An Amish barn raising.
From this morning’s sermon.
Our family lived in Preston, Minnesota for nine years in the 1980’s and 90’s. There is a large Amish community in the Preston-Lanesboro-Harmony area, and we got to know several of those good people. And they are good people, but they do have their odd ways. They speak German, not English, among themselves. They allow gas engines, but not on wheels, so they have no cars or tractors; the Harmony grocery store has a hitching post for the Amish horse-drawn buggies. They have no indoor plumbing and use no electricity. The women all wear bonnets and the men all have beards. The clothes are all home-made, all the same, and no colors are allowed, only black and white; there must be nothing fancy to set anyone above anyone else. The Amish do not believe in insurance, so when tragedy strikes, they join in to help each other buy a house, raise a barn, or rebuild a herd. They will go to the doctor and even the hospital, as long as the bill can be paid without the help of insurance. If the treatment is going to be too expensive, they are content to let nature takes it course. They never work on Sundays, but always worship together on that holy day. You won’t find rules on all of those things in the Bible, but the Amish are very intentional about living by II Corinthians 6:17 where it says “Be ye separate” from the rest of the world.
There are lots of ways to be a Christian, and the Amish way is, of course, not the only way. But when the verse says ‘Be ye separate,’ it does mean at the very least, that there are many choices offered to us in this world that are not at all consistent with the way Jesus would have us live; and when we have the courage to say ‘NO,’ there is going to be a separation of ways that will create some tension and anxiety. A conversation takes a wicked turn, and you know you should object or walk away. You are asked to do something at work that you know is not right, and you have to take a stand. Your faith in Jesus is not shared by those you know, and is perhaps even ridiculed, and you feel that separation. You know what Jesus says about the dangers of wealth and possessions, and you feel a little uneasy about all the possessions you have and keep on accumulating; or, some others may feel uneasy about being jealous of those who have what they cannot afford. In a society that is not only moving away from its Christian roots, but is increasingly hostile to religious faith, you don’t have to be Amish to feel disconnected. You may find yourself struggling with either choosing to ‘go along to get along,’ or, intentionally separating yourself from the flow; even making it known at times that you see things from a different perspective, and you will not join in.
Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an award winning Southern writer, a brilliant intellectual, and a devout Roman Catholic. Her book awards often put her in the company of other writers, most of whom sneered at religious faith, and whose writings displayed their deep hostility towards all things Catholic. O’Connor was witty, had a sharp tongue, and could hold her own in a brisk conversation. But she always felt the separation, she always felt different. Jesus says in John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free;” Flannery O’Connor once rephrased that verse to say: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
This morning’s Scripture readings speak of this separation. The writers, because of how they are living for the Lord, and what they are saying in the Lord’s name, are facing tough opposition from their neighbors and even from their own family. The Psalmist says to the Lord, “I have endured scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am like a stranger to my own family, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me” (Psalm 69:7-9). Jeremiah, a preacher who was severely persecuted for proclaiming an unpopular message from the Lord, said, “I am ridiculed, and everyone mocks me. The word of the Lord has brought me insults and reproach all day long” (Jeremiah 20:7-8). And Jesus said, “A disciple is not above the master; if they call me a devil (or Beelzubel), they will malign you too” (Matthew 10:25). (continued…)
II Corinthians 2:17a — “Come out from them and be separate,” says the Lord.
John 8:32 — (Jesus said), “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Psalm 69:7-9 — For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
O God, give us patience when the wicked hurt us. O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled, and hurt. Christ suffered strokes upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide on rougth word for his sake. O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with good will, and with a gentle mind overcome it. And if necessity and your honor require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that the truth and your glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived. Amen.
–Myles Coverdale, English reformer and Bible translator (1488-1569)