Finding Common Ground

Posted Oct 10, 2020

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The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from Oct. 11, 2020. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.

Opening Prayer

Lord Jesus, as we continue exploring what it means to love our neighbor, we focus especially on neighbors who are people of faith yet see some aspects of that differently than we do. As we undertake this study, we invite your Spirit to join us, and to teach us about the “wideness” in your mercy. That Spirit moved the apostle Paul to preach in Athens that “God created every human nation to live on the whole earth.” Give us all a clearer vision of how, as God’s children, we can all live together in peace on this earth. Amen.

  1. Pastor Adam addressed the ways that Christians fight with one another over various issues: “The more we grow in Christ and the closer we get to him, the more aware we become of his grace, and greatness, and the more we recognize our own sinfulness and realize how small our three pounds of gray matter are on the top of our head. The more we know, the more we know we don’t know. And we realize in the end that spirituality is not about being right, it is about being able to love. Which is why we need to be able to look at one another through the lens of grace, and with a focus on love. God doesn’t care about how right we are, he cares about how much we love.” Have you had the experience of having to change something you used to believe because you have learned more? How do those moments teach you about the relative ability of the “three pounds of gray matter” on the top of your head to always be “right”?
  2. Read Genesis 12:1-3. God blessed Abraham so that he and his descendants would share the blessing: “All the families of earth will be blessed because of you.” Before Abraham’s story, Genesis 11:1-9 told the story of the Tower of Babel. Scholar Theodore Hiebert wrote, “The text itself emphasizes the human wish to preserve one common culture (11:1-4). This wish comes into conflict with God’s aim to create a new world with different cultures (11:5-9).” * Too often we see difference as a threat, something to hate and resist. What has helped you learn to value the diverse human family God created?
  3. Read John 4:27-40. Jews and Samaritans shared a faith that differed more in details than in its central truths. The hatred between them was based more on ethnicity and centuries of distrust than on deep convictions. Jesus’ disciples were “shocked” to see him talking to the woman at the well. They might have accepted him shaming her about her racial or moral inferiority. But he offered her “living water” John 4:10) and said he was the Messiah that Jews and Samaritans hoped for (John 4:26). In short, he treated her like any other person he cared about and came to save. How can Jesus' example upgrade the way you treat and relate to any “Samaritan women” you encounter?
  4. Read Jonah 4:1-11. What did Jonah think was “utterly wrong”? He hoped to see Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, leveled! But Jonah 3:10 said, “God stopped planning to destroy [the people of Nineveh], and he didn’t do it.” At the end of the story, God asked Jonah, “Can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” Is there any person or group of people you’d rather see God “zap” than to see them repent? Is it right for God to extend heaven’s offer of mercy to all people?
  5. Read Colossians 3:12-14, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Nowhere in Scripture will you find instructions that say, “Treat your neighbors with kindness, unless their beliefs differ from yours.” John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, said in a sermon titled “A Catholic Spirit,” “Even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may.” Is there someone in your life with whom you do not think alike, yet you need to love alike?
  6. Pastor Adam offered this challenge: “Let’s talk about how God looks at people of other faiths. It is clear in Scripture that God loves the whole of humanity. This is why John could say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son”…. Every human being was created in the image of God. All matter to God. In our Scripture from Acts, capturing Paul’s presentation of Christianity before the Greek philosophers of his day, he says, “From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.” My point is to make the case for love. Remember this love is not a warm feeling–though it may entail that kind of deep friendship. It is a love of actions–of blessing, of showing kindness, of offering care for the other–a moral love, a love of actions. This kind of love chooses to focus on the humanity of others. It searches for the image of God in them. And it focuses on what we share in common, not what divides us.
    It takes courage and a commitment to Jesus’ words to decide to develop friendships and to love those of other religions. That’s what it looks like to be a Christian.”
    How can you, as individuals and perhaps as a group, live out that kind of love toward even people of faiths other than Christian in our community?

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, you reached out to Nicodemus, whose theology was different from yours. You dealt caringly with Roman soldiers, who likely believed their emperor was a god. You cared for Jewish tax collectors, people your neighbors despised, and you cared for Samaritans, who expected to despise you because you were Jewish. Keep our hearts growing in their ability to extend your love to all your human family. Amen.

* Theodore Hiebert, study note on Genesis 11:1-9 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 20OT. Explored in depth in his book The Beginning of Difference: Discovering Identity in God’s Diverse World. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2019.

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