August 2, 2015 “The Diversity of Unity”

posted Jul 5, 2016, 2:39 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
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.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." (When it says, "He ascended", what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
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.
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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

Sermon: "The Diversity of Unity" Rev. David Hawkins
One of my favorite jokes is a math joke, and it goes something like this: There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who get math, and those who don’t.

Yeah, I know. But it’s true. The world is full of different kinds of people: some who get math, some who don’t, and then, there are those who don’t think that joke is funny.

And that’s a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everybody was the same. If everybody thought the same, dressed the same, told the same jokes.

I think we all recognize that. I think that most people would agree that it’s the differences between us that make life interesting.

Of course, it’s also the differences that can cause problems. Too much difference can cause discomfort. Too much difference can result in suspicion. And the wrong kinds of differences can tear people apart.

It’s these kind of difference that Paul is trying to address in today’s scripture. The kinds of differences, or rather, the ways that differences divide us. And for Paul, it’s not the differences that are the problem. It’s the focus of the differences that determines whether or not a community can stay together.

For instance, if the most important thing in a community is politics, well, people are always going to fight about that. But if the most important thing in a community is something else, like say, music, then politics is a side issue. In all the different bands and musical groups I’ve played in, the idea of politics becoming a source of conflict never happened. There are liberal musicians and conservative musicians and libertarian musicians, but as long as we are all there about the music, the political thing is a side issue. We might argue about the merits of Jazz or Pop or Classical, but Hillary and Jeb are not really part of the conversation.

And the same thing happens in any kind of group. Quilters groups don’t usually have a religious doctrine or a political creed. They’re there to quilt. Now, there might arguments about free hand versus machine stippling, but these are rarely violent. Or, are they Jill? I don’t really know about these things.

Or, say, communities that are formed around fixing up old collector cars. Disagreeing about Fords and Chevy’s might be something worth arguing about, but politics would hardly be on the table.

It comes down to what the community decides is it’s primary focus. This is what determines how or why the community is in conflict. It’s the community’s overall orientation that determines where the battle lines are drawn. The one thing the community is most passionate about is the one thing that can unite those who might otherwise disagree with each other on a whole host of other issues.

And when a community splits up due to differences, it usually means that it has forgotten the one thing it was formed around. The members of the community have forgotten why they are there in the first place. And as Paul suggests, the body suffers when the individual members of it are not getting along.

I’ve had a little too much time over the last couple of weeks to think about Paul’s use of the body as a metaphor for the church. Especially in terms of realizing just how much the body has to be in balance in order to work correctly. It turns out that we really do need these kidney-bean shaped organs in our bodies eliminating waste products.

When they aren’t working right, nothing is working right. The kidneys regulate blood pressure, they produce hormones, and they keep various chemicals in our bodies in balance. The kidneys regulate calcium, and if we have don’t have enough calcium, we hang on to too much potassium. The kidneys filter protein, but if we get rid of too much protein, our muscles can’t repair themselves. The kidneys tell the body who much red blood cells to produce, and I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

But I’ve never really thought too much about the kidneys. They’re kind of hidden away, doing their job without any fanfare. In fact, when we do think about our kidneys, it’s in a sort of awkward way. The only time we think about what they do, we excuse ourselves from polite company in order to do it. Kidneys are the Rodney Dangerfield of internal organs. They don’t get no respect.

But they are absolutely critical to the health of the body. Even if we don’t really see them, or understand them, or even appreciate them as much as we should, we depend on them for our very lives. And when they stop working, it’s a real problem.

Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus to remind them that every member of the church is important. Every viewpoint, every way of practicing their faith is important. Because the church seems to have forgotten that. It seems to have forgotten that the differences in their body are what make them strong, and are what make sure that everything that the church is supposed to do, gets done.

There are those in the church who think that their Jewish brothers and sisters are somehow inferior in their faith, that their emphasis on the law restricts their freedom in Christ. And there are those in the church who believe that those who do not follow the Torah are outside the possibility of God’s salvation. It seems like the church is irretrievably broken, and that the two sides will never be able to agree on anything.

Sort of like those in our own church today, certain that reconciliation is impossible, that schism is the only option, that the differences between us are too much for us to bridge, and that we can only survive as a church if we split away from each other.

But this letter to the Ephesians reminds us that it doesn't have to happen. We are given permission to accept the differences in the way we think about God, as long as we are all thinking about God. We are given permission to learn from each other about the many ways that we can worship Jesus, as long as we are worshipping Jesus.

Paul reminds us that as a body, we can lean on other's gifts and abilities, and to use our own in the way that God has equipped us. We don't have to demonize those who think, or act, or look differently than us, in fact, we can celebrate the fact that are knitted together with them by the Holy Spirit to form the Body of Christ.

God did not make everyone to be the same, but to be unique, and in God's own image. God rejoices in the dazzling array of differences on earth, and calls it very, very good. And if we believe this, we are also called to find ways to appreciate the differences in people around us -- to let them know that we are glad that their differences contribute to our lives in great and small ways.

God has granted all of us grace in some way to be a part of the Body. To use our gifts, to rejoice in them. We are healthiest when all of our gifts are knitted together and working properly. And above all, we are one Body when we recognize and celebrate the differences between us, and allow others to be a part of our lives, not out of obedience, but out of love and respect.

To the Lord who speaks to us,
and strengthens us,
and blesses us with peace,
be all glory and honor forever. Amen.