For 48 years, I’ve also been a part of One Church; because, if we take Jesus seriously, there is only one Church. Even so, that One Church has many different “congregations.” In my lifetime, I’ve have had the privilege of visiting, worshiping with, learning from, and speaking in countless churches. Some have been in the midwest, some in the south, and some in the east. I have spoken in a church where you could do attendance on both your hands, and I have prayed over Iraqi refugees in a house church in the Middle East. I have preached in a church in Ukraine (through an interpreter, thankfully), and have spoken at churches in Kentucky that delayed their services because UK basketball was on. I preached one of my first sermons in a nursing home church, and have spoken at a church that kept a Christmas tree available on stage (because you never know when you’re going to need a Christmas tree).
Of all the churches I’ve been privileged to visit, I count no less than 10 that I have been a part of; ten churches that have been, for me, family. The first two I remember are an African-American congregation in the urban northeast and a largely white, blue-collar church not far from that one. (My father preached at both, so both churches were, in essence, my first church families.) I’ve been a part of a college church, and a nursing home church. I’ve called churches “home” that are urban, suburban, and rural. In other words, I’ve gotten just a taste of the wild and wonderful diversity that is the Church of Jesus Christ. We who follow Jesus are very diverse; but in him, we are one. And that unity is vital to our identity.
How do we get there? How do we live out the unity that Jesus prayed for, and yet is so elusive? Well, the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8 gives us some insight:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.
Paul focuses on the generosity of the Macedonians, using it as an example for those in Corinth. But it’s not simply an example for giving, it’s also an example for living. Though the Gentile Macedonians had little, they begged for the opportunity to give to the needs of their Jewish counterparts in Jerusalem. But more than money, they were sharing the “fellowship of ministry” with them.
And in 2 Corinthians 8.5, Paul says they provided a wonderful model for the rest of us. Simply put, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to their church family in need.
This, my friends, is a perfect description of how unity happens. We give ourselves first to the Lord, and then to each other. In fact, not only is that a portrayal of how unity happens, it’s also a description of what faith looks like. To give ourselves to Jesus leads naturally to giving ourselves to each other.
In other words, unity isn’t complicated. It’s not something we finally get around to when we’ve studied for years and years. It’s what the Family of God simply IS. And DOES.
Are you united with Jesus? If so, you’re united (and working on unity) with God’s family, in all its wild and wonderful diversity.