“When Unity Gets Lost” – 01-26-14 – Epiphany 3 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 9:1,4-9; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Paul is calling for unity in the church body. Pastors are calling for unity. What is unity? You may be thinking about unity between Jews and Gentiles and Muslims. Or, you may be thinking about unity with Lutherans, United Church of Christ members, Episcopalians, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox Catholic and the other various church bodies including the name Catholic, Assemblies of God, Independent churches, and what did I miss?

Or you may be thinking about unity in our own congregation. Unity seems to be very elusive. We each have our personal opinions of how things should be. It is so hard to free ourselves of these personal preferences. I have been that way in my life. But if we step back and take a look at the whole congregation, the need for compromise becomes apparent. It is not easy. We are thankful for the persons who care tremendously for the on-going mission in our congregations.

We care about mission. Some congregations have an ambitious mission program. We certainly appreciate the piles and piles of collection items. Thank you each and every person. Sometimes the dis-unity comes when the mission items sit in the building because everyone is busy or is told that someone else will deliver them and there they are; sitting in the hallway or taking precious space in a room. Sometimes the same people get the delivering job time after time. Thank you if you have served over and over to deliver whatever needs to be delivered.

Unity calls for organization and someone to oversee and make contacts. Contact by telephone or e-mail or U.S. mail or in person is the key to unity as I see it. People need to express their feelings and also people need to hear the reason why a different approach will work better.

Casual communication is important also. When we get an e-mail, it is not much trouble to “reply.” Just saying “thanks for the e-mail” or “I got it” or “I can do that” or “I can’t do that.” Unity will never happen if we do not reply to communication we receive. Please think. Do you respond to e-mails from people within your congregation, including the pastors? If not, what is the excuse. Remember that unity of the congregation is at stake.

Unity does not mean agreement. Unity means agreeing to disagree. Unity means finding common ground. Unity means sending pride running. We as pastors are at fault in this way also. We need to pray for each other, not in a magic way expecting God to respond according to our wishes, but praying for a vision of getting along without malice.

We really need to listen to each other. We need to widen our vision and our understanding of another way of doing things. If we feel adamant about a certain subject, we need to find a neutral person who is a good listener.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 is talking about believing in accord. That means that God, through Jesus Christ, is the head of the church. United Church of Christ denomination holds this as a main tenet – a main belief. Other Christian denominations follow the same basic belief. So we don’t want to wander to the belief that a single pastor should be worshiped, we don’t need to worry about a certain Christian pastor doing our child’s baptism or our own baptism. As long as the pastor truly believes in Jesus Christ as part of the Holy Trinity, God honors the baptism. It is the water and the word that matter.

Unity does not mean being a milque-toast person. We need to be applying ourselves to whatever position we hold in the congregation. We are thankful for the persons who are very serious about their positions. The problem is to arrive at a decision with friendliness, with kindness. After studying the possibilities and the history, we can discuss the various solutions with calmness. Sometimes, “solution” is waiting.

Who can be our guiding force? We could call a person from outside if that is necessary. But first we need to invite the Holy Spirit to be present in each meeting. We need to stop during meetings to vocally invite the Holy Spirit. Many congregations have persons who already do this. Even if the leader does not stop the discussion, individuals sitting around the table should pause and invoke God to provide a solution which will maintain some amount of unity.

Psalm 27:8 is the psalmist imploring God, “Hear my voice, O Lord when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. My heart speaks your message: “Seek my face. Your face, O Lord, I will seek.”

Unity has a wonderful, light side even though you have heard these admonishments. The unity is how everyone knows exactly what to do for Christmas Eve and the whole Advent season. The unity is how the congregation gathers for Fellowship lunches once a month. The unity is the usher plan that is in place with people covering for each other when necessary.

Unity is when our young people ask and enjoy doing the work of the church. Unity is when we sit around the table in Confirmation Class and each person says a prayer. Unity is a prayer chain. We thank the lead person and the prayer partners. It is an invaluable service to our people. Unity is forming around prayer.

Unity is laughter together, not toward other persons. Unity is checking the building for possible handicapped entrance. The list is endless. Is your congregation enjoying that kind of unity? Are we looking at the whole picture? Are we looking at the light? From Isaiah 9 we read “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”

Can a family be in unity? Can we sit around the table for the evening meal or the morning meal and share a pleasant feeling? Do parents use a tone of voice that oozes with firm love instead of a scolding tone? Have you discovered that a scolding tone gets us nowhere except a trembling child who can’t function in school?

If we pray for ourselves and our children to be what God created us to be, scolding will make that fulfillment impossible. A scolded child or spouse will either withdraw or become belligerent. Unity will fly out the window. Pleasant encouragement and support will bring unity to the family. One of the children in a family I know, is compared to a sister or brother or to one of the parents when, in fact, that child will never understand math, but that child could excel at being loving, at bringing unity to the family. Let us accept the inabilities of our children, of our brothers and sisters in the congregation – be they young or adults.

As we take our young people to Parkhouse for Martin Luther King Day or another home of care, help us to model our love for these people who often cannot express their appreciation for our visit.

Unity is Vacation Bible School. Unity is the Sunday School program. Unity is the church child-care family. Unity is the Property Committee and the Chancel Care people. Unity is the lay people who willingly lead worship. Unity is the habit of people being present for each week’s service. To have our seat unfilled is dis-unity. Unity is when we are respectful of each other’s time from the custodian to the secretary to the pastors. Unity is when we attend meetings which have a purpose.

Jesus modeled unity around the Upper Room table. Later in the evening he prayed that the disciples, and therefore us, should be one with God and with each other. In John 17:11, we hear Jesus praying to the Father, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

You are probably wondering why I am using the word “unity” or “being one” at the Upper Room meal on the last evening before the crucificion. You are probably wanting to remind me about the betrayal of Judas. You are probably wondering how I can think “unity” when Jesus himself was leaving the disciples on earth.

But in leaving the earthly place of habitation, Jesus could be with everyone at all times instead of having to walk the dusty roads of Palestine. Jesus, leaving the earthly life, enables God’s people on earth to develop unity. We keep working and refining this state of being. It is not automatic. We need to use our close relationship with this ascended Jesus Christ in the quest for “oneness” and for “unity.”

Let us picture Jesus enjoying our daily endeavors toward unity. I can hear him say, “Good job, faithful servant, go enjoy yourself for an evening.” I can hear him say, “Good move, child of mine.” I can hear the laughter of Jesus over the silly things we do daily. At least, that would apply to me. The laughter of Jesus helps us to know that we are forgiven of silly or even hurtful words or actions. The laughter of Jesus can shake the earth. However, never in derision; always in love. Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit – the one true God – truly love us, truly. Despite our stubbornness, despite our spoken aggravations, the love of God is in front of us and around us and under us and in us. How can we respond? Can we put on our minds and hearts of unity? Amen.