I was recently asked to speak at faculty devotions held weekly at my former elementary, middle, and high school. I was asked by my mother who teaches first grade at Whitinsville Christian School, and who’s turn to prepare devotions was approaching. The assignment was rigged. Reflect on two passages from scripture: the year long theme verse, Romans 12:5, “…one body, many members…” and the theme verse for December, John 1:14, “The Word became flesh…”, AND share a couple stories from Ghana. Oh yea… there is about a ten minute time limit… The following is about what I said.
The opportunity to prepare a devotional for former teachers, coaches, and mentors is quite special. Let’s begin by reading the theme verse for this year, Romans 12:5:
“…so in Christ we, through many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
While reflecting on this verse I was reminded of my Bible class I took seven years ago during my freshman year of high school. My teacher, Mr. Vriesma, had us recite the Shema, in Hebrew, every morning.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad. (Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.)
The formative phrase for us this morning is Adonai (the LORD) echad (is one in many parts).
Elmina is a small seaside city where the main economic activity is fishing. It seems everyone is involved at some level to the fishing industry in Elmina. Handmade wooden boats go far out to sea sometimes for days on end before bringing back a catch of fish to be sold at the market back on shore. Elmina is the historic home to St. George’s castle. Originally built by the Portugese in the 15th century, the castle was used primarily for the trade of gold and ivory and missionary work. Eventually, however, the castle became one of the key locations in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Today, the castle is a tourist attraction for foreigners and a pilgrimage stop for Africans.
The 17th century trans-Atlantic slave trade is a historic example of what happens when humans do not live in echad. In separate parts, together. In a body. This example is not the only historic example of the adverse effects of humans failing to live in echad with each other. In fact examples throughout history come quite easily:20th century Nazi Germany, Apartheid politics in South Africa, Ethnocide in Rwanda
History is not the only mode in which we garner examples of humans failing to live in echad. There are examples from all over the world, happening today, where people could gain from the wisdom of living in echad:The restrictions of freedom and life in North Korea The social strife and violence in Libya The political transition and the constant threat of violence in Egypt The estimated 20 million global sex slaves The pending fiscal cliff in the United States The 26 people (20 of whom were children) who were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school last Friday
In fact, is we experience the adverse effects of not living in echad every day:When we lie and cheat, When we are let down by a friend, When we let down a friend, When relationships fail, When families fall apart, When we are betrayed
Our world does not live in echad. It is not one in many parts. It is broken, shattered, and fractured with it’s pieces lying all over the floor.
Lets look at the theme verse for December… the month in which we anticipate the coming of Jesus.
“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.” -John 1:14
Mt. Krobo is a mountain or plateau in the Central Region of Ghana. We arrived at the base of the trailhead at the same time as a bus full of Ghanaian students. I quickly became frustrated with how the local Ghanaian hikers were ascending the mountain. The way this group of Ghanaians hiked was not the way I liked to hike. They were taking their time, laughing, and moving in one big group consisting of over thirty people. I, on the other hand, wanted to summit the top of the mountain as quickly as possible. I wanted to get there by myself, without the assistance of anyone. My frustration, however, soon turned into reflection. I saw this distinction as a clear example of how each of our cultures lives their lives. Westerners live life much more individually. We strive to make our lives as good as they can be, and tend to fail to care for our neighbors. We simply want to get to the top of the mountain as fast as possible and by any means possible. Many people in Ghana live life much differently. Life is not solely about getting to the top of the mountain. It is more about how the summit is reached than about reaching it. It is more about how you treat others while progress is made than about achieving progress.
A few weeks later I found myself watching the sunset over the hills of Greater Accra. I watched as the big orange sun fell over the horizon marveling at the beauty of God’s creation. It was just then when Daniel, our host for the week, interrupted and asked, “What time is it in Grand Rapids?” I was quite annoyed with the question, I did not want to think about “home” at that moment. Someone answered the question, “It is probably about 1:50pm”. He said something that left me in awe and wonder, “So”, he said, “That sun is just about exactly in the middle of the sky in Grand Rapids”.
At times life in Ghana feels like it is lived on a different world than where I came from or was familiar with. The hike is an example of two things. The stark difference in life in Ghana, and the imbedded echad in Ghanaian culture. However while watching this sun set over the horizon… I understood the global meaning of echad. Through all of our differences, we all live under the same sun. And (as my Mom pointed out in an email) we all live under the same son. SON.
So in this Christmas season, as we anticipate celebrating the word becoming flesh… and dwelling among us. Be intentional about dwelling with your friends and family. Just as Jesus came and dwelled among us. Bring echad into your relationships with others. Because, his glory… the goodness of creation, is evident even in our broken, shattered, fractured world.