The gifts of our differences

Pastoral Messages | December 28, 2023

Nearly 20 years ago, my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Dillon, told me a story when we were together for Christmas that’s never left my mind. 

It was the 1960s and Uncle Dillon, a Catholic, had just started seeing a Lutheran girl from school. They each asked for their parents’ blessings to make the courtship official. But surprisingly, both sets of parents disapproved. No blessing, no permission, no official dating allowed, period.  

That was a different time than ours today. Loving your neighbor in those days sometimes meant being challenged if you loved someone that didn’t share your family’s beliefs. 

Flash forward to my childhood in the 90s and we had a Hindu neighbor. In just 30 years, America’s diversity landscape had significantly shifted. It would have been unthinkable in my house for my parents to disallow me to play, date, or interact with another kid just because of their cultural heritage or religion. 

I kept wondering about my uncle’s story as I grew older and encountered people from diverse cultures than my own. My life is richer because of the friends I’ve made from different countries and cultures. My Armenian friend taught me about being a Christian in the Middle East; he is an Armenian Christian. My Iranian friend taught me about the beauty of Persian music and guitar melodies. My Saudi and Iraqi friends taught me to distinguish between people and their governments. The list goes on and on.  

What does the Bible have to say about people from different religions? It isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.  

In the New Testament, the Magi, or Wise Men from the East, follow a star that leads them to the birthplace of Jesus, where they worship him and offer their gifts. The term Magi is related to the English word we use for magic, and it’s these wise magicians whom God works through that play a vital role in the Christmas Story.  

This Christmas, as we gather around new and familiar faces, some of whom may be Christian, another religion, or no religion at all, might we all be open to the possibility that God can and is working through people who are different from us whether that difference is religious, cultural, or generational. God works miracles through ordinary people, often making things happen in and through people we’d least expect. Indeed, God has a sense of humor. If only my grandparents knew then that their grandson would become a Lutheran pastor, they might’ve been more open-minded to their son’s dating wishes.  

-Max Franks, pastor in residency

One comment on “The gifts of our differences”

  • Deb Lamp

    December 28, 2023 at 2:37 pm

    Great story and a good reminder of loving all God’s children. Bless those with open hearts.

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