This year which has flown by and is about to wrap up had topical messages: Love, Action, Peace, and Rest were the major headings. Next year I will remain topical for the most part with faith, grace, and hope and of course our messages that go with Advent, Ash Wednesday, and Resurrection.
At the First Light service, we will look at gifts, the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit.
This morning, I will rest from the topic of rest and talk about unity. Why?
Several months ago, I talked with Terra Sisco—the pastor the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Marlow about leveraging the fact that the Marlow church was a polling station.
You can’t put up political signs at a polling place, but you can announce a community service. The church had been recovering from past hurts in the community and needed a jump start. I suggested that we practice the connectional nature of our denomination and get some pastors and others to come to Marlow and reintroduce the church to the community.
Terra was onboard and without hesitation said, I want you to preach on unity.
Unity—I love the topic. In today’s diverse and divisive world, it seems to be an anomaly.
Diversity is a wonderful thing. We are blessed with so many abilities, talents, and so many gifts of the Spirit that we should be producing fruit galore.
But there’s not much fruit in divisiveness, and our nation is suffering in divisiveness. There is no shortage of opinions as to who is at fault and those opinions often solidify the divisiveness. If you get into a discussion these days, you had better wear safety goggles so one of those pointing fingers doesn’t poke you in the eye.
Jesus as he was rebuking the religious leaders two thousand years ago : A house divided—a kingdom divided—against itself cannot stand.
About 160 years ago a young Abraham Lincoln noted this about our nation. He would see it lived out in the blood of nearly 700,000 young Americans.
About 80 years before that E pluribus unum was adopted as our national motto. What a perfect thought for this Grand Experiment we call the United States of America: Out of many one.
It not only signified the divine miracle that brought forth this new land, it seemed to also mark the challenge of each generation. One of the paradoxes of this republic is that it seeks unity while preserving liberty for the individual—for each of us.
This thing that we call self-government, representative government is a continual struggle. You might think that balance would prevail over divisiveness, but the world will have none of it. Even in this nation so blessed in this broken world, struggle is the nature of our existence.
Enough of the political scientist in me. I must let him out time and again. What about the body of Christ? What about us?
We as a community of believers must be a community. We must live in one accord. Christ alone must be our head, our Master, our King. Christ is the head of the church.
We must be one in the Spirit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t observe our separate traditions, we just don’t let them get in the way of our unity.
If the body of Christ does not practice and exhibit unity, can we expect more of our nation? We must be a model of unity.
In the first part of the scripture from that I read, we most often focus on the Christ gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers part. That’s important, but sometimes we forget the rest of these purposeful words—words that equip us for service to our Lord.
Paul continued: so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
What’s Paul saying? Unity is our destination not our starting point. Even we in the body of Christ have some work to do. We are to mature. We are to grow.
Christ did everything for our salvation. We have some work to do on our discipleship. As we follow Jesus, we should look more and more like our Master each day, each week, each year. Sometimes, growing in God’s grace takes a little work.
Often, we have to overcome our own human nature as we take on God’s holy nature. Salvation is a gift. Amen! Hallelujah. Praise the Lord! Discipleship takes work.
What if we want a benchmark of our work and our growth?
One of those indicators of growth is unity. Unity signifies that we are maturing in our faith. We are growing. We are growing in God’s grace. God will never stop loving us, even if we are at the bottom of our class. We grow in his grace.
Unity is one of the markers of our growth. The ability to work with other believers with diverse thoughts, attitudes, culture, language, gifts, and abilities because Jesus is the head and we are one in the Spirit. Being of one accord is a mark of maturity.
You have heard the phrase, speaking the truth in love, right? I have taken this phrase out of context many times, most of them with good application.
Most of the time we think this is for the benefit of the one with whom we are speaking. Often it is, but in the original context, it is about us and our growth. Listen to Paul’s words once again.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Speaking the truth in love is a precursor to growth. If we are to navigate this modern age and move towards unity of the body, we must be able to speak the truth in a spirit of love with those that do not agree with us.
If we were to follow Paul to in Romans, he talks about disputable matters. The Greek word that we most often translate as disputable is διαλογισμός (dee-al-og-is-mos'). You might think that sounds more like dialogue than dispute.
You would be correct. The original meaning of the word is essentially, back and forth reasoning. Today in our modern nation, it seems that every dialogue becomes a dispute or argument or irresolvable conflict, but the original language did not carry the burden of our modern connotations.
It meant back and forth reasoning. Who misses that other than me? Who misses a good, wholesome, healthy discussion instead of everyone talking at once, often with ever-increasing volume. The author Stephen Covey calls this mass babble that we pass of as modern discussion, the dialogue of the deaf. Everyone is talking, and nobody is listening.
We as the body of Christ not only must be capable of but practice back and forth discussion. We must speak the truth in love, not out of selfish ambition nor condemnation. This is a mark of our maturity as believers.
Will we get to the point where we agree on everything? No. But we will live in one accord knowing that Jesus is Lord. He is our Master. He is the head of the church.
And the things that we don’t agree upon will not get in the way of serving Christ, loving one another, or being unified as his body.
Diversity of opinion, methods, and traditions will not get in the way of unity within the body of Christ. When we as believers start picking at each other for how others practice their faith—whatever it is—baptizing, preaching, music, celebrating the Lord’s Supper and other things, remember the church body that you are picking at belongs to our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.
His Spirit abides in the believers of that body. If the Lord has some corrections or redirection for that body, his Spirit is already there, and none of us have been retained to advise the Spirit. Who among us may counsel the Lord?
We do have the . We have God’s Spirit. We are one body. We must grow to unity. We must mature as believers so that we can have back and forth discussions without causing the new believer to stumble or doubt that we have a clue about this Christianity stuff.
We are called to live in one accord, and I don’t mean a Honda.
Oh, by the way, it’s going to be work. Salvation is a gift from God. Discipleship, growing in grace, and unity take work. Are we up for the work?
I am not talking about carrying burdens that we have surrendered to our Lord. I am talking about . Are we ready to learn from our Lord and grow in his grace?
It’s going to take some work. Many look around at a divisive nation and are about ready to throw in the towel, but we must stay the course. We must . We must never give up on unity.
You have endured me this far, but I am making a return to something of a Marine story. I’ve used it in different contexts, so some may have heard it before.
During the First Gulf War which was just called Desert Shield and Desert Storm back then, I was training reservists. I was the active duty commander. Many reserve units were called up and I went with them to Camp Lejeune for 2 weeks of refresher training before shipping out to Southwest Asia.
After they deployed, I went back to my command and waited for my orders. I got them and went to Camp Lejeune to go through the same sort of refresher training I had just taken the reserves through. This was a group composed mostly of officers and senior NCO’s. We were near the end of this two-week period and headed to the pistol range and a close combat refresher.
You might say that we had copped an attitude. What attitude? We’ve done this. If things get down to pistols and knives, the battleplan did not go according to plan. Most of the officers were thinking, “just wrap this stuff up and get me on a plane to the desert.”
There was a crusty old gunnery sergeant in charge of this last part of the training. He detected the malaise that accompanied us. He couldn’t really chew us out as half were officers, but he could relate a story from decades earlier.
He was a young Marine on an outpost with his fireteam. A lance corporal was in charge of this 4-man outpost. That is to say that a 19-year-old kid was in charge of three 18-year old’s. The gunnery sergeant was one of those 18-year-old kids long ago.
They had fought through most of the night. Everyone was wounded. Ammunition had run out. Everyone was just leaning back against a tree or a berm waiting to die. They could hear the enemy moving in on them as the grass and reeds made noises not caused by the wind.
These few young Marines had given up hope. This lance corporal team leader did the most compassionate thing he could think. It may be one of the most compassionate things one Marine has ever said to another.
He said: GET OFF YOUR BUTTS AND GET IN THE FIGHT! You may die by the enemy’s bullets or bayonets, but you will not give in to self-pity and hopelessness. GET IN THE FIGHT!
Of the 4 young Marines, three survived the day. They were ready to throw in the towel but this 19-year-old kid who happened to be in charge, reminded them that throwing in the towel was not who they were.
Get in the fight!
We are not people who give up either. We know that to live is Christ and to die is gain and sometimes we want the second part now. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
But we are overcomers. Our work here is not finished. Part of that work is to share the gospel.
Part of that work is to model unity for the world. They can’t get there on their own. They need leadership.
How can we lead? We follow Jesus. We take his yoke and learn from him and put his words into practice.
If the body of Christ will not model unity for the world, the world will never get there. The world knows uniformity. The world will gladly conform you to its patterns, but it cannot know the unity that we as maturing believers must know and put on display for the world.
It will take some work. Salvation is a gift.
Discipleship takes work. The part of discipleship that we ventured into this morning was unity. We can do this.
Will the world follow our model? Probably not, but those living according to the world will see that we are different. Some will ask why, and we will tell them of God’s love that we know in Christ Jesus.
That is, if they can tell us apart from the world. Can we be diverse, yet live in one accord? Can we maintain different traditions, yet live in unity as the body of Christ? Can we do this?
I’ll do this exercise once again.
Raise your right hand as high as you can.
Now raise it higher.
We like to think we are doing the best that we can, but there is always a little more if we reach for it. My challenge, my request, and my prayer are that we work a little harder when it comes to unity in the body of Christ.
The world doesn’t know this sort of unity and the peace and hope that come with it. The world will be the world, but Jesus told us to be the light of the world.
One way to be that light is to live in unity as the body of Christ.