The Pilgrim - March 5, 2017
For generations, our congregation has studied the person of Jesus. Great forums have been held, some historic sermons have been preached, hymns and chants and oratorios have been sung. Scripture has been read, as well as scholarship from the latest publications by theologians and historians.
In fact, the greatest controversy this congregation ever faced was not about immigration, or human sexuality, or race, but about Jesus.
In the first part of the twentieth century, our congregation fell into debate about the nature of Jesus: was he more human or more divine? Which is more important? Which should be the focus of our study and prayer? It was such a strong debate that, for more than a decade, the “more divinity” portion of the congregation split off and formed Plymouth Congregational Church, which did well as an independent congregation.
It was one of the first great acts of Henry Kendall Booth, the most celebrated preacher in our congregation’s history and a noted public voice of his time, to reconcile the two congregations back to First Congregational. I often think that the minister of Plymouth Congregational deserves tremendous respect for bringing his congregation back into First Church, as it surely put him out of a job.
This was all done with great propriety. It was a time and a place and a culture of courtly debate and gentile disagreement. There were no angry email chains. No one flamed anyone else on social media. No one egged anyone else’s house (that we know of!). It was a sign of the underlying wisdom which would eventually prevail that diversity of belief was not feared.
Diversity of belief is a cornerstone concept for our Pilgrim-Protestant religious tradition. We understand that conformity is not required to build community; rather, even groups of like-minded people must provide understanding for one another as a practice in building real, caring relationships.
As Jesus is quoted in the book of Matthew: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Then he says that even tax collectors (!) are kind to their loved ones, and calls his students to a higher ethic of lovingkindness for all.
This season of Lent, our services will themed Who Do You Say That I Am?: Images of Jesus. We will study different passages and stories from scripture that show difference aspects of Jesus’ ministry. It’s a chance to piece together our own images of Jesus, be that human or divine, unlike or just like us. It’s a chance to face the great controversy of Christianity: who is Jesus? And who do we say he is, today and in our own lives?
The Rev. Elena Larssen