Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35
Sing to God, who rides upon the clouds. (Ps. 68:4)
1 Peter 4:12–14; 5:6–11
Can’t you just get along? This is my exasperated sigh, my desperate wish. I’ve had the privilege of being involved in a variety of Zion’s children’s ministry in the these months of my internship. Every Wednesday I’m over at Patriot’s teaching arts and craft- picking up gluesticks, tying bracelets, finding lost marker caps. More recently I’ve been tutoring a small group of kids in reading. Maybe some of you are picturing an idyllic scene. Smiling children, quietly coloring away. Young students, now reading Chaucer. Ah, no. Kids have feelings and tempers, and know how to push each others’ buttons! So all I want is some magic potion to just make them all get along!
It’s likely most of us have experienced kids acting as rambunctious kids. Bickering, teasing- we call these “childish” behaviors for a reason. But I think we know we don’t completely grow out of these behaviors! There are times when I know I have acted to push someone’s buttons. Maybe out of jealousy, or a need to feel important. There are times when I just don’t want to get along, when I want to be right and stay right, even when maybe, just maybe… I’m really wrong.
Maybe I’m saying this just to make myself feel better, or maybe you’ll agree— but I don’t think I’m the only one who acts in this childish way sometimes. In fact, I think we- the church- has abundant ability and opportunity to bicker and fight— and we use it!
I was told that once there was a sign on the bulletin board of Zion’s Sacristy. It read something like: “If it’s been done the same way for years, don’t change it; If someone’s been doing the same thing for years, don’t take it away from them”. We have a fear of change and fear of losing our sense of importance— even in the church. And this fear causes us to act in ways that divide us.
Our own Lutheran tradition arose out of a debate. It wasn’t meant to divide a church but to renew it, but the fact that we are now our own denomination attests to the fact that we’re not good at living together as Christians, at accepting each other through our differences of opinion and theology, at focusing on our unity through Christ. We at Zion celebrate 125 years of wonderful ministry, and look down the street to Heartland with fear. We must think there are too few people in Rockford to fill both Zion and Heartland, too few to serve with Christ’s love and compassion.
Here’s a word of grace. We’re not the first generation to struggle with the problem that it’s difficult to live together! All the saints, our foremothers and fathers in the faith, have struggled with the issue of unity.
We meet Jesus and the disciples in the Gospel of John, just before Jesus is betrayed, and killed. Jesus is praying to the Father. Jesus and the Father have unity. Together with the Holy Spirit they existed as one before the creation of the world, and together brought creation into being. There is one God, but ours is a God of relationships in unity. Jesus’ ministry could not have been carried out without his relationship to the Father.
Now Jesus prays that the unity he and the Father know would be the same unity the disciples would know. Jesus’ ministry of healing, teaching, and revealing God on earth is about to come to an end. In the John text, Jesus is about to die, and in the Acts’ text, Jesus is ascending, leaving earth to be with the Father. But, Jesus’ ministry continues through the disciples. Before Jesus ascends, he directs the disciples’ attention to the ends of their world; they are not to remain staring up into heaven, waiting for Jesus to come back and do what he’s always been doing, but to get up, go out, and do God’s work themselves!
Jesus’ prayer in John is not for himself, but for his disciples, and for us. Jesus knows that life and ministry are not going to be easy. He knows that living in community is not always going to go smoothly. And so he prays. Verse 11And 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”.
The road of following Jesus and living in community may be difficult and bumpy, but the Father sees us through it, and works to make unity out of diversity, out of chaos. This unity is alive and well in our world today.
It is often in the activities of serving Christ that we diverse people and churches are able to be united. Lutheran Disaster Response is an organization that provides timely and long term recovery efforts where there has been a disaster. It’s not just ELCA Lutherans, but the ELCA along with the LCMS? – two groups who are so unable to work together in other ways.
The recovery after Hurricane Katrina continues today. The ELCA has chosen to hold the next Youth Gathering in New Orleans as a way of highlighting the needs that linger there. Groups from Wartburg Seminary and my home church went down south to volunteer after the hurricane. As I listened to friends and family tell stories, one beautiful story emerged. The churches were actively banding together to help people.
Our ELCA continues to work for unity across the denominations. We continue dialogs with the Roman Catholic church to find common ground and heal the division that birthed us Lutherans. We also work with other Church bodies to form relationships called Full Communion Partners. According to the ELCA news service, “Full communion means the churches will work for visible unity in Jesus Christ, recognize each other’s ministries, work together on a variety of ministry initiatives, and, under certain circumstances, provide for the interchangeability of ordained clergy.” The ELCA’s five full communion partners are the Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. Just this past week, the United Methodist Church agreed that it would like to enter into a full communion relationship with us. At the next Churchwide Assembly in 2009, we may agree to join them in this relationship of unity.
Relationship is what we need to continue God’s ministry. As the Body of Christ, we are God incarnate. A new theme for our Evangelical Lutheran Church is God’s Work, Our Hands. We are about the work of God in our world. But we cannot do that alone. We need each other. We need God to guide us into and to sustain community.
Today we gather around a central symbol of our unity in Christ. We gather around the Lord’s table to be fed the food of forgiveness, the drink of new life. In this Means of Grace, we experience God’s unending love, poured out to all of us. We kneel shoulder to shoulder with those whose opinions about this policy are completely wrong, who insulted us, who are too full of themselves, who broke their promise to us. We kneel shoulder to shoulder and one body, one blood is given to all of us. God’s grace is the source of our unity. God alone has the power to band us together, and God gives that power to us.
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