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We are One!
EPHESIANS 4:1-6 JOHN 17:20-26
The church is a group of people. The church is not a building; the church is a group of people.
The church is a group of people God chooses. The church is a not a group of people we choose. God does the choosing, not us. In the United Methodist Church, no one votes on membership. Whoever will may come. God does the choosing.
In fact, you did not choose God, God chose you. You may say "yes" or "no", but God called you first. Beginning with your baptism, God has called you to be the church, to be part of God's family. Currently, God has called you to be his church in this place.
Why? Why did God choose you and me and put us together in this church? So that we together may do God's work in this community and on this earth, and one of the tasks God calls us to do is to model before the world what God is doing and intends to do.
The church is a model. When you try to assemble a bicycle, it is helpful to have a picture, a model, to look at. When the world struggles to survive and live together on this planet, the church is a model, a picture, of how people can live together. Sometimes the model is not much different from the world! But God calls us to model the ideal. The church is a group of people God chooses to do his work on this earth, and to model before the world how God wants people to live.
One picture God wants the world to understand, and what God calls the church to model, is that we are all one. In the lesson this morning from John, one of the last prayers Jesus prayed on this earth was that all who believe in him shall be one, shall be united. "I pray," said Jesus, "that they may all be one."
In the lesson from Ephesians Paul wrote there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, one Spirit, and one body--one body of Christ, one church. There may be many denominations, many languages spoken, people of many different colors, worship expressed in many cultural ways; a church rich with differences, but there is one church, one holy catholic, universal church.
Sisters and brothers, we are one. Today, we have the privilege and the joy of celebrating our unity in Jesus Christ by receiving the entire Tongan Fellowship into church membership. This is an historic day.
"I pray," said Jesus, "that they may all be one." We are one because we were all created by God. None of us here made ourselves. None of us here had a birth that was any different from anyone else's. There is nothing special about any of us that makes us different or superior to anyone else. We were all created. And, we were all created by God. There is one Creator, one Father, said Paul. Therefore, we were all created by the same God. We all have the same parent. We are all in the same family. We are all brothers and sisters.
"I pray," said Jesus, "that they may all be one." We are one because we are all redeemed by Jesus Christ. We are redeemed, saved, born again, reconciled with God and with one another by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. None of us is so good and so righteous we can save ourselves. The color of our skin cannot save us. Our good looks cannot save us. Wealth cannot save us. We are worthy of a relationship with God solely because God loves us. We are saved because God loves us. We are reconciled to God and to one another because Jesus paid with his life, with his blood. To bring us to a relationship with God cost Jesus his life. We are one because we are redeemed by Jesus Christ.
"I pray," said Jesus," that they may all be one." We are one because there is one Spirit working in us and through us. The Holy Spirit is God present with us and moving in our lives. The Spirit which moves in us, giving us hope, healing us from diseases, restoring us to relationship with God, healing the broken relationships with other people, the Spirit who blesses us with love, peace, gentleness, strength, the power to cope, is the same Spirit for all of us. We are one because the Spirit who moves in all of us, regardless of our color, regardless of our nationality, regardless of our culture, regardless of our language, is the same Holy Spirit.
"I pray," said Jesus, "that they may all be one." We are one because we are created by God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
God calls us to unity. God calls us to be the body of Christ, the church. God calls us to model on behalf of the world the unity we experience in Jesus Christ. We are becoming a rainbow church, a church of many colors, languages and cultural backgrounds. The mission field is right here. We don't have to leave the peninsula.
After I graduated from college, I served in Nagoya, Japan, as a short-term missionary teacher at Nagoya Gakuin, a Methodist Junior and Senior Boys' High School. It was a broadening, enriching, expanding experience for this farm boy from rural Minnesota. I was in seventh grade before I met a black person. There were no blacks, Jews, hispanics, Asians, or Tongans in my community. There were only people of English, German, and Swiss ancestry. Even Scandinavians and Roman Catholics were in the minority. You can imagine what a broadening experience it was for me to live and work in Japan.
The first week I almost starved to death, until I learned how to use chop sticks, and how to fill up on rice. I learned how to eat and enjoy raw fish. I learned how to leave my shoes at the door and sit on the floor. I learned how to bow. I learned to converse in a language other than English.
It was a shared experience. I shared with the Japanese students a God who loves them just as they are. In a society where suicide is a common phenomenon, I shared with them how God loves them, how God values their lives, and how there is hope for the future.
And I learned much from the Japanese.
I learned tolerance.
I learned understanding and appreciation of another culture.
I learned about respect and order.
I observed a culture that is holistic in its approach, rather than the dissecting of children into school, home, church, and neighborhood as we do.
I discovered how indeed kids are the same the world over. They play, tease, and misbehave the same the world over. I discovered how people are all the same--we love, weep, bleed, laugh.
Friday Ellie and I visited with friends from Stockton. They shared how the school massacre has affected the Stockton community with an outpouring of grief, guilt, love and support for the Cambodian families. School personnel, police and churches responded immediately. It is difficult to imagine the confusion and terror. Some terrified children ran off the school grounds and hid. Some who had been wounded barricaded themselves behind locked doors. Wounded children were taken to seven hospitals, as far away as Sacramento and Modesto. It was hours before families were reunited.
One minister took a distraught father to a hospital to look for his children. The Cambodian father could not speak English. The minister could not speak Cambodian. The nurses at the reception desk could not interpret. Then a nurse walked by carrying a six-year old Cambodian girl who had been shot in the arm. With her arm in a cast, the little six-year-old girl bridged the gap. There in a noisy, frantic, impersonal hospital, she translated Cambodian into English, and English into Cambodian. Compassion united people across cultural, national and language barriers, and reunited a father with his children. We are all one.
Today Methodists from Tonga are transferring their membership to this church. We can learn much from each other. From the Tongans, we can learn about family solidarity and unity. We can experience different food. After the service, we will enjoy roast pig and yams. We can appreciate different clothing styles. Tongan Christian men combine two cultures in their dress. They wear the shirt, tie and coat of the early Methodist missionaries who converted Tonga to Methodism, but the men retain the skirt and bare feet which make a great deal of sense in a hot climate such as Tonga.
You who are from Tonga are not only teaching, but are also learning. You are learning American ways of living, worshiping, educating, and working. We all learn from each other in an atmosphere of mutual appreciation, and the faith experience of us all is enriched and expanded.
"I pray," said Jesus, "that they may all be one." We have the joyful and glorious opportunity to fulfill Jesus' prayer. On behalf of the world which is watching, we can model the unity which God intends.
I invite you this morning to stretch a little. Grow. Expand your horizons. Widen your embrace to include new friends, new brothers and sisters.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris