Back in 1986, there was a popular book that came out by American minister Robert Fulgham, called "All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten."Have mercy, O God, upon your humble servants, who are not always humble or faithful in service. Let whatever state we are in belong to you. And so we ask, with yearning in our heart, that your word might be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our way. For the sake of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Today is World Communion Sunday. It’s a day of ecumenical unity when churches of every mainline denomination around the world celebrates the sacrament of communion, in order to symbolize unity, that we are all sharing in the feast at the great table in the kingdom of God. It’s a beautiful image if you can conceptualize it in your mind – churches with dirt floors and wooden benches in country side of Africa, grand cathedrals in major, urban cities, communities meeting in homes, under oppressive conditions, churches coming together through the rubble in Mexico and the recessed waters of Houston, the small town church Ohio, and the suburban church of Indiana. All of us breaking together, unified as the one body of Christ in world.
This concept of striving for unity has long been a vision desired by the church and proclaimed by Jesus. Just before his crucifixion, Jesus prays not that the church would be effective or powerful, and successful, but rather "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:21
Unity is defined as being “joined as a whole.” Notice that it doesn’t mean sharing the same opinions, it means rather to recognize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. This way of seeing the world and the church was critically important to Jesus. Why? Because the opposite of unity is disagreement, disarray, fighting and division and its hard to imagine Jesus wanting any of that for his disciples. TH. White wrote his book, the Once and Future King that, “The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys, throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”
Jesus cares deeply about unity. And what we know is that from the very beginning of the inception of the church, even before Paul, there was disunity in the church and among Jesus’ disciples. Paul writes a beautiful letter to the church in Phillipi who is struggling with some unnamed division. We don’t know where their disagreement is. It may have been over hymn selections or the color of the carpet, or it could be more serious issues like who should receive communion or what their role should be in caring for the widow and orphan. Regardless, there is conflict and Paul writes a letter trying hold them together and Paul does this brilliantly.
First of all, as I mentioned notice that we never learn what the issue was. I am sure this was on purpose. The issue is irrelevant, the fact that they are divided over it is not. He doesn't even name or tackle the disagreements directly. He doesn't try to position himself on one side or the other, mounting arguments for and arguments against. Paul doesn't even attempt to find some elusive middle-ground or moderating position. Rather, Paul reminds them what really is important, and quotes from what we believe to be a popular early Christian hymn and he reminds them they are to be acting like Jesus,
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave...he humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross.
His essential argument is that if you spend your time and energy focused on Christ and being his disciple then you will naturally be unified. If you imitate Christ, the body of Christ is unified. And Paul says to best imitate to Christ, is to do so from the posture of humility. Paul says, he humbled himself to the point of death.
The second most popular book every written and read, second only to the Bible, is Thomas A Kempes’ book, the Imitation of Christ. He wrote, “It is better to have but little knowledge with humility and understanding, than great learning which might make you proud. For a person's merits are not to be estimated by having many visions, or by knowledge of the Bible, or by being placed in a higher position; but by being grounded in true humility, and by seeking always, purely, and entirely, the honor of God.”
The point of being a Christian isn’t to be right, it is to strive every day to imitate Christ. We begin that imitation in the posture of humility. And our unity comes about when all his disciples strive to carry that same posture.
It’s been said repeatedly that we live in a divided nation. It has further been said that there are external forces that are provoking greater division through media and salacious and provocative rhetoric. Furthermore, if you are human being, there may be times when you have personal disagreements and divisions in your own home, with the people you share the dinner table, let alone the communion table. I would like to offer an image for you that might help us achieve unity in our fractured world.
You know often if we imagine Jesus in relationship with us, he’s next to us, or above us, or go to him in prayer and then sort of leave him there to go deal with whatever conflict we are having. Here’s an idea. When you have a conflict with you someone you love – say your child, or a friend, or a spouse, when you have a conversation with that person, put Jesus between the two of you. When you approach that person put Jesus as a filter between you and the person with him you are in conflict. When you do that your anger, resentment, judgment, even hatred has to go through Jesus before it touches that person. When we approach people, strangers and loved ones alike with Jesus as our intermediary, we are instantly more humble, because Jesus is in the conversation, and because Jesus is in the conversation, that means so is love, so is grace and so is forgiveness. Try it out. Make a little experiment for yourself. The next time you have or a witness disagreement, fighting, or disarray, place Jesus between you and that tension. See what happens when you see the world through the filter of Christ.
The pagan world looked at the early church and marveled that here was a group of people that was not organized as the world organized itself on the basis of family or gender, class and money. The surrounding Roman culture said, "Look how they love one another!" Will Willemon laments: “Alas, too often the world looks at congregations today it exclaims, "Hey, look how much they fight with one another."
For the past 2000 years, since before Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, the world, you can call it Satan or temptation or forces of evil, or just human nature has worked to divide and break the church that belongs to Jesus Christ. Every fracture, every hurt feeling, every time disunity wins, I think Jesus weeps. Disunity is one step further from Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Paul encourages the church to focus upon our originating cause, our great mission - to allow Jesus Christ to gather us, to overcome our boundaries and divisions and to be one in Jesus Christ. In other words, to show the world what Jesus can do.
Paul implores the church in Philippi, Complete my joy by thinking the same way and having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don't do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Jesus Christ.
This morning we celebrate communion. Thomas Merton said that, “The deepest of level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless ... beyond speech ... beyond concept.” We all take from the same bread and the same cup. We all come forward needing the same amount of grace and hope in our broken lives. We all need to take and eat remember him. Remember his sacrifice. Remember his forgiveness. Remember his love. Remember his hope. Remember his church. Remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement
give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow
Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”