Friday, September 6
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selﬁsh ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
Our readings this week bring us to an important awareness about First Church. We are not, as a congregation, in full uniformity or unity.
That we are not in complete uniformity almost goes without saying. We are blessed to have folks in our congregation from many diﬀerent theological, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds. We disagree on many, many things. Of course, the same can be said about the Church Universal, the United Methodist Church, and almost every other local church in the world. There are some congregations where uniformity is stressed or even demanded, but usually those are places where the diversity is simply suppressed.
However, as we have said this week, those diﬀerences do not make unity impossible. Unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity is the ability to stay connected and seek what is best for our church, while at the same time realizing that each person is a child of God who needs our support on their unique journey.
Unfortunately, we must confess that we are not in full unity as a congregation either. Too many members have expressed that they feel they must hide what they believe are unpopular opinions for us to claim unity. Too many people have expressed that they do not feel everyone supports their spiritual journey for us to claim unity. And yet, God is not done with us!
We have work to do, and if we allow the Spirit to guide us, God can transform our already wonderful church family into something even better. We must consciously choose to make living in unity a priority for the future. We are not naive enough to believe such a goal will be easy! However there are concrete steps we can take to accomplish this kingdom-of-God-sized goal.
- Admit that we love the idea of unity more than we love embodying it. It is much easier to talk about diﬃcult subjects with only those who agree with us.
- Recognize that unity is more beneﬁcial than uniformity for maintaining a healthy community.
- Seek out and engage those who have diﬀerent opinions than yours.
- Conduct conversations on diﬃcult topics using the following rules (the ones we used in our Coﬀee, Dessert, and Diﬃcult Conversation gatherings).
•Listen respectfully without interrupting.
•Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others' views. (Don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking.)
•Everyone should have an opportunity to speak or to not speak, (no goading someone into oﬀering their thoughts), ask “does anyone who hasn’t spoken wish to share?”
•Criticize ideas, not individuals.
•Commit to learning, not debating. Comments should share information or opinion, not seek to persuade.
•Avoid blame, speculation, and inﬂammatory language.
•Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.
•Speak with “I” statements so that all know these are only your opinions.
Remember that it is God who changes hearts. Our job is to be faithful in our witness; to respectfully express what we believe, think, feel, and have experienced; and be open to God’s continuing revelation.
Be straightforward but compassionate when someone oﬀends you. As the Message translation of Matthew 18:15-17 says:
If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and oﬀer again God’s forgiving love.
Above all, remember that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) and is more important than faith in God (1 Corinthians 13:13). So stay connected, keep an open mind, and recognize that all people need support on their journey. If the other person is wrong about something, your love will accomplish more than your arguments. If you are wrong about something, your love for the other will keep your heart open to what God is saying through them.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12:16)
• What are some topics on which members of our congregation disagree?
• Which of the concrete steps in today’s reading do you think are the most important for the church as we head into the future?
• Which of those concrete steps will be most helpful or important for you to remember on your spiritual journey?
• What are signs that we will be making unity a priority in the future?