Parish Council Devotion: 10th November, 2021

Unity and Tag lines: Life and love

The study that I have written for Parish Council tonight comes on the back of the letter that I received as Parish Chair about the way in which we went about establishing the call committee. It comes on the back of conversations about whether we can afford one or two pastors, who will pay for what, whether we have enough money and funds. It comes on the back of conversations about whether we are following the correct liturgy. It comes on the back of people having different beliefs about what should happen going forward. And it comes on the back of my perception that these conversations and dealings are about what individuals think and want. It also comes on the back of seeing the results of the pre-call survey – results that point to an inward, self-centered focus; results that indicate that as a collective, we do not always and consistently worship God in the way that He desires.

It also comes on the back of talking with some people who want to know Jesus more deeply, who want to follow Him more closely, who want to do good works in this community, who desire to be missional, who desire to make disciples, who desire spiritual gifts, who desire to be Spirit-led, and who desperately want to be loved and to love in a way that reflects God in them. These voices are often the quieter voices – the people who do not speak up so much, who are quietly going about doing the work that Jesus gave them to do, who are quietly living out their faith in their daily walk. I want to acknowledge those people. I want to encourage you to continue, to shine, to be the beacon of light on the hill. I don’t always see or hear you, but I want to. I want to learn from, and with, you.

Never-the-less, this study is oriented more heavily towards those who create dissention, and to look at our role as leaders to speak up and out, to be examples of life, love, and unity in and with Jesus. I make no apology that this study has been heavily influenced by the writing of Francis Chan. It comes together with our most recent sermon series on ‘Outrageous Grace’ and Reformation Sunday – Sundays during which we have been reminded about the importance of listening to Jesus, of not listening to the devil and of God continually reforming His church. We have heard that we are church, that church is not a building – neither is it a denomination. We continually hear in the scriptures that God abhors idols – and that we are not to worship idols… and yet we do. We worship our traditions, our ways are sacrosanct, we put our opinions and thoughts and ways of doing things first – if others are not doing things the way that we think they ought to be done, then we make sure that we bring attention to, and correct their actions. We push our own bandwagons, we want our own way, we look for the people who will agree with us. To paraphrase the words of Francis Chan, we pick our favorite leaders [or denomination], head to the place where everyone worships together because of the way that the leader leads. We feel united because we have surrounded ourselves with people who agree with us about our leader, our direction, our theology, our liturgy. However, scripture tells us that we need to be focused on Jesus and His teaching.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

We agree about our strengths, and we agree about what is weak, inaccurate, incorrect, unconstitutional, not theological in others. As I see it, what is even more telling about some of the things that happen in ILC is that we don’t even care to discuss or debate where Lutheran theology fits within God’s church here on earth – we look over the fence and discuss, argue, and create friction about whether Bethany does it right – or St John’s or Grace… Whether the liturgy one congregation uses is the right one, who should pay for what and many, many other things that take up precious time and space. The question becomes, are we self-centred and self-righteous, divided, divisive and self-condemned? And, are we calling people out when they are divided and divisive?

Titus 3:9-11  9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

I don’t know about you – but that hurts – that really hurts – read that word again – self-condemned! And who just thought ‘Well that is not me’, or ‘Yep, I can see that, but thank God I don’t do that’?  Be careful, be very careful – for that is what the Pharisees did. If you just read this and thought ‘Oh wow that is me’, then repentance is key. And if you just read this and thought ‘Who is she to judge me?’ – you are partially right – I am not to judge. Indeed, the only judge who judges correctly is Jesus who instructed us in John 7:24 to “Stop judging by mere appearance, but instead judge correctly.” But, if you are being convicted by Holy Spirit, then repent.
So, are we a hopeless, self-condemned lot? I don’t think so. We are also a church that uses the tagline – ‘where love comes to life’ – a tagline that I can only assume comes from collective work that has been done in the past. Importantly, it links life with love, and ultimately with unity. Life through repentance and baptism with water—Love through obeying God’s great command and baptism with the Holy Spirit—Unity by walking out our love for Jesus and one another, being Spirit led in our lives every moment of every day of every month of every year.

Why is unity so important?

There is only one shepherd – the good shepherd, whose sheep hear his voice. John 10:16 says 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. One single unified flock – following one voice – the voice of one shepherd. One flock perfectly united in mind and thought. One flock not divided. One flock that reaches unity in faith – one whole joined together body, building itself up in love – no longer to-ing and fro-ing – solid – built on the foundation of our Lord and Saviour – our gaze lifted above what is happening in the back yards of others – our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Ephesians 4: 11-16 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
There is no doubt in my mind that when we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are called to works of service that build up the body of Christ – we are not to tear it down. We are to build each other up, not tear each other down. And, the only way to build up the body of Christ is through love.

Philippians 2:1-2 1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Why is this unity so important? The answer really is simple – so that others will believe, so that the world will know Jesus

John 17:20-23  20My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Love in Christian life

We are to love one another, and we do that by being led by Holy Spirit, by humbly serving one another. When we are Spirit led, we are not under the law. Most likely, we can all recite the Galatians passage that lists the fruit of the Spirit – but can you list the acts of the flesh – yes some of them you will be able to, but what about the flesh acts of discord, dissension, factions?
Galatians 5:13-25 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Ephesians 4:29-31 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Building each other up is essential. Building each other up is the opposite of tearing each other down. When we tear others apart, we grieve the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? I am not sure that I know, but according to John Calvin, we grieve the Holy Spirit “…when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling”. This suggests that we can avoid grieving the Holy Spirit when we live a life of humility, loving care, attention, and interaction with each other.

Ephesians 4:1-6 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Where to from here?

Having read Francis Chan’s book “Until Unity”, it is my opinion that aspiring to unity by being a place where love comes to life continues to be a most worthy vision for Ipswich Lutheran Church. I have looked at the results of the Parish pre-call survey. Much of those results indicate to me that we are a Parish that is divided, we are largely inward focused – but that may be a consequence of the types of question that were asked in the survey. I believe that we are more than that. I believe that we are called to be God’s church on earth – each and every one of us. We are called to be servants in His Kingdom. We are called to be salt and light. We are called to love God first and to love one another – fellow Christians and those who do not yet know Jesus. Yes, we are called to make disciples. I believe the call to make disciples will be much easier if we learn how to bring love to life in our daily walk with each other… we have life in Jesus, we are called to love one another. When we love each other, we are unified in that action. We build Christ’s body; we do His work. We are a place where love comes to life.

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