BUILDING UNITY

 by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
October 6, 2019
TEXT:  Ephesians 2:14-22, Ephesians 4:11-13

            In 2010, something amazing happened in Germany!  German autobahns (or highways) are very busy – much like our highways here in the United States.   The average speed on the autobahns are well above 80 miles an hour.   But on July 18, the speed was reduced to zero – in fact, no cars were allowed on a 37 mile stretch of the highway between Dortmund and Bochum in western Germany…one of the Europe’s busiest highways.     It wasn’t because of a construction zone – but because the longest table in the world was there!

            20,000 individual picnic tables were set up, end-to-end, on the northbound lane of the highway.   And then some two million people came to a summer party celebrating the culture of the region.  All sorts of events happened around those tables – school reunions, birthday parties and even weddings!  The whole event was designed to connect people from many cultures, generations and nations as they sat at a table in fellowship.

            As amazing as a table that is 37 miles long is – there is a table that is even more magnificent and longer – and that is the table around which Christians gather to share in the Lord’s Supper.   A table built to unify us all together in the bond of Christ.

            Today we are celebrating World Communion Sunday.  The dream of World Communion Sunday was formed in 1940 by Disciples of Christ minister Jesse Bader.  As Jesse looking around the world back in those days of World War II, he saw many walls of hostility in our world.   Nations were shattered and humankind was torn apart by unparalleled cruelty.   Right in the midst of nations fighting against nations, Jesse Bader was bold enough to dream that the church could break down the walls of hostility.   He had a vision of a table that was 25,000 miles long --- a table with all its leaves open.   Jesse dreamed of all nations, all races, all political backgrounds, coming together to celebrate their oneness in Christ.

            In an article published in the Christian Evangelist in 1942, Jesse Bader wrote these words:

            When hate is on the march and war is rampant in the world, Christians everywhere must maintain an unbroken fellowship which will stand out in contrast to our broken and disorganized world.   On World-Wide Communion Sunday, the Table of the Lord will reach around the globe.   Those who gather about His table will do so in         remembrance of Him.   Those of every nation will be there.   Every race and color will be there.   The service will be conducted in many languages.   And yet there will be a oneness of fellowship in Christ across all barriers of geography, race and color, that the world knows not of.   In a world of discord, here is harmony.   In a time of war, here is peace – a peace that passeth all understanding.2

            Today we celebrate the 79th anniversary of World Communion Sunday.   And we still need Jesse Bader’s vision of unity in our world today.   How badly we need to stand together as united believers in Christ in contrast to our broken and divided world.

            When the church is divided, it can do so much damage to a watching world.   We don’t act like Christians when we fight or backstab or take on a superior attitude with other Christians.  We hurt the church when we gossip or tear others down – and end up dividing the church, rather than uniting it.  Pastor Steve Bond shares: “…The greatest cause of unbelief in the world is the poor testimony of those who profess to be Christ-followers.   Far too often we who preach love in reality practice hate…..All the while the world looks on.   People are amazed at what we believe and then they’re scandalized by the way we act.   Bertrand Russell, the great atheist philosopher, once said that if Christians practiced what they believed they would change the world.   Ghandi said he would love to become a Christian.   He was just waiting to meet someone who sincerely lived out what Jesus taught.”3

            That truly is our challenge isn’t it?   To live as someone who sincerely lives out what Jesus taught!  Can you imagine the power and the witness we would have to the watching world if we as Christians really lived like Jesus – and worked together as one body, the way God created us to be?

            The Apostle Paul yearned for this kind of unity in the churches – and a focus on leading a Christ-like life.   In his letter to the church at Ephesus, he calls the church to be unified in Christ.   In fact, he mentions the unity of the church 18 times in Ephesians!   Unity is vital for the health and growth of the church.

            As we turn to the 2nd chapter of Ephesians, our first Scripture for today, we read how the Apostle Paul describes the division and hostility that existed between the Jews and Gentiles.  Gentiles were always considered unclean by the Jews.   They would never think about worshipping with them.   They did allow them to visit the Temple grounds in Jerusalem, but they could only come so far.  You see the Temple was divided up into different courts.   There was a Gentiles Court and a Court of Women – but there was literally a wall that divided the Gentiles.   They couldn’t get close to the main Temple area where the Holy of Holies was – where they believed the presence of God resided.   But Christ came to tear down the walls that separated them and unite them into one body.   Look at verse 13:

 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

He has created unity through His blood on the cross.   We are now one!

            Skip down to verse 19:

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

            Jesus broke down that wall of hostility and division and hatred.   And now, joined together as one, He is building up a united people.  As it says in the Message version:   God is building a home.   He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what He is building.   He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.   Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all parts together.   We are taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

            All of us – together – are being built to be a united church.  But, unfortunately, because of sin, we can so easily act as a divided church, tearing each other down, dividing up into cliques, and judging and gossiping about each other.   And then we can take on a superior attitude, thinking we are better than others – and become isolated, doing things only for ourselves – not caring about others.   How do we get beyond that and build unity?

            I think all of those struggles were going on in the early church.   So Paul addresses that in Ephesians 4.    If we are going to be the kind of people God intends, then we need to take these words to heart.   Beginning at verse 1 of chapter 4, Paul says:

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and

 in all and living through all.

            Christ has called us to be His representatives – His ambassadors in the world.   So, we need to live in such a way that we are true to our calling – with humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with each other in love.   That’s living out what Jesus taught.  

            And then notice verse 3.   It says: “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The verb in Greek that we translate “make every effort” is spoudazo.   It is an active verb reflecting urgency and passion.   We are to eagerly seek to guard the oneness of the body.   We have to determine that we will do everything we can, with God’s help, to build bridges to other people rather than creating walls between us.   Instead of focusing on what divides us, we need to diligently focus on what connects us and build bridges within our own faith community, with churches here in our community and all around the world.

            Building unity in our church is so very important to us as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).   We are a movement for Christian Unity – working with other faith communities to bring about wholeness – healing and justice in the world.   In fact our identity statement is:  “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.   As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”

            At one of our General Assemblies of the denomination, back in the 1980’s, we had a very heavy debates about different issues and theological stances, some that could be very divisive.   Finally, a new resolution was drawn up that reaffirmed our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and proclaimed Him Lord and Savior of the world.   All other matters of theology are now secondary – what matters most is that Christ is our unity.   We can disagree on matters of interpretations but still be united in our belief in Christ.

            This was dramatically demonstrated when John Humbert, our General Minister and President at the time, stood up and addressed the Assembly after this resolution was adopted.   “Christ is our unity.   Let us celebrate our unity amidst our diversity.   So, we stood together and read our Affirmation of Faith, which begins: “We confess the Jesus is the Christ”.   And at the end of our reading – spontaneously, some 7,000 Disciples of Christ, linked arms all across the Convention Center and began to sing:  “Blest be the ties that bind, our hearts in Christian love – the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”    A kind of hush fell across the room as our singing voices fell silent.   We then gathered around the Table of the Lord, all 7,000 of us, to partake of the bread and the cup, remembering how Christ has made us all ONE through His body and blood, sacrificed on the cross.

The Lord’s Table unites everyone Christ has redeemed by His blood “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). One day, in a scene of reunion and joy, all who belong to Jesus will sit down together with Him at a table that will dwarf the Autobahn gathering. We joyfully anticipate sharing that table together!

PRAYER

INVITATION

 

RESOURCES

1David McCasland, “World’s Longest table”, April 5, 2012 in Our Daily Bread.  https://odb.org/2012/04/05/worlds-longest-table/.   Also found in Nader Alsarras’s article, “Festival transforms autobahn into world’s longest street party”, https://www.dw.com/en/festival-transforms-autobahn-into-worlds-longest-street-party/a-5813574

 

2September 17, 1942, “World Wide Communion Sunday” by Jesse Bader in the Christian

         Evangelist.

3“A Transformed Life Preserves Unity” by Steve Bond.   Sermoncentral.com