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…. The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. St. John 17:20, 22
I have been reflecting on the name of this parish in my last few newsletter articles. The name of the congregation is The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peace – which we shorten to Peace Lutheran Church. So what is behind this name, I am asking. And so far I have reflected on the words “Peace” and “Evangelical.” If you missed them you can find those reflections on my blog (see below for the URL). This month – December – as we prepare for Christmas, I would like to share some thoughts about the word “United.”
The words above from what is called the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus’ in the Gospel of St. John ask God to make the disciples (and by extension all believers) one in Him. What does this mean? Does it mean we are to loose our individuality or that we are to have one mind? Does it mean that we all have to agree and that there can be no disagreement in the church? Does it mean that we are to conform to some kind of “Christian” model or expectation? The answer to all of these questions is no – a thousand times no. Being one in Christ is not about agreeing, conformity or the loss of our individual uniqueness. We are all unique creations of God, with unique gifts and insights and experiences. These gifts are of God, and we are called to share them in the community of Christ, the church.
But, conformity seems to be a spirit of the times. Our political discourse, in particular, has gotten so incredibly strident, and conformity with the status quo or the views of certain “experts” or media personalities seems to be demanded. How many times do I see on various television shows the host really lambasting a guest because the guest expresses an opinion which is divergent in some manner from the host’s beliefs. Even in the church there seem to be those who believe we must all hold the same beliefs and opinions about any range of issues and there is no patience for a divergence of opinion. Those who don’t agree are called names and branded as a non-Christian.
This is contrary to the Gospel, I believe. We are all unique creations of God’s, with unique gifts and insights and experiences. We have much we can learn from each other. To be “United” or to be “one in Christ” does not mean we all agree about everything. It means that we hold at the foundation of our lives and our faith a belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and that we have all received the gift of God’s unmerited Grace and love and forgiveness through our Baptisms. We are saved by Grace – not by works, by our opinions, by our positions, - we are saved by Grace! God has reached out to us and brought us all together into this church and this congregation where we experience community and God’s love through each other; where we strive to reach out in this love; where we are regularly fed by the bread and wine of Holy Communion and where we continually struggle and study in order to learn and grown and follow Jesus. This is what it means to be one in Christ. And in this way we are one with each other here at Peace, in the synod and the ELCA, with those who have gone before us in this church through the ages – including the disciples. For, as Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians: “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4
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