walk up to the apostles themselves and demand that everyone be served… to walk up to Ethiopian eunuchs and share the good news… to hop out of a chariot and use even water on the side of the road to baptize.
We are called to be reckless in our welcome. We are called to be extravagant in our celebration. We are called to be warm in our embrace. We are called to look at our twenty percent and ask, “How does that become part of the wholeness of my life in Christ?”
And that is a big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled thing to do. So thank God I know some people who can do big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some people who can be leaders in doing big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some folks who can be the church.