In Essentials Unity

Pssst! Don’t tell anybody. ‘Not a livin’, breathin’ soul! I tell you, keep this a secret! (That’s the surest way to get the word out. Secrets always are.) [Charles] Dickens was right. “It [is] the best of times, the worst of times.” The NFL and NBA are locked out, the Congress, say some, oughta be locked up. The rate of sustained marriage is now at only 47%. Unemployment employs an army of statisticians to track it/TV talking-heads to explain it. Fundamental Christians want to damn liberal ones. Liberal believers scoff at “those Fundies”. And the latest UMC version of salvation is 16 Vitality Indicators, as though 4 gospels won’t get it done! But… it’s summer! School’s out! Vacations are here! Gas prices are goin’ down. Our new building’s nearly up. Well, you get the idea. Best/worst! It’s hard to know what to think, believe, do. Yet we are not the first who belong to Christ to go through this. In a fuming and fussing, growing and stretching time, over 1600 years ago, St. Augustine gave good counsel to the church. “In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” John Wesley, our UM Father tweaked the ancient saint for the better-still. “In essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, in all things charity.” I am grateful to the soul who reminded me of this and asked, “Where are the banners we can rally around? Where’s our identity?  Can we create a community united around a mission?  What mission?  Is making disciples concrete enough? How can I lend a hand?” This month, let’s wrestle with this!

In fact, let’s start here. In the longest prayer Jesus says, at the end of Jesus’ days, for this very thing, he prays! “I do not pray for these [12] only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in thee…that the world may believe you sent me.”  Jn. 17: 20-21 Christ commits his life to a body of believers who are ONE. He knows one voice, one life & one faith convert souls and consecrate lives like nothing else! Every kid who wants to stray knows this simple game to play. Tell mom dad said yes. (Vice versa.) Pit them against each other and the day is yours to do what you want. Truly, the Devil knows the same trick and has had more practice. Let believers take note. Unite in faith & let the devil take the back seat.

So what are these essentials? Wesley began with the 39 Articles of Religion. By the time he was done, Methodists were down to 27 (25 + 2). Me? I’m down to 10 minutes to complete this message, so I’m going to re-work the list to just 6! (Yes, I know we’re used to just three points in a sermon, but live a little, double your devotion this week!)  On these 6 rest all we are, all we have, all we are called to do! Whatever else we wanna fuss about, these can make us ONE!

A heart for Christ. It all starts here. We don’t all know the same, or as much about Jesus. All I can say is: we do well to have a passion to know more and more! We may not agree about Jesus in some particular or other. (I do pause to caution: beware those who claim to know the unknowable or require what Christ called unattainable.) But this is essential. That we know JESUS. That we experience Jesus. That we feel him give up heaven and put on human form. Humble. Servant. Come to save. That we see Jesus with our own eyes. Teacher. Miracle maker. That we are touched by Jesus. His cross lifting our sin. His death dying our death. His rising shattering all that keeps us from living. Despite the fact the hymnal dropped the tune, I still love the song that sings, “I know not how that Bethlehem’s Babe could in the Godhead be. I only know the manger child has brought God’s love to me. I know not how that Calvary’s cross a world from sin could free. I only know its matchless love has brought God’s love to me.”

A mind transformed. If a heart for Christ is essential, a mind made new is inevitable! #1. A Believing heart. #2 A brand new brain! We don’t think alike as women from Venus and men from Mars… or so it feels. Right and left in America today can’t seem to agree on a thing. East and West, north and South in the world may not seem to live on the same planet. But here’s the thing. See everyone as someone for whom Christ died and nothing will ever be the same again! Understand your life and living require Christ’s death and dying and you’ll never feel like a big shot or a loser again! With Christ in mind, you can’t ever have your heart set on the ungodly again. Your body becomes a temple where Christ is your altar! Your kid can’t tell ya, “It’s my body; I’ll do what I want with it.” You’re thirstier for him than for anything a bottle, can, vial, pill or plunger can provide. You can/must love ‘cause you are loved. Case closed.

Are you keepin’ track? Essential # 3. Arms for love. Put your arms out. Wide. Now bring your fingers together and lace your hands like this. (Gesture) Notice something? As long as your arms extend there’s no particular urgency to love anything or anyone in particular. But bring them together and there’s a hole there. Just look down. It’s right there. In that space there lives Christ himself. And the only way you can see his face to fill that space with another’s face. Love some one. Love as many as you can. And the more they look less like you: the better. The less anybody else is loving them, the more you can love them for the sake and in the name of Jesus. I thank my God in Jesus Christ every day for the Jims and Teds and Evas and Kens and Charleses and Gingers and Eleanors and Harveys at least one Florence, Ed, Beverly, Micah and Meghan who have shown and taught me this over and over! I pray someone does the same for you! I’d like to sign up to try, myself!

What are the essentials that unite us? Jesus! New minds! Open arms. O, and Christ insists, good knees! Prayin’ knees. That’s #4. (Only two more!) He teaches us how. (Our Father….) He shows us how often. Constantly. Ceaselessly. He shows us how humbly. On our knees. He shows us for whom. For others than just ourselves and our loved ones. He shows us how deeply. In tears, in the Garden; in forgiveness from the cross! He shows us others who can show us the way. (Fr. Roger.)

A voice to speak Good News. Here’s essential #5. It’s better and sweeter smelling than that famous Channel #5. The Good News of Jesus Christ perfumes the earth like nothing and no one else. Truth be told. How often do we say, “This stinks?!” My life, world, job, boss, marriage, parents, kids, school. The news. The modern world. Whatever. Friends, just speak the name. Tell the story. Point out when and where you see him. And all can be an incense to Heaven. God doesn’t want a burnt offering, but a love offering. That’s what brings God joy. Just speak the name of Jesus!

We’re down to Essential 6 to do the trick! A servant spirit. A steward’s spirit. We cannot speak Good News and not be good news, give good news. Giving is agreed. Embraced. It never diminishes. Always increases us, body and soul. (Casper Nannes.)

A heart for Christ. A mind transformed. Arms for love. Prayin’ knees. A voice to speak Good News. A servant spirit. Essential! One! Us! YES!

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