The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
When in the 1st century God’s Spirit began to build up the body of Christ, He made the church out of people who didn’t know each other well, who didn’t “get” each other at all, and who had to overcome mutual mistrust.
Back then, the challenges for creating a unity out of a diversity of people derived from the differences between Jews and Gentiles, differences that involved not just religion but also culture, past experience and prejudice. The Gentiles viewed the Jews as exclusionary, haughty and judgmental; and the Jews viewed the Gentiles as ignorant, immoral and out of control.
Today the difficulties for coming together and holding together run along other lines; they pertain to generational differences, sexual identity, political outlook, and styles of communication and processing information.
Yet, both back then and now, the centrifugal forces that might otherwise prevent the creation of a “family of strangers” can be overcome by the centripetal force of Christ and His love. For those who allow Him, Christ can be the “peace” that unites and reconciles all kinds of folks. He can be the One who breaks down dividing walls, who “creates in Himself one new humanity in place of the two” [or three or four], who makes those who had once been to each other “strangers and aliens” fellow “members” of a close and caring family, and who builds them all into “a dwelling place for God”.
If we focus on what we believe and what we think should be, we will have disunity; if instead, we focus on whom we believe in and what He thinks should be, we will have unity.
Every three years, an event called Urbana gathers together over 10,000 university students to inspire them to share the good news of Christ. One night at the 2008 Urbana, the students left a plenary session in the Univ. of Illinois arena to go to more intimate venues for small group prayer and reflection. Most of the students of Chinese background assembled in a certain banquet hall; but the students whose prime identification was with mainland China gathered in one section, the Taiwanese students gathered in another, and the Hong Kong students gathered in still another. Large dividers stood between the three. The dividers represented how the three people groups had long harbored enmity and mistrust of each other. They felt it was best if each group worshipped on its own.
However, as the students identifying with mainland China felt the Spirit of Christ come upon them, they felt compelled to invite their Taiwanese brothers and sisters to join them in worship. When the Taiwanese students prayed over the invitation, they felt compelled to move aside their wall dividers and intermingle with the mainland Chinese. Soon the Hong Kong students also pulled aside their dividers and began to add their voices to the harmonies of praise led by the leaders of all three groups. “In Christ we’re all one family,” said one leader. “He breaks down the boundaries and moves us to connect.”
The next night, the three groups agreed to reach out to the students identifying with Korea or Japan, nations which also had in the past experienced mutual animosity. And, there on the plains of America’s Midwest, God created from every point of the compass a household of former enemies, a family of strangers who became one in a common devotion to glorifying Christ and bearing witness to Him.
To fully become the body of Christ is to become a community whose make-up is a miracle manifesting the mighty reality of Christ’s love. It is to become a revelation of His capacity to bring all kinds together – even those who have been “far off” from God and/or each other – to bring them out of the cold and into the warmth of a family defined by mutual concern and shared purpose.
So how can we do our part to become who we are meant to be together? By making sure we don’t act like NFL All-Stars! Let me explain.
After the Super Bowl, there is an All-Star game in which the best players from the National Football Conference play the best players from the American Football Conference. The All-Stars on each side wear uniforms of the same color: say, blue for the NFC and white for the AFC; but they continue to wear the helmet of the team from which they came and with which their first and foremost commitment remains.
The All-Stars are known for not playing hard in the game, for not putting themselves out to help their conference team. That’s because they don’t much value that team. What really matters to them is that they avoid injury so that they can continue to contribute to their real team, the one in whose success they’re fully invested.
At church, Christians wear the same uniform with the name “Jesus” on it. Yet, too often they wear different helmets that reveal their real allegiance. Some helmets read “my theological camp”, “my political affiliation”, “my cultural background”, “my sexual orientation” or “my generational identification”. They are more concerned about that team than Christ’s. That’s the team they play hard for, the team in whose success they’re fully invested. Thus, they don’t put themselves out that much at church; they want to save themselves in order to go all out, later, for what they value more.
To live biblically requires flipping that attitude.
We flip it when our heart flips for Christ, and keeps flipping over the wonder of Him. The deepest unity comes, not so much from our appreciating our fellow church members – whom, not having picked them ourselves, we may not always appreciate that much – but rather the unity comes from appreciating the One who put us all together and thus picked for us our fellow team members. Unity comes from letting Christ be our Prince of peace who brings us, who were once far apart, near to Him and to one another, who gives us all access to the God of all blessings, who makes us a family and a home for God and each other – and a light for those still far away from all this grace and love.
Let us pray.