Unity and Diversity in Community

When Nick asked me to speak today, he asked if there was a message God was burning in my heart.  I think I’d have to answer no, it was more like an eclectic group of musings floating around in my head.  And yet, as I sat with my ponderings before God asking for guidance and started looking into scripture for further insight God did place on my heart a message. And it seems to follow Nick’s message of last week as if someone planned it that way!



Here is Leann Williams’ message for Sunday July 13th

Our Lord and God, come be our teacher.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.  Give us hearts open to hear your voice in our midst this morning.  Amen

When Nick asked me to speak today, he asked if there was a message God was burning in my heart.  I think I’d have to answer no, it was more like an eclectic group of musings floating around in my head.  And yet, as I sat with my ponderings before God asking for guidance and started looking into scripture for further insight God did place on my heart a message. And it seems to follow Nick’s message of last week as if someone planned it that way!

Three elements have contributed to my ponderings.  First, in the last several weeks we have been reviewing our Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice.  In that context there has been discussion of the use of the word “church” in the document.  Nick and others have written a clear statement calling us to remember that any local gathering of Christ’s followers has been referred to historically by Quakers as “meetings”.  We have been urged to remember that the “church” encompasses all those past and present that are followers of Christ.

The second event that has caused me to think about what it means to be “the Church” occurred when Bruce and I went to the 100th anniversary celebration at Entiat Friends meeting.  In the celebratory morning worship the congregation sang “The Church’s One Foundation”, a hymn that I have been familiar with most of my life.  In this particular hymnal there was a verse I had never heard before. Let me read the words that we sang that morning.

1) The Church’s one foundation   2) Elect from every nation, 
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,     Yet one o’er all the earth; 
She is His new creation     Her charter of salvation, 
By water and the Word.     One Lord, one faith, one birth; 
From heaven He came and sought her   One holy Name she blesses, 
To be His holy bride;     Partakes one holy food, 
With His own blood He bought her   And to one hope she presses, 
And for her life He died.     With every grace endued.

3) Though with a scornful wonder   4) ’Mid toil and tribulation, 
Men see her sore oppressed,    And tumult of her war, 
By schisms rent asunder,    She waits the consummation 
By heresies distressed:     Of peace forevermore; 
Yet saints their watch are keeping,   Till, with the vision glorious, 
Their cry goes up, “How long?”    Her longing eyes are blest, 
And soon the night of weeping    And the great Church victorious 
Shall be the morn of song!    Shall be the Church at rest.

I’ve got to admire a person who writes a hymn about “the Church” that includes her schisms, heresies, tribulation, and wars within her ranks.  My heart was moved by the plaintive cry, “How long?”  I share, with the author a cry for God to move among us to bring unity among all those who choose to follow Christ.

Finally, as I prepare to go to the annual sessions of our Yearly Meeting, I have been asked to serve on the Administrative Council, a group charged with “cradling the mission and helping YM stay focused on its collective vision.”  So, I have been asking myself, “How do we find unity among such a diverse and sometimes divergent group of people?  On what basis can we claim to have unity?  What does unity mean to us?  How can we, as a diverse faith community, foster and experience unity?”

I started my search of scripture looking for passages that refer to the concepts of unity and community. In Acts 20 Paul is offering a farewell message to the people of Ephesus as he leaves for Jerusalem and expects never to see them again in his lifetime.  In it he says:

Acts 20 (The Message)

32″Now I’m turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends.

What a promise! God, through Christ, the living Word, can give us everything we need as a faith community! What is it that we need? Another way to ask that question might be:         Why do we exist as a community of faith?

I believe that first we need forgiveness. God forgives us and gives us the ability to forgive others.

Galatians 6 (The Message)

-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

We, every one of us within this faith community, and those around us need forgiveness.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were characterized as a community of forgiveness?  This passage points to another need.

We all need someone to share our burdens. What does it look like to share another’s burdens? Henri Nouwen gives us a lovely picture of how we might best share a burden with another.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Henri Nouwen

I love the Quaker phrase “holding someone in the light.” It captures this process in a prase.

We need forgiveness, someone to share our burdens, and we need each other’s strength in times and areas of weakness.

Romans 15 ( The Message) 1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

What a lovely image! However before we get carried away with this lovely picture, let’s pay attention to a phrase within it. (Reread underlined portion.)

We need each other to learn how to get along.  It can be a difficult, messy, painful process.  We don’t get to opt out.  Living with others is one of God’s primary tools for revealing what needs to change in my life.

Eugene Peterson, Bible translator of the Message version I have been quoting said,

I often found myself prefering the company of people outside my congregation, men and women who did not follow Jesus. Or worse, preferring the company of my sovereign self. But soon I found that my preferences were honored by neither Scripture nor Jesus. I didn’t come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it: there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from immersion and embrace of community. I am not myself by myself. Community, not the highly vaunted individualism of our culture, is the setting in which Christ is at play.

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 2005

Time does not permit me to try to describe this process or our responsibilities in it.  I will simply read a list of some of the statements from scripture that contain the phrase “one another”.

Be devoted to one another. Honor one another. Live in harmony with one another.  Stop passing judgment on one another.  Accept, welcome, and receive one another. Instruct and advise one another.  Greet one another.  Be considerate of one another.  Be reverent and courteous with one another.  Help and serve one another.

Galatians and Colossians give us a little reality check by introducing some warnings.  We should NOT Bite and devour one another.  Provoke, envy, and irritate one another.  Lie to one another.  Speak evil of one another.  Complain about one another.

Returning to the encouragements we are to: Bear with one another.  Be gentle, kind, and compassionate with one another.  Forgive and be forbearing with one another.  Admonish one another.  Comfort and encourage one another.  Motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  Confess your faults to one another.  Pray for one another.  And finally, I love this phrase: We are members one of another.

It may be helpful to turn each of these directives into queries and sit with one each day.  I have provided a list of the “one another” statements should you wish to join me in that practice.

So far, so good.  We need each other in community for forgiveness, sharing burdens, strength in weakness, and to learn to get along.  I understand how these may work. But then I found a statement about community that gets a little more difficult.

Philippians 2 (The Message)

1-2 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.

What in the world are we supposed to agree about?  Nick’s message last week pointed out that American communities of faith are deeply divided on most topics. If you spend any time at all at Spokane Friends you will find that we contain diverse and divergent opinions, perspectives, and convictions on almost any topic under consideration!  Is there anything of substance we can agree on? What will bring us together and create the possibility of this kind of agreement?

Two passages from the book of Ephesians give me hope.

Ephesians 2 (Amplified Bible)

14 For Jesus Himself is our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both Jew and Gentile one body, and has broken down, destroyed, and abolished the hostile dividing wall between us,

15 By abolishing in His own crucified flesh the enmity caused by the Law with its decrees and ordinances which He annulled; that He from the two might create in Himself one new man [one new quality of humanity out of the two], so making peace.

16 And He designed to reconcile to God both Jew and Gentile, united in a single body by means of His cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end.

17 And He came and preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off and peace to those who were near.

18 For it is through Him that we both, whether far off or near, now have an introduction (access) by one Spirit to God.

19 Therefore you are no longer outsiders exiles, migrants, and aliens, excluded from the rights of citizens, but you now share citizenship with God’s own people, consecrated and set apart, belonging to God’s own household.

20 You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself the chief Cornerstone.

21 In Him the whole structure is joined, bound, and welded together harmoniously, and it continues to grow, and increase into a sanctuary dedicated, consecrated, and sacred to the presence of the Lord.

22 In Him and in fellowship with one another you yourselves also are being built up into this structure with the rest, to form a fixed abode, a dwelling place of God by and through the Spirit.

It’s the life of Christ flowing in and among us that brings us together.  Understanding the historic context of animosity, if Christ can bring Jew and Gentile together, surely whatever differences we share can be brought together in Christ. I think we can agree on that.

Ephesians chapter 4 gives me another view of what we can agree on.

Ephesians 4 (Amplified Bible) slightly edited

1 I THEREFORE, the prisoner for the Lord, appeal to and beg you to lead a life worthy of the divine calling to which you have been called with behavior that is a credit to the summons to God’s service,

2 Live as becomes you with complete humility, unselfishness, gentleness, mildness, with patience, bearing with one another and making allowances because you love one another.

3 Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness produced by the Spirit in the binding power of peace.

4 There is one body and one Spirit–just as there is also one hope that belongs to the calling you received–

5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6One God and Father of us all, Who is above all, pervading all and living in us all.

We can agree not only that it is the life of God living in us that unites us; we can agree on the kind of life we will commit ourselves to live together. We’ve already spoken of what that life together looks like. These few verses seem to summarize it well for me. The Greek word translated “bearing with” or “forbearing” in other translations is the word anechemai. It is derived from two words, ana meaning each or every, and echo meaning to hold.  Because of the love that God has produced in us we hold on to one another, each and every one, no matter what. . The passage also gives us this definition of unity: the harmony and oneness produced by the Spirit in the binding power of peace.

Sam Portaro, who writes primarily within the Catholic community( that has known its share of divisions) has written:

Failed experiments in ecumenism and social politics suggest that unity is not to be found in mass movements of like-minded people sharing common perspectives and policies. … Experience suggests that unity embraces the multitude of our differences, that community is often far from cozy, and that conversion does not mean changing others to our point of view but perhaps just the opposite — weaning each and every person and institution from the arrogant exclusivism that prevents genuine conversation. … God comes to us, to rescue us not only from our enemies but also from our friends, not only from strangers but also from familiars, that we might see beyond these discriminating distinctions to a new way of relating.

Sam Portaro, A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Why does unity even matter? The answer comes in Jesus prayer for the church in John 17

New International Version

20″My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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 that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

When we are drawn together in the life of Christ and agree on the kind of people we will strive to be together, we are living proof that Christ is from God and came to show humanity the love God has for us all.

In grace and mercy Christ has shown us a different way.  Our living Word, show us how to live in the truths we have learned from you today as we walk among those you love in the world.  Amen.




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