"The Family of God"

Today is a special day in the life of the church. It's World Communion Sunday, a day when Christians unite; a day when we become a true universal church, putting aside all labels we use describe our faith traditions, focusing instead on the one Lord, the one Savior, the one Christ.

World Communion Sunday was first observed by the Presbyterians in 1936, in 1940 the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Churches adopted the first Sunday of October as World Communion Sunday, and now in 2004 most Christians throughout the world recognize World Communion Sunday as a day of unity and celebration.

God wants his people, regardless of race, denomination, social status, or any other label we use to describe ourselves, to be unified in the purpose of serving God and fulfilling the Great Commission. And in response to this call one author has written, "Don't allow barriers to separate you from your fellow Christians - you'll be worshiping the Lord with them in heaven some day."

The Apostle Paul really lays out for the Ephesians, and for us, in the first six verses of the scripture read this morning what World Communion Sunday is meant to convey. Here Paul's words again: "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all and in all."

In this pericope Paul in a nutshell is sharing with us what it means to be a Christian. You see God has chosen us to be Christ's representatives on earth. So in light of this truth Paul challenges us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received. What an awesome privilege it is to be called by God, and to be set apart to do God's work. And part of this responsibility requires us to be humble, gentle, patient, understanding, and peaceful.

People are watching us and how we live. Can they see Christ in us? How well are we doing as Christ's representatives?

Paul says, "There is one body," and we are to be united as Christians in this truth. But you know unity just doesn't happen; we have to work at it. I'm very proud of this congregation and this community because of the effort both place in being an ecumenical place of ministry. We work for unity in and among us to do the work of the Lord.

Often differences among people and churches can lead to division. This is one reason we have so many denominations and independent churches. But Paul is telling us, in our day and age, this division, these differences should not divide the church. Unfortunately many perpetuate division by spending the majority of their time focused on differences and how they divide us rather then spending their time focused on those things that can unite us, allowing us to develop more into the image of the family of God.

We do need to discuss our differences openly and honestly, with respect, and with a desire to understand one another. But we also must lift up and unite around those things that are common to all Christians: " There is One body, the fellowship of believers, the church, we are all part of the one body with Christ as the head " There is One spirit, the Holy Spirit, who activates, energizes and inspires the church to action " There is One hope, the glorious future to which we are all called, a future of eternal joy and peace " There is One Lord, the Christ, to whom we all belong and all follow. Jesus is our ultimate leader " There is One faith, our singular commitment to Christ understanding that Jesus is the one way, one truth, one life " There is One baptism, the sign of entry into the church, a means of grace offered to us without price " There is One God, who is our creator, and the author of eternity Now to foster unity we need to remember no one is perfect and no one faith tradition necessarily embodies the complete truth, so we must accept and love other Christians in spite of their faults, and in spite of ours.

Is there a fellow Christian who just gets under you skin and seems to annoy the heck out of you? I think most of us would answer yes to this question.

Well rather than dwelling on that person's weaknesses or looking for faults, we need to spend time with the other person and see if we can learn to understand them and even like them.

You know often times we're quick to judge others by a first impression, or by some snippet of information we hear. Yet how many times has our judgment changed when we've taken the time to get to know the person? And this concept is not only true on an individual level, but also at a church and denomination level as well.

Now to build unity, a genuine unity within the body of Christ, we must allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. And we do that by focusing on God, God's will, and God's Word, not on ourselves.

A way we remain focused on God is by keeping the two greatest commandments at the forefront of our thoughts and actions; loving and serving God, and others, understanding, that how we live out these two commandments in our faith traditions might be different, and that's ok as long as our mission remains that of God's; making disciples, worshiping God, and nurturing others in the faith.

The truth is all believers in Christ belong to one body; all are united under one head, Christ himself. And each believer, or group of believers have God-given abilities that can strengthen the whole body. Our special ability or gift may be small or large, but it's ours to use in God's service. The key is identifying the gift and then using it to bring glory to God.

When I think of our town and consider a vision for how all the churches in our community can work together in service to God, I envision each church using its collection of gifts and abilities to serve this community in a unique way. And that all the churches don't duplicate ministry but rather develop complimentary ministry so that the result is the community is served more completely and effectively in the name of Jesus.

I see the church universal in Emmitsburg evolving to the "one body" with shared vision, shared leadership, and shared ministry. This does not mean we seek to close churches and become one congregation. It means developing a more collaborative relationship between all the churches, focused on using the gifts of each church to ensure the needs of the community are met. And I see Trinity continuing to take a lead role in this endeavor.

I believe with all my heart that within the pews of all the churches here in town we have the means to meet the needs of the community. The challenge is discovering what those gifts are and then defining how the gifts ought to be used.

Now this will mean, for example, we may have to say to someone that comes to Trinity, we don't have the ministry you need, but so and so church down the street does. And all the churches of our community would have to covenant to do likewise. This will mean we all have to step out of our individual local church needs to serve the greater need of the body of Christ.

I remain convinced if we will unite around the important tenants of our Christian faith that I mentioned earlier; one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God; and if we focus on loving and serving God and others, all the other stuff will take care of itself.

I know it works, it's worked here, and it has worked at every other church I've looked at that's growing spiritually and numerically. God will provide, when we obey, step out in faith, and respond with a hopeful and loving heart.

To remain vital a church must be grounded in Christ, focused on relevant ministry, and must be willing to present the gospel message in a persuasive and compelling way. God has given his church an enormous responsibility, to make disciples in every nation. This involves preaching, teaching, healing, nurturing, giving, administering, building, and many, many more tasks. If we had to fulfill this command as individuals, or even as individual local churches, we might as well give up without trying, it would be impossible.

But God doesn't ask us to do that. God's intent all along has been that we work together as one body, not as individual parts. And when we work together we can more fully obey God, and we can better express the fullness of Christ.

As individuals, or even as individual churches, we do not have it all together, but together we do have it all.

So when you gather around the Lord's Table in just a few minutes I implore you to pray for unity, pray for oneness, and pray that the living God might transform all of creation so that we might live together as the family, God always intended. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade