It seems that we can’t get enough of “unity” talk these days. In our American culture, it sounds so good to say that we stand “with” this or that group and that we are for “unity” whenever the latest clash involving police occurs or terrorist attack happens … I mean, unity, who isn’t for that? It sounds so utopian, so pleasant, so “right.” And on top of that, of course, it is easy to say. It costs a person a sentence. There are others who have gone past the “sentence” and thrown their lives into trying to create “unity” in a neighborhood, or city, or nation. But for all the unity talk and unity action there remains very little “unity” as it is envisioned. And maybe this is part of the problem in the way in which the culture tackles the problem. Unity is usually envisioned as the “let’s just put aside our differences”, “nothing you think is so important that you should fight about it”, “can’t we all get along” variety. The truth is that this vision ignores reality – the truth is that we cannot actually put aside our differences, because, well, we are different … and the truth is that there are many things worth holding onto, at least if the apostles have anything to say to us … and the truth is we can’t just get along. We are sinners. We hurt people. People hurt us. We get angry, irritable, selfish, lazy, greedy, envious, grumpy.
The end result of ignoring all of this is that the cultural experiment in unity has been, largely, a failure. Maybe that will change, but I can’t see it … if we can’t get along at Thanksgiving or Christmas in our homes among those whom we ought to care for and about, do we really think “unity” as envisioned in, say, Baltimore, a city of 250,000 households, is possible? Sadly, the broader Church has sometimes adopted the culture’s methods, trying to “create” a unity of our own devising (e.g., the ecumenical movement). This led to (and leads to) a watering down of the Gospel in favor of everyone “getting along.” So how is unity achieved among the people of God?
Praise God, it is not up to us. The incredible thing about unity in the Church of Jesus Christ is that it has already been achieved. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians declares that we are, in Christ, participants in the unity established by God in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So Paul says that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. The common element in this, besides the obvious declaration of us all being “one” with each other (i.e., unity) is that we didn’t have anything to do with it – unity is a gift of God’s grace. And so we enter into that unity as redeemed sinners, with differences that are real, with our weaknesses and histories, with our individual problems and wrestlings and doubts and fears. And the Lord says “ONE” – you are a part, you are on the inside, you are a member of the household of God, a citizen in the kingdom of God, a stone in the building being made into a dwelling place for God, and much much more. Our job in this? Paul declares that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We are maintenance men and women and children, working hard to maintain that which the Lord has given us. Are you eager to maintain unity? This is no small responsibility and it is not easy. But it is a part of the calling of God on your life. May we all live lives that are worthy of that calling …