Ephesians 4:1-16; Mark 9:38-41
St Barbara’s 26.09.2021
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Ephesians (4): Unity
Two weeks ago over 40 adults and children stayed behind after the morning service to help with doing some work in the garden and car park, and during that time some of our children and young people went round making a video, interviewing people about how long they had been coming to St Barbara’s and what they liked about it. We’re going to put the video on the church website so you can see it.
We had no idea what people would say, and we certainly hadn’t scripted people beforehand! But what comes through time and again in the comments are two things: that sense of being part of a community of love and growing in faith. In the video people speak of the church as a place where they felt really loved, a place where they felt able to speak to people with different experiences, a place of real community, a place where people enjoy being together, and where everyone is there for each other.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Back 2000 years ago Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus about the importance of unity, of being a community of love. He reminded them, and he reminds us, that “there is one body and one Spirit… one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are one people, one community. God by His Spirit draws us together and helps us to love one another.
There are three things from our Ephesians reading that can inspire us to unity, a theme that is particularly relevant today as we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the dedication of this church.
Firstly, an important part of seeing ourselves as one people is how we choose to define ourselves, where we get our sense of identity. Paul, languishing in prison, could have chosen to describe himself as a “prisoner of Rome”, a victim, but instead he chooses to describe himself as “prisoner of the Lord”, one whose life is guided and governed by God. This is his identity. This is what defines him.
No wonder Paul is so committed to living out the unity of the church. For it is his love of God that gives him his strongest identity, and therefore, no wonder that he wants to spend time with others who believe the same. I was struck in the video by how many people said they found church the place where they grew in faith by listening and talking with others. This is who we are, children of God. It is good and important to spend time with one another, to encourage and affirm one another in our faith.
Secondly, unity is encouraged not just by a sense of who we are, but how we live. Paul speaks of living with humility, gentleness, patience, of bearing with one another in love, of making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
That means treating people with kindness, respect, valuing them for who they are. There are times when we may strongly disagree with someone else, but with God’s help, we can respond to that disagreement not with anger or stubbornness but with gentleness and humility, just as Christ himself did.
It means being patient, bearing with one another in love, despite our frustrations at times.
And it means reconciling with one another. As David Porter, the former head of reconciliation for Coventry Cathedral put it, the key to reconciliation is to be able to tell the other’s story in such a way that they recognise if for their own. When we are able to so fully understand the point of view of the other person that we can repeat back to them what they think without them needing to correct it, then we are making real progress. Peace and unity is not about eliminating difference, but is about holding difference and disagreement within a relationship of respect and love.
And thirdly, we strengthen our bonds of unity as a church by using the gifts God has entrusted to us. Paul writes that God has given gifts to his church to prepare us for works of service, to help us to grow in our faith in God. In other words, we all have been given gifts that we can use to help one another grow in faith.
It may be the gift of welcoming people, of making new people to our church feel included. It may be the gift of compassion, coming alongside people in need, supporting them and listening to them. It may be the gift of flower-arranging or cleaning, creating a beautiful environment in which we can come together to worship God. It may be the gift of sharing, telling others about God just through our conversation. It may be the gift of music, leading us in our musical worship of God.
God gives gifts to each one of us to help us nurture and encourage faith in one another, to help each of us grow. I wonder what your gifts are? Have you used them recently to help others grow in their Christian lives?
The unity of the church is a precious gift. I know that over the 90 years of this church, there have been times when that unity has been easily and readily expressed and other times when it has had to be worked at, when it hasn’t come easily. But each of us is called now, today, to work to express the unity that we share in Christ by who we are, how we live and what we do. And when we do so, we will grow in love, for God, each other, our community and the world.