Tag: United Church of Christ

Easter Sunrise Remember Your Baptism

1 Peter 3:8-22 sunrise-sun-river-grass-hdr.jpg

Do you ever get accused of being naive? Our scripture this morning says when people ask ‘Why are you so optimistic?’ ‘How can you be happy in a time like this?’ ‘How do you remain hopeful?’ tell them about your faith. Tell them about how when everything seemed lost, God was not done with the story. Tell them about how love has the final word. Tell them about how second, third, fourth, forty times forty chances our God offers. Tell them of Jesus’ love.

But do it with love yourself. With gentleness and reverence. Don’t ever smack people over the head with your faith. Don’t preach brimstone and fire.

Speak of your God, who did everything to lovingly reunite us with God’s self. Speak of our God – who though Christ offered forgiveness and reconciliation and peace to all people in all times – even the times before Christ was born.

Speak of your baptism – it does not remove dirt from your body, but rather is an appeal to God through the baptized and resurrected Christ for a good conscious – for the Holy Spirit.

So this holy Easter morning, be a blessing to others. As scripture says and we heard today: You are called to be a blessing to others – and by being a blessing to others, you are blessed.

This holy Easter morning, remember your baptismal vows – those you said, or that someone who loves you very much said on your behalf – remember your confirmation – remember you ARE baptized and ARE a child of God – remember all those who are being baptized for the very first time this morning.

This holy Easter morning – remember where your undying hope comes from – an empty cross, an empty tomb – and a full heart.

Amen.

 

Remembering Our Baptisms (adapted from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship)

 

Pastor: Dear friends, as we come to this font of living water, let us recall the meaning of baptism. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, although many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

People: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slave or free– all were made to drink of one Spirit.

 

Pastor: Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it. Let us pray: We thank you, God, for the gift of creation called forth by your saving word. Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life. Eternal God, we offer our prayers to you.

 

People: Be with us as we recall the wonder of our creation and the greater wonder of our redemption.

 

Pastor: Bless this water. It makes seeds grow. It refreshes us. It makes us clean.

 

People: You have made of it a servant of your loving-kindness: Through water you set your people free and quenched their thirst in the desert.

 

Pastor: With water you washed the Earth clean in the time of Noah. In the time of Moses, your people passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land. With water, prophets announced a new covenant that you would make with all humanity.

 

People: By water, made holy by Christ in the Jordan, you made our sinful nature new in the bath that gives Rebirth.

Pastor: Let this water remind us of our baptism.

 

All: Let us share the joy of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are baptized this Easter through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

 

Renewal of Baptismal Vows

 

Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?

I do.

 

Do you believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth?

I believe.

 

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the only one begotten of God before all worlds?

I believe.

 

Do you believe in God – the Holy Spirit?

I believe.

 

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and community, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer?

I will, with God’s help.

 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

 

Those of you who would like to, please come forward to the font for a blessing.

 

Let us pray: Eternal God, you have come to us in Jesus Christ, given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and forgiven all our sins. Bless us now with the grace we need to fulfill what we have promised. Let us remain faithful and joyful in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ! Amen.

Vanities of Vanities

auction_bySheltonReality.jpgEcclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Luke 12:13-21

Have you been to an auction? I used to go all the time with my dad. It was our daddy-daughter bonding time. I remember this one auction very well: it took up the entire farmhouse yard, went into the barnyard, and into the two barns AND the house. There were tables of tools, boxes upon boxes of pots and pans, antique furniture around every corner, and enough holiday decorations to decorate the White House. The front lawn had a long line of folding tables divided into lots — lot 1, lot 2, — and so forth. Whatever was in your half of the folding table is what you were bidding upon.

I stood at the head of one of the tables and looked in the boxes. It was photo albums. Book after book of black and white photos; book after book of Polaroids; and Christmas cards with photos and address books with photos. About half were carefully labeled ‘Danny’s First Christmas’ ‘Hannah and Chuck’ ‘Whitehall, 1960’ and so forth. Weddings. Birthdays. Picnics. Men ready for war. Women holding little babies. Kids in bathing suits.

I suddenly realized a woman, an elderly woman, had died. We were rifling through her possessions. Soon we would be taking some, giving her family or her medical bills money, and then all she owned would scattered across the state.

These weren’t extra dishes. These were the dishes she ate with every day.

This table she had toast at, and fed her children.

These were the clothes she washed, wore, repaired, for decades.

And here, these photos in my hands, this is her nice cursive handwriting detail the people she loved. What would be done with the photos now? No one here even knows who Danny or Hannah or Chuck are. Would the buyer throw the photos away and reuse the antique albums? Who collects old color out of focus Polaroids? Why didn’t the family take these?

… Maybe she doesn’t … didn’t… have any living family left.

The auctioneer began his fast pelt of questions and calls and the people around me began to nod their heads or flick their little paper numbers. But I was lost in thought looking at that stack of albums. It made me begin to wonder about this dead woman I’d never met, and, what it will be like when I am the dead woman some day. What will I leave behind when I die?

Another death. Nuns and monks have their own private rooms although they share a big house. A UCC minister told this story of her aunt who was a nun. One of the nuns passed away, and, eventually, the sisters needed to clean out the deceased’s room. When they opened the door to her bedroom, they found it was completely stuffed with things: maps and books, little nicknacks and silk flowers, photos and paintings and everything you can name — all piled into that little room. I think it must have looked like my closet when I was a kid: one of those ‘Open Only If You Dare’ situations. It took days to clean and clear out.

Later, the minister’s aunt herself was diagonsed with incurable cancer. The minister was called by her aunt to come visit. When she got there, her aunt handed her treasures: her favorite painting, little ceramic cats the two played with, and pictures the minister had made her aunt when the minister was a little girl. The minister knew her aunt treasured these things, and was so surprised she was parting with them. But the aunt was adament, “I know you’ll treasure these like I do. Take them.”

When the aunt died, the sisters gathered one day to clear out her room. They found it was completely empty but for its bed, nightstand, and dresser. The aunt had given away everything.

The minister realized then that STUFF is for the living. We can’t take it with us at all. By giving away things, the aunt had seen all the people she loved one last time before passing away. She knew what true wealth is, and how to share it.

The writer of Ecclesiasties sets out to learn what is true wealth. He wants to know: what brings lasting happiness? What brings lasting joy? What is worthwhile to do? How should one spend their life?

And in woe, he finds that most things we do are meaningless in the big picture of the world. Every joy and every meaning is fleeting, is a vanity, a puff of smoke or is dust in the wind. Like cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, our toils never end and just seem to come to nothing.

He writes that if we work really hard and build up something to pass on to our kids: wealth, a furnished house, a business, or even photo albums labeled and organized… we have no guarantee what they’re going to do with those things. They might not appreciate the money and blow through it. Or they may not want to live where we have the house. Maybe they don’t want to work the business. Maybe they don’t want the photo albums.

Yet we want to have lives that MEAN something. If we can’t trust even our own kids to pass on our mark, our stamp, our memory, on the world, what can we do? Is life a vainity? Is life meaningless?

The Teacher in Ecclessiasties struggles with this. In the end, he concludes that the truest meanings of life we mortals can’t know. God alone knows. So, while we are living, live well: relax, eat, drink, be merry, enjoy time with your family and friends. Whatever you do, do with joy. Obey God and the commandments, for whatever life is, (a test? a dream? a proving grounds? a place to learn?) and whatever death is, we can ask God once we have passed away. What is certain is, he writes, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”

Our second reading echos, refers back to, Ecclesiasties. Did you hear it?

A man has come to Jesus and said, “Tell me brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” You see, each son was entitled to some of their father’s wealth when their father died. Usually Rabbis could step in and use scripture to chastize the greedy one not sharing.

But Jesus turns the tables, and warns everyone: don’t be greedy at all! Sure, this boy deserves his share by the law… but the real issue is that greed — greed of the older brother and younger brother — is tearing the family apart. One’s life does not consistent in the abundance of possessions. What you own isn’t who you are.

I can’t tell you how many families I’ve seen torn apart when somebody dies. My own included. Countless. Theft during funerals; hiding or changing wills; hiding possessions; changing locks; lawyers and police and decades of hurt feelings. Over what? Possessions. Jesus reminds us that who is right and who is wrong in these situations isn’t going to make us happy. Getting a laywer or a judge or pastor to say, “You’re right!” doesn’t knit the family back together again. Guard against all kinds of greed. It tears us apart.

Then Jesus tells the story that echoes Ecclesiasties. He says a rich man had land that made him even richer. He had so many crops they didn’t all fit in his barn. So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, like the teacher of Ecclesiasties, he chose to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. However, the Teacher told us to enjoy time with our family and friends, and to honor and obey God. He also told us that wealth is meaningless. The rich man chose to hoard his wealth all to himself. He didn’t share it with family and friends. He didn’t honor and obey God by sharing with the stranger and the needy. And God called the man a fool, and that the man was going to die that very night. “All the things you prepared, whose will they be?” All that toil was in vain. All that hoarding was in vain. The man didn’t need barns of food after he died. So who owned them now?

Greed tears us apart. Clinging to poscessions tears us apart.

Poccess your poccessions. Don’t be poccessed by pocessions.

When you store up treasures, store them up for God- not yourself! Store up good deeds, good memories, fun times, prayers, times of comfort and sollace, times of generosity, times of worship; store up heavenly treasures. Store up love for others — and share that love abundantly.

The treasures we hoard for ourselves all alone, without others enjoying or God invited, these we lose.

The Teacher writes in chapter 5 of Ecclesiasties:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?

Wealth – financial stability – comes and goes. Work – what we do to survive – should never consume our whole lives. Our lives are meant for more than labor. No matter if you have no income, a fixed income, make $30,000 a year, or 50, or 100, or a billion dollars a year… you always will think you could use a bit more. So instead of worrying about money, enjoy what you do have – and share it with others. In the sharing we find we all have enough to go around.

Jesus economics are like garden economics. This week I have so many cucumbers I beg you to take some and use them. Next week, you’ll have so many tomatoes you’ll beg me to take some and use some. By sharing, we all have richer summers, richer relationships, and richer lives. We store up in heaven our love for one another.

When we apply this to money, it means that some years of your life you’ll have more income than you need. Then is the time to share, because in later times of your life, you’ll not have enough. And there is no shame in taking tomatoes or cucumbers. There is no shame in taking offered finanical assistance.

For while one has more money than they need, another has more time, another has more skills in gardening or cooking, another has abundant repair skills, and another abundant stories. We each are blessed with more wealth than we can ever count. And together, when we share it, we always are an extrememly blessed community.

Where is your treasure? Stored somewhere fading and passing away; or stored in our heavenly home? Amen.

Covenant People

Genesis 15:1-18
Luke 13:31-35

Is God trustworthy?

Abram doesn’t know.

God has made him some promises: God promised Abram would have descendants, heirs, and be the father of many. He would be as numerous as dust and own all the land about him… But so far… God hasn’t delivered. In fact, Abram’s one relative, his nephew Lot, has been kidnapped – maybe killed. Maybe Abram and Sarai are the last two people left in Abram’s family.

Abram isn’t 100% certain he can trust God.

Right before today’s reading, Abram hears Lot and Lot’s family has been captured by enemies kings. So Abram gathers up his neighbors and allies and went out and rescued everyone! Abram also got back all the possessions stolen by the kings.

Abram returns to Sodom, where Lot and all the people stolen live. There, Sodom’s king comes out and praises Abram: “Let the people go back to their homes, but you can keep all the possessions as a thank you!”

But Abram says no. He says he promised God that he wouldn’t take anything from those he saved. If Abram gets rich, it won’t be because of the king of Sodom.

I hear Abram saying these words to the king of Sodom… but I think he is thinking about God. God – you said you would give me children. They are the only riches I want. Can I trust you, God?

In today’s reading, Abram has a dream where God tells him that God is his sovereign, his ruler, and his protection and shield. Abram’s great reward for selflessly rescuing his neighbors and his nephew, and leaving them their livelihoods, is God.

But can God’s promises be trusted?

Abram doesn’t know. He honestly doesn’t know. He’s seen no proof that God delivers.

And he doubts God. He questions God. All alone, away from the rejoicing crowds and rescued people, back home, under his tree under the desert sky, Abram is in prayer with God and he’s not happy.

Great. My reward is God.

And land.

God, all I want is children. You haven’t even delivered in children! Why will you give me land when there’s no one to live on the land?! Why is there no one, because you still haven’t delivered me a single promised kid!

And God promises this single man, who is quickly getting up in years, he will have more offspring than the stars in the sky.

We’re told Abram chooses to believe God, and God credits to Abram as righteousness, as grace, as a gift to God.

Abram has doubts, has questions, about God — even as he believes in and trusts God. It reminds me of the man who cried out to Jesus in the book of Mark, “I believe; help me with my unbelief!” Abram believes, and wants help with his unbelief.

… in our journey with God, when promises get delayed, and when bad things happen, and even when life is great and average and ordinary – we have questions about God. We wonder, we question, we ponder, and have moments when the promises of God don’t seem real.

If God is always with us, where is God in the Middle East?

Where is God in all the violence we see in our own country?

How can there be a resurrection? Where will those billions of people live?

Does God really forgive sins – forgive them and forget the wrong – when we pray and ask God to do so? How can we be sure?

How can we trust there really is an afterlife; and what we do really matters; how do we know there even is a god?

We have doubts and questions at times, even when we have thousands of years of God’s “credit history.” We have the Bible, the stories of those who bought us to our faith, our our lives – as testimonies of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises… and yet we still wonder. Abram hasn’t any of these histories .

Abram is who becomes Abraham. At this time, he hasn’t a single child… and yet, now he is the father to billions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In this story, he can’t picture even one child – let alone children all around the world.

And our patriarch, our faith father, doubted and pondered and had unbelief, too. Just like we do sometimes. Yet, he chose to believe, and then pray ‘help me with my unbelief.’

And instead of getting angry with Abram, God answers his prayer! Just as Jesus helps the man who prays ‘I believe! Help me with my unbelief!’

When we doubt God’s promises, our relationship with God isn’t over. God counts our trust without evidence, without proof, as righteousness. God counts our confession of faith, and prayer for strength through our many valid reasons to wonder, as worship. Questions and belief, doubts and faith, can go hand in hand. In our reading today, Abram believes, but not without questions. In a bold move, God decides to make a covenant with Abram to seal God’s promises.

Covenants are weird things. First, this fancy word we seem to use only in church. I’ve never entered a covenant with my electric or water company. But in church, we speak of covential elders, Lori gives us The Covenanter newsletter, we speak of being in covenant with other UCC churches and the association, and every month: we hear Jesus’ words “This is the cup of the new covenant, in my blood.” What is this thing God is making with Abram?

Well, it’s something God initiated. God initiates covenants. So when we’re in covenant with other churches, it’s because God asked us to walk with one another as one body. So does that mean covenant is just a fancy word that means a contract with God?

No, not really. A contract is something like, ‘I will loan you $10,000 for a car, and you will pay me back $200 each month. If you miss a payment, I come and take your car.’ Covenants are more descriptive… such as “we will walk together with God.” What does it mean to walk together? Does walking together mean different things at different times? $200 is always $200. Covenants are more flexible and meant to change with the people in them. A contract is meant to be binding and solid – without wiggle room.

The lack of wiggle room in a contract is what lets the contract be enforced by lawyers and debt collectors, police and judges. But a covenant is “policed” by the people in it. It demands spiritual maturity. Demands the people in it stick together even in disagreement. Demands the people in the covenant relate to one another with humility and patience, justice and compassion; deal with one another with the Fruits of the Spirit – with God-given love. So difficulties in the covenant don’t split it, but rather challenge the covenantal partners to deeper relationships.

That is the incredible gift God offers Abram.

A relationship.

A covenant. A description of how to be in faithful relationship to one another.

God directs Abram to set up a ritual so Abram can see what God is promising. We are physical people, in tangible bodies. We often need signs to remind us of our covenants. Signs like the bread and cup. A rainbow. Signatures in frames. Rings.

Abram takes these animals at God’s direction and splits them in two – half a cow here, half a cow there. Half a goat, half a ram – but a whole dove and pigeon. No one really knows what that meant back then. What we do know is that the word for covenant in Hebrew, berith, comes from the word for cutting, making a space, just as is done with the animals.

And into this new space carved out, God walks.

If this were between humans, perhaps they would have sworn an oath – like ‘May God cut me in two, like these animals, if I break this covenant.’ Or ‘I will be faithful even unto being split into two.’

When you consider this is GOD making this pledge… God is pledging, promising, to be with Abram even if it means suffering and death.

Abram cannot know what we know – that the pledge God made that night, the pledge to make Abram a great nation with land… would bring God into the world as Jesus. Our second reading today is Jesus standing before the land of Abram, the city of Jerusalem, and God is still working to maintain the covenant.

“How often I have longed to bring you under my wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks!”

And yet, how often you test our covenant, murder the prophets I send you, and anger me!

But still – God won’t end the covenant. God fulfills God’s promises. Even unto suffering and death.

In a covenant, people walk together, work together, live together, suffer and rejoice together, die together… and have new life together.

We have no evidence, no proof, that God is going to fulfill all of the promises made to us. Rather, we have stories of God’s faithfulness in the past, stories of God acting in the present, and so just faith – belief mixed with unbelief – that God will continue to fulfill God’s promises in the future.

We just have belief mixed with unbelief that God is actively forgiving sins.

We have belief mixed with unbelief that our covenant with God and each other – to be one body, united in Christ – is eternal.

And that belief mixed with unbelief is counted as righteousness… because we’re willing to continue our walk with God even in uncertainties.

Is God trustworthy? Yes. And our covenant with God strong. Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, 2-21-2016

One Spirit, One Body

Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

How shall they, the world, know us? How can you witness if someone is a Christian? If it is by all of us worshiping the same, being in agreement, unity by similarity… showing love in the same way… we Christians are failing.

As of the last count, about ten years ago, there were over 330,000 Christian churches dotting America; and these are divided into 217 different denominations. World wide, there are about 4 million churches and 33,000 different denominations!

And an awful lot of us are not speaking to each other anymore.

Yet, Jesus’ prayer in John for us is, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one–I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

What happened to Jesus’ prayer? What happened to our unity? Where did it go so wrong that Christians frequently leave churches in anger, never to speak to their former brother and sisters again; and that Christians go out to injure, murder other Christians?

Can we pinpoint a particular moment?

Was it when the United Church of Christ began to openly welcome gays? You and I both know we lost many churches and members in the UCC.

What about several years before that, when in 1959 our denomination aligned itself with Martin Luther King Jr., and became publically active in challenging racial laws? We lost some churches then, who felt King was too radical, and we were mixing politics and religion. Again, we split into different denominations and factions.

But you know and I know, the UCC draws together several different denominations. To draw together denominations means our splitting had already begun.

So the divisions among Christianity had to start earlier.

Maybe our conflicts began in the early 1900s when new scholarship opened the history of the Bible for the laity. People began to see and read, understand, that the Bible has many different translations over millinia, and these translations don’t all agree.

At the same time, people struggled with science, which no longer tried to prove how the world was made in 7, 24 hour days… and science began to interpret the Bible rather than the Bible dictate science. Maybe the early 1900s is where we broke into churches that support science and those that oppose it.

But there were arguments long before science.

In the 1800’s, some people felt church was dry. Scholastic. It was all about lectures, learning, and the mind. It had no heart or soul. It didn’t affect the real lives of the people — lives that are messy and not scholarly at all. The Holy Spirit moved among some of the people and awoke them to reinvent their faith so that it was relevant to them again. Little Bible-study groups led to tent revivals, and tent revivals to new denominations that focused on the Spirit rather than study.

Now we had churches that began and ended when the Spirit moved the people; and we had churches with planned scripture and written sermons. Churches and denominations to serve both kinds of ways to worship God.

But, I tell you, we argued before the 1800’s too. Two hundred years before the Spirit reawoke the church, there were people who wanted to live pure lives, according to Biblical standards, and they felt that the Church – as it was – wouldn’t permit them. These “puritans” sure caused waves too.

Some of them held insane ideas… such as it is wrong to have slaves, others advocated many wives, while still others said one should never marry and be chaste. One such crazy man named William Penn started a whole colony based on treating the native Americans as HUMANS. It’s hard to believe his colony is now the state of Pennslyvannia… several early colonies were purposefully made as havens, safe places, to worship God in unique ways… such as by treating natives as brothers and sisters. Obviously other churches disagreed on many of the strange new ideas – and many new denominations were formed.

Simutaniously, other people felt our sacrements were no longer sacred – anyone could get baptized, anyone take communion – it wasn’t just for the faithful. These scholars read the Bible and saw adults being baptized, not children – and they wanted to baptize only adults who could confess their faith. So they began to re-baptize adults, and stopped baptizing children.

You know that caused major, major fights – because some people believe there is value to a child’s baptism. Some even argued unbaptized children go to hell. Big, big stakes — big, big emotions — lots of bickering — lots of new denominations.

Sexuality, race, what is proper to study, nationality, ethics and theology… these have divided us.

So too has money.

The Protestant Reformation was in part about money and power. The Reformation leaders felt that the Church needed to be far simplier, far less wealthy and powerful on the earth, and far more concerned with souls than with who is sitting on this or that throne. Each Reformation leader had a different idea how to go about this — and the Counter-Reformation — when the Catholic Church reformed — had different ideas within itself too. But all over, people split over how best to run a society with rules, and live a Christian life with rules, without the duties of either conflicting.

… We still haven’t solved this issue.

For example, it is wrong to kill, says the Bible. Is it always wrong? Can we defend ourselves? Is the military acceptable in Christian ethics?

Depends on your denomination.

Your interpretation of Scripture, Tradition, and experience.

They didn’t solve this issue in the Reformation. Nor was the Reformation the beginning of our divisions within Christianity.

Two hundred years before that, so about the 1300’s, the Lollards got in a lot of trouble. John Wycliffe believed people needed to understand Scripture. Few people spoke and understood Latin, which the Priests read scripture in. And sometimes even the Priests didn’t know what they were saying! So Wycliffe began to translate the Holy Scriptures into his native tongue, so he and others could understand Scripture better… and this divided the church. Is English too secular a language for Scripture?

But language was already dividing the church before the Lollards. A hundred years earlier, the church has split into the East and West. In the East, Latin was spoke and the Latin Empire was fighting Crusades against Muslims and others. In the East, Greek was spoke and they saw their Christian-Muslim cities being attacked by Latin-speaking Christians.

But their East-West issues began long before this moment. It started back when translations and theology couldn’t be agreed upon, hundreds of years earlier.

This takes us back to 400 years after Christ’s death… and you know what… Christians were arguging even then. They argued: Is it okay to be part of a secular community or should one be monastic? How is Jesus both divine and human? How does Mary fit into this? Is she the Mother of God, or Mother of Jesus, and is she divine?

And what about the Trinity? Not once in our scriptures is the Trinity described. Rather, it is inferred from the talk of God, Son, and Spirit. But once we speak of Trinity, it sounds like we have 3 Gods instead of one.

Oh yes… Christians slaughtered other Christians over these issues and understandings. Several councils were people were supposed to help each other with defining Christian theology ended with shoes thrown, swords drawn, and insults or death.

Yet, if we return to scripture, before this major conflict… we will find more yet conflict. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, Jude and the book of Acts all talk about conflicts in the early, early church! Jewish Christians and Greek Christians fighting; Aramic Scripture and Greek Scripture not agreeing in translations; and no one knowing if the Apostles, John, or maybe James has the most authoritative word.

… Even the Apostles couldn’t agree.

Jesus was right there! Right there with them and they argued amongst themselves! Peter even argued WITH Jesus!

Debate, diversity, has always been a part of Christianity.

… Jesus’ prayer, that we may all be one, has never been answered in the form that we don’t argue with each other.

… I think it never will.

See- Jesus didn’t pray: “Father, don’t let them argue.” No, he prayed that we may be one, united. He never prayed “May they all be identical.” No, he prayed that we be one in Christ, united.

In all the history of Christianity, which we just skimmed through, we have NEVER been united in everything. We have different languages, different prayers, different ways of understanding God, different priorities. We are different people with different souls.

I don’t think we ever WILL be united in these things.

Our unity isn’t in ethics, or governments, or language, or song, or even scripture…

Our unity is in Christ.

We are one because we all confess Jesus as Christ.

As Paul wrote the Collosians, we SHOULDN’T all be the same. Some of us are called to be ears — we hear things others miss. We hear scripture and know there are better, more modern ways to say that language. Or we hear the old hymns and know that these old songs speak a truth modern songs have forgot.

Others of us are called to be eyes — we see things others miss. We see how power and religion are helping or harming one another. We see and understand.

Others of us are mouths — called to be prophets, Called to be a voice to those who are silenced.

Others of us are hands — called to be doers, movers, workers. Called to build new churches, try new things, go new places.

Others of us are rumps — believe it or not — and we need to fill a pew, keep the fire of the faith burning, and pass this faith fire on to a new generation.

We are feet for walking with others; we are knees for kneeling in prayer; we are elbows for networking and shoulders for crying and backs for carrying and bellies for great big childish laughter.

We are the body of Christ.

We are different members, with different gifts, different ways of understanding God and responding to God’s call — but we are united in one Spirit, in one God, under one Christ.

God calls us by NAME. Our own personal name. We each hear our name, not each other’s, and we respond to our own name.

So long as we each are following where our Shepherd calls us, we are united.

So long as we are each confessing Jesus as Christ, we are united.

In the future, we’re going to have more arguments. I don’t know what they’ll be. Maybe we’ll argue whether or not robots have souls, or can take communion. Maybe whether or not computers can be pastors. I don’t know what we’ll argue, but we’ll disagree.

HOwever, I believe in Jesus’ prayer. I belive in the power of the Holy Spirit. I know we worship One God who, in stunning, exhubulant creativeiy, has given us unimagionable diversity. And this One God has One Love expressed in billions of ways.

I believe we will remain united in this love, united in Christ.

Arguments, disagreements, misunderstandings, divisions — these have always happened among Christians. But so too have we always had the prayer of Christ.

And this prayer, this promise, of unity in Christ will always let us extend forgiveness, tollerance, and love to one another.

We never have to agree.

We simply have to love.

Amen.