Is Unity Green?
Every Sunday in March we preached on UNITY. Not because we’re in a series on UNITY but because were in a much longer series on Ephesians. And if you read Ephesians, you’ll notice that you can’t make it a chapter without running into Paul’s obsession with the UNITY of the church. We’ve learned quite a bit about UNITY already. Here were the sermon titles from February, and you can get a sense of the complexity of what it means for the Body of Christ to live, wrestle, worship, and ultimately stay together:
1. “Ephesians: The Pleasure of Unity”
2. “Ephesians: The Practice of Unity”
3. “Ephesians: The Purpose of Unity”
4. “Unity and Resurrection: The Power for Unity”
In the first chapter, we learn that God is not like another planet in our galaxy—a large, emotionless and lifeless entity floating in the sky. Instead, God is a God of passion and feeling, love and relationship. In verse 5 and 9, we see that God experiences pleasure. That’s a weird thought! No, it’s only odd if your conception of the Almighty is marked by distance and detachment. If you understand God to be intimately related to Creation, concerned about it’s redemption and ultimately “willing” it toward love and forgiveness; well, then, God is likely to grieve over sin and brokeness, and feel pleasure over repentance and healing. Ephesians 1 offers the latter. God get’s pleasure when creation is unified under the Lordship and reign of Christ.
Unity ain’t easy! It’s so difficult that Jesus makes it his final (and monumental) prayer in John 17. I could spend 6 months preaching on the difficulty of being a unified church. Ironically, in those six months, the church would completely dis-unify (sick and tired of hearing about the same thing). The point is this: the practice of unity is challenging but the reward is worth the cost.
A shower never feels as good as it does after a hard workout. A comfortable couch never feels better than it does after a long day at work. A cold drink never tastes as refreshing as it does after hours of sweating. The enjoyment of life's little pleasures is always amplified if they're experienced on the heals of difficult work. A soda after digging a trench. A pool after a run. A hug after grief. A homemade meal after a long hike. PRAISE is like this.
In verse 14, Paul concludes with “to the praise of his glory”. As we read and reread Ephesians, we get the sense that God's glory is praised the redeeming of God’s sons and daughters (“adoption” - v5). Maybe a better way to say it is this: God is glorified when God’s people (the church) model God’s intentions for salvation. Or again, God is truly praised when the church is unified! Praise, like a cold drink, tastes so much better at the hard work of staying together. When the church practices with each other the very forgiveness that God lavished on them, God is glorified, and God’s people relish in that glory (PRAISE).
In a do-what-you-want culture, staying together with people that, quite frankly, are annoying, just sounds terrible. And the work that it would take to actually get along with them sounds exhausting.
You know, there were some people on my High School football team that drove me nuts! Their crude jokes, there filthy language, their poor attitudes and dismal work ethic—oh how I wished the coaches would have sent them on their way before the season even started. But they didn’t. And dealing with them was a challenge all season long. But let me tell you: when we won our championship I hugged and high-fived them too! We all celebrated together. I believe we managed to stay together because of our common goal of winning a championship; and the victory was that much sweeter when I realized that even those guys—yup, the ones I wanted gone—made some amazing plays in the championship game.
There is immense power in the resurrection (vv19-20). But what if we didn’t look to God to “magically inject” resurrection power into our lives like antibodies into our arm through a needle? What if instead our COMMON GOAL was the resurrection?
That’s a strange thing to ask, isn’t it?
What if our common goal as the Body of Christ was not to stay together by some supernatural force, but instead, it was to see life come from death (resurrection!) all around us? And by participating in being God’s hands of redemption, we were empowered to stay unified. In this case the power’s not ours; the power is the power that comes from enacting the very desires of God in this world—resurrection, salvation, redemption.
Okay, I agree, that was too wordy. So let me say it again differently: By making God’s goals our goals, we become the tools (power tools!) used by God to realize those goals. And in the process—if those goals really are ours—we are UNIFIED!
Still too wordy? Okay, here it is very simply: like a team pursuing a championship, wouldn’t the church be unified in the process of pursuing a common goal of LIFE? Our goals is not to put up with each other; our goal is to heal and offer resurrection and salvation to others…and we are united in the process.
BUT THERE IS A COMPONENT TO ALL THIS THAT WE HAVE NOT TOUCHED ON…
Let’s talk about the Green Holiday: St. Patrick’s Day.
Like many holidays, there’s an amazing “back story” that’s been commercialized and pretty much stripped of all it’s meaning. Leprechauns, pinching, parties, beer…let’s put it all aside (well, maybe not the pinching part).
Saint Patrick, born over 1500 years ago, was the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. He, however, was not religious. When he was a teenager, he was captured by Irish pirates and forced into slavery for 6 years. In an unfamiliar land, not knowing the language, and stricken with slavery, he met his own frailty, his own weakness and sinfulness. In slavery, he became aware of his own enslavement to ignorance and sin. His need for salvation was evident and he became a Christian…only a short while before he escaped slavery in Ireland and voyaged back to his native Britain.
Saint Patrick was then called to missions. It was clear in a vision, he was to become the first Christian missionary to Ireland. Ireland at the times was ruled by tribal kings regularly at war, vying for territory and power. Patrick succeeded in offering Good News of peaceableness and forgiveness. Thousands and thousands came to know Christ, and for the first time, Ireland, under the “rule” of the Gospel, experienced unity and peace, oneness in worship and devotion. He eventually died on March 17, in the year 461, hence, Saint Patrick’s Day.
The thing that’s so captivating to me about St. Patrick is the time of his conversation and the destination of his call. Powerless, he came to know Christ. And after his escape, back to his captors he was called and served.
Wait! That can’t be right.
If we’re honest with ourselves, does that make much sense? I personally associate salvation in Christ with freedom. As the story goes, it was in slavery that he experienced true freedom, and it was to the very people that enslaved him that Patrick was called to offer that freedom. That’s just too much contrast. It seems like an oxymoron. Okay, maybe the first part about meeting Christ while a slave, but to go back to those people that enslaved Patrick; now, that’s foolish.
And then it dawned on me that Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians while in bondage. What’s going on here? What do they know that I don’t?
(If I’m not careful, this Pastor’s Perspective could go another 10 pages. Let me wrap it up.)
I believe Patrick and Paul get something we don’t; rather, I think they were forced into something that helped them understand more clearly than us. Their power was stripped from them (in slavery and prison, respectively). And in their poverty and weakness, humility and powerlessness, they meet and bear witness to a Christ of immense appeal; THEY MEET A CHRIST THAT CALLS THEM TO DO THE UNTHINKABLE AND EMPOWERS THEM IN THE PROCESS.
This power is the power of the resurrection. Even Christ himself experienced it..literally.
I THINK WE’RE AFRAID OF THIS KIND OF POWER.
We’re afraid of how we “get” it; we’re afraid of the responsibility we have with it; we’re afraid of what we might be called to if we experience it.
It’s the power that comes when we are emptied, weak, broken. And we come face to face with a God of LIFE, RESURRECTION, and ULTIMATE PURPOSE who will be glorified through us—our weakest us (2 Cor. 12:9-11 and so many other places).
This is the other part of UNITY: like Saint Patrick, in our weakness, our human frailty, our poverty, God offers LIFE and POWER and then makes it our mission (even to our enemies). This life and power is the very dynamism, energy, thrust, vigor from God that enables and sustains the UNITY of the Body of Christ.
This is what we’re after at Kona Coast Naz. This is fundamental to revival in our land.
IN OUR 1) COMMON GOAL OF OFFERING RESURRECTION AND LIFE ALL AROUND US AND 2) IN HUMBLY ACCEPTING OUR COMMON BROKENNESS, WE WILL BE A POWERFUL AND UNIFIED FORCE FOR THE KINGDOM ON THE BIG ISLAND!