You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Gal. 3:26, 28

You’ve heard of hashtags, right? #internet #trending

At base, the # is a way of labeling something. It started with Twitter, but it’s spread. On many sites, it becomes a link to follow to see all the posts being tagged with a particular label. So, for instance, if I searched #Christian, I would see all the things anyone had recently posted with that tag.

Labels can be quite informative. “Gluten free” are two important words for many people, as are “nut free” or “dairy free.” “Free Wifi” can feel like an equally life-or-death phrase. The usefulness of these labels depends on their accuracy, of course. A “gluten free” bread handled by someone with wheat flour on their hands is no longer gluten-free.

Labels (or hashtags!) are trickier when applied to people. Some are useful so long as they are accurate. For instance, doctors need to know if a patient is diabetic when giving treatment. We get ourselves into a great deal of trouble applying labels to other people, especially inaccurate ones: lazy, selfish, oversensitive, entitled, greedy, for instance.

We can even get ourselves into trouble applying labels to ourselves! If you were asked to describe yourself, you might say you’re a book-loving grandmother gardener, or a Hawkeye fan teacher dad, or a Lutheran band geek selfie master. There is nothing wrong with knowing who you are!

However, psychology shows us that our brains unconsciously start to believe that our labels are inherently better than other people’s labels. If you say you’re a fan of singing hymns with an organ, your brain starts to tell you that people who like singing praise songs with a band aren’t just different, they’re wrong. The more strongly we feel about our beliefs, the more likely we are to define ourselves by the label and then to label people who disagree as not just wrong, but bad.

If you think I’m exaggerating, just let me share an example. When I first moved to Tipton, people would often ask where I was from. If I said I had just moved from St. Paul, Minnesota, the response was a slightly suspicious, “Oh, you’re a city person.” If I instead said I was born in Ames, the asker would visibly relax and say, “Oh, you’re from Iowa!” We are hardwired to think well of people who seem to be more like us.

But where does that leave us in the body of Christ? In my sermon two weeks ago, I reminded us that we are all of us part of the body of Christ, and not just us, but every follower of Jesus. “Member of the body of Christ” is our central label, but #youarealloneinChristJesus is kind of a mouthful for a hashtag.

We’ve got to practice seeing people who seem different as part of the family of God if we really want to get good at it. And I don’t mean that they’re the distant cousin you only see at weddings and make small talk over cake. I mean that the guy in the red MAGA hat who wants a wall and the young Americans arrested for distributing water along border crossing routes take Jesus seriously when he says we need to see each other as siblings. I mean that the church can’t be the whole body of Christ if it excludes gay and lesbian believers from the community. I mean that we have to value babies in the womb as we value the women carrying them, not set their interests against each other as if there is only enough care and concern for one set of people.

Then we could start to really #love each other as Jesus commanded us. Then we could start to be the #bodyofChrist. Then we could truly be #oneinChristJesus.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me and making me your child. I know that all your children are my siblings. Help me love each one of them as you do. Make us one body. Amen.

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