I realized a long time ago that, along with all of the writing I do here, I also do about 1500 words of writing every week for my sermon. Most weeks they aren’t really something that translates that well into reading on a blog – or maybe I’m just over-critical – but this week I really liked when I wrote. I also have had the idea of unity and disunity and wanted, at least subconsciously, to touch on the subject here. It worked out perfectly, I suppose.
Here is my manuscript, edited a bit after I gave it yesterday:
The Unifying Act of Pentecost
Many gifts, one Body. Many gifts, one Body. Many gifts, one Body. Many gifts, one Body.
Every year, when I approach my Pentecost sermon, I find myself focusing on the gifts of the individual. Each one of us is part of the Body of Christ. We have have a talent, a gift, a skill that we contribute to that Body. We are each important. Every year I tend to find myself focusing on the individuals.
That is a valid focus. There will always be times that we find ourselves wondering if we are a necessary part of the Body of Christ. Do we contribute? Does Jesus actually desire us to be in his Body? Can we even contribute to this Body? What can we contribute?
Every year come to the same conclusion. We each have gifts to share, we each have something that we contribute. We each are part of the Body of Christ. As faithful believers, we each have a roll that we play. We fall short, we deny that role from time to time, but we each have a role in furthering Christ’s message, showing Christ’s love, and growing the Body of Christ. We each are a part of the Body of Christ.
Every year I preach the same sermon. Every year I talk about talents and gifts and how even the most miniscule act that do that is done in love and out of our faith in and love of Jesus Christ has radical effects. A balloon has just a bit of air and yet it grows from something ugly, dull, and boring into something large, fun, and beautiful. It does not take radical action to change the world.
Every year the same sermon. I fear, though, that we miss something with that same sermon. We need to reverse the lens that we are looking through. We need to look not at each of us individually, but at the entire Body of Christ. We need to do this because I’m afraid we miss an incredibly important part of the Pentecost day and what it did for our faith.
When we look at the Pentecost story, we see that Jews from every corner of the Earth, from every country, and in every language hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. In this one act they were unified by hearing one Word. They were one people connected to one message at one moment in time. The Pentecost was as much a unifying act as it was an act of talent and gifts. In that moment, the world of believers became one united Body of Christ.
Those who heard and understood were brought into the Body of Christ, becominf followers of the true Word of God expressed through Jesus. They saw and heard the works of the Holy Spirit and were moved to follow Christ. They were made better, their souls more whole, when they entered into the Body of christ.
It is better and joyful to be part of the Body of Christ.
Importantly, each of those who were brought into the Body of Christ were sinners. Each had their flaws, each fell horribly short of the glory of God. They were unworthy of being in this Body, and yet through Christ they were brought into one Body, showing mercy and love, and given their salvation. Only faith, love, and submission to Christ was required.
No one was turned away, each was brought into the Body of Christ.
I see this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the unifying actions of those who followed Jesus, the creation of a Body that requires only faith in Christ to be part of, and I cannot help but contrast it with the world we live in. This world is not a world that is modeled after the actions of the Pentecost; it is the exact opposite of it.
When you look at politics, what do you see? Do you see a unified Body working towards the good of the people, or a disunified Body whose concern is individual and selfish? What do political ads say? Do they speak to what good can be done, or what evil someone else has done? What do we hear from our leaders? Is it that they want to sacrifice for those who have elected them, or that they can help us if we just follow them and not that other person who has a different letter after their name?
But this goes beyond these divisions we’ve made for ourselves; we don’t just divide, we actively work to exclude people. The world is set up in a way that we can only act like adversaries. We are divided as “Us vs. Them” and the only ones who deserve to be part of the Body of Christ are the ones who fit in our “Us”. The Body of Christ is universal and yet we like to see it as only those who minister like we do, talk like we do, and sin like we do. Those other sinners have more black marks and different black marks on their souls so they cannot possibly be part of the Body of Christ. They aren’t good enough.
We live in a world and we live lives that are anti-Pentecost. We live in intentional disunity, we divide ourselves into groups that look and act and sound and sin the same, and we are glad to do it.
Glad to do it, joyful when we do it, and celebrative when it is done.
Disunity saddens me to a deep degree. We are all called to be part of one Body and yet we are so divided. If we disagree, we are more likely to battle, flee, or separate versus trying to solve the disagreement. If something fails, we are ready to oust the person responsible and remove them from the Body. If someone sins in a way that scares us, disgusts us, or just makes us feel uncomfortable, we are ready to cut their part of the Body of Christ away and make a more “pure” Body of Christ. We are so ready to do this, so very ready.
Even denominations have the same issue. I am not a huge fan of denominationalism as a whole, but I am even more angry at the denominations, my own Presbyterian Church included, that create more disunity in the Body of Christ over issues that are not that large, mostly issues that make people uncomfortable. They split instead of trying to find a way to live within the same Body. Martin Luther in no way wanted to divide the church and split it apart; he wanted change, he wanted discussion, but he realized that one of the calls of the gospel is unity within the Body. His 95 Thesis was not supposed to be a wedge, even if the church treated it as one.
The Body of Christ is so divided, both as Christian bodies dividing themselves into fractured individual bodies and Christian churches denying entrance into the Body of Christ to those who are “different”, and those who contribute to this fracturing are denying everything about the Pentecost. We were unified in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and we have done our best to deny that in our lives.
What is the solution, then? What are we called to do? We are divided, we are broken, we are fractured, and we live in a world of disunity; what are we supposed to do about it?
We can only work towards unity and wholeness of the Body of Christ in our own lives. We need to recognize that all are called to the Body of Christ, including those whose ministries are different than our own, whose appearance is different than our own, and even those who sins are different than our own. We have to act in a way that is accepting, loving, and unifies of the entire Body. This is not to say that we need to turn a blind eye to sin but that sin does not exclude from the Body of Christ because of Jesus; we are redeemed, saved, and called to this Body despite of our shortcomings and our failures and our sins. Christ makes us more than ourselves, and he makes everyone else more than themselves to be part of this one, unified Body.
Above all, the most unifying thing that we can do is love. I talk about it every week, and I will every week. One of the greatest things that Jesus gave us was an example of how to love. Every action that we take must be made out of love, love of God and love of neighbor. If we desire unity within our world, if we desire unity within the Body of Christ, we must love at every intersection and every waypoint. We must love in everything we do. We cannot have unity if we don’t. Period.
We can only be unified if we love. So love. At all times and in all things. Amen.
As always, comments encouraged (including homiletics comments if you are so inclined)!
To preaching the Word and being part of the Body of Christ,