Have you ever wanted to stand out from the crowd, but you knew you had to do
something different in order to make it happen? Maybe a team you were on had an
idea everyone agreed to, but you didn’t love the plan.
I was in 7th grade playing on an all-star team, back when people were actually voted on
to all-star teams and didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars to feel special. I was a
decent shooting guard, and loved playing defense. The team I was on was a bunch of
misfits from around Lansing, Michigan, but we could all hold our own. We were playing
a really good all-star team from Grand Rapids, and you could tell they had their stuff
together. Surprisingly we’re up by a dozen with 15 seconds left before halftime, and our
coach, who also happens to be my uncle, decides to call a timeout and run a special
designed play. He was trying to get us to play like a team, he was a hall of fame type
coach, and was teaching us more than just winning, but playing like a cohesive group.
The play called for our point guard to take the last shot with under 3 seconds left. We
huddled up, went back on the court and knew what to do. EXCEPT, something
unexpected happened, the ball came around my way, and NOBODY was guarding me.
There were 10 seconds left on the clock, and with no one guarding me and me right in
my zone, I took the shot. Swish…it was a perfect 3, we’re up by 15 now and I’m
celebrating running backwards to play defense, then something violent happened. My
“coach”/Uncle Bob, grabbed a handful of my jersey and literally yanked me off of the
court and threw me onto the bench. We played the last 7 seconds or so with only 4
guys on the court.
I was mad, confused and embarrassed…what did I do wrong? I made the basket, we’re
winning and this crazy uncle of mine is acting like we lost. The truth is, we did lose, but
we did not run the play that was designed for us to play. The scoreboard was calling us
winners, in the short term, but my selfishness was costing us in the long-term.
That was 35 years ago, and how much more do we live in a culture that celebrates our
individuality at the expense of the larger good? How much has that crept into our life in
a faith community? Do we look at God and church as a menu of desires we have
instead of a community that we contribute towards? As we endeavor to have the Best
Summer Ever for our heart and soul and those around us, we have to also understand
that A unified church is the only hope for a fractured world.
WE: How often do we commit to something until it no longer benefits us directly?
Maybe we give towards a cause, or even the church, until somebody does something
we no longer like. We volunteer in our community, or in our faith community, until
someone rubs us the wrong way. And we then withhold our generosity, our talents, our
time, our presence as a punitive response to something we initially believed in. If I
could be so frank, that course of action or initial response actually lacks maturity. It’s
the equivalent of a child enjoying a playground, gets upset and takes their ball home
I get it, we have disagreements, we don’t like a specific course of action, and we then
get defensive because someone wants us to “give in” for the sake of unity. So let’s be
clear as we jump into scripture today: Unity is NOT the same as uniformity. We all
look different, vote different, have different cultural lenses and realities, yet we
are called to UNITY around this – JESUS. Which means every ideology and filter
has to bow down to the love of God before you and I wear it as an identity.
GOD: So what does God have to say about being unified?
We’ve been building these weeks on the book of Acts and scriptures like in
chapter 2 verse 44 and 45:
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property
and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
But for a deeper dive I want us to learn from Ephesians chapter 4 today, starting in verse
1 and reading until verse 16::
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have
received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in
love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were
called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all
and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it[a]
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly
regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the
heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the
prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of
service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole
measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown
here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in
their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become
in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the
whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds
itself up in love, as each part does its work.
In verse 3 and 13 I highlighted the word unity, one because that is our challenge, to be
United with One Another, but also because the greek word for unity in this chapter is
different than other words for unity in scripture, and I found that fascinating.
The greek word in this chapter is Henosis (used twice in Ephesians) and it refers to
mystical oneness/unity. One that can only come from a mysterious place of unity in
Christ. The greeks used this word to describe the change in people that came from a
growing oneness with “the gods” or spiritual beings. This isn’t necessarily a Christian
word, but in Greek thought the more one understood the part they played and the more
they added value to the larger whole, the more they became like deity.
We are not going to teach that you are to become a God through Henosis, but we are
challenged in Philippians 2 to be more like Christ, to follow his actions in how we
interact with one another, and in doing so we become more and more like Christ.
Let’s walk through this passage together and glean from Paul’s challenge in Ephesians:
True unity is rooted in Christ. “As a prisoner for the Lord” This language may
seem weird to some of us, but for others of us we get it. What Christ has done in
our lives compels us to a life fully devoted to Him. Paul’s encounter with Jesus
so marked him that his calling to share the good news was something that
imprisoned him to righteousness.
There is visible fruit to unity. This fruit very closely resembles the fruit of living
a life that aligns to God’s spirit. For Paul he emphasizes humility, gentleness,
patience, love and peace
There is a “oneness” to unity. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you
were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one
baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Over time unity builds maturity
Mature unity breeds confidence in the truth.
“More than once the Church was in danger of being split, but the Spirit brought them
together. The world tends to disrupt, divide, and build barriers. The Holy Spirit broke down
barriers as the Church prayed together, worked together, evangelized together, suffered
together. Nature tends to disperse, scatter, and break down. It takes a higher energy to
unite, and more wisdom and power to build up, than to tear down.” – Dr. Stanley Horton
A unified church is the only hope for a fractured world.
YOU: What potential barriers do you have to overcome in order to walk in unity with
others? Are there economic barriers, political barriers, racial/ethnic barriers, gender
barriers… We all have preferences and things that break the bonds of peace, but are
we aware of them?
The problem with barriers is that they work too well. They keep us from being close
enough to each other so that we could actually make some progress. Proximity and
vulnerability create fertile soil for unity to grow, while distance and shallowness cause
us to draw battle lines. If we are not careful, we gaslight the fracturing world around us.
WE: What are some practical steps we can take to work towards being unified with one
another? Let’s start off by asking ourselves a few questions, and doing the work to
answer them honestly. “An honest question deserves an honest answer.”
- Where am I contributing to a fractured world? (social media, my own family
relationships, a growing frustration around a particular belief, etc…)
- What could I possibly relearn that I thought I already knew? (family history,
ethnic background of my friends/neighbors, scripture learning, history of our
city/state, etc…). It is often that I find that most things that were taught to us as
black/white, at the very least have shades of gray, and at best have a
kaleidoscope of color that I may be missing out on.
- Am I reflecting the fruit of God’s spirit even when I am in disagreement?
Unity often comes with a price tag, but the price usually costs less than what we
think. Sometimes the cost of unity is merely saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘i’m
sorry’ and giving others the benefit of the doubt.
If A unified church is the only hope for a fractured world, then how are you and I
working to become just that…unified?!