UNCOMMON COMMON GROUND
SCRIPTURE: MARK 9:38-50
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
The term “common ground” was first developed in Anglo-Saxon in the early medieval period. It was a term used to denote “undivided land held by a group of people for the community’s use.” In time that common ground was actually owned by the corporate entity, the civic body, be it a village, the town, or the city. In some places common ground was called “the commons.” We might be much more familiar with the term if we were to think of the “pocket park” down the street ---a common area.
The term after usage became a metaphor. The metaphor stood for “pursing and understanding, or an agreement, or a mutual interest amongst peoples.” So we might say that a negotiator would seek to establish “common ground” between two opposing parties.
What we know, or can surmise, is that this metaphor came about from people’s experience. If their community had a “common ground,” they would gather there, mingle, dialogue, and talk with each other. They would establish some understanding, some level of agreement among themselves. So from those gatherings on their “common ground,” they established “common ground” among them.
One thing that was discovered trough a little research is that there is no common ground for when “common ground” became a metaphor. One encyclopedia says it was first used as a metaphor in 1926, but it doesn’t say who used it, or what the occasion was.
The Oxford English Dictionary says it was first used in 1650, and it was first used by the Vice Chancellor of Kings College, Cambridge that year in the commencement address. He said to all those wo were gathered, “If Christians are to find common ground, or agreement with each other, then they must limit the language of their faith to Bible verses, or Bible expressions.” In other words, if Christians from different traditions come together, let’s talk about the Bible and not much else.
So what does all that mean for you and me? Today we celebrate that what we hold in common, our common ground, which is the Sacrament of Communion. We gather around the table of the Lord, because it is the table of the Lord that reminds us of God’s life-giving activities to us in the person of Jesus. It is that life-giving activity of God that is at the very core of who we are as people of faith.
Let’s look at the scripture passage that we read from the 9th chapter of Mark, for it is too about life-giving. There is one who is unknown to Jesus and his disciples, who is casting out demons, or giving life to those who had known life in very limited way. He is also doing it in the name of Jesus, so he is doing it in the name of the ultimate life giver.
When the disciples hear about this, they try to stop the man. Jesus says, “Don’t stop him. Anyone who does anything to give life is on our side, whether they are with us or not.” So what Jesus is trying to do with the disciples is to help them to see the common ground they have with this one, instead of seeing differences. That’s the great call to the Church today as well.
Jesus continues in this passage, “If anyone gives you a cup of water, that person is blessed by God.” To give water is to give life. It doesn’t matter whether the person is Jew or Gentile, whoever they are, if they are about that kind of activity, they are about God’s work, and they are to be encouraged, and God blesses that activity.
Then Jesus uses some of the exaggerated language of his day that is so far for us to hear. It’s what we call “hyperbole” (better or worse than it really is). Using that form address, he says to his disciples, the poor and the outcast. “If anyone gives anything less to you than the gift of life, that person has no common ground, that person has no ground to stand on. It would be best for them just to be sunk in the middle of the lake someplace.”
It’s a wonderful image, isn’t it? They don’t stand on solid ground, let along common ground, with what God is about. He goes on to say to everyone, if you don’t give to yourself or to those around you that which gives life, whatever is causing you to act that way, cut it off and get rid of it. It’s not what God wants.
The founder of our Methodist movement, John Wesley, had to address a number of Christian bodies in his day. One of the phrases that came about from his approach to others was, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” What is essential in the Christian tradition is that we proclaim and participate in God’s life-giving activities. As we gather at this table, we re-enact how life has been given to us in the spiritual dimension, and we commit ourselves to give that life to others.
This is an essential activity and that’s we do it once a month. This is what marks what Christians are about.
I have been appointed to churches where the communities have a pulpit exchange among the Christian churches. Even though they are celebrating the sacrament, the churches would trade preachers around to show their unity together. Each church involved knows the rotation of preachers in advance. They know who they are going to get.
But can you imagine the frustration if you were just new to that community, joined a particular church and didn’t like the preacher there, and the next week went to the church where the preacher you heard the week before at the church. And you didn’t know the local tradition is to show their common ground by sharing pastors.
A year or so ago there was a person who lived in one community for a number of years, and then left that community to move to another part of the country. He moved his church membership. Then he came back to the home community. He attended his home church, of which he had been apart, and was not allowed to receive communion because he was no longer a member of that congregation. That is not common ground.
I would invite us this day as we come to the table that we would pray for all who would share table this day and include all people in which we are trying to find a common ground. But just don’t aim your prayers at them. We need prayers as well. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
Jesus closes his message with a very interesting statement. He says, “Have salt within yourself, and be at peace with one another.” I think what he is saying there is this, you are a unique person, or congregation, or denomination, and you have that which brings character and flavor to the world community. Don’t lose that, but express your uniqueness in a way that supports others and not diminishes them.
“Have salt in yourself, but be at peace with one another.” When we do that, then we will know: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” When we live that way we will know uncommon common ground.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH