Signs Of Community – Unity And Peace In Christ

British Hyrams
(Ephesians 2: 11-22; Psalm 133)

There was a king who sought the perfect picture of peace. He held a contest and artists everywhere participated.  Paintings arrived from far and wide. The day came when a winner would be chosen. Judges uncovered one peaceful scene after another, finally two pictures remained.  The first was a mirror-smooth lake under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. The ling uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. It was a tumultuous waterfall cascading down a rocky cliff.  You could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy gray clouds exploded with lightning, wind and rain. In the midst a tree clung to the rocks and a little bird had built a nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed she rested on her eggs. With her eyes closed and her wings ready to cover her little ones, she manifested peace that transcends all earthly turmoil. Which of these paintings won the contest?

Maybe you have heard that story before (or some version of it) and agree with it – in theory.  But, if we are honest with ourselves, by and large, many times we long for the idealistic picture of peace: smooth sailing, a carefree existence, and perfect conditions – whatever perfect means.  

But life, life has this way of unfolding with ups and downs, curves and straight-aways, forests and deserts, rain and sunshine, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and the ever elusive balancing act between time and money. You see, it seems that every one of us is either “coming out of a storm, in a storm, or heading for a storm.”

Thankfully, true peace is based on safety and security, DESPITE the storms of life. For Christians that safety and security is in Christ. We find that assurance in the words of Paul at the beginning of v14 – Christ is our peace. And so for those of us that are followers of Christ one sign of community is peace. An inner rest and assurance that prevails in the midst of daily headlines, tweets, and horrific events. Security that is rooted in our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

 

Now, come with me to another scene. The day had come and the appointed time was approaching. Enthusiasm and anticipation filled the air as everyone readied themselves. Before the hour arrived, dressed for the occasion, they took their seats. On cue the rituals and traditions began. Everyone was included and important – from itty bitty babies to great grandparents. They were singing and chanting. Standing and sitting. Dancing and clapping. These rituals and traditions had been passed on for decades and progressed without hindrance.

No one asked if you were republican, democrat or independent. No one cared if you were straight, gay or otherwise. Even a small but noticeable variety of skin hues, ethnicities and nationalities were among those in the crowd. It was an amazing display of unity.

It was my first Florida Gators football game. 

The truth is, I chose to disclose only part of my experience in order to highlight the best of what I witnessed with these Florida fans. I do know that this was not a display of perfect unity, but it was impressive and contagious!  I caught on quickly and was drawn into the Gator experience. I also have to admit that I wish the body of Christ (as a whole) operated with half the amount of unity on display at the Gators football game! 

The unity that this Ephesians passage announces seems as impossible today as it did then. You see the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile was as wide and deep as you can possibly imagine. One that still exists between many groups, even Christian groups today. Jews and Gentiles were separated by a painful and often violent history, separated by divergent cultures and convictions, separated by mutual hostility and suspicion. But now this writer declares, now they (we) have been made part of a story which moves from exclusion and hostility, to welcome, reconciliation, and God’s overflowing gift made manifest, made real in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Let’s be clear, this unity that Christ has given to them and to us, does NOT mean uniformity – God is way too creative for that! 🙂 Nor is it about power. One group does not fall under the power of the more dominant group. Paul says that God in Christ has made one humanity of the two groups. Gentiles do not become Jews; Jews do not become Gentiles. They are united in Christ. There are no more outsiders and insiders, all are welcomed into the story of God.  This story is played out through the ONE group of people, ONE humanity, who now play a part in the continuing story of redemption that continues to unfold to this very day. And so, another sign of Christian community is when we are able to find unity in Christ despite our many differences.

The final two words of our trinity tag line announces we “welcome all”. We are not inviting others to come dress like us, talk like us, think exactly like us, and BE just like us! NO, by the power of the Spirit we are sharing the love of Christ with others and inviting them to be themselves, to unite together with us as disciples, as followers of our risen Lord and Savior.

While there is much shame over the fighting and factions that have disgraced the history of the Church and continues to this day, those who are “in Christ” enjoy a peace and unity with one another which transcends nation and denomination, race and rank, class and culture.

To reject this still unfolding reality is to dismiss the teachings of Jesus. Signs of Community: Peace and Unity in Christ

How many of you know what Juneteenth is? It is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – had become official January 1, 1863.

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. Some former slaves lingered, while others left immediately – heading North or to be with family in other places. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from their descendants. Juneteenth served as a way of remembering and celebrating that great day in June of 1865. Juneteenth serve as motivation as they pursued a new life in the face of continued oppression and hardship. 

Juneteenth represents freedom that was hidden in plain sight from those who were enslaved, it represents this freedom being uncovered, celebrated and lived out.

In Christ is the crux of this passage today. Peace in Christ. Unity in Christ.  In Christ is our freedom. This freedom is available to us, to empower us to be a community; yet it seems to be hidden in plain sight! 

So, what does it mean to be “In Christ”? An important question that theological studies try to answer. Based on an article published by the CS Lewis Institute I offer these perspectives: To be “in Christ” does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, He is the vine, we are the branches. Christ is our source of life and we depend on the Spirit to help us live accordingly. In Christ means Christ is a living reality.  We long for, we look for and we expect the presence of Christ in our daily living. To be “in Christ” is to be radically transformed, to the roots of our very being. In Christ we find Hope that depends not on what the eye beholds, but on the truth of the justice, mercy, and steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ.

And so, beloved, on this World Communion Sunday which celebrates our oneness in Christ with all the faithful around the world and as we welcome Asher and Elizabeth into the community of faith by the power of God may our signs of Christian community include unity and peace in Christ.

Thanks be to God.