A patchwork of diversity

Reflections adapted from a sermon preached at Holy Cross, Timperley for Trinity 7…

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22

We are people of different ages, different traditions, different heritage, different ethnicities, different sexualities, different genders, different life experiences, different ways of speaking and behaving, and different stories… We are all different. All unique.

And yet even within the church (and not just this church!) we get frustrated with the differences we see in one another. We talk about the older generations or the younger generations. We talk about liberal Christians and orthodox Christians. We talk about Evangelicals and Catholics. But actually, there are no such groups in our church. Instead, we have Mildred, and Cliff, and Karen, and Doris, and Linda, and Carolyn, and everyone else who enters into our building…

Beyond our church doors, we meet even more diversity, and in this we find great richness. The media love to set up one group of people against another, and bad news stories about immigration, or the generation gap, or the poverty gap do sell. Beware what you read in your daily newspaper. Beware what they say about young people or pensioners. Beware what they say about the rich, or the poor. About activists and politicians. About bishops and beggars. About millionaires and the homeless. Before you believe the press, go and meet the people, hear their stories, appreciate the diversity you find, and then make up your own mind.

The media would love us to believe that life is black and white. That there are saints and sinners. Insiders and outsiders. But life is not black and white. It is very human to want to label people, or put each other into neat boxes. To decide whether someone is a saint or a sinner. But we Christians know that we are all sinners, and all saints.

We are as diverse as a patchwork quilt. Each person, each square, has its own flavour. There is a unique pattern to each part of the quilt. Each square is free to be beautiful in its own way. But knitted together, the squares form a better whole: diverse, colourful, and able to achieve much more than any one square could do alone.

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In a church and a world that is becoming increasingly diverse, let’s not entrench ourselves. If we place people into boxes based on what they are for or against, if we label them as a saint or a sinner, we isolate one another and ourselves. Instead, let’s celebrate our diversity and beauty it gives us. We are all different, and our richness as the Body of Christ is found in our diversity. We are free to be ourselves, and yet knitted to one another in all our individuality.

This is especially important at the present moment. Our precious church – our community of faith – is once more in a fragile state, just as was the early church. Every piece of research confirms that the established church is declining at a frightening speed. More than ever, we need to be open to welcoming the stranger, and making space for them on our patchwork quilt.

And as the Body of Christ, as this patchwork quilt of diversity, we have a role to play outside of church too. Out in our communities, as we talk with our friends and neighbours, or around the family dinner table, let us be known by how we celebrate our diversity. Let our distinctiveness as Christians be shown in how we treat and how we talk about those who are different to us. Because we, of all people, know that even in difference, we can be united as one body, as one patchwork quilt.

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