Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Ambassadors in a World of Islands

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Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – I Corinthians 1: 1-9

Fifteen years ago in May a phrase quickly washed up on the shore of North American pop culture: “voted off the island.”

A coworker becomes annoying: “we need to vote her off the island.”

A friend embroils himself in complicated circumstances: “if he isn’t careful, they’ll vote him off the island.”

“Survivor” had landed and has showcased average men and women plotting, scheming, sunbathing and eating bugs ever since. “Survivor” watching parties decked with tiki torches and the wafting scent of grilled pineapple made their way through the suburbs.

The tribe has spoken.

Fifteen years after Mark Burnett’s smash reality hit, I led my toddler by the hand, past flickering candles standing torch-like in shallow sand, past icons glinting with gold like the sea at sunrise, into a small room mysterious with a far-off, exotic scent. My family and I were visiting an Orthodox church. There were several reasons: I want to our children to experience different cultures, different forms of Christian worship. I want to tuck those memories quietly into their childhoods.

My husband and I also sensed something else extremely difficult to put into words as kind Orthodox believers asked what brought us after the service concluded. Words floated to the surface: “appreciate,” “enjoy,” “hospitality,” and “world.” Always “world.”

“The way things are going in the world…what ISIS is doing in the Middle East…”

We finally recognized the impulse: we wanted to show respect and appreciation. We wanted to learn. We wanted to show solidarity. The realization crystallized when I said, “I felt like I somehow wanted to express, ‘Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus, from the followers of Christ in the family of Wesley! Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!'”

Thankfully, I did not startle the good people of this Orthodox congregation with such a Pauline greeting. And yet –  together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

We had followed an impulse, an instinct, a hunch. We wanted to be ambassadors.

After all – a great deal of the New Testament was written by believers, to believers, about believers, in order to encourage believers. We saw it on their faces: the melted sadness, the sense of grief at what has been happening to Orthodox and Coptic Christians in the Middle East; the grateful acceptance of offered condolence.

Somehow, when a Copt is martyred in Egypt, North American Protestants feel it personally, point to it as persecution. Are we not called, then, to reach out in love to the family of traditions to whom that martyr belonged?

See how they love one another…I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him.

How can we be ambassadors in a world of islands – islands of culture, islands of politics, islands of loyalties? Every man is an island, we read, and we’re so very ready to vote him off of it.

But isolation kills. The Apostle Paul knew this, and in the days of long walks, no Marriott and tired feet, sent letters to scattered churches. The details changed from location to location. Some things remained the same:

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit will give you power. I thank God for you. Keep the faith. Don’t get distracted. You are part of a big family of believers, and they are praying for you.

In 2003, in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke at the Ponte Sant Angelo Methodist Church of Rome:

Wesley’s Letter to a Roman Catholic, written during the anti-Methodist riots in Cork in 1749, was something of an exception to all of this. Indeed it has been referred to as an ecumenical classic. In a plea for greater understanding, Wesley outlines what he sees as the essential beliefs of “true, primitive Christianity”, wherein most of what is said could be easily embraced by the Catholic Church. He invites Methodists and Catholics “to help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom”, and proposes that “if we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike”, and finally, expresses his hope that they will meet in heaven.

We are called to be ambassadors in a world of islands: to strengthen the Body of Christ around the world, not to outlast other tribes by strength of will or cunning strategy, but to greet like long-last family: I give thanks to my God always for you!  We are called not only to share the good news of God’s love to the world at large, but also to share it, time and again, with branches of the family tree different from our own.

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit will give you power. I thank God for you. Keep the faith. Don’t get distracted. You are part of a big family of believers, and they are praying for you.

We’ve all had enough “Lord of the Flies.” Jesus Christ calls us to practice sharing our island with others who call out his name as waves slide in and out of the sand seconds before their heads are separated from their bodies.

How fitting, Triune God, that John the Revelator saw you making all things new while he sat on an island…

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Elizabeth Glass Turner serves as the Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent. Elizabeth holds an MA in Theological Studies and has written for Ambrose University College & Seminary, Good News magazine and others. She also has an essay in “The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes.”

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