This blog post links to a sermon preached on Sunday 14th October 2018 – Listen below
Have you noticed how our society craves unity? Jeremy Corbyn turns up at Glastonbury and promises to unite the country. Football clubs bear the name ‘United’. Universities by their very name promise unity in diversity. People search for it in sex, music festivals, sporting events or religion. Why? Because we are made in the image of a triune God who is the essence of unity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And yet rather than unity, we often experience division. In our own bodies and minds. In our relationships, both with people and the God who made us. In fact, you can argue that the dominant theme in the Bible is the search for unity. Of a God who responds to disunity by sending Jesus…’and through him to reconcile to himself (re-unite) ALL THINGS – making peace by his blood on the cross’ (Colossians 3:19). In the new heavens and new earth, we will be perfectly united with God.
In the meantime, God has a chosen model of showing unity to a unity-hungry world. A model the world should look at and find irresistible. What is that model? The local church! And it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that such a disparate, sinful group of people could ever show unity. Because our unity isn’t around preference – we’re not called to uniformity. We are not called to be a black church, a white church, a working-class church, a ‘modern songs only’ church. The earliest example of this came after the Holy Spirit came on the believers at Pentecost. Straight away we see the church coming together, sharing their things, eating together, breaking bread together and so on (Acts 2:42-47). The result? ‘The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.
Have you given up hope that this kind of life might happen to you? Well please don’t – because by the power of the Spirit we can know this unity, this love, this generosity! In fact, it’s in our vision statement – ‘to be a growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus’.
Ephesians 4:1-13 gives us some pointers as to how this unity comes about. We are united as a family, and the fruits of the Spirit contribute to our being a loving family (e.g. in verse 2 – humility, patience and bearing with each other). We do this through the ’bond of peace’; being at peace with each other is like the mortar between bricks – it holds us together in love.
Secondly, we are united in our calling to become more like Jesus ‘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’ (v13-14). In fact, the gifts of the Spirit are given for this purpose – that we might present each other perfect in Christ.
Finally, we are united in our calling to be on mission – our unity shows God to the world. We’re saying – heaven will look a bit like this! When we are united…’then the world will know that you sent me (Jesus) and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:23).
So, in summary, the Holy Spirit unites us in our calling as the family of God on mission. But we only get the power to live like this when we look at Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Jesus and it’s as we look to him that we are given power to love one another and show him to the world. He didn’t come to die for us as individuals. He came to die for his church. We can only have unity of the Spirit because of Jesus – he was broken so we might be whole; torn in two so that we might be united as one. That’s why we celebrate communion, eating broken bread. That’s why we drink wine which represents his blood – his lifeblood in us gives us power to live in a way which doesn’t always come naturally!
So, are you in? Are you present in your local church? Do you go out of your way to be with others who aren’t like you, even when it isn’t comfortable? Are you living at peace with others? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus more and more, that we might together receive power to live as a united family sharing Christ with a broken world.
Written by John Greenall