Carpet Color, Turkey Sandwiches, And Church Unity

Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

There is a concept called “The Friendship Factor.”  The friendship factor says that some 70-80% of people who join a church, join primarily for the reason and motive of friendships.  In other words, the power of friendship tends to be a primary reason for people to join and stay in a congregation.

Now, there is no doubt about it that friendships unite people together into a church.  However, is this what truly unites the church?  Is the true unity of the church based on friendships and family?  Or is there something more – something more profound that unites the church than simple blood relationships and common interests?  Is there something more that makes us truly belong – truly unified? 

In today’s Epistle’s reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul speaks to the church of Ephesus and shares that the true unity within the church is produced by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we all have been called to one hope, to one Lord, to one faith, to one baptism, and to one God and Father, who is over all and through all and in all.  That is to say; this unity is not created by us or our actions, but instead, we have been called into this unity by the Holy Spirit.  The many parts are made one.  The many are grafted into a oneness.  To state it simply: we have been called to one baptism, not many baptisms held together by friendliness.  We have been called to the same confession of the faith, not a bunch of different spiritual opinions held together by tolerance.  We have been called to one hope, not many different individualized goals held together by wishful thinking. 

You see, the downfall of having unity solely based on friendships, common experiences, and similar opinions, is that this does not go far enough. This obviously has some severe problems, as well.  Permit me the opportunity to explain: if people are gathered together in unity by friendships, then their unity is only as good as the relationships are.  Indeed, if our unity is based on our friendships and common personal experiences and our own spiritual opinions, what happens when our friendships, experiences, and opinions reach a point of contention and disagreement?  Unfortunately, when unity is based on friendships, experiences, and opinions alone, the church’s unity is fragile at best.  For example, if there are conflicts over non-essential things in the church, such as what color the new carpet should be or whether we should serve ham sandwiches rather than turkey sandwiches at the next potluck, then the church’s unity is very susceptible to being destroyed by carpet and turkey sandwiches. 

There is also another problem with unity being based solely on relationships and personalities, and that is the fact that friendships come and go.  For example, if our friends seize to be entertaining, enjoyable, and encouraging, we may choose to cut ties with them and find new friends. And if we can’t find new friends in the church, well… we break unity with the church and seek out more entertaining and more enjoyable friends elsewhere. Sadly, our relationships are not as strong as we would hope, for and they are often quite temporary and superficial.  And if a church’s unity is based upon these fragile relationships and personalities, will… the church’s unity has been built upon shifting sands.    

And let’s not forget how this impacts the evangelism of the church.  If unity in the church is based on friendships and relationships, newer individuals may find it difficult to connect to the already existing relationships in the church.  For example, what if a new person coming to our church does not have family connections, what if they do not work at Bobcat, or do not farm? How will they connect?  What if they do not have common interests with you and me?  How will they belong?  What if a person has a difficult time making friends or is an introvert?  How will they find unity here?  Does a lack of family ties, a lack of common interests, or a person being an introvert prevent them and us from having true unity?

My friends, the church’s unity neither exists nor is based on friendships and personal interests alone.  Instead, real unity in the church is given and produced by the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, there is a better way to understand unity! 

You see, what binds us together as a church body here and now is the unity of the Spirit.  In other words, even though all of us have different backgrounds, different vocations, different last names, different ages, and different ethnicities, we are all called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism.  That is to say, the doctrine of the Christian faith and Christ Jesus are not fragmented and divided up equally amongst all of us.  We do not have multiple saviors, and we certainly do not have many conflicting doctrines of the Christian faith!  We do not have different individualistic baptisms, and we do not have individualistic confessions. By no means! 

As Christians, each of our personal and unique stories are grafted into a grand and divine story; God’s story of redemption in Jesus for all of humanity.  God’s story does not become a part of our story, rather we are gathered together to become a part of the story of Christianity that extends across this world, and that has extended throughout the ages.  We have been crucified into Christ; we die in our baptisms and emerge alive together in Jesus.  Therefore, in our baptisms, we are united to the story of Christianity that extends to people on every single continent of every single ethnic background.  As members of the church, we join together in Christ, as common sinners with a common Savior, and with a common Christian confession. 

To put it another way, our unity in the church does not come through a bloodline but comes through a faith line; faith in the promised shed blood for us.  Our unity is in one Lord, one confession, and one baptism. 

Now, we must pause to take note that we are not saying that friendships and family are unimportant.  We are not saying that individuality should be erased.  No, instead, we are hearing that we are not alone.  We are hearing that we are united together in a family of faith which is more significant, deeper, and eternal.  Yes, we have been united in our baptisms with our forefathers that went before us, forefathers such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Rahab, and the Apostles.  Unity in Christ provides a much more significant foundation for the church and connects us to what is called the universal church – the church that extends around the world and extends from generation to generation. 

Dear Baptized Saints, the Holy Spirit is the one that produces this unity for you.  It is not forced upon you, but rather, you are called into it.  Yes, the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and sanctified you in the one true faith – uniting you to every single blood-bought Christian in this sanctuary. This kind of unity is so much more profound and eternal than mere friendships.  This unity of the Spirit is a greater foundation for the church and grants the church the ability to weather the storms of personal struggles and inter-personal conflicts. 

What this means is that since we Christians are all members together of one body; and since we have been baptized into the same baptism for the same forgiveness of sins; and since we have the same treasure of the Word and Sacraments; we then should regard each other as neither better nor worse but as brothers and sisters.  We are co-heirs of the kingdom of God, together – forever. 

The Holy Spirit is the only one that can cause the unity of the church. We do not produce unity nor can we destroy true unity by our actions.  And that is why we have been called by the Apostle Paul to treasure the gift of this unity.  That is the reason why we are called to abide in the unity that the Holy Spirit has already created with us!  Indeed, your Christian faith possesses a uniting power.  It binds our human hearts together.  It binds our confessions together.  It is a union that endures beyond death and even beyond the end of the earth, because it is a unity that is created in us by the Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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