Seeds of Sacrifice: A Christian Perspective on Relationships

For different faith groups to work together tremendous sacrifices have to be made by all.

Maple Seeds in an open hand
Seeds of Sacrifice: A Christian Perspective on Relationships

About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Jesus says,

‘The way God wants things is like someone scattering seed on the ground, and watching the seed sprout and grow, the sower still does not know how it happens.” Mark 4.26-34

Well, we do know how. The seed dies. It’s not this year’s maple keys that have rooted and are demanding I pull them out of my garden by the hundreds. It’s the ones that fell last year and died. It’s no surprise to us that a seed has to die in order to sprout. Though in the depths of winter it does seem hard to believe that there will be all this abundance around us now.

When Jesus uses an analogy or tells a parable, the first question to ask is, ‘who is God?’

It makes sense that God is the sower, which makes people the seeds.

It seems that God scatters us in fertile ground and expects something of us. And whatever that is, it seems we are called to sacrifice who we are, our very being, our lives even, to fulfill God’s purpose.

Like seeds, our purpose is to bear fruit — spiritual fruit. Paul describes these fruits of the spirit:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5.22-23

But sometimes, that means making significant sacrifices. Jesus recognizes how significant these sacrifices are when he uses the metaphor of seeds, seeds that have to die in order to produce fruit.

We are welcoming other churches to join us so that this can be a Christian-Jewish-Muslim response.

Last week a member of my church was faced with such a challenge. Maple Grove United Church has joined with a local mosque and synagogue to bring a large family of Syrian refugees from a refugee camp in Jordan to Canada.  We are welcoming other churches to join us so that this can be a Christian-Jewish-Muslim response.

Our member was asking a friend to support us. Her friend challenged her: ‘but you are working with the mosque whose school soccer team refused to play with a team with girls.’

And, while the Mosque’s school has apologized, it is true. this is the first endeavour that we have entered into with the ISNA mosque on the South Service Road in Mississauga. Usually we have worked with the ICNA mosque on Burnamthorpe at Trafalgar in Oakville.

The Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA)  perspective on Islam arose in the 18th Century.It was led by Al- Wahhab of the reform movement that is referred to as Salafi, or wahhadist, and is more conservative and fundamentalist in nature.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) was formed in the late 1960’s in North American, and, as their mission statement says, seeks to be “diverse and inclusive”.

These are simplistic descriptions but perhaps help us to see that ISNA is in the Muslim continuum more like the Plymouth Brethren or Dutch Reformed or some fellowship Baptist churches in Canada.

As a friend from ICNA said a few years ago at an interfaith gathering when a minister of another denomination tried to convert him, “I see that we have more in common with you than we do with conservative Muslims, and you have more in common with us than with conservative Christians.”

We don’t agree on everything. But here is the thing. If we don’t communicate; if we don’t work together; we can be sure that we will never get closer together than we are now; and we will likely move farther apart. And that is what motivates the work of the Interfaith Council of Halton.

Shaarei Beth-El Synagogue has been working with the ISNA mosque on peace initiatives for several years and they have joined us in the refugee sponsorship. And the ICNA mosque has joined us as well, along with two other United Churches.

What has this to do with dying seeds? For each of these faith groups to work with the others, tremendous sacrifices have to be made by all of us.

  1. We are called to give up our preconceptions and prejudices about the other.
  2. We have to set aside strongly held beliefs; and we have to set aside principles of our faiths.

While we realize that our preconceptions are often mistaken and we can let go of them as we learn to relate to one another with respect that is not to say that we give up our particular beliefs and the principles than are foundational to who we are. We set them aside. We discern what is a common purpose among us, and we set aside that which divides us for the time we work together. This is hard. And it feels sometimes as if we  ‘die’ a little when we come into relationship with others to do God’s work. The challenge for us is, that in order to live out God’s purpose for us, we are called to sacrifice something of ourselves to reach out to others.  We face this issue all the time in relating to groups of difference.

We don’t agree on everything. But here is the thing. If we don’t communicate; if we don’t work together; we can be sure that we will never get closer together than we are now.

Many of the religious leaders I work with do not accept the leadership of women in their faith communities. But heck, I went to school with Christian students and professors who didn’t accept the leadership of women. When I preached in class, three Anglicans had to go ‘on retreat’ they were so upset that a sermon of mine was better than theirs.

What I learned was that I had to die a little: I had to find a way to relate to them, and in sacrificing my own anger, my own sense of God’s call to ministry even, by listening to their anger and loving them anyway even as they denied me, I crept into their hearts a little and they all work in a denomination that now ordains women.

When I enrolled at Princeton, I was placed in a group with a young minister from a new denomination that left the Presbyterians over the Presbyterians’ decision to ordain women and an elder from a church that won’t allow women to speak in church. When I expressed concern about my goals for learning being sacrificed to their issues, the director said, “but it will be good for them.” I responded, “I’m not spending $20 000 and five years of my time to be good for them!” He promised to move me at the end of the week if things went badly. I sucked it up, died a little inside, and got down to the business of being a learner. At the end of the week, the young minister had confided in me his and his wife’s 7 year hopes for a child, and asked me to pray for him when he went home that weekend.

Sometimes life gives you a break. Exactly nine months to the night, his wife gave birth to twins. From then on they had no problem accepting my leadership!!

I think we are blessed as Christians and United Church Christians in particular, that we are a people who are called to sacrifice much to engage with others who are different.

I guess I’m trying to reassure you, that disagreeing with one another is not a reason for separating from them. If anything, it’s a call from God to die a little, and love them harder. That includes your kids, cousins, siblings as well as your colleagues and those who seem very strange and very wrong.

Maple Tree in full fall colour

A great tree grows even though it’s seed must initially die for this to happen. tomooka / Foter / CC BY-SA

Perhaps if people of wildly different beliefs and perspectives were able to work together on the issue of racism, we would not be mourning the lives of nine churchgoing Christians of colour in Charleston, North Carolina.

I like the response the chair of our Outreach Committee gave to this issue of working with those who are different:

“I may disagree strongly with some of the ideas and attitudes I have been presented with at the mosque, but that will not prevent me from wanting to help a family in need. When the family arrives I may be shocked by some of their values, but they remain people who need our help. I think it would be easier to help people that share our values, but that is not always what we are called to do.

“I think it is always best to maintain communication and to get to know one another. Only then can we see how much we do share.”

And when she asked at the mosque, “would you consider sponsoring a Christian family?” they quickly responded, “yes.” All who strive for a holy peace and a global justice are called to sacrifice.

A seed sacrifices something of what it is in order to grow and bear fruit. You and I grow spiritually when we die to our own needs and desires, opinions and even beliefs.

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