Looking at Each Other – May 13, 2001

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

 

Peter said,
“the Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them
and us.”

 

It was
hot. And humid. And we were tired. 

 It was a late August Williamsburg
afternoon,

 one of those days when
the air was thick –

 so
suffocatingly thick that

 beads of persperation took up
permanent residence on your skin

 and rendered deoderant
(ineffective).

It was late
in the day, and we had been walking around campus

 for several days now,

 getting oriented to the buildings
and programs and professors

 and rules and regulations and food
of the

College

of

William

and Mary.

We were
exhausted, and we were smelly.

 Mind you, please, that up to this
point we had already

 toured the library,
pledged the honor code,

 heard the 300 year
history of William and Mary,

 walked through colonial

williamsburg

,

 met the President of the
college, ruined tubs of laundry,

 met our hall and dorm
mates,

 had numerous mixers with
residents of other dorms,

 suffered through various
meals at the Cafeteria,

 and tossed and turned
through three straight 80 degree nights

 without air
conditioning.

 The last thing we wanted to do was
to get together with our 1300

 freshman classmates in William and
Mary Hall

 for yet another freshman
orientation activity.

But that’s
what we did. 

 1300 sweaty and smelly 18 year olds
paraded onto the floor of

 my college’s arena, most of us
thinking we’d rather be anywhere else

 but in another orientation activity.

And so we
got there,

 1300 of us assembled in a long,
narrow grouping

 in the middle of the
arena floor,

 stretching
from one end to the opposite,

 about five or six people
deep and 250 people long.

We were
instructed to first just stand silently with our 1300 classmates.

Then, after
a minute or two of silence,

 the dean of students introduced the
activity

 for which we were all
gathered at William and Mary Hall.

“This is an
activity to show us how different, and yet how similar, we all are.

 This is also designed to help you
feel safe to share youself here,

 to help us create a safe
campus, a safe place,

 where you
can share yourself without fear.”

 

Peter said,
“the Spirit told me to go with them

 and not to make a distinction
between them and us.”

 

And so the
dean of students began,

 “All of you who are female, move to
the north side of the building,

 male, to the south.”

 And so we moved.

 “Look at each other,” he
instructed.

 Now that wasn’t a hard task to
fulfill – afterall, we were 18.

“OK, come
back together now.”

 “All of you who are from

Virginia

, move to the North side of the
hall,

 out-of-state, to the south side.”

 and so we moved.

 “Look at each other.” And so we did.

“OK, Come
back together now.”

And this went
on, for a while, through many rather mundane distinctions.

 

Peter said,
“the Spirit told me to go with them

 and not to make a
distinction between them and us.”

 

But after a
while the dean of students moved on to deeper issues.

“If you
have ever been picked on because of your weight, move to the north side. If not, move to the south.”

 And so we moved.

 “Look at each other.” And so we did.

 “OK, come back together now.”

“If you
have ever been singled out or discriminated against because of the color of
your skin, move to the north side. If
not, move to the south.

 And so we moved.

 “Look at each other.” And so we did.

 “OK, come back together now.”

“If you
have ever been abused, move to the north side. 

 If not, move to the
south.”

 And so we moved.

 “Look at each other.” And so we did.

 “OK, come back together now.”

And the
event went on like this, for nearly an hour,

 a litany of criteria, each
increasingly more personal,

 more intimate and more
delicate.

 With each movement we made ourselves
more vulnerable

 to our neighbors.

 With each step we were able to see
what divided us,

 what made us different,

 what
separated us.

Yet Peter
said, “the Spirit told me to go with them

 and not to make a
distinction between them and us.”

And yet we
never dwelled too long on what divided us.

 Sure, the Dean asked us to look at
each other in our diversity,

 to look across the empty
floor that divided us from the other,

 to gaze into the eyes and hearts and
lives of those who differ from us.

And we would
look.

 Sometimes with amazement,

 other times with shame
at why we were divided,

 and other
times with great sadness.

But even if
the differences seemed insurmountable,

 even if the differences seemed
extreme,

 we were comforted to be brought
together again.

 

Peter said,
“the Spirit told me to go with them

 and not to make a
distinction between them and us.”

 

On the
floor of William and Mary Hall,

 during that disgustingly hot and
humid freshman orientation week

 in August of
1993,

 a beautiful thing occurred.

We were
asked to make distinctions amongst ourselves,

 to reveal the fault lines that could
divide our college community,

 to open wounds and share them with
our hurt brethren.

But we were
then asked to look,

 to take in the other,

 to see in our separated
brethren ourselves,

 especially as we were
called back together

 and united with those whom we were
momentarily separated.

We read in
John’s Revelation today (the second reading) that

“the home
of God is among mortals. 

 God will dwell with them; they will
be God’s peoples,

 and God will be with
them.”

Let us note
that the revelation is not that

 “the home of God is among some
mortals,

 a select group of
mortals,

 with those
mortals I like.”

No. The home of God is among all mortals,

 without distinction. 

 Neither at the north nor
south ends of William and Mary Hall,

but
somewhere with all of God’s people,

 where God has gathered us together
to be free of divided distinctions.

Indeed,
John’s Revelation is amazing in its inclusiveness,

 telling us that God’s home is among
mortals,

 that God will dwell with God’s
peoples –

 not a people, but a
peoples;

 not a single
nation like in the old covenant,

 but with Jesus Christ,
the fulfillment of the old covenant,

 God’s home is with all nations and
all peoples.

God’s home
isn’t limited to our suburban subdivision,

 nor is it limited to a north
american urban experience,

 an experience on which I
often dwell in this pulpit.

God’s home
is with all mortals,

 and like the dean of students at my
college orientation activity,

 that calls
us to look at the other,

 to see where God is.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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