Monday, May 08, 2017

For and Against: the deception of Unity

7 May 2017 – 4th Sunday of Easter   

Acts 2:42-47     
1 Peter 2:18-25
John 10:1-10                                                                                                                                  

“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”  Mark 3:25

So says our Lord also taught, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40), indicating perhaps that as allegiance to Christ goes, there can be no middle ground, no kinda/sorta; we are for Him or against Him. 

To proclaim full allegiance to Christ, however, must go beyond a baptismal or confirmation vow; and this allegiance far exceeds what is expressed in any written creed.  The reason is simple: allegiance to Christ involves much more than only an expressed common belief in the Person of Jesus or the concept of a strictly “personal” relationship with Christ that involves no other.

After all the dancing around and making hay of the latest UM Judicial Council ruling which no one seems completely satisfied with, it occurred to me the underlying issue is not at all about a particular social topic.  Social topics are more often distractions, incidental to the whole of who we really are. No, the issue we are confronted with is fidelity.  But fidelity to what?  Or to Whom? 

One “side” says faithfulness to the UM Book of Discipline (BOD) is of the utmost importance since it is what defines us as United Methodist Christians; the BOD is our common covenant of accountability, heritage, and doctrine.  The BOD is not scriptural, however, but is an expression of what we believe to be true and righteous according to scriptural principles.

The other “side” claims the BOD should evolve as humanity evolves.  Ironically, both “sides” claim the authority of the Bible and allegiance to Christ.  The problem we seem to be having is that few of us possess the sufficient humility to admit that when it comes to Truth, we are probably more aligned with Pontius Pilate who, in the very face of Truth, still asked the troubling question, “What is truth?”

Our Lord did not claim to be telling the truth or representing the truth; He said, “I AM the … Truth”.  Our sense of being in any semblance of unity must be found first in this simple yet profound declaration.  Our commonality, however, cannot be found in our agreement that Jesus actually said this.  Rather we can only be truly united in seeking to understand what Jesus actually meant. 

Our opinions do not wield the same power.  That we all “believe” Jesus, even as far apart as we may be on any given issue, still does not quite reach the level of wisdom we all lack, desperately need, but fail to seek.  As “doctrinally” or even as “politically” correct as we may smugly claim or think ourselves to be, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that we are further from the Truth than we would admit, further from the Truth than we are actually aware. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus draws us into a conversation that requires some real thought in faithful engagement (John 10:1-10).  First we must realize our Lord is speaking to an entire people – NOT to any particular person.  When Jesus refers to calling out His sheep “by name”, He is not speaking of “Billy” or “Betty”; He is referring to Israel, the entire congregation. 

And what is most important, I think, in looking more deeply into what is being expressed, is to know our God’s anointed One is The Standard.  At this point of discovery, He has not granted to any individual the right to decide for himself or herself what is most important.  The call is still, “Follow Me”.  To my knowledge, and as far as the Scriptures go, that call has yet to change.

“I am the sheepfold”.  “I am the gate”.  “I am the shepherd”, our Lord says.  So what is most important in all this is the simple Truth: I am taking you somewhere and I am the only One who can get you there.  But it is still not to a place where we are free to decide for ourselves what is most important, not to a place where we get to decide who can or who cannot be a part of the larger body, certainly not to a place where we get to decide what is good and what is evil.  Our Lord spells these things out for us not just in the Gospels but throughout the entire biblical narrative.  He decides.

Yet these are not arbitrary decisions our Lord makes on a case-by-case basis.  What is right or wrong, what is good or evil, who is in and who is out has long been declared.  Unity in Truth is found in the Word; the Word spoken, the Word declared, the Word Made Flesh.  NOT in our individual opinions.

In all this, we are called together not “personally” but corporately; not as persons but as a people called by a common Name and subject only to One.  Early 20th-century preacher and author A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”  The Pursuit of God

In our most profound disagreements, the reason schism is a very real and constant threat to the Church is that we pick issues and then pick Jesus – not to determine whether we are still near Him but, rather, to use Him to back up our opinions.  And it fails when, as we think ourselves to be united to those who share our beliefs, we lose our sense of unity in Truth because we are not in tune with Him first.

We must all admit we are in need of a serious tuning, even the most righteous and pious among us.  The piano is a good analogy because even an inanimate piano must be tuned annually.  We, however, may need a retuning a little more often because of how easily we can be distracted without even realizing it. 

We may attend worship regularly and we may even attend a Bible study class, but often those things can become for us mere habits rather than earnest and purposeful practices of discipleship because of our lack of proper focus.  When was the last time we actually and actively sought The Truth instead of defending our own concept of Truth?

Our Father knows us well, certainly better than we think we know ourselves.  It is He who has made reconciliation to Him possible through Christ our Lord, the Living Word.  It is He who had sent the Shepherd to show us the Way, and it is He who is present among us even today by His Blessed Spirit. 

And when we focus FIRST on Him – just as Jesus teaches us to “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – and when our neighbors and friends and fellow disciples seek to focus FIRST on Him rather than on one another, then and only then may we find the unity we claim to seek and desperately need.

By worldly standards, it is an impossible task.  With our God and Father, however, “nothing is impossible”.  Let us stand first in that Truth.  Only then will the “Truth set us free”.  Free from the tyranny of social cliques, free from the tyranny of popular opinion.  Our Lord set us free so we may follow Him and only Him.  Let it be as He wills.  Amen.

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