03 Epiphany 01 Third Sunday after Epiphany 1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Thankfully yours – in unity. You know, this is really a tough one. I mean, what in the world do you do with this? Now I don’t know about you, but I hear the words of Paul as he writes, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” I hear these words, and I can’t help but think, “Yeah right.” This must be one of those verses that looks good on paper, but the reality of the situation, well the reality is quite a bit different.
I mean, come on, no divisions? One mind? United in thought and purpose? That doesn’t look much like the world I live in, does it look like yours? It seems that everywhere we go, every place that we are a part of, every area of our lives has divisions, not no divisions; multiple minds, not one mind; disunity in thought and purpose not unity in thought and purpose. And so we hear the title “Thankfully yours – in unity” and we hear these words of Paul and well… Is this reality? Is it something that is possible? What do we do with this?
I guess there are two questions to ask. Do we believe that such unity is possible? And if so, where do we find it? Well, what do you think? Is it possible? You could make a pretty good case that it is not. I mean you look at all the different views and opinions that are out there. Within the church you find liberal groups and conservative groups, and the bicker and argue, they condemn each other to hell, or at least treat each other that way. In our homes, at our jobs in our schools, where ever there are different people, you are going to find differences of opinions and they clash. Isn’t it then hypocritical to talk about unity?
These things happen as a result of brokenness, that we find in our relationships. Brokenness that is brought about by sin. When we sin, we are breaking and hurting a relationship. Human beings were created to be in community with one another, but when sin comes into the picture that community is destroyed, and instead we find ourselves looking out for number one and doing what we have to, in order to get our way and what we want.
So I guess the answer is that unity is not possible. Or is it? If we were left in this sin, then it wouldn’t be possible, not even close. But we are not left in that sin. We have unity and it is a gift that our God has given to us. We have it because we have a savior, Jesus, who died on the cross to save us from the brokenness and hurting that comes as a result of our sins. He defeated sin on the cross, and the Holy Spirit pours that victory into our lives through baptism.
At just the right time, God sent his son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” It is in this relationship that our God has made with us, that we find this unity. So to answer our previous questions, yes, it is possible. And we find it in Jesus.
This is a topic that really gets me excited. Because this is what the church is. It is not a building or some place where people tell you what to do all the time and like to keep you from having fun. Rather it is a place where all kinds of people, from all over come together. They come from different places and at different stages in their lives. They come searching, they come humble, they come broken and in need of God’s love and grace. They come desiring the fulfillment and the peace that comes only from a relationship with him. They come from different backgrounds, nationalities, genders, ages, income levels, and as one they lift up their voices in prayer and worship. They stretch out their hands in service. They bear witness together to God’s love in Jesus, and show how that love flows through them.
The book of Revelation describes a scene in heaven where there are saints from every tongue, tribe and nation, and they lift up their voices in praise of God, who has re-united them to himself and to one another through Jesus. It is because of Jesus, that we do indeed find unity in this community.
The church is the people of God. A community that has been reconciled to God through Jesus and his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. This community is truly to be seen as and expected to operate as a family. And so this family operates with all the same grace and mercy that our families operate with.
One night my sister and I were home alone watching television. There was some strange movie on about a group of people who had been abducted by aliens, and then several years later the daughters of the victims were also being abducted. The abductees were marked with an indent in their skin, and as the movie progress, the characters discovered the connection between those who bore the mark and their children also being abducted. Now it seemed like a good idea at the time. But it seems that my better judgment was on vacation at the moment. My mother has a mark on her arm leftover from a small pox vaccination that she received as a child. I looked at my sister and said, “Hey Melissa. Mom has a mark just like that on her arm.”
Isn’t funny how things never work out in real life the way we imagine that they will in our heads. Can you believe it? My sister didn’t say, “Oh my dear brother. That joke was absolutely hilarious. You really got me good. We should send this into the Readers Digest. “ No my sister freaked out, she went running through the house screaming. But then my imagination began to run wild, and we would jump at every little noise. We had to call one of the neighbors to stay with us, until our mom came home.
As the church we may not freak each other out with ridiculous movies about aliens, but when we allow sin to remain between us, we are allowing ourselves to be separated from one another, and that unity is no longer evident, although it is still there. And it is this understanding of unity that Paul writes from, that is why the appeal that he makes to the Corinthian church is done in the authority of Jesus. “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. “
This is unity, it is not conformity. It is not that everyone will agree on everything all the time. The presence of unity does not mean the absence of trials or conflicts or issues. Those things are in place as a result of our sin. However, unity does give us a starting point, a foundation, a place to begin as we live together in community with one another. I, a person in need of God’s forgiveness, find strength in the forgiveness that he has given to me, and having that strength, I am then able to forgive others. It is when we forgive one another that unity flows.
I, a person in need of God’s love and grace, find strength in the love and grace that he has given to me. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and it is in putting myself aside and serving others that unity flows in this community. Unity is found in community.
So where in your life do you need to have this unity? Where do you need reconciliation? What needs to happen to allow the unity that is there, be evident? I believe that the key to this is to be sure to stand firm in the forgiveness that our God has given us. Let me challenge you this week, to begin your morning by remembering the forgiveness that God has given you. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out prayer. It can be something simple like, “Let your forgiveness flow through me today.”
When we as a community are built on this unity and God’s forgiveness flows through us, we will be like a magnet, and people will be drawn to the presence of God in our midst. The good news of God’s love in Jesus will be proclaimed, and his grace and mercy will flow into their lives, and the community will grow and will expand. And we will come together in spite of ourselves, and our differences, we will come together in need of forgiveness and being forgiven, we will come together from all kinds of different places and locations, and we will as one, lift up our voices in prayer and praise, and stretch out our hands in service. And we will live together in unity. Amen.