Be One: The Unity of the Spirit

. 6 min read

Feb 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Psalm, Psalm 133
Acts 15.36-41, Paul & Barnabas break up
Ephesians 4.1-16 (4.17-32, 5.1-20)
Review, transition:
in Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace
and fullness in Christ, all in all
and Made Alive in Christ: Grace through Faith
in Christ: Near and Far
Love and Glory in Christ: Abundantly Far
we transition to the implications of these theological truths, with
Be One: The Unity of the Spirit
next section (following today’s reading), which we do not include in our
message series, could be titled Be Holy. Yet, it also includes themes for Be
One. Sometimes, when we think of holiness, we think of it only as being
separate, particularly separate from sin. That is an accurate perception and
fits with Hebrew teaching, particularly the Torah and the Holiness Code of
Leviticus. It is also incomplete. Another dimension of holiness is wholeness,
which involves connection and integration, rather than separation. This also
has roots in Hebrew teaching, particularly the prophets and the message of
Shalom or Peace. So, I find it fascinating that in the next section of the
letter, Paul jumps back and forth across both dimensions of holiness:

you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the
futility of their minds. …  19
They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness,
greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 
20 That is not the way you learned Christ!
 let all of us speak
the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  26 Be angry but do not sin; do not
let the sun go down on your anger,  27
and do not make room for the devil.
 be kind to one
another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven
 Therefore be
imitators of God, as beloved children,  2
and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant
offering and sacrifice to God.
 For once you were
darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light– …  11 Take no part in the unfruitful
works of darkness, but instead expose them.
focus today is on the theme Be One. Paul says it this way: Make “every effort
to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4.3).
does not say that there is one clear and unassailable interpretation of
Scripture on any matter of debate. He does not say that in any interpersonal
conflict what matters is to label someone as right and the other as wrong. Instead,
he focuses on the bedrock fact of one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith,
one baptism, one God and Father.
refers obliquely to Jesus descending, what the creed calls Jesus “descent into
hell.” Then he refers to Jesus ascending, into heaven. And he takes that
movement of Jesus through a three story universe – earth, hell, heaven – as a
sign that God’s desire is to “fill all things.” Connection, oneness, is
implied. It seems that even hell itself is subjected to being filled with God.
Don’t ask me to explain that.
lists leadership gifts. (Our Pentecostal sisters and brothers were the first to
call this the “five-fold ministry” of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and
teacher or “APEPT.”) He does not dwell on or develop this list here. All are
clearly needed. No one person embodies them all. The implication is that the
work of the church, the work of ministry, takes place in TEAMS. Paul states
that these leadership gifts are designed to activate general ministry gifts in
all of us, because it is the saints in general, not the pastor in particular,
that do the work of ministry. In addition to activating gifts that are lived
out in ministry teams, the leaders of the church are to build up the “one”
body, and lead us all to unity and maturity. That unity and maturity is the
sole focus of our growth as disciples of Jesus.
talks about body-building. It is the responsibility of leaders to create
healthy environments in which the body can be built up. And all God’s people
participate in building up the body as we speak the truth in love. BOTH truth and
love are indispensable to body-building.
says, make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
peace” (4.3). But how do we apply this today? There’s the rub. I’m going to
talk about applying that in two arenas: conflict over what could broadly be
called social issues and conflict that is interpersonal in nature.
address conflict over social issues particularly because we are in a season of
conflict in the history of The United Methodist Church. On the question of
whether it is appropriate for our clergy to bless same sex marriage or for us
to ordain persons in same sex marriages, we are deeply divided. We are even
angry and, perhaps, not following Paul’s call to “not sin” in our anger. We
know that we do not agree with one another. At the same time, we look around
and recognize that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father
of all.” We’ve figured out how to be “one” despite our differences.
      But this global process which may or may
not lead to a change in church law has many of us on pins and needles. We have
no idea what will be decided at the end of February in Saint Louis. We can only
pray. And we can pray for this particular body, for Christ Church, to be “one”
in the way that Paul describes, a oneness that is not based on agreement on all
questions of teaching but on the core of our faith, on Jesus.
      I want to affirm that it is right for
churches to take moral stands on social issues. We have always done so. We’ve
not always been right. In 1844, the then Methodist Episcopal Church, one of our
predecessor bodies, split over the question of slavery. The southern church
declared, “We regard the officious, and unwarranted interference of the
Northern portion of the Church with the subject of slavery alone, a sufficient
cause for a division of our Church.” They pointed to Scripture and tradition
and insisted that they were morally right in taking that stand, just as their
sisters and brothers in the North believed they were right.
      Please hear me clearly: I am NOT saying
that this earlier division parallels our current conversation. I am NOT saying
that the abolitionists of 1844 are aligned with the progressives of our time
and the pro-slavery South is aligned with the traditionalists of our time. NO.
The parallel is that churches take stands – and should, churches get it wrong
even though they insist they are right, and we only realize that clearly with
the benefit of hindsight. The other parallel is this: splitting churches or
denominations – even when it becomes necessary – is painful, sad, and wrong. It
took us 95 years to get back together. The Baptists, who split 6 years before
the Methodists, are still separated today. None of that glorifies God.
Wesley, who was firmly in the abolitionist camp and was no stranger to taking
controversial social stands in his own time, John Wesley, ordained a priest in
the Church of England who never left that church, wrote about the unity of the
his sermon “On Schism,” while acknowledging that there are specific situations
when a person may need to leave a church, ]he writes]: “Suppose the Church or
society to which I am now united does not require me to do anything which the
Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then
my indispensable duty to continue therein” (On Schism, II.7).
John Schol of Greater New Jersey Conference wrote an article to address our
division today. He suggests that we need to think about our agreement not as agree
with but as agree to. That allows us to focus not on the particular
areas in which we disagree on teaching (as important as they are) but on our shared
and more important mission which we all embrace, “to make disciples of Jesus
Christ for the transformation of the world.” We do not have to agree with each other to agree to ministry together.
“every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4.3).
      Sisters who don’t speak with each other
because of mom’s will
      Man who, when he sees his old boss in
public, turns around
      Married couples in crisis
      Differences that we struggle to accept
that Paul says nothing about liking each other. He insists, however, that we
must make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of
peace” (4.3).
“speaking the truth in love”
      Embrace difficult conversations
      Get prayed up in advance
      Retrieved 2019 Feb 16
Wesley: Email from Uniting Methodists, text by David Livingston, Pastor of St.
Paul’s UMC in Lenexa, KS; Feb 11, 2019.