Saturday, August 25, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 14, Ephesians 6.10-20, Cosmic Powers of Darkness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
There is a phrase, a slogan that has gained popularity over the last century or so in our politics.
“Drain the swamp.”
I quote an author, John Kelly, writing in his blog in 2016:
“In a press release from Oct. 17, 2016, Trump pledged to “drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.”  He then tweeted:  “I will Make Our Government Honest Again – believe me.  But first, I’m going to have to Drain the Swamp.”  What is he talking about?
“Politicians have long colored calls to clean up government corruption with drain the swamp.  In 2006, newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged to “drain the swamp” in Congress after 10 years of Republican control.  After 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld committed to “drain the swamp” of terrorism; the phrase was a favorite of Bush administration officials during the ensuing wars they launched in the Middle East.  Earlier, in 1983, President Reagan described his chief mission as “draining the swamp” of big government.
“At its bottom, drain the swamp is a metaphor: If you  drain the swamp, you eliminate the mosquitoes (or snakes and alligators, in other iterations) that breed disease.  But ironically, the original disease the expression referred to was the very thing Trump has built his campaign on: big business.
Drain the swamp isn’t just a vivid conceit with a revolutionary flair: It also alludes to the stubborn myth that Washington, D.C., was built on a swamp, which fatefully, had to be drained to accommodate the new seat of American democracy and power.
 Myth aside, drain the swamp has proved sticky over the course of the 20th century, used by Democrats and Republicans, socialists and capitalists, to condemn whatever particular malady they believe is plaguing our government.”
End of quote.
Why is it that a phrase such as “drain the swamp” has gotten so much traction over the years, being used by both Democrats and Republicans?
What is it that resonates about that concept?
The reason is both simple, and troubling at one and the same time.
People sense, deep within them, that we are engaged in a battle against the forces of evil.  It’s that simple.
And yet, it is troubling in that we cannot identify the true face of evil in our midst.  The “enemy” is hidden.  And there is no agreement on who the enemy is, and who it is that will lead the fight against the enemy.
In the politics of today, with all the divisiveness, some see our president as the champion of good who will overcome the evil that has plagued our government, while others see him as the very face of evil itself. 
It would be much easier if the forces of evil all were easily identifiable, if the devil was always red with a tail as pictured in folk lore.  Or if the good folks all wore white hats, and the evil ones black, like in the old western movies.
For all of the confusion, though, there is one thing that the Bible affirms as being true.
There are forces of evil at work in the world that are at battle with the forces of good.
Paul writes in Ephesians:
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
“The cosmic powers of this present darkness” – now there is an ominous phrase.
At the time that the Book of Revelation was written, a time when the Church was under severe persecution, it was the Roman Government that was envisioned by John as being the beast, the evil power in the world that must be opposed, and that would one day be defeated by Christ himself.
At the time of Martin Luther it was the papacy, the institution of the Church itself that was seen as the evil force that needed to be challenged and reformed.
In more recent world history, Karl Marx identified capitalism as the source of evil in the world and called for the workers to rise up against it.
Most of us grew up in an age that responded to Marx’s criticism of capitalism with our own conviction that it was communism that was the source of evil in the world and which must be opposed.  The Soviet Union was viewed as the evil empire.
Today, our most common enemy is and has been terrorism and our country has been at war since 2001, our longest continuous conflict, against those forces.
Lyndon Johnson, during his presidency called for a War on Poverty and in order to fight it, introduced massive government programs to fight poverty, creating ‘entitlements’ that subsequent politicians would identify as evil.
Ronald Reagan, in response to these programs, launched his own agenda of reform of big government, with the well worn phrase that “Government is not the solution, government is the problem.”
Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” and initiated the War on Drugs, which today accounts for a massive prison population in our own country, and outright conflict at our southern border as we fight the illegal drug traffic.
We could go on and on.
Many of these efforts to combat evil are like swatting mosquitoes, no matter how many you swat there are more to come.
But there is an underlying reality that we are confronted with time and time again, and that is that there exists in the world a power of evil that seeks to destroy us.
The cosmic powers of this present darkness.
Paul writes:
3Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.  .  .
Stand firm in the Lord.
This is the response that Paul offers to the conflict with evil in our world.
In Martin Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress we sing:
“The old Satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight,
On earth is not his equal.
No strength of ours can match his might!
We would be lost, rejected,
But now champion comes to fight
Whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of Hosts is he!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord.”

Another popular hymn, deemed too militaristic to be included in our hymnal is Onward Christian Soldiers:
Onward Christian soldiers!
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See, His banners go!

It strikes me, that as we are faced with the reality of evil in our world, many of us Christians are a bit like the hippies of the 60’s.
In response to the Vietnam War they wanted to speak about nothing but ‘love and peace’.
That’s in part, why hymns like these are looked down on today.
Too militaristic.
And yet, the Bible tells us time and time again that there is a battle raging all about us.
There are forces of evil greater than us.
But as dire as those warnings may be, the promise is even greater.
The battle against evil will be won.
It will not be won by the likes of Trump or Obama, but by Christ himself, and so people of faith are called on to stand firm and trust that God himself will thwart all the efforts of the evil one.
This is the good news.
The challenge for us is that this battle will continue to rage till the end of time.  That’s one of the messages of the Book of Revelation, that it is not until the end that all the forces of evil will finally be defeated.
I suggest to you that in the meantime, what we are called to do is celebrate small victories, even if the final battle is yet to come.
Every time love prevails over hate, there is a victory.
Every time forgiveness is offered, there is a victory.
Every time justice is done, there is a victory.
Every time we face this world of uncertainty with faith, there is a victory.
These are not the victories that we have achieved, but rather the victories of God.
And here is the ultimate measure of our faith: that we believe in the end that God wins.
That’s our hope.  That’s our faith. 
That’s God’s promise.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 13, John 6:51-58, Give me Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
We are a hungry people with cravings that long to be satisfied, and those cravings control our lives.
Craving: a powerful desire for something.  That’s the definition.
It’s a deep longing, a yearning, a wanting, a hunger and thirst that aches to be satisfied.
At their best, cravings play a crucial role in our lives.  We need food, we need water, and without them we die.  And so part of our natural makeup is that God has placed within us a craving, a hunger and thirst for these essentials of life so that we might seek them out and be satisfied.
This is true even for specific items.
Take salt, for example.  When we sweat, we lose the essential chemicals that salt contains, and so we must replenish them.  And so we crave things that are salty.  All animals do.
Near Sandpoint we have the Scotchman Peaks wilderness area.  There are mountain goats up there that are often present alongside the well hiked trail.
These goats have become accustomed to the frequent visits of humans and have even become accustomed to licking these visitors.
Wildlife biologists are quick to explain that the goats are not just friendly, they crave the salt that is present on our skin and see us as a ‘salt lick’, a place to replenish this natural requirement.
If you want to attract deer or other animals to a particular place, one of the ways is to set out a block of salt.  That’ll do it.
These are the natural and healthy cravings that are intended to sustain our lives.
We have other cravings that will destroy us.
There is an addictive element to this cycle of craving something, and then satisfying that craving.
It’s a most basic experience of pain and pleasure that holds us captive.
We hunger and satisfy ourselves with good food.
We thirst and satisfy ourselves with a drink.
Part of our fallen nature is that these most basic desires and satisfactions that are essential to life get distorted, to the point of being harmful to us.
Yes, we hunger and are satisfied, but some people so crave food that they eat to excess, and are never fully satisfied, and gain extraordinary amounts of weight to the point that their very lives are jeopardized.
And then we also find ourselves getting hooked satisfying cravings for things that are harmful to us.
Alcohol is one example.
Taken in moderation, alcoholic beverages are a natural form of beverage that are not harmful.
And yet, they are intoxicating.
Some people will crave the effect that alcohol has when consumed in a large quantity.
I’m one such person.
I liked the way I felt when I drank.
Karla is quite different.  She never could stand the feeling of intoxication, and so the most she would ever drink was a half glass of wine, or so.
What happens for people like me begins with the craving for the feeling of intoxication, the “buzz” that comes with drinking, and then the satisfaction when that craving is met.
Actually, the feelings of intoxication are the body’s adverse reaction to alcohol, and are intended to warn us, to alert us when enough is enough.
But if we crave that feeling, and seek to constantly satisfy it, eventually our bodies become accustomed to a level of alcohol in the system.  This is called habituation.  We might also refer to it as an increasing tolerance for alcohol.
What happens is that more and more alcohol is required to achieve the same feeling.
The next phase is that we become so accustomed to a certain amount of alcohol that our bodies experience withdrawal if we don’t get enough.  At this point we are not drinking for the pleasure it produces, but to avoid the pain of withdrawal.  We are hooked.  And we will drink even to the point of dying.
To crave something--
At its best it leads us to the most basic requirements of life.
At its worst it leads us down a pathway to death.
It’s not just substances that we crave.
We crave other things such as power and prosperity.
One of the most far reaching examples of this is what happened in Germany during the last century.
The Treaty of Versailles brought an end to the first world war, but it did so by imposing very punitive restrictions on the German nation.  Coupled with that was the great depression that left Germany both powerless and impoverished.
Into the vacuum of powerlessness and impoverishment Hitler came with a promise.
To use today’s lingo, he offered the promise to the German people to ‘make Germany great again’ by promising that which they craved: power and prosperity.
In seeking satisfy this craving for power and prosperity, the German people were led down a path that led ultimately to their destruction, again, during World War II.  Atrocities were committed all in the name of satisfying these two basic desires.
As a nation we also have an unquenchable hunger and thirst for power and prosperity.
We might defend ourselves and maintain that we’ve not been led down a pathway like Germany, but the craving is there, nonetheless.
Imagine a president of our country proposing that we downsize our military and relinquish some of our power.  Some politicians, such as Ron Paul has suggested that we do that, maintaining that we just can’t afford to do that.  His candidacy never got very far.
Our craving for power is such that we would never willingly accept being less than the most powerful nation in the world.
Likewise with prosperity.
We want to be the largest economy in the world.  And there seems to be no end to our appetite for material things.
One example of our prosperity is our phones.
Our appetite for cell phones, that didn’t even exist a few years ago, is such that we have made Apple, the maker of the iPhone the first Trillion dollar company in our nation.  The only companies that have exceeded Apple’s net worth are oil companies in China and Saudi Arabia, also signs of our prosperity.
And every politician in our country is judged based on the effect of their policies on the economy.
Power and prosperity, two of our basic cravings and desires.
The problem is that you can never have enough of either to be satisfied, and the quest for both power and prosperity will end the end, destroy us.

St. Augustine wrote:
“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”
These words from the opening lines of his “Confessions” might be paraphrased to read:
“We crave you, O Lord, and we will never be satisfied until we are filled with you.”
From our Gospel lesson:
“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
That we hunger and thirst is no secret.
But the only thing that will satisfy the yearning within our souls is Jesus.
Everything else will, in the end, lead to our destruction.
Jesus, will lead us to God our Father, and our life and salvation.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem so.
We crave power, and Jesus died on the cross.
We crave prosperity, and Jesus told the rich young man to sell all that he had, and come follow him.
In 1 Timothy 6 Paul writes:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
And as regards power, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
We are a curious people, we who follow Jesus.
In a world consumed with the craving for pleasure, for prosperity, and for power, we kneel at the altar to receive a morsel of bread, and a few drops of wine.
It is hardly enough to satisfy the hunger and thirst within us, one would think, hardly enough.
Except that it is Jesus.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Only Jesus.
There is a reason Jesus was first laid in a manger, a feeding trough,
Because he, and he alone, is the one food which nourishes the soul and satisfies the desire of every living thing.
Would that we might all recognize that the craving that lies deep within us is not for food, or drink, or pleasure, power, and prosperity, but for him.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 12, John 6.35, 41-51

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Jesus and Bread.  That’s the theme.
For five weeks our Gospel lesson has been from the sixth chapter of St. John, the Bread of Life discourse.
It begins with Jesus’ feeding a crowd of five thousand people, having only a boy’s lunch, a few barley loaves and a couple fish.
As the chapter goes on, Jesus teaches the crowds about himself, that he is the true bread of life who came down from heaven, that all who eat of it may not perish, but live. 
After the feeding of the five thousand the crowds were ready to seize him and make him King.
After Jesus explained that he is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven, and that they would “eat his flesh and drink his blood” the crowds left him, leaving only his disciples, because the teaching was too hard for them.
Their stomachs were filled, and they wanted him to be their King.
But when he shared with them what truly happened, they could no longer associate with him.
What happened?
From King to outcast in a few short moments,
There are two major themes in Jesus’ teaching, both of which appear to be equally offensive to the crowds.
The first is that he is the “Bread of Life” and that just as the Israelites ate the manna in the wilderness so to would those who followed him eat this bread, and live.  Even more offensive is that uses the words, eat my flesh and drink my blood.
After two thousand years of celebrating Holy Communion, we likely don’t realize what an offense those words would cause.  Cannibalism.
That’s enough to turn one’s stomach. 
The second theme is Jesus’ teaching is that he has come down from heaven.  This divine origin troubles the people, and they just cannot see it.  After all, they thought that they knew him, the Son of Joseph and Mary, the boy who grew up among them.
And now he says that he is from heaven?
This was hard to accept.
I find myself asking two questions of the crowds who were with Jesus that day.
Was it because they simply didn’t understand Jesus that they rejected him and his teaching?
Or was it because they did understand him, that they found what he said to be intolerable?
Similar questions can be asked of us.
Like his disciples, we have chosen to follow him, and we accept his teaching regarding him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven.
But is the reason we can so easily accept Jesus and his teaching because we have truly understood him?
Or is it possible that we have accepted him and followed him, because we don’t fully understand him?
Christians have long understood these passages as dealing with communion.  “Eat my body” and “drink my blood” are obvious references to communion. 
But this is the thing.
Eating bread and drinking wine as part of a ritual is common to both Jews and Christians.
Specifically, the bread and wine are part of the Passover Seder, and other times as well.
That would not offend Jews.
Something else was going on, not merely eating a bit of bread or drinking some wine.
Obviously, there is the understanding that “this is my body, this is my blood” that is part of communion.
But even that wouldn’t be so difficult to accept.
So why is this teaching so hard that the crowds turned back from following Jesus?

The second part of that teaching is that Jesus is the Bread of Life, from heaven.
It is Jesus’ talking about having come down from heaven that is a stumbling block for his followers.
They knew him.
They knew his family.
They thought they knew where he came from.
I have a sister-in-law who is Jewish.  She was telling us how she explained to her boys the difference between Jews and Christians.
Her explanation was that both Jews and Christians believed that Jesus was a great man who had many good things to teach us about the Law and Life.
But Christians believe that Jesus was God’s Son and came down from heaven.  Jews don’t.
That you see is the problem for Jewish people.
Did Jesus, one of their own, come down from heaven and take on earthly flesh?
What is it that is so offensive about Jesus?
Was it what he taught?
Or who he was?
Or Both?

What I believe we can say with absolute certainty is that for those people who first encountered Jesus, who heard his teaching and came to know who he was, the encounter with Jesus was a game changer.
It made a difference.
For some it meant they could no longer follow him.
And for others it meant that they would follow him, even if it meant their death.
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Those two simple words, “I am” also point us in another direction.
I am, or in Hebrew “Yahweh”, was the name God gave Moses from the burning bush.
And for Jesus to make such statements is to claim the name of God as his own.
At the beginning of this passage the crowds were ready to seize him and make him King.
At the end of the passage, it is becoming clear that Jesus is not just an earthly ruler, but the King of the Universe.
And that makes all the difference in the world.
Either you will refuse to follow him at all, or you will follow him even to the point of giving your life.

Fast forward 2,000 years to our own time and our own place.
At times I wonder if being a Christian in this country that is in large part a Christian country and culture—is just too easy.
Does the decision to follow Jesus carry with it any weight; does it truly change our lives?
Is it radical enough that some would turn away?
Is it significant enough that others would be willing to give even their lives?
What difference does it make?

I think that one of the most difficult challenges facing us as Christians in this day is that living a life of faith, as we understand it, no longer means being set apart from the world.
Rarely does it change our politics.
Rarely does it affect our economy.
When people become Christian, often the rest of their life continues unchanged.
It’s both the curse and the blessing of living in a Christian culture.
My sister-in-law, who I mentioned before is Jewish, has a different experience.
Her faith, which is different than the majority of our country, sets her apart.
There are things about her life that are different from our culture because she is Jewish.
I find myself wondering if there is anything about my life that is different, life changing, because I am a Christian.
Does Jesus make a difference?
And what is the difference?
“I am the Bread of Life.”
I once heard it said about the Amish, that the reason that they did not adapt to modern things, was not that the modern things were evil, but rather that they felt it was just important to set themselves apart as Christians.
They desire to live their lives different from the world in order that they might not become one with the world.
Are there ways that we can live our lives set apart from the world in order that we might focus more intently on Jesus as the Bread of Life from heaven, and the life that he, and he alone, grants?
It’s a simple question in the end.
Jesus gave his life for me—what difference does that make?
I am forgiven—does that change the way I act?
Jesus is the Bread of Life from heaven, I will not perish—so how then will I live?
I guess what I long for, most of all, is that others might see the way I live, and know that there is something different about me, and that difference is the faith that I hold.
I want them to know that Jesus made a difference in the life I lived and the love I shared.
That, to me, is the most significant challenge facing the whole church in this country.
Are we different because we bear the name of Christ?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 11, Ephesians 4:1-16, “We are One”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
One Body.
One Spirit.
One Hope.
One Lord.
One Faith.
One Baptism.
One God and Father.
And our calling as God’s people is to make every effort, bearing with one another in love, in order that we might maintain this unity in the Spirit and the name of Jesus.
We haven’t done so well at this.  We have become as divided as you possibly could be.  We have denominations of every stripe and color, and even within local congregations, there are differences that threaten the unity of Christ’s body.
From a human perspective the Body of Christ has not just been divided, but it has been shredded. 
Paul writes:
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
Rather, Paul writes, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
Ok, so to put that all in blunt language, what Paul is telling the church is “to quit being immature little brats and grow up and behave as adults.”
From a human perspective, we have divided the Church in almost every way.
What I mean by that is that when Paul says “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all”, we have found ways to challenge the “oneness” of each of those items.
One Body?
                No, we have formed countless denominations and often refuse to acknowledge one another as members of the One Body.
One Spirit?
                No, we are divided in our understanding of the Spirit, that’s why we have Pentecostal churches, and well, non-Pentecostal churches.  We believe different things about the Spirit.
One Hope?
                Is the Kingdom of God a promise of the world to come, or a new order in this world?  We don’t agree on that question.
One Lord?
                Well, yes, we all agree Christianity is about Jesus—it’s just we can’t agree who Jesus is.
One Faith?
                To be faithful—is that something we do?  Or simply a trust in what God has done?  No agreement there.
One Baptism?
                I can count a minimum of three among us.  Infant baptism, believer’s baptism, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit as practiced among Pentecostals. 
One God and Father of us all?
                Our understanding of God is very different.  And more and more we challenge the notion that “Father” is even an appropriate name for God. 
The bottom line is that the Church is divided.
It is divided between the Catholic Church in the West, and the Orthodox Church in the East.
It is divided between Roman Catholics and the Churches of the Reformation.
The Protestant Churches are divided on their understanding of Holy Communion and Baptism.
And also, Protestant Churches are divided according to national origin and governance.
One of the things most indicative of this division within the church is what happens when we disagree with one another.
Rather than bearing with one another in love, we are quick to leave and go our separate ways.  If you don’t like what you hear in one Church, just go down the street and try out the next church on the block.
But all of this disunity, these differences and divisions, are only from a human point of view.
The fact is that regardless what we believe or how we act there is only one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.
From God’s perspective, the Church, that is, the Body of Christ is indivisible.  There is only One.  Period.
You cannot leave one Church and join another.  We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Whatever disagreements we have are all disagreements that are within the one Church.  Those disagreements cannot divide the Church, because our unity is in Christ, not in our agreements.
This is why in the Creeds we confess that “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
There is a radical inclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel that unites us all, in spite of ourselves.
This has some very practical implications for us.
Who leads this Church today?
Does the Pope?  Or the Patriarch?  Or our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton?  Or what about Evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren?
The answer is not one or the other, but yes, these are all leaders of the Church today.
If we as Lutherans refuse to listen to Pope Francis, we miss an opportunity to be enriched.
Likewise, if Roman Catholics fail to hear the voices of Evangelical Christians, they likewise are less for it.
Paul writes:
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
I think that today we might rephrase this to say:
The gifts he gave were that some would be Orthodox, some Catholic, some Reformed, some Evangelical and some Pentecostal, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Can we embrace this diversity that is part of the Body of Christ?
That is the question that has followed the Church in every place and time.
It’s the reason that Jesus prayed fervently for the unity of the Church in his high priestly prayer, because he knew that maintaining the unity of the Church would be the disciple’s biggest challenge.
Part of the reason for this being so challenging is that we like the path of least resistance.
“Birds of a feather flock together” is an old proverb.
It is easier to get along with people who share all my own convictions and values, not to mention my culture and all sorts of other things.
It’s just easier to associate with people with whom I agree.
I have a conservative friend who made the observation that while there are many conservatives in the Lutheran church, almost all the pastors are liberals.
My response was that if that is true, then why aren’t conservatives becoming pastors?
Well, in fact, it is not true.  There are people of varying perspectives throughout the Church.
Human nature thinks it would be easier to gather together and associate with people like us.
But God’s love is such that he has gathered people of every sort into this one Body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are all brothers and sisters.
One family.
Often one contentious family, but one family.

It is childish and immature to think, even for a moment, that you can have a group of people as wide and varied as the Church, people from every place and time, people of every race, every economic class, male and female, young and old, and have them all agree.
As Paul says, we need to grow up.
We need to grow up, and grow into Christ.
Loving not as we loved, but as Christ loved, and accepting one another just as we are.
You bet, we will have our disagreements, but we remain one family, because God has made it so.
I’m reminded of this every time I deal with my own brothers and sisters.  We don’t always agree.  This is particularly evident at this time when we are involved in settling my father’s estate. 
But we are one family, not because of our agreements, but because of the love that our parents had for us.
Likewise, with the Church—we are not one because we agree, but rather because of the love that Christ has for each and every one of us.