Thursday, September 5
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctiﬁed in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:15-23)
“Unity, not uniformity” sounds wonderful (and it is!), but what do we do when good-hearted members of a congregation disagree about how the church family should act? Compromise is a worthy goal, and healthy communities of faith strive to achieve it, but some issues are beyond compromise.
Is it possible to maintain unity when we ﬁnd ourselves in disagreement and no compromise is in sight? Yes, it is! In fact, such situations are exactly when focusing on unity becomes paramount. Christian community is easy to maintain when we are all in agreement. But the Church becomes a Christ-like witness to the world when we choose to remain connected, continue to communicate, learn to be kind, and support one another in spite of our diﬀerences. As Jesus says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47)
While it sounds paradoxical, our unity is only fully revealed when we are in disagreement, because it is only then we must focus on what binds us together — God’s grace — rather than our diﬀerences. The more sharply that we diﬀer, the more we must choose the way of Jesus. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) In other words, every time God oﬀers us forgiveness, it is our Creator’s way of saying “I choose relationship over perfection.” Unity does not eliminate our diﬀerences; it invites us to oﬀer one another the same gift God oﬀers us: relationship over agreement.
When we stay connected and support one another in spite of our diﬀerences, when we see those who disagree with us as children of God, when we treat each other with respect and kindness...then we grow to trust one another. That trust leads us to keep communicating, even as we oﬀer love and forgiveness to each other.
• When is unity challenging for you? Under what circumstances are you tempted to walk away from relationships?
• Over what issues do modern Christians struggle most to maintain unity? Over what issues did Christians 100 years ago struggle? Over what issues do you ﬁnd it most diﬃcult to maintain unity with those who disagree with you?
• When you are challenged, angry, or frustrated, what helps you to chose compassion and patience?
• How might your conﬂicts change, if you silently pray “come, Holy Spirit, come” during them?