Who Are We as the Church? “Bringing Unity”
1st Sunday in Lent, 02/14/2016
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Heavenly Father, on this 1st Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, we are faced with admitting that we do not deserve the grace only You can offer. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.
Last Sunday contained the biggest TV event of the year – Super Bowl 50, where 30-second commercials might cost as much as $5 million! And my favorite NFL team, after the Seahawks of course, won the game. Afterwards, during the interviews, winning quarterback Peyton Manning was asked about how it felt to win his second Super Bowl ring, as the oldest quarterback to ever play in this championship game? And do you know how Manning answered that question? He gave all the credit to the Denver Bronco Defense! “We’ve had a bunch of tough, unselfish, resilient guys, but our defense has led the way, and I’ve just been very grateful to be part of the journey with those guys,” Manning said. My respect for this team-leader shot through the roof when he said that.
In football, the Team must be in unity to win the game – obviously that doesn’t mean every player does the same thing – but every player must have the same goal and put forward their best effort. Even the losing team would agree that that’s how the game is played.
By the way, did you see yesterday’s front page, above the fold, article? “Pope, Russian Cleric Unite”. After 960 years, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church recognize each other as a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Unity! Hallelujah!
Last week we talked about how we honor our differences – I Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image. Today we look at what the Bible says about the Church being in unity! That’s the question we are dealing with over these next several weeks of Lent. Who Are We as the Church?
I invite you to join me in the Garden of Gethsemane, as we eavesdrop on Jesus as He prays on the night before He is crucified. This prayer is directly after the Lord’s Supper. Jesus and His disciples walk across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and go to this Olive Garden. Judas is about to join them with the arresting officers, just before the all-night illegal trial, false conviction, and next-day crucifixion. Listen to the Word of God, from The Gospel According to John 17:1-26 …. —-
“1Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He shall give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
In Jesus’ last few moments of quiet on earth, He prays for you and me! I don’t know that He had any of us in mind personally, but I am convinced that He was praying for us, in general terms, directly. He knew the opposition His Church would face – and He knew that we would even find reasons to oppose one another.
But one of His greatest desires is that His Followers would get along! Just a few chapters earlier, John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all people will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” One of the ways the world will know we are followers of Jesus, and through this they might discover God’s love for them, is how we love one another! That is so huge!
On our last trip to Israel, back in 2009 (maybe it’s getting to be time to go again??), our tour guide, Shimon Zemer, told me he was not a believer in Yeshua, and when I asked him why not (he knew all the Bible stories, and even believed them to be true), this is what he said: “I see how different kinds of Christians fight and argue with each other, and I think if that is the way believers live, I don’t want to be a believer.”
Turn to your neighbors, maybe groups of two or three, look each other straight in the eye and tell each other, “Even when we disagree – we will love each other!” – Happy Valentine’s Day!
Church membership means everything we say and do is based on a Biblical foundation of love! There lots of organizations we could be “members” of that couldn’t care less about what the Bible says – but as the Church we must care more about what Scripture says than what society at large announces; we must put God’s Word above all other words. If we don’t do that, we are just another good (or even great) organization, but we are not the Church. Jesus’ prayer is for our unity! For when we seek unity, we demonstrate love. In Colossians 3:14 Paul writes, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.”
I want to be straight up about this – this is not simply a platitude that sounds good, and that, of course, everyone follows. We don’t. We do not love each other in perfect ways.
What is the number one way we demonstrate a lack of love (and I am not pointing any fingers at anyone, I am just as guilty of this as the worst offender; neither am I saying that this is a particular problem in this particular church – this is a problem is every gathering of Christians. That is why Shimon Zemer could feel the way he does)? The number one way we demonstrate a lack of love? Gossip! We start rumors; we spread rumors; we attack people behind their backs; we share unflattering stories…. And we need to stop!
Peter and Paul, accused of being at odds with each other on several fronts, agree here perfectly. In Romans 1:29-31 Paul writes to these Corinthian Christians and calls them, “filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness, … full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. … gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.” An exhausting list! And right in the middle is gossip!
Peter writes (I Pet 3:10), “For one who wants to love life and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.”
Rather than those things, bring unity by speaking words of truth, in love! Seek after what is real! Ask the person involved in the story if it is true. Discover what she/he wants shared with others. Honestly pray for each other. And when we hear something that might be gossipy, find a loving way to stop it. I have heard of this technique – it is beautiful. When we hear someone bad-mouthing someone, interject with a “Bless her heart” and then change the subject! It works almost every time.
Forgiveness plays a giant part in loving each other, in bringing unity. When we’ve been hurt, forgive the offender – even before they ask for forgiveness! We pray, in unity, each week: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Let’s do that!
Bringing Unity does not mean we have to agree with everyone on every subject. It is more than OK for us to like different colors of paint on the walls, or to choose different restaurants to eat at after worship, or even to have different understandings of the exact meaning of what constitutes true baptism and what holy communion is. But even with those disagreements, hopefully backed by our understandings of Scripture (and not just the traditions we grew up in), we ought to be able to love one another.
Jesus prays that we will be one, just as He and the Father are one. He does not pray for uniformity – we can look different and like different music and choose different styles of dress; He prays for unity. He doesn’t even pray for unanimity; we can disagree on things of lesser importance; He prays for unity in those things of essential import.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
There are some essentials about which all followers of Jesus should bring unity: the triune God, the dual nature of the Second Person of the Triune God, salvation comes through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God who so loves the world that gave His only begotten Son, the authoritative witness of the written Word of God.
But we should find liberty in some non-essential doctrines of our churches: baptism by full immersion, necessity of speaking in tongues, the use of any particular translation of the Bible into English.
And in all things we have been enabled to offer charity, love, grace, forgiveness.
Our second Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our second Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, tape it to your computer monitor, or attach it to your dash board, reads as follows:
“Paul urged the people in Ephesus ‘to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.’ (Eph. 4:1-3)
I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the Gospel.”
Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.
Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we bring unity – well – to the glory of God. Amen.
Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.
Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 21-29.