It’s no secret we live in a fractious time. I cannot remember experiencing a more divided society than the one in which we presently live. These divisions work their way into our families, our friendships, the workplace, our church life. We sometimes wonder, “How can the church hold together?” In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. Jesus seemed to know this would be a challenge for the emerging church and its subsequent leaders. In fact, throughout the New Testament there are regular appeals to unity. This raises an important question: How can the church be one? Unity is a fascinating challenge for us. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we conclude our prayer with these helpful words, “Make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.”
An important image for the church in the New Testament is being the body of Christ. Being one body is the way Jesus envisioned the church. We are to be united in our faith and desire to serve God. Yet Christians have great trouble here. We don’t expect to be of one mind on social and political issues. That would not be realistic. However, I have always found the diversity of thought in United Methodist churches to be a helpful challenge. It can be generative in helping us to think differently and learn from one another. Our differences in opinion remind us to listen carefully and try and learn from perspectives that might enrich our own. I have never wanted to be part of a church that approaches issues from only one angle. I also think of United Methodism as a “big tent” religion. Our tent is large enough to include many points of view. We strive not to be rigid in our thinking, but have agreement around the essentials of our faith. We value having a thoughtful approach and a reasonable faith. Reason alone does not lead us to God, but it helps us to test and sift our spiritual experience and inspiration. We’ll be talking these next few weeks on being one in Christ. It is both and invitation and a challenge to us. We’ll talk about how we can be one in love, even when we cannot agree on all issues. We can be united in our love of God even without uniformity of thought. On our own, that is not always easy, but because Christ is at work within us, we can love beyond our own limits and inclinations. Sunday we worship God who loves us all, whose arms embrace each of us, across the largest divides that threaten to separate us.