One has a lot of meanings, doesn’t it? We use it to describe a lot of things, usually with a sense of supremacy to it. We think in terms of things like Air Force One, Rogue One, and if you live in Nebraska, then of course We’re Number One!
What Jesus lived, and died, for and what Paul is explaining to the church in Galatia is a little different than the supremacy of one being on top. Paul is teaching them, and us, the idea that there is no supremacy factor, no X is better than Y kind of thing but instead, we are ONE in Christ. We are together in Christ. We are united as one body of Christ.
I don’t know if the people who pick the readings for the Narrative Lectionary that we use for our weekly readings and sermons have selected this text because it is Memorial Weekend or not. I suspect not because many of us try not to join too much church stuff and too much secular stuff as a rule, at least not in worship. It is kind of interesting when you think about it, though. Paul is calling for unity and as I think about Memorial Day the reasons we honor Memorial Day are some of the times we have been most unified as a nation.
WWII comes to mind. 9/11 does as well. I’m also pretty sure these things get romanticized a bit in our fervor to hold them up. Not everyone was unified behind these events of course but even so there was a great deal of national unity. People stepping up to work with and help other people. People standing by one another, even others different than they are. Unlike today where division and incivility are commonplace, almost expected, as we hold anyone different than us as suspect on many levels. We don’t need a disaster, terrorist act, or a war to happen so that we can be better people but we could certainly do with a bit more unity.
Which begs the question, why is it we find having a common enemy pretty simple but having a common goal is nearly impossible? Somehow we’ve left the path of wisdom on that one, not to mention the path of Jesus, and later Paul, because through the witness of the Bible, both tell us to be reconciled to one another. Both tell us to be as one.
What if we’re the beginning of a new age to an old story? Theologian Phyllis Tickle writes about this in her book, “The Great Emergence.” She makes the observation that the church of Christ, the body of Christ has something of an upheaval and renewal every 500 years or so. The history is rich and deep and we don’t have enough time for all the details but consider in 1517 we had the Reformation started by Martin Luther. That’s, hmm…., right at 500 years since the last upheaval and renewal. Hmmm… Could it be… Could it be that we are the time for an end to so much division in the church?
Makes me wonder about the ways we are not one in today’s church. Not all are a bad thing as such but something we need to be aware of. It is a well known dynamic in church circles that if you have more than one worship service you have more than one congregation. There aren’t many of you who move back and forth between the two. And some of you don’t know many of the people at the other service. Your church leadership can’t fix that lack of knowing other people, by the way. But you can. You can make the effort to make that happen if you want to.
That’s a simple fix to a simple problem. I know some of you think coming to worship at a different time is a challenge of mammoth proportions. I’m not entirely certain that’s true! I say that because some of the problems that divide Christ’s church today are not quite so easily repaired as coming to a different worship service occasionally.
There are any number of reasons for this, I guess. THEY don’t ___________ like WE do so they’re off the island. You fill in the blank with whatever you think it is that divides the church. And make no mistake, the things that have divided the church are occasionally unwise and downright silly.
I think what we need is a reframing of how we see other people. Our brains are wired in kind of fun ways so that the brain can quickly categorize input. Way deep down inside one of the first thing the brain does is categorize something as friendly or likely to eat me on the spot. If we’re not likely to be eaten on the spot we move up from there, ever categorizing as we go. There’s nothing wrong with this categorization at least early on because it helps protect us from things that want to eat us on the spot. But we can also take categorizing too far and let it separate us, let it divide us. In the name of almighty safety we construct a framework that protects us from things that aren’t even a threat, just different. That’s what Paul is telling the church in Galatia not to do. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. It is okay to be different in most things because we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Here’s another perspective on how this can work
We start at the very foundation of who and what we are, recognizing that we are all ‘us’ and for those gathered here today we are ‘us’ as the body of Christ. First things first. Whatever those things are that make us different, be the body of Christ first because we are ONE in Christ.
We then see the hope of a better world. The world that God created and that Christ died for. Not divided everywhere because of this, that, and the other thing but a world that celebrates being one in Christ. Maybe that seems like a lofty and nigh on impossible goal but I know this much. Christ has promised a united body of Christ and I believe that promise. The challenge for us is to get ourselves out of the way enough, get our hard hearted insistence on our own way out of the way enough, such that Christ shines through. Such that Christ’s love is brought to life.
Think about this. In this coming week, how will you reframe how you see others? How will you be part of the unified body of Christ? When will you give thought to healing and reconciliation as One. One body of Christ, now and forever.