"I pray also for those who will
believe in me through their message, that all of them may be
one…" In our Gospel reading Jesus is praying that all of his
followers might become of one heart and mind, just as he is of
one heart and mind with God. Jesus prayed for all who would
follow him, including each of us. Jesus prayed for unity,
protection from evil, and for holiness. Jesus desired that all
of his disciples would become one, that they be unified as a
powerful witness to the truth of God's love.
Let us pray. Most Holy God, as Jesus
prayed to you so frequently we now offer our prayer. We pray
for unity among the Christian body, we pray that we might see
through the haze of our different doctrine and theology,
through our doubt and uncertainty, to the universality of your
Spirit and love. This we pray through Christ. Amen
Now unity, as we understand it, can
sometimes seem very far from reality, particularly in the
church universal. After all, look at all the different
denominations and independent churches that dot the American
landscape. It's clear by this diversity we can't agree on a
specific church doctrine, appropriate teaching, or
understanding of the biblical text.
The sacraments, the Lord's Supper and
Baptism, are treated differently among the different churches.
Some churches are closed to outsiders, unless you agree to a
specific belief system, and others are so open, it seems
anything goes. So how in the world can we possibly become the
united witness Jesus so desperately wants us to become in the
midst of such a wide array of Christian practices?
This is a challenge because Christians
do not and cannot all think alike, and they can't all act
alike. We all have been influenced differently over the years
by those things that shape us, like experience, education, our
ability to reason, family life, our upbringing in the church
or not, our understanding of God and God's Word, all these
things shape who we are, how we think, and how we live out our
And it's all of these things that
prevent complete outward unity. But the good news is all of
these external influences need not prevent our uniting in the
It's true we all may not think alike,
as long as human knowledge is partial it will be impossible
for everyone to agree about everything. But we can agree to
disagree on some matters of faith.
It stands to reason then that unless
we are absolutely perfect we are bound to exhibit some
differences in religion and lifestyle. We see this played out
in our own community within the many different churches
represented. And this is true of the whole of human history,
past, present, and future.
But just like I illustrated for the
children with the chocolate chip muffins, we all can unite to
become something much greater.
Regardless of denomination or church
label we are all children of God, which allows us to unite in
the spirit, despite our outward differences, despite how we
worship, despite how often we share in the Lord's Supper,
despite when and how we baptize, despite how we share the
Gospel in word and service, we all can unite in the spirit of
And uniting as a Christian fellowship
is necessary if we're going to faithfully fulfill the mission
of making disciples, and the commands of loving God and
At a country fair, the townspeople
held a horse-pulling contest. The first-place horse ended up
moving a sled weighing 4,500 pounds. The second-place finisher
pulled 4,000 pounds.
After the contest the owners of the
horses began talking and wondered how much weight the horses
could pull if they pulled together. So they hitched both
horses up and found that the team of horses could move 12,000
pounds. By working separately, the two horses were only good
for 8,500 pounds. When hitched together, their team effort
produced an added 3,500 pounds.
It's sometimes a hard lesson for us,
but unity consistently produces greater results than
individual endeavors. It seems "Teamwork divides the effort
and multiples the effect."
And we see this played out in the
Christian world as well. When Christians are united in the
spirit, and set aside all the other religious baggage, great
things can happen. We see this unity in the spirit played out
in our own community as the Christian Church has worked
together to support the Food Bank, special ecumenical worship
services, providing support of all kinds to families in need,
and the examples go on and on.
Now many of you know I'm a strong
advocate of ecumenical relationships where all churches come
together at different times to unite around the message of
God's love, and to live out God's love in our community and
"to the ends of the earth," and we need to continue to unite
in this way.
Within the United Methodist Church we
have something that is unique to our denomination and that is
the connectional aspect of our life as United Methodists.
I was talking to a Lutheran Pastor
several years ago and he said, "Wade, the United Methodist
Church has something no other denomination has, a connectional
system, if you guys could only figure out how to use this gift
more effectively you really would have something special,
something the rest of the Christian Church would benefit from
replicating." And you know what this Lutheran Pastor is right.
The idea behind our connectional
system is that each individual United Methodist Church lives
out their faith not only as a local Church, but also as a
larger body of Christians dedicated to helping one another.
Once again the idea is that together
we can do much more than we can do as individuals. At Catoctin
this past six months at least four of our sister United
Methodist Churches have helped with the rebuilding of the
churches foundation. This type of support is not all that
common among other churches. When one part of the body is hurt
the whole body is hurt, and we need to be willing to help heal
those parts of the body feeling pain so wholeness can be
restored. Boy if we did this on a recurring basis what a
church universal we would have.
Know that a large part of our
apportionments are used to help other churches locally and
around the world so that wholeness to the whole body can be
restored. These resources are also used to bring the gospel to
the "ends of the earth," as God has commanded us to do. Our
apportionments are used to feed the hungry, to provide shelter
and education to those who have no access to such basic needs.
More and more African's, Hispanics, and Korean's are coming to
Christ through the efforts of the world-wide United Methodist
Church. And in parts of this country more and more churches
are beginning to grow.
As a local church we cannot support
all of these efforts on our own, but we can give thanks to God
that we are able to participate in the ongoing disciple-making
ministry of the greater church through our prayers, our
service and our financial gifts. The whole is certainly
greater than the sum of its parts.
Now as Christian's we need to
acknowledge we will have differences among churches and among
each other, we ought to try to understand these differences,
but we shouldn't focus so much attention on our differences
that we lose focus on those things we can agree on, and can
What makes the Council of Churches in
Emmitsburg and the Ministerium in Thurmont effective is that
we are united in the spirit, and it's this Spirit that keeps
us focused on the big picture, making disciples and sharing
God's love. Yes we have our differences but they're not the
focus of our work.
Now for the body of Christ, the
church, to work effectively together, we need to ask the
following questions of ourselves and others.
Do we believe in Jesus Christ? This is
a fundamental belief in uniting together, otherwise, why we're
working together takes on a totally different meaning. It
doesn't mean the work isn't meaningful, but the church is not
a service club. All we do as the body of Christ must be
focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through our
work and the relationships we build.
Do we love God? Are we prepared to
acknowledge that God is all powerful and is in control of the
world. Do we serve God out of love and do we continually give
him praise and thanks? Are we working for God, or are we
serving to be recognized by others. Are we serving to gain
favor with God, what's motivating us?
Do we truly love our neighbors as
ourselves? Do we love our enemies? Are we willing to help all
people regardless of race, color, socio-economic status,
education, and so on?
If we can answer yes to all of these
questions then there is nothing we can't do together. We will
be united in the spirit.
So now let me summarize what it means
to be united in the spirit so that we can be "all for one and
one for all" in what we say and do as children of God.
Lets first review what being united in
the spirit is not. United does not mean that we accept all
doctrine of every church as being truth. People who are united
in the spirit know where they stand on the main points of
Christian doctrine, and what they believe as the divine truth.
This doesn't mean we're so rigid in
our thinking that we aren't open to differing ideas, but it
does mean we are secure enough in our faith and beliefs that
our position doesn't change every time a different idea comes
blowing our way. To be united in the spirit means knowing
where you stand and being comfortable with that position.
Secondly, to be united in the spirit
means to be secure in the manner in which you worship. There
are many different styles of worship, some very formal to the
very informal. All forms of worship are valid if God is the
absolute focus of your worship and if you are experiencing the
presence of God.
Third, to be in the spirit means you
have found a congregation where you feel comfortable and have
made that your church home. If you are united in the spirit
you're not a constant church shopper.
By living out your faith within a
congregation, your faith is better able to grow as you develop
relationships, fellowship, worship, and serve with the same
people over time. As a congregation we are better able to
watch over one another in mutual love, offering encouragement,
comfort, and yes sometimes warning one another as we begin to
stray, as we seek to build up one another in faith.
Folks who live in the Spirit are sure
of their Christian principles, they are confident that their
way of worshipping God is best for them, and they are members
of one particular congregation, where they can live out their
faith in a sure and confident manner.
To be united in the spirit requires us
to be sure of who we are and confident of where we are on our
faith journey and how we live out that faith on a daily basis.
But beyond all these things I've just
mentioned those in the spirit show their love towards all
around them, both neighbors and strangers, friends and
enemies. This love is a universal love; and universal love is
a universal spirit.
A life lived united in the spirit is a
path of universal love. So don't be hesitant, press on in your
walk, firm in your Christian faith determined to exhibit true
universal love until it swallows you up for ever.
And now I pray Lord, that by the power
of your Spirit you will make us one with Christ, one with each
other, and one in ministry to all the world.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade