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 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.
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.
No, we have formed countless denominations and often refuse to acknowledge one another as members of the One Body.
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.
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.
Well, yes, we all agree Christianity is about Jesus—it’s just we can’t agree who Jesus is.
To be faithful—is that something we do? Or simply a trust in what God has done? No agreement there.
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.
“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.
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.