The Power of One

Today we'll look at Paul's letter to the Ephesians, which in general, speaks to the transformation the Ephesians have experienced because of their faith in Christ. And because of this wonderful change they've experienced Paul is telling his brothers and sisters to get out there and walk the path of Christ, helping one another along the way in Christian unity.

Paul says that because there is one body; there is one path we all must follow, and that we were all created to travel on this same road and in the same direction, so why not help one another.

As I read this scripture passage, it makes a lot of sense that as Christians we are to follow the path or road that leads to Christ, after all Jesus said in the Gospel of John, "I am the way…" But this is pretty difficult given all the distractions we face in our lives. How can we walk the straight and narrow path given the many things that want our attentions, the things wanting to pull us in different directions? Do you all ever feel this way, like your being pulled in many directions to the point you're sometimes not sure which way to go or what to do next? I'm sure many of us do. So when we feel or see this happening what are we to do?

Well our scripture reading tells us, we're to help one another along the path. And the way we do this is by being united with Christ and with one another. In our study of Psalms the past two weeks we've been discussing God's presence in our lives and our awareness of God in creation and through others. It's in this awareness we are reminded of what path we ought to follow.

As I understand Paul, he is also saying that as a whole we are more powerful, meaning we are more able to move through distractions and obstacles as one body, then if we try to walk the path alone. I've mentioned this before, that Christianity is a faith to be shared in Communion with others, not in isolation.

So how does this idea of unity play out with all the different Christian faith traditions? Well regardless of what religious tradition we practice, Christians have one faith, one baptism, and one God who rules over all, one God who works through all, and one God who is present in all people. And it's in this oneness, this unity, this awareness, that we are all children of God, and that God rules over his creation and is present in all we do.

This oneness, or common belief, which centers on the risen Christ, is what gives us the power of one. Not a controlling domineering power, but a power grounded in love, confidence, faith, and hope.

When you think of power many different images come to mind, the ocean, lightening, a hurricane, atom bomb, a tornado perhaps, but as I was thinking about power this week I was drawn to the mighty Mississippi River. As you may know the Mississippi River begins in Lake Itasca (I-tas-ca) 2552 miles from the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Minnesota. It's there that many small trickles, creeks, and streams begin to flow together to form the lake, and then from the lake the Mississippi begins to flow south to form the longest and largest river in the United States, and the third longest river in the world.

I've traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota several times, which is near Lake I-tas-ca, and in that place the Mississippi River is about as large as one of our creeks around here. You can walk across it in seconds. Last time I was there it took me six steps to walk across the ankle deep water. That's how small and shallow the river is at that point. I was just fascinated at how small the Mississippi River was as I stood in the middle of it.

Then as the Mississippi begins its journey south, many more creeks and streams begin to flow into it, and before too long you have this huge river that's so wide in places you can't see across it. And it becomes extremely powerful as it decides which way it's going to go, as it winds its way south.

As the River grows so does its power, it decides what its going to do next and where it's going to flow, until the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico and quickly diffuses into the larger body of water.

And then when the river flows into the Gulf, the river loses its identity doesn't it. The fresh water of the river becomes engulfed in the brackish water of the Gulf and before you know it you don't know what was river water and what was ocean water. The once powerful river just blends in with its new surroundings.

This analogy is true of the Church Universal as well. The church has many different denominations and they all flow together this day on World Communion Sunday creating a powerful union as we all celebrate Holy Communion. Gathering around the Lord's Table together is a very real way of showing and experiencing Christian unity.

But, even in the Christian world there are food fights at the Lord's Table. Some communion tables are closed to even Christians, and some are closed to all people, open only for people who believe a certain way. What is such a powerful celebration of God's presence, participating in the Lord's Supper as one huge family, quickly diffuses, into the Gulf of church doctrine, as Holy Communion now has qualifiers attached. The power of one through Holy Communion is lost. Coming together as one body now takes on a segregated feeling rather than a feeling of true unity.

Come receive the Lord's Supper if you are a member, come receive the Lord's Supper if you believe this, come receive the Lord's Supper if... Communion means coming together, not becoming exclusive, with qualifiers attached.

Now I don't mean to be disrespectful of other Christian traditions, but I am saying we, as the church universal, still have some work to do with this business of Christian unity. If we can't even come to the Lord's Table to commune together how are we going to solve some of the more pressing issues the world faces. Problem solving begins with understanding and then requires and environment of communal relationship.

Now over the past several decades we have come to understand one another in different faith traditions much better, which is a good first step, but we do have some work to do before we are truly united under the banner of Christ.

I'm proud to say that the United Methodist Church has an open communion table meaning we don't exclude anyone from the Lord's Table. Why is this? First of all it's the Lord's Table not the churches table, and it's not the pastors or priests table. I'm not aware of anywhere in the Bible where it says Jesus excluded anyone from his table. So if God doesn't exclude anyone from a relationship with God's self, then why would we think Jesus would exclude anyone from his table.

The second reason the Lord's Table is open is because John Wesley believed conversion could take place at the Lord's Table, and because the Lord's Supper is a means of God's grace, a grace that's available to all people. If the Lord can change and turn hearts in other venues why can't he do the same during Holy Communion? And in fact during the Lord's Supper lives have been changed.

An open table demonstrates true Christian union, and through this union the power of Christ is all the stronger.

If you were hosting a party and had a number of guests coming over to share a meal and to have a good time, would you say at meal time, "OK all of you who are wearing blue today are not allowed to share in the meal, but don't worry after the meal you can rejoin us." How would you feel if you were wearing blue? I know I would feel left out and unwelcome.

But a broader question we really need to ask and reflect on is do we, each of us, exclude people from our own table, and I'm using table as a metaphor for life. Do we purposefully or perhaps unintentionally ignore, or avoid people that aren't like us? Do we exclude people from growing in Christ because of what we do, or don't do?

You know it's one thing to be bound by our beliefs and traditions, but it's another to be held captive by them. True Christian unity will not occur as long as we are held captive. [pause] Being bound by beliefs and traditions is living by Biblical mandate, whereas being held captive is limiting God, because of human doctrinal standards.

Now although the issue around Holy Communion is a big reason some of the larger denominations, and other churches, can't seem to come together as one body, we need to realize we're human. We aren't perfect, and really for the most part different faith traditions are trying hard to live out what they believe God is leading them to do.

Paul tells us, no one is ever going to be perfect here on earth, so we must accept and love other Christians in spite of our differences. And despite these differences we ought to help one another walk the path of Christ.

Now the good news is that although Christians have differences in how they practice their faith, the one thing we all agree on is the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It's this point we can rally around. And it's in recognizing Jesus Christ as savior we can once again experience the resurrection power. Make no mistake there is much power in Christian unity, a power centered on love of God and love of neighbor, but unfortunately we as Christ's church seem to find ways to diffuse this power from time-to-time.

Like the Mississippi loses its identity once it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, we as Christians seem to lose our identity as we enter the world. But if all Christians would focus on our what we can agree on, in other words our strengths, then as a church universal we will move forward to advance the kingdom of God. In the end God will sort out all this other stuff, and we will be united under Jesus Christ.

And you know there is good news to share on the Christian unity front. Right here in this community we experience strong Christian unity in our Council of Churches, many denominations and churches coming together, despite some ecclesiastical differences, to make a difference in the world for Jesus sake, focusing on the strengths of our common beliefs, rather than the weakness of our differences.

It wasn't too many years ago that we didn't even have this kind of cooperation among the different churches, so I believe we are moving closer and closer to a unified church, and I look forward to the day when we all gather around the Lord's Table and feast at his heavenly banquet as one huge family.

Now let's take this Mississippi River analogy one step farther as we look at our own local church. We all come from different places, and flow into this sanctuary on Sunday mornings.

We gather as the body of Christ to praise God. Then the service is over and we all file out. Next thing you know its Monday morning and we diffuse back into the world and the power is lost. Or is it?

How do we keep the power of one when we leave this place and go back into the world?

As we leave this sanctuary the one thing that keeps us united and keeps us connected (to use a Methodist term) is our love for Christ, and our love for one another. Even though we may go to different places we remain children of God, we remain brothers and sisters in Christ, we remain one big family, and God goes where we go.

As Christians, as the body of Christ, we remain united under one head who is Jesus Christ. Regardless of the distractions or obstacles we encounter during the week, we remain connected to one another, and to Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us and in us. We see this played out as we help and minister to one another throughout the week. It's through these connectional relationships that we mature in our faith.

So we take our lead from Christ, who is the source of our power. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will "attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." And in this union, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

As the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united as one, we too are united with one another and with Christ, and it's through maintaining this union we will experience the power of one.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade