Unity

November 14, 2016

WARNING… CYNICISM ALERT!

Obviously a lot happened in our country in the past week. I don’t have any desire to comment on who won or who lost the recent Presidential election. Nor do I have any wish to speculate on what the future might hold. I confess to my cynicism toward political types. How many of them EVER do what they say they will? Honestly… I trust God… I do not trust politicians… any of them. Period!

That being said I would like to comment on a word that I have heard bandied about recently by all sides (protesters not withstanding). The word is “unity.” We have been lectured by both parties that it is time to “unify and come together as a country. We are ‘Americans first’ after all.”  Hold that thought for a moment.

My guess is that many of you have been in situations (maybe in the work place) where you have been asked to “set goals for yourself or for your job.” One of the rules for setting goals is that they need to be measurable and also attainable lest they simple turn into a pie in the sky wish list. Does “national unity” sound like a doable goal to you today? Does it? Well, of course it all has to do with how one defines “unity.” And naturally those calling for “unity” give no definition. But it sure sounds great, doesn’t it?!

I meet with young couples for several “premarital counseling sessions” before their wedding day. I think most pastors do this sort of thing. Among many other thoughts I share this with them; “Marriage is not about hoping our partner changes after we say our ‘I do’s’.” Marriage is about recognizing that we ARE different and then figuring out how we are going to live in that arrangement.” Oh, no question… the longer we live with one another the more “alike” we will become. But that is not the goal. The goal is to love, sacrifice, cherish and die for the other even in the midst of our differences.

So when folks say that we need to be “united” as a country… um… exactly what are we to be united around? And what do we do with our irresolvable differences? They are not going to go away.

The answer is surely not this – “Well, we (whoever “we” happens to be at any given time) are in power now so we will jam our agenda down your throats.” Do I need to make an argument for how that DOES NOT WORK?!?!?! All it does is create, resentment, anger, disenfranchisement, marginalization, disenchantment, alienation… etc, etc, etc… And yet that is part of the history of our political system. (For all parties. Don’t even try to argue that your party doesn’t do that!) I doubt the years ahead will change that much.

Sadly I suspect the short term solution to our unity problem, if there is one, will be some sort of national tragedy (Pearl Harbor, 9/11…), but who wants that?

I would like to share some scripture with you. This does not really solve our problem but for Christians it does address the “unity” issue to some degree.  Take all of one minute to read the very short little letter in the New Testament entitled “Philemon.”  I will include it here for your convenience.

Philemon – New International Version (NIV)

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

12 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

The question is this – why is this little letter in the Bible? How shall we interpret it?  Possibly there are many thoughts, but I would like to suggest one.  Three main characters are found in the letter:  Philemon (the recipient of the letter), Onesimus (the purpose of the letter) and Paul (the author of the letter).  These three men were as far apart as possible on the social scale.  Philemon was likely a wealthy Greek man who came from pagan roots.  Onesimus was a runaway slave, i.e., scum and a reject on the bottom of the social totem pole who was deserving of death.  Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews;” the son that any and all Jewish mothers would cherish and brag about.  (Philippians 3:4-6 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.)

There is every reason these three should be alienated and even hostile to one another and yet they are not. Why?  Because they have something more important than themselves to rally around – Jesus Christ.

In the Church when we spiral down into conflict (and we too often do), it is very likely because we have taken our eyes off of the prize, i.e., the person of Jesus. I’m not naïve… I know these things are enormously complex and difficult.  But let me tell you one other thing I mention to couples getting hitched.  When marriages fail, it is almost ALWAYS because one or both of the couples have decided to no longer sacrifice for the other, i.e., “I want what I want.  If I have enough left for you afterward so be it.”  Need I say, that doesn’t work?!

Unity does not come with separate agendas. It comes about with a common cause or goal.  So, what is the common cause or goal in America today?  Yeah, I don’t know either.

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