All for One and One for All

"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 faith.

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 Spirit.

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 the Lord.

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 neighbor.

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 unite around.

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.


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