We just saw in Asia the worst natural disaster in known history. Outpouring of generosity and support for the victims is truly admirable. I am proud to be Canadians. But we must go further led by today’s scripture lessons. We must remind ourselves that conflicts between peoples kill, by far, much more people than natural disasters. For example, one bomb dropped in Hiroshima during the second world war killed 200,000 in a split second – more people than the total number of dead victims of the recent Tsunami. The second world war killed tens of millions of people in mere four years. We have to ask ourselves if the question of who is right and who is wrong is so important that so many people must be killed?
We are all different just like each of our faces are different. So, if you think you are always right and others are always wrong, you will be the cause of conflicts and the menace to the world. We all wish that other people would accept our ways, but they don”t. We will not be able to live with other people, if all of us insist that “only my way is the right way.” All of us eventually have to compromise in order to live in harmony. Only immature people can not learn to compromise and do not accept other people’s ways.
We just lived through the most destructive century of conflicts in history. And we continue to live in dangerous times, because we still don’t know how to live with differences. The human race made amazing advances in science and technology. But we also committed incredible acts of stupid self-destruction, because technology made the result of violent conflicts catastrophic. The two great wars in the 20th century were the bloodiest and the most murderous in human history because of advanced weapons. Millions since have been killed in Africa, Asia, Balkans, and Middle East. All sides of conflicts believed that God was on their side. Today the main cause of conflicts is three religions which believe in one God of Abraham, and follow the same book – the Old Testament. Many Christians, Jews, and Muslims kill each other because of the difference in interpretation of the Bible. Many think that Muslim terrorists are trying to kill Christians. Many Muslims think that the war in Iraq is the new Christian crusade against Islam. Some Jews believe that Arab Muslims are trying to destroy their country.
The scripture lesson from the Acts records a sermon Peter preached in the Palestinian city of Caesarea. Simon Peter spoke about Jesus to a group of people who were not Jews. He baptized them right there after the sermon. This event was a shocking event because Peter went into a house full of non-Jews and ate with them. In those days, Jews were not permitted to eat with non-Jews because they were considered to be unclean. The early church always met for meals, which later became our Communion Service. Furthermore, Peter baptized those so-called unclean people without first making them Jews through circumcision. By this action, Peter made it clear that the Jesus movement was a new religion. Peter indicated that everybody was welcomed as soon as he/she accepted the teaching of the church.
It was unacceptable to the first generation of Christians because they didn’t believe that Jesus started a new religion. They thought that the way of Jesus was a reform movement of Judaism. But Peter declared that Christianity was a new religion. Many people could not accept this. So the church was split. There was a faction based in Jerusalem, who still insisted that non-Jews had to be circumcised and become Jews before Baptism. Peter believed that the church was open to all people as they were.
The conflict ended when the Church in Jerusalem disappeared. But the other churches, which opened up their doors to all people, continued. Peter didn’t ask "Is God on our side?" but asked "Are we on God”s side?" Are we ready also to compromise for the sake of harmony and peace? That is the most important question. Those Christians who followed Peter were Egyptians, Ethiopians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, and many other nationalities. They were willing to give up what they held dear and compromise. We must also be ready to give up something in order to follow what is real and true. We should do the same between husbands and wives, between friends and co-workers too. We must ask, “What can we do to resolve the difference?” not “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
The three wise men who came to worship baby Jesus were astrologers – star gazers. They didn’t know the Bible nor did they worshipped God of Abraham. But they gave up everything and travelled in search of truth. God led them to find the new born baby. God will lead anyone to the truth if they earnestly seek to find it. So, the question is: "Are we ready to give up our ways, and follow God?"
Whenever we run into a conflict situation, let us not think of my way or their way. But let us think of God’s way not so much the way to win others over to our side, but of the way to find God’s way together.