Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lenten midweek sermon from 3-14-12: "We're One, but we're not the same..."

“We’re One, but we’re not the same…”
God’s Call to Unity
March 14, 2012

What does unity mean? What does it mean to be united? Does it mean complete agreement? Does it mean complete uniformity? Does it mean two people, two entities, two groups, losing their separate identities and becoming one new thing?  Does it mean that we look the same, think the same, act the same, and believe the same?
During our Wednesday Lenten services, we’re exploring the theme, “Listen, God is Calling!” Each week we’re exploring a different aspect of that call, through the lens of Scripture and in conversation with a pop song from the last 40 years. Last week we looked at God’s call to reconciliation through the lens of Mike and the Mechanics’ The Living Years. Today, we listen for God’s call to unity.
“We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other,” is how the song One by the group U2 closes. We’re one, but we’re not the same.  That sounds nice and all, but how does that square with the Biblical concept of what it means to be united?  What does it have to do with God’s call to unity?
There are a number of different Scripture passages that deal with this question.  You may be familiar with 1 Cor. 12, which compares the church as the body of Christ to the parts of a real human body…we’re all one body, made up of different parts, all of which need each other. Ephesians 4 reads, in part, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called-  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (vv.3-6)   Philippians 2:2 encourages us to have “the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”  We could have heard any of those passages and gotten a good picture of what God’s idea of unity is.
The Scripture passage we heard, however, takes a little different direction than the others, and in doing so, is able to dive even deeper into God’s call to unity. First of all, we see that it is indeed a calling, that it is something Jesus specifically prays for on our behalf. He first makes it clear that while he’s praying for the disciples, he’s also praying for us. For you and me and all of us who have followed or will ever follow him. He says in verse 20, “I ask not only on behalf of these [the disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…” That’s all of us.  That’s the church throughout time across the world. And what is it he asks? He prays to God in verse 21 that “they may all be one.”
Jesus wants his followers to be one. Jesus prays for unity on our behalf. So then, the question becomes, what does this unity look like? Go back to the questions we asked right at the beginning. Is Jesus asking us to look the same, think the same, believe the same, act the same?
I don’t think so. And the reason for that is that Jesus himself goes on to explain what a picture of this sort of unity would look like. The second part of verse 21 reads, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  He continues in verses 22 and 23, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus wants our relationships with each other to look like God’s own Trinitarian relationship.
Think about that. We worship one God. In our creeds, in our teaching, in our hymns, we have taken great pains to explain that although the God we worship is found in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier—we do not worship three Gods. We worship one. We worship a God whose nature we claim to be diversity in unity.
Turn with me to page 54 in the Lutheran Book of Worship. There you’ll find the Athanasian Creed, one of the three major creeds of the Christian church. We say the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed quite a bit…not too often that we recite this one together. Confirmation students—be thankful we’re not memorizing this!  But as you look through it, you’ll notice that it’s all about the Holy Trinity. It’s all about what it means to say that God is three persons but one God. It’s all about what it means to understand complete and perfect unity in the midst of diversity.
We are united not through losing our identity, but like the unity of God, through a bond of self-giving love.
Or, as Bono sings in the song One, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”
So what does this say about our own unity? First, unity does not mean giving up one’s individuality, one’s personhood. When I was a teenager, there was a show on TV called Star Trek: The Next Generation. On the show, there was an entity called The Borg. The Borg was a collective made up of countless individuals, but each of those individuals had given up their identity, had given up their individual thought and desire and saw themselves only as part of the whole. The Borg’s mantra was “Prepare to assimilate. Resistance is futile.”
There are those who see Christianity as a version of The Borg. Prepare to assimilate—resistance is futile. Check your brains, your thoughts, your individual needs and fears and desires and experiences—just check them at the door. There is only one right way to think, only one right way to believe, only one right way to live, and we who are already part of The Borg Church will tell you what that is.  In order to be a good Christian you must think a certain way politically. You must believe a certain way about certain social issues. You must understand these sets of doctrines in this certain way. You must worship in this way.
No. That’s not who we are. That’s not the way we’re called to be. We don’t find our unity in traditions or customs, we don’t find it in what we say or how we look or any of that surface, outside stuff. We find unity in self-giving love for each other that can’t help but overflow into the world. There are Christian groups who believe different things than us about God, or worship in a different style. Our call to unity doesn’t mean giving up those unique ways in which we experience God’s presence and activity in our lives. It does mean finding with others what one my seminary professors calls “a fusion of horizions.” We see things one way, others see things in a different way—are there places where our separate visions intersect? Is it possible for different denominations to work together to eradicate world hunger? You bet it is…and not only is it possible, it is our calling. Up in Minot North Dakota where a number of folks from our congregation will be traveling, it was different church bodies who got together and built Hope Village, where anyone who wants to come and help with the flood cleanup can stay while they serve. We have ecumenical partners with The Feast and Bridges to Hope. Our helpers and friends at The Table are an extremely diverse group.
And why is this important? Because our unity, finding that fusion of horizions, finding that singular purpose through self-giving love even while maintaining our identity, is our witness to the world. It is, as Jesus says in verse 23, “so that the world may know you have sent me.” Our unity is to mirror God’s unity so that through our unity, through our purpose, through our self-giving love, we point to God without even saying a word. We may not agree on some things, we may not agree on many things, but how can we love? How can we serve? How can we be in relationship in other ways? Those are the questions we’re called to ask.
Our song outlines two ways in which we can respond to differences, two ways in which the church historically has responded. Either in fear, or in working toward unity in diversity. Earlier in the song, he sings:
Did I ask too much?
More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it's all I got
We're one
But we're not the same
See we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love is a higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't keep holding on
To what you got
When all you've got is hurt
We can respond to our differences in hurtful ways.  Throughout history and still today, the church has been guilty of doing that both within itself and with the world in general. There are many whose experience with the church has been “You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl, and I can’t keep holding on to what you got when all you’ve got is hurt.” When we don’t allow for questions, for differences, when we try to force a false unity that is really conformity, we hurt. We destroy.
But the end of the song echoes Jesus’ prayer in John 17. It is our call. A call to find our unity in living, giving, serving and loving. To find our unity as forgiven and loved Children of God at the foot of the cross.
One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters, brothers
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
May we be one as God is one.

Matt Schur
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

1 comment:

juikfred said...

Common Missions result in unified "structures" more often than most people know. Alegent Health is a large top ranked hospital system in the Omaha NE area. (See: and click on the "Locations" and "About Us" tabs ) Yet many people might be surprised that "Alegent Health is a faith-based health ministry sponsored by Catholic Health Initiatives and Immanuel [Lutheran].
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