Oneness is not sameness, G. Alexander Bryant tells delegates in his Sabbath sermon.
Published on: 10-31-2023
During the worship service on Saturday (Sabbath), October 28, G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, addressed church leaders directly, saying they are called to be relevant in our society, as Jesus was in His ministry. “It was [God’s] intention for His church to be engaged in the world,” he said.
Bryant, preaching a sermon entitled “In the World, But Not of the World,” declared to the delegates, official invitees, and spouses attending the 2023 NAD Year-End Meeting (YEM) Sabbath program that God also asks us to be united and respect each other’s differences.
God calls us to service to advance His kingdom. God didn’t call us to service to do the safe things, Bryant continued. “Some might call that a social gospel — whatever you may want to call it — Jesus ministered to the world’s disenfranchised and dejected groups.”
However, Bryant cautioned that when the church seeks to reach the marginalized with innovative methods, there can be criticism from the least expected place. “Have you noticed?” Bryant asked, “That some of your greatest ‘haters’ … you know what that is?” Bryant paused to lightheartedly invite delegates who don’t have any haters to, “Come join me because I got a few I can share with you.” He concluded his thought by saying that some of your greatest haters don’t come from without but rather, from within.
Bryant noted that to carry out this special ministry in the world, we must remain united. We must be one body, like the disciples. Oneness is what we should strive for. It is what Jesus prayed to His Father before His death (see John 17). But like the followers of Christ, Bryant cautioned, we must also respect our individuality.
“Oneness is not sameness. Oneness is not uniformity. And what Jesus is saying here in this prayer is, I’m praying that [the disciples] will be one as you and I are one. Oneness is my ability to like and appreciate you and love you just as you are, without trying to make you like me.”
Before Bryant began, NAD executive secretary Kyoshin Ahn gave a warm welcome to the delegates and the livestream audience. “How wonderful it is to know that when God’s children get together, in His name, He’s in our midst. He’s here,” he said.
Ahn concluded by saying, “We are here to worship the God who created us, who loves us, and who serves us. We are here to sing His praises, to fellowship with one another, and to hear the preaching of the Word of God.”
In addition to Ahn, many NAD staff members participated in the program, including Judy Glass, NAD treasurer/CFO; Evelyn Sullivan, Adventist Education associate director; Kimberly Maran, NAD communication director; Edwin Romero, Adventist Retirement administrator/CEO; Michael Harpe, Stewardship Ministries director; and Adam Fenner, newly appointed vice president of digital media. The Sabbath worship service included ministry through music from Anika Anderson, assistant director for NAD event management; Art Brondo, media producer for communication; and Karen Miranda, social media specialist for professional services.
Special music was also provided by The Watchmen Acapella, a vocal ensemble from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. The group performed several emotionally charged gospel selections during the divine worship hour.
Bryant’s sermon expanded on the NAD Year-end Meeting’s theme, “Together in Mission: I Will Go.” Bryant reminded the audience that God calls us to follow His example and engage in our world. “Jesus was actively engaged in the world and His community,” Bryant said. “When there are injustices, we are in the world, and we must be moved to action.”
While we as followers of Christ must engage in seeking love in a world filled with injustice, what we do will not always be popular and we’ll be open to criticism — from within our own church, Bryant reminded the audience. But as Christ trained His disciples, we too must persist in loving the marginalized.
Bryant explained that when Christ prayed to His Father, He said, “I have trained these disciples. That’s why the world hates them. I’ve trained them to act like and think like Me. I trained them to love [their] enemies, to bless them that curse [them], to do good to them who despitefully use [them]. I trained them to be countercultural. And because they’re countercultural, the world will hate them.”
As Christians and Seventh-day Adventists, it is clear, Bryant continued, that we are here to continue Jesus’ ministry of love and compassion.
“We should be concerned about the plight of the world. We should be concerned about the senseless mass murders in our country. We should be concerned about man’s cruelty to mankind. We should be concerned about the injustice of our society, we should be concerned about the plight of the homeless, we should be concerned about the impact of the climate [on] fires and earthquakes and floods, we should be concerned about police brutality and child abuse. We should be concerned about the disenfranchised because we are Jesus in the world.”
Bryant again emphasized that it’s a challenge to remain in the world. “‘In the world, but not of the world’ calls for a constant assessment and evaluation of our standing and condition in the world. It’s living in a dichotomy — in [the world] but not of it.”
But despite the challenges and ongoing criticisms we encounter, we are called to remain in a world full of division and hate. Jesus died so that we could have the opportunity to be in the world, but not of this sinful world, Bryant again reminded the audience.
Bryant said it is Jesus’ prayer to His Father: “I pray not that you take them out of the world of criticism, or out of the world of social media blasts. I pray not that you take them out of the middle of the COVID vaccination debate. I pray not that you take them out of the LGBTQ discussions. I pray [not] that you take them out of the Israel-Hamas war discussions. I pray not that you take them out of the homeless fight [sic]. I pray not that you take them out of the senseless shooting discussion. I pray not that you take them out of the abortion discussion. I pray not that you take them out of the sexual abuse debate. I pray not that you take them out of the religious liberty discussion. Because God says, ‘I need them in the world.’”
Bryant concluded by reminding everyone that Jesus is coming back. And the unique message that God gave the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to let the world know He’s on His way back. “So be faithful,” Bryant encouraged. “Hang in there. Keep fighting the fight. Keep fighting the battle because soon Jesus will come and take us home.”