January 2, 2005
Pastor Brian Shimer
"Living in Unity"
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you."
- On Friday I led in a service to unite a couple in marriage. This wedding was perhaps the most unique I have ever been a part of. The groom came to Christ through the witness of his beloved, and since he had never been baptized was baptized there at the wedding right after the greeting. In that service I quoted from Genesis which says "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to this wife, and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Such oneness is not an instantaneous reality for the couple. They are spiritually united in the covenant, as the lighting of a unity candle symbolizes. But true oneness is not experienced with the lighting of the candle. Such oneness in love is when their first thought is for the beloved, the desire is to bless and enrich the other's life, where they live united not as separate units, while singing Bing Crosby's song: "I did it my way," but live united in life. They live to bless one another and pray that their home, as a united front, will be a blessing to others.
You know from experience that unity brings blessing. You have experienced that in life in many ways - from a home that lacks tension, to a business meeting where people are in agreement, to our national demonstration of our need for unity in the previous election. A house divided is destined to fall.
- So as we look at John 17:21 our theme verse for this new year we find Jesus praying for us (those who will believe in him through the witness of his disciples) to be made one. Jesus asks: "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…"
So what kind of oneness or unity is Jesus praying for here?
Is he just asking that we might have an administrative or organizational unity? That churches would all govern themselves in similar fashion, that all be congregational or Episcopal or autocratic in polity? No, he is not talking organizational unity, for in this prayer he is not even speaking of the organized "church" but of the body of believers.
Well, then is he speaking of denominational unity - that there be just one denomination? That we all ought to be Baptists, or Methodists, or Lutherans, or Pentecostals? That is not probable, again, for the church had not been born, but Jesus knew of all the denominations that would make up the church one day.
Something that is obvious to you and me is that that people like different kinds of homes, live in different neighborhoods, like to drive different cars, yet still have in common needs for food, for clothing, for relationships.
Do you stay away from folk who drive Chevys and hang out with those who drive Chryslers? Do you ask: "Where do you live?" before you talk to someone?
Of course not!
Could it be denominations are simply God's way to reach more people? Could it be that each denomination is like a neighborhood in God's kingdom? And each neighborhood has its organizational and worship style meant to appeal and minister to the different likes and dislikes of the people who live in that neighborhood?
God does not favor one neighborhood above another, nor is one neighborhood right and another wrong. In God's Kingdom salvation is based upon Jesus not the neighborhood you fellowship with, and all these neighborhoods are in one kingdom. All denominations are part of a single church. No, the unity Jesus prayed for is not denominational unity. You will find Christians in every section of the Christian Church even among us Methodists.
Nor is Jesus praying for doctrinal unity. He is not praying that everyone would believe exactly the same thing about baptism, Holy Communion, the meaning of grace, the sovereignty of God, the Gifts of the Spirit, etc. Indeed, such differences between denominations, do not need to diminish unity between Christian believers.
Each week I sit down and pray with a group of pastors representing Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Non-denominational, Church of God, 7th Day Adventist, Calvary, and other Christian denominations. We probably disagree on many points of doctrine, and have some wonderful theological discussions, but we experience more unity than can be imagined based upon the One to whom we pray. We agree about Jesus and we agree that the Bible is God's Word given to us for life. The Southern Baptist pastor said he finds greater unity and fellowship with us then with a group of Southern Baptist pastors.
How can that be? Because among us he experiences a true love and care for him as a person, without any of the political games people sometimes play when wanting to receive kudus from the conference leaders.
- Again Jesus prayed: "may they be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…"
So, the unity prayed for is that we live in love as He lives in love with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our God is the living, triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each separate persons, yet they live united, together as one God. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, but they are all God.
So, we are the church. Each of us as individuals does not live as if we are an individual. We may be units (separate entities) but we are meant to live in unity.
So, does this unity mean that we have to like everyone here? I don't even like myself some days so how can we always like each other! There are days when you forebear with my idiosyncrasies, choosing to love me with my foibles. And other days I will do the same with you. But to put up with someone does not mean you decide to stop loving them.
Oneness in a marriage means you consciously choose to love day by day. You choose to express loving thoughts, walk in loving gestures, not because you feel like it, but because you want what is best, you have covenanted to love.
Jesus compares the unity he wants for us to that he experiences with his father, for there is never a day that God is not dwelling in love. So, may there never be a day that you and I are not dwelling in love either.
- If unity is what God wants, that we live united not as separate units, then what does dis-unity look like?
Like cancer cells in the human body such a group of people can act like everything is ok even while spreading their deadly infection to other people.
Is it disunity when someone is grumpy or hurt and leaves our fellowship? No, that is not disunity; instead, that is a painful loss for us and for them. But it is not a sign of disunity.
Disunity is when someone gets upset about something, and tells someone else, and develops a group around them that believe and support whatever it is. There is then a "faction" within the body.
Disunity is when there are cliques in a congregation, when sally has her special group and not only hangs out with them but excludes others from being a part of that group. So when a newcomer walks up to her to share something she sticks her nose in the air, spins on her toe and stalks off to one of her friends!
Disunity is when one group decides the coat rack belongs in the front of the church in the narthex, and another decides that it belongs in the Family Room and begins to fight about it. The two groups become angry and divided refuse to compromise or to speak. Instead, split the church. There actually was a church that split in the Midwest over just such a decision!
God wants unity in the body. A unity of love that puts the other first, in which we who are individual units do not live separate from each other but live in unity.
Such unity means it is not a big deal if human error causes an error in our bulletin. Like today with the 3rd Sunday of Advent, today's date and last year's theme! That happened to my surprise and great amusement when 4 people had looked over the bulletin! I was thrilled it had not originally been my error and I may have caught this one had I seen it again before printing, but you know this is a picture of the marvelous unity God has given us. Although we aim for excellence, even an error every week in the bulletin does not need to distract from the fact that we dwell in love. And when you catch one of the errors John or I create, it can be your reminder that you too are a frail human being, and as such God has called us into Unity.
- Why did Jesus pray for this? Jesus knows that our unity evangelizes. As He prayed: "May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Our unity will witness to Jesus. As an excellent cook takes potatoes, veggies, fruits, meats and creates beautiful plates of food for a scrumptious meal, so God brings us together and makes more of us together than ever would be possible separated.
Last Thursday because of the wedding, I had a chance to share with Troy Heffner, whose wedding to Angie I performed 2 years ago. Four months after they married, Troy was shipped off to Iraq for a year. His commanding officer from his base in OK was also there with him, and this man, Dwayne, led a daily morning Bible study in the barracks for anyone interested.
Troy already had seen the witness of admirable life in Dwayne's relationship with his wife and his church, so came every day for that year. They studied through the whole New Testament in that year and Troy came face to face with the fact that although he had gone to church he had never really met Jesus.
Jesus evangelized Troy through Dwayne's life and the Word. Troy drove off in his hummer one day to be alone, and God met him in a powerful desert experience. Within 10 miles of ancient UR the birthplace of Abraham, the birthplace of faith, Troy's faith was born anew and Jesus became real.
Jesus' prayer is for unity that others may be reached. Well, there in the desert, as these brothers practiced and lived their faith, they met Christian Iraqi men thrilled to meet a Christian with whom they could share. One of these men had never met another Christian since coming to Christ, but Troy and his men had so they were able to connect this brother to others so that now after their departure there is a living church, a body of believers where they were stationed.
Continue to Live in unity not as separate units my friends for thus you can accomplish great things.