Glenda and I recently travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam and my theme this morning comes as a reflection about our experiences. Let me assure you it is not a travel trip reflection. I want to reflect on what is the same but different about faith. Not so much the faith of the people we met and talked with in Cambodia and Vietnam, as what is the same but different about faith, with our faith, with what we call our Christian faith. It’s about making sense of the journey in terms of our faith, our Christian faith.
I was lying awake on a Friday one night just after we returned thinking about how people in Cambodia and Vietnam were expressing their faith. About the Pagodas we visited in a humid and hot climate climbing the many steps, and thinking about the symbols and actions of these people with their faith. I was thinking of a woman whose actions spoke about her faith. Different from what I wanted to do as she knelt in front of her Buddhist Altar to pray. I was moved to quiet reverence. So different, but also the same?
There was no doubt she was in touch with the one who for her was God. I knew in that moment we were standing on holy ground!
That Friday night I was also thinking about a young Vietnamese man who had been our personal guide, who talked about his house with three floors. The first floor was for his mother. The second floor for his wife and child who both sleep on one mattress while he slept on a rolled out thin mat on the floor. Perhaps a good way of birth control in a country where they are now meant to have large families. The third and upper floor was their place of worship and faith. Different but the same.
Sometimes we struggle about there being one God and many names for the one God. We experienced the Buddhist faith and saw how it was lived out and expressed. Different but something of the same. Not how we want to experience and express our faith? A Buddhist faith that called for recognition and respect. Different but something of the same.
On our journey we recognised the pain and ongoing hurt of the Cambodians with what happened in the killing of so many of their people, leaders and teachers, doctors and nurses. The key people of their nation killed by the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The loss of so much of their land to other nations. Their faith traditions challenged. They were warm, loving and a spontaneous people. It was difficult to imagine how their faith survived the onslaught.
We were impressed by the Vietnamese people who as a divided nation were involved in a war that they did not need, who refused to speak negatively about the foreign nations involvement in that war. A people who are living out generosity and peace, who have a faith that is different from ours yet there is something of the same about it. We visited ancient temples. In particular in Cambodia at Angor Wat and another in Vietnam in near Hoi Ann at My Son. Some of these very ancient temples are centuries old dating back to and before the time of Christ. Temples that have been damaged by War and lack of care over the centuries. Some are being restored in a process that will take centuries. I felt we were on holy ground. Not in the sense it was a place where I wanted to worship. It was a place where many others have worshipped and so it was truly a sacred places. Our experiences visiting in particular two ancient sites, and then the pagodas and Mausoleums for ancient Emporia’s where they are recognised and revered, caused us to stop and sense the holiness of these places. They were places of faith and belief so different from our tradition and practice. Holy places where we could be comfortable holding on to our faith.
It brought into focus the difference of our faith tractions and the sense in which there was something of the same. Theirs was not a tradition we wanted to adopt. It was a time for recognition and respect.
So on Friday night a fortnight ago I was a wanting to make sense of our faith journeys. My faith journey that began personally in childhood, with markers on the way that make it the same but different. The faith that I clamed as a teenager with an evangelist who came to New Zealand. The faith that’s expanded and developed over the years. Yes the same but different.
If our faith has just remained the same and not different, it will not be the faith we need to make sense and help us on the journey today. It has to be the same but different.
While we were away I received news of the son of my evangelist Billy Graham who came here and who died a few years ago, whose son who has followed in the evangelical steps of his father. This son is holding to the faith, the same faith. He is also expressing it politically in a way that supports a faith that I cannot hold to the United States. It is different in the sense that does not belong to the journey I am on with Jesus.
So this same but different theme is important in making sense of our journey. The journey that is modelled on the way of Jesus.
While we were away Janet Marsh a very good friend of ours and Methodist minister at Motueka reminded me about an important fact concerning Jesus. I’d known for some time but lost focus on the fact that “Jesus was not a Christian” The whole Christian movement and journey began after his death. His faith came out of the Judean tradition. It is the same faith but different. Jesus has given us what we can call “the way” of faith.
As people have followed his way and walked the walk, talked the talk, his way has been the same but different. We have used words from age to age that are both the same but different. If our words remain the same, always and only the same, our faith is not living and appropriate for our journey, where change is the essence of our lives and experiences. The journey has to give us the opportunity and right to find new ways and words to express the faith. The faith that set us on our journey is the same but very – very different. It has to be different. We should expect it to be different. We need to be open to differences in the road ahead. Different as we find ways to express the faith today. Different in our we do our worship. Different as we live out faith. If there are no differences, we need to consider if our faith is alive or dead.
Living faith – Being from the past is the same! Living faith now is different!
The same but different.