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
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
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
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
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
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
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.