marche of Israel 2013 in the Negev
Much has been said and written on this important topic. Jesus’ prayer for unity, in John 17, is often referred to in order to make clear that this was and is also a central topic for Jesus himself. It is a hot potato, causing much dissension and thus sometimes leading to divisions. It was also a topic at this year’s Mountain Conference. I will take up some of the remarks which were made there in order to expand them and give more depth.
When I typed in the words “Gemeinsam unterwegs” (original German title of this essay) in the Internet, the first thing which appeared was a reference to a dog training school by this name. This makes clear that we can travel together in many different ways! It always has to do with common interests, desires and concepts which lead totally different people to travel together – at least temporarily. One example is this dog training school; it could also be a hiking group which meets for a day to hike together. It makes no difference whether the participants are atheists, Buddhists, Moslems, Christians or others. For this hike they are “inderway together”.
But when the Bible speaks of unity, or being underway together, it means something else. In the German title we find the words “my way”. For us as Jesus’ disciples the first question is, which way do I want to take in my life? Is it my way or HIS way? Jesus says of himself, “I am the way…and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Our way together has and must have its origin here, in the personal relationship to Jesus Christ. We can be born again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then we will be ready to react in the right way to Jesus’ invitation “Come and follow me”, out of love for HIM.
marche of Israel 2013 in Galil
On the basis of our path together with Jesus Christ, we will also be able to keep in step with others, no matter how different they are regarding life style, vocabulary, clothing etc. For this we know: It all has to do with Jesus Christ alone. It is all about HIS kingdom, God’s kingly reign and the fulfilment of HIS plans and goals. On this basis we can also put up with occasional fights and differing opinions.
In Acts 15:336-41 we read that Paul and Barnabas parted because they could not or would not agree about a fellow worker. We have a tendency to think that this is incompatible with “being loving and nice with each other.” And in this example from Acts they separate quarrelling! This is not necessarily a model to follow but it shows that on the basis of personal dedication to Jesus (underway together with him) even such quarrels and temporary separations do not prevent all those involved from remaining underway together (in Christ and his commission) – even when they separated.
“Together” expresses our deep longing for fellowship, exactly like God himself. But we want it to be the kind of fellowship we like, desire and naturally also with those persons we want to have in our company. But God’s longing for fellowship excludes no one. He doesn’t select, it is for everyone. And he expects the same attitude from us. But this functions only through repentance and a life of dedication to Jesus Christ. Only in following him can there be such fellowship – with God and with men.
KZ Birkenau – Auschwitz
But we must stick to the truth here, also! It is an illusion and a deception when we believe the words of the pope, for example, that all men are God’s children and we are therefore all underway together. In his September message he said, “The great majority of the world’s population calls itself believers. This fact should encourage us to be in a dialogue with the world religions. We cannot cease to pray for and to work with those who think differently. Many think differently, feel differently, find and seek God in different ways. In this variety, in this fanning out of religions there is a single certainty which we must all hold fast: We are all children of God.” (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPJzcs42k_Y)
This sounds nice, even wonderful, but it is a lie. It expresses our longing for harmony. Of course we’re different (as mentioned in the beginning) and we should not stop approaching one another, talking with one another and praying for one another. But: We are all God’s creatures but not everyone is automatically a child of God!
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:11-13).
This is about accepting Jesus Christ in our lives. About the one faith in our Lord’s act of salvation. Everything revolves around and is decided on Jesus Christ! Through HIM we become God’s children and we are then with and through HIM also underway together – whether in your marriage, family, congregation, city, whether in Switzerland, Europe or worldwide. And wherever Jesus Christ is not the way, the truth and the life, we are not underway together – at least, not yet. This results in separation and schism, as Jesus proclaimed (Matt. 10:34-35). Therefore we sometimes feel lonely, even though we are never really underway alone. It just feels better to be underway with many instead of with just a small group.
But Jesus had something to say about this, also: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
Let us rejoice from our hearts over the privilege of being underway with Jesus Christ and our brethren, of whom there will always be more. We invite you warmly to be underway with us when we set out next year to hike from the Lake of Constance to Geneva. This will be the “March of life for Israel”. If there is a certain sequence when we are underway together, we have read that first fellowship with Jesus Christ is necessary. One of the next steps is to seek and have fellowship with the Jews. After all, Jesus is the King of the Jews – and our king, as well. In Eph. 2:15-16 we read that together we have become the one new man. How then should we not be underway together? If we neglect this relationship to God’s chosen people, there will never be a real “underway together”, for a crucial part will be missing. But together we have God’s promise:
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22.