Summary: The church’s unity in "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, allows for great diversity in ministry.
John 17:20-26 “Diversity Within Unity”
What does “One” look like? Ever since Jesus prayed the prayer recorded in today’s gospel lesson, this has been a vital question for Christians and for the Christian Church.
Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers. The primary purpose of this unity is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and further the kingdom of God by demonstrating that Jesus is who he said he was—God, the Son.
How is Jesus’ prayer answered in our lives? Is it necessary for us to be unified in all aspects of our lives, or in selected areas? How can we be unified and still maintain our individuality and uniqueness? Where is the balance between unity and diversity?
The Church has answered these questions in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. For the most part, the emphasis has been on sameness rather than diversity.
For centuries, one way that Christian unity was expressed was in worship. Worship was observed in the same form and language at first. When national languages were allowed, the form was still kept—an emphasized.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, unity was expressed in denominational mergers and the ecumenical movement. Branches on the Lutheran tree were trimmed from over 150 to just 13. Ecumenically, the ELCA has established shared ministries with the Episcopal Church. The United Church of Christ, the Mennonite Church, the Presbyterian Church, and we took back all the nasty things that Martin Luther said about the Roman Catholic Church.
In recent years, there has been a movement for Christians to express their unity by thinking the same on various issues. These issues range from evolution to gun control to abortion to same sex marriage. Attempts have been made to define the validity of a person’s faith by his or her stand on these issues. Such attempts have proved unsuccessful because people who say they have a relationship with Jesus, proclaim the gospel, strive to live out the implications of being a disciples of Jesus Christ, and who affirm the authority of Scripture are found on all sides of these issues.
THE CHURCH AS SYMPHONY
A symphony orchestra is a dynamic example of unity balanced by diversity. Scores of instruments of every shape and size, producing a cacophony of sounds come together to make great music. There are two things that enable a symphony orchestra to produce music that sooths our sounds, quickens our pulses, or causes us to experience the gamut of emotions—a conductor and concert “A.” Orchestras are on tuned to the same note and they follow the lead of the conductor.
When asking that his followers of all ages be unified, Jesus cited the unity between himself and God the Father. Though the mystery of the Trinity is too great for any of us to comprehend, we can stress that the Father/Son/Holy Spirit are unified—they are three in one. At the same time there is diversity. We primarily see that diversity in how each person of God reveals himself to us. God the Father moves in our lives and our world as the creator. Jesus the Son saves and redeems us. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to believe and changes us into the image of God.
Though we are a variety of people, who are able to celebrate our diversity, we are people who are also united.
• We have one Lord. Jesus is Lord.
• We have one Faith. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.
• We have one baptism. Each and every one of us is sinful and need to experience God’s grace in our lives. We experience God’s grace, our sins are forgiven and we become members of the family of God in baptism.
We live in our unity and diversity by following the advice of Philip Melanchthon, a student of Martin Luther and fellow reformer. He wrote, “In essentials, unity. In differences, liberty. In all things, love.
As a congregation we say in our mission statement that we “Invite everyone.” This phrase is part of mission statement and it is the way that we live because we understand that everyone is in need of God’s grace and mercy and no one is excluded from the love of God. We challenge ourselves to first recognize those things that unite us before we notice those elements that make us different.
As Christians we are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Focusing on those essentials, we can welcome a diversity of opinions, ideas, gifts and talents. This summer we will experience this unity and diversity in a very real way. With one service we will be unified in a way that we weren’t with two services. At the same time, we will express our diversity by experiencing a variety of music and worship elements in one service.