In his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 20), Jesus answers an implied question: “How shall we live?” As in the similar Sermon on the Mount, he responds, “Love your enemies.” He lists various ways to do this — turn the other cheek, give your coat and shirt, lend without expecting anything in return. His message is prophetic, hard and contradictory to many human instincts.
Jesus points the way to love for the sake of loving, not for gain. He offers no promise that this kind of love will always feel good or be easy. But still, he asks it of us. In fact, his death is an example of what might come from such reckless love.
I suppose my thoughts have turned this way because several articles in this issue challenge us to think about what binds us together as followers of Christ.
Throughout our history as Anabaptists, we’ve been good at defining what separates us. We are known for our ability to thrive separate from “the world.” So much so that it’s common in some places for a person like me — who doesn’t wear a head covering or traditional Mennonite dress — to not be recognized as a Mennonite. Or to be told I’m not a “real Mennonite.”
And we’ve been good at separating from each other. I wouldn’t say there haven’t ever been good reasons for it, but I will say I find some of them less than compelling — cape dress or no cape, colors or patterns, zippers or buttons, tops on buggies or no tops. (I am pro-tops; it gets cold, people!)
I realize that when these practices became lines in the sand, they were serious matters, considered theologically significant. Some of them continue to define certain Anabaptist groups.
In the more progressive Anabaptist denominations, the conversations look different. Tops on buggies aren’t up for discussion, but questions about the purpose of a Confession of Faith, Membership Guidelines, inclusion, exclusion and corporate repentance are taking center stage.
I hope this issue provides avenues to consider our own understandings about what unifies us.
I wonder about our historic superpower of separateness, in light of Jesus’ example. He came down to Earth. He wasn’t afraid of those deemed unclean. He understood, intimately, the world’s struggles and pain.
In our conversations about what binds us together, what are the limits of our superpower of separateness and its conscious or unconscious influence over us?
Is our separateness for self-preservation? Is it on principle? Is it out of faithfulness? Depending on who is answering, yes might be true of each one. I wonder what Jesus would say to us today about it.