United in Mind and Purpose(05)

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United in Mind and Purpose

1 Corinthians 1:10

On this first Sunday of 2005

       I greet you with a promise

              Given to us by our Lord Jesus (Mark 13:31):

              “Heaven and Earth will pass away

                     But My words will never pass away.”

Did you know that…

The month of January is named after

the Roman god Janus,

who was pictured as a man with two faces,

one looking backward and the other forward.

The early days in the New Year

Are a most fitting and valuable time

to ponder the past

while anticipating the future.[1]

Have you written your New Year’s Resolutions yet?

those annual decisions to slim down,

shape up, sort through,

and generally get our lives back in order?

There’s something about starting a new year

that drives us to make resolutions.

We like the idea of leaving behind an old year,

with its mistakes and frustrations,

and beginning afresh.[2]

Thomas Mann, in The Magic Mountain said,

Time has no divisions to mark its passage;

there is never a thunderstorm

to announce the beginning of a new year.

It is only we mortals who ring bells

and fire off pistols (or fireworks).[3]

A New Years wish says,

May all your troubles last as long

as your New Year’s resolutions.[4]

An Anonymous source says,

“New Year’s Resolutions are like friends.

they are easier to make than to keep.”[5]

At the beginning of 2005

We gather as a church to pray.

The Prayer Week Material for this year

       Was written by Dan Nighswander,

              General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.

The overarching topic is

       “Praying over the broken Body of Christ”.

When we begin a new year with prayer,

       We make a statement

       That we want to give the “first fruits” of our time

              As well as our money and energy

                     To God – who has entrusted it to us

                           As His stewards.

Jesus said to his disciples,

       “Seek first the Kinkdom of God and his righteousness

              And all these things

                     Will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33)

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians

       With its central concern for Christian Unity

              Is the focus of our prayer week,

                     And we invite you already now

                           To come and participate also during

                                  The evening meetings.

The gospel of John tells of Jesus’ passion

       For the unity of his disciples (John 17:20-23):

       Shortly before his death he prayed

              That they may be one…

                     So that the world may believe…

                           That you have sent me…

Our world is daily rocked with terrorism, violence and war,

       And many who deeply hunger for human community

              Characterized by unity and love

              Look longingly to the church.

What do they see? (Swen Erikson)

John Longhurst writes,

During the Christmas holidays I found myself reminiscing with an old friend about the “war”. Not the Second World War – we are not old enough for that – or any other conflict since that time. Out “war”was a church split that tore our congregation apart over 13 years ago.

Like a real war, this one also had casualties. To this day, some people still experience pain at the thought of the harsh things that were said and done, and the longtime friendships that were broken.

Ultimately the conflict was resolved when a group of people left our church to start a new congregation. Today, both churches are thriving, although many would probably wish there had been a better way to achieve this happy result.

Our experience was not unique. Lots of churches have splits. But very little is said about them – it’s an unfortunate part of church life that we’d just as soon not admit, or talk about.

Church splits can result from disagreements over many things: doctrine, music, styles of leadership, biblical interpretation, building expansion – you name it.

One big issue that is dividing some congregations and entire denominations today is homosexuality;…

But not all splits are over big issues. A church in Colorado split over the spelling of a Jewish praise word: One side wanted “Hallelujah” on a banner, and the other wanted “alleluia” (without the H).

Splits aren’t unique to Christianity. (Longhurst goes on to explain splits between Hinduism and Shikism; Islam (Shiites & Sunnis); Judaism has various major groups (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionsits); and so on.

But when it comes to splitting and dividing among religious groups, Christians are the champions; one source indicates that there are as many as 34,000 distinct and separate Christian groups today.

Longhurst concludes, Church splits will probably never go away. Once a year, however, Christians around the world are invited to put aside their differences and join in the annual… Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The apostle Paul, writing to the quarreling Christians in the city of Corinth, appealed to them to “agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought”(1 Cor. 1:10).

What were the issues in the church of Corinth?

The city of Corinth “was noted for its wealth,

and for the luxurious and immoral

and vicious habits of the people.

It had a large mixed population of Romans,

Greeks, and Jews.”[6]

While the apostle Paul was away on a Missionary journey

       He received a letter –

       A report from the household of Chloe.

The report detailed the divisions

and immorality in the church.

These problems arose because the young Corinthian church

had failed to protect itself

from the corrupt culture of the city.

The immaturity of the Corinthians

had given way to sectarian divisions.

The believers were identifying themselves

as followers of specific Christian leaders

rather than as followers of Christ (3:1–9).

They were also dragging each other into court (6:1).

Their desire to sue each other

rather than settle their disputes within the church

       betrayed their immaturity

and misplaced trust in human wisdom.

Sexual immorality had become a problem in the church

in spite of Paul’s warnings against it (5:9–11).[7]

Pride, cliques, theological disagreements, and sex,

       Were some of the issues that divided that church.

Sounds familiar? (S. Eriksson)

I find it interesting however,

That in spite of scandal of disunity and conflict

in the Corinthian church,

Paul sees a lot of good in them.

“I give thanks to God always for you

because of the grace of God

that has been given you in Christ Jesu,

for in every way you have been enriched in him,

in speech and knowledge of every kind –

just as the testimony of Christ

has been strengthened among you –

so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift

as you wait for the revealing

of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God is faithful;

by him you were called

into the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord”

(1 Cor. 1:4-9).

Paul seeks to redirect their minds

       From the quarelling and fighting that’s going on…

       To the One who is faithful…

              And who has enriched you…

                     And who has given you all kinds of gifts…

                           And who has invited you into fellowship…

Paul seems to be saying that:

       In view of the Jesus’ prayer

              “that they may all be one…

                     So that the world will believe…”

              The disunity among Christians is a real scandal!

The One who has given His life for their salvation…

Now is standing by and watching with tears in his eyes

how those who claim his salvation

       throw away their Christian calling

              through in-fighting and divisions.

I his letter to the Ephesians Paul exhorts the church to

       “lead a life worthy of the calling

              To which you have been called…

                     Making every effort to maintain

                           The unity of the Spirit

                           Through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-6).

At the beginning of 2005

God also wants to refocus our attention

              From the issues that divide us –

              Personal priorities and pride…

                     External preference over worship styles…

                           Our own power struggles…

                                  Family feuds…

                                         Personality clashes…

                                                Loyalty to certain leaders…

              To the values and convictions that bring us together –

                     The essencials of our common faith in Jesus.

The true unity of the Body of Christ

       Is not something that we can fabricate or design

              Through our own human ingenuity and smarts…

       The true unity that Jesus prays for is a free gift…

              That must be received with thankful hearts.

We can and should strive to acomplish it…

       “as far as you can

              Live at peace with everyone…”

       But ultimately it is God who calls us

              And who assembles His body…

                     And gives it a purpose and a mission in life.

Though the work of the Holy Spirit

       Divisions between nations, races, classes, and genders

              Are being healed as persons are being reconciled

                     To God who sent his Son for all people.

Last week we watched in horror

       How a devastating tsunami

              Wiped out entire villages along the Indian Coast,

                     Indonesia, Thailand, and other countries.

A story of hope and reconciliation caught my attention:

       The reporter was interviewing a group of villagers

              Who had barely escaped with their lives.

       They had all lost some family member…

              A spouse, and uncle, a young child…

In broken English one man,

       A Hindu, was sharing

              How a Muslim (his former enemy),

                     Had pulled him from the rushing water…

                           And had held on to him for dear life…

       The other young man had put his life at risk

              To save the life of his sworn enemy.

       “We are now best friends”, he said.

Many people have commented to me

       That God is speaking a serious message to mankind

              Through these events.

I guess it’s true…

       “When God speaks…

              People listen!”

At the beginning of this new year

       Let us put our differences aside!

As we go from here today

       We want to think about these things:

How important is the unity of the church to us?

       The unity of our church…

              And the unity of the wider Christian church?

How important is it to God?

What is our role and responsibility

       To build the unity of the church?

Let us Pray

Gracious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

You have called us to unity in your church,

       So that the world will see that God has sent His Son

              To save us from our sin.

Today we want to name the things

that separate us from each other in our churches:

We name our stubborn pride

       And our need to be right…

We name our different ways of understanding

       The Word of God in scripture….

We name our lack of commitment to the Body…

the church…

       and the individualism

that alienates us from each other…

       We name our gossip…

              The way we put down others…

              So that others may think more highly of ourselves.

We confess our negative attitudes

       That tear down rather than build up the church…

       We confess our fears about

              What the others will say

If we stand up for what is right…

       We confess that we are often cold and distant

              Toward each other…

              And that even when we say that we care

                     Our words are often

just a mechanical going through the motions.

       We confess that we find it easier to judge and condemn

              In our own little cliques,

                     Than to extend an olive branch

                           And seek to understand the other…

Oh God, forgive us and have mercy on us…

Jesus, Lord of the Church,

you desire unity and love for all you servants.

Your heart yearns

for all the parts of your body to be healed…

       to be restored…

       and to proclaim your victory over sin and death!

Thank you

       For every sign and symbol

              of obedience and submission to you…

Today, Lord Jesus,

       At the beginning of this year,

              We commit ourselves

                     To follow you more faithfully…

              To seek you more earnestly…

                     To do all we can – with your help

                           To overcome the divisions that we are part of.

We commit ourselves to

       “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit

Through the bond of your peace.”

God, help us to honor our commitment,

And to bring glory to your name.


I’d like to send you out today

with a beautiful New Year’s Resolution

   written by the Bible commentator Matthew Henry,

who wrote this resolution in his journal

on January 1, 1705:

Not renouncing, but repeating and ratifying

all my former Covenants with God,

and lamenting it,

that I have not lived up more closely to them;

I do in the beginning of this New Year

solemnly make a fresh surrender of myself,

my whole self, body, soul, and spirit,

to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,

covenanting and promising,

not in any strength of my own,

for I am very weak,

but in the strength of the grace of Jesus Christ,

that I will endeavour this year

to stand complete in all the Will of God.

I know this is the Will of God,

even my sanctification;

Lord grant that this year I may be more holy,

and walk more closely than ever

in all holy conversation;

I earnestly desire to be filled with thy holy thoughts,

to be carried out in holy affections,

determined by holy aims and intentions,

and governed in all my words

and actions by holy principles.

O that a golden thread of holiness

may run through the whole web of this year.[8]



[1]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed., Page 585. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

[2]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2003 Edition. electronic ed., Page 382. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002.

[3]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed., Page 585. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

[4]Streiker, Lowell D. Nelson's Big Book of Laughter : Thousands of Smiles from A to Z. electronic ed., Page 315. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

[5]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2002 Edition. electronic ed., Page 396. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

[6]Easton, M.G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.

[7]Nelson Study Bible. electronic ed., 1 Co 1:2. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

[8]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed., Page 587. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

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