First Presbyterian Church

of Hemet
Developing Unity 
John 6:25-34; Ephesians 4:1-16 
 
For a country that has “e pluribis unum”, “out of the many, one” as its motto, we live in divided times. The Democrats oppose everything in Congress that the Republicans propose, and the President calls the press “the enemy of the people.”
 
What’s more, we inhabit different worlds, perhaps universes. I heard an interesting hour-long piece on the radio driving to Hemet one day this last week. A more conservative commentator bemoaned what she called the silos we all live in. If you’re more conservative, you get your news from Fox. If you’re more liberal, some say progressive, you watch MSNBC. CNN is often critical of the President, so it’s dismissed as fake news by the President and his base. Recently, the publisher of the New York Times, a previously impeccable news source according to most, spoke to the President that calling the press the “enemy of the people” gives license in some countries to commit acts of violence toward journalists. The President said “you’ve given me something to think about.”
 
These side discussions are about our attempt to get a common vision in a land full of immigrants, people of very different opinions and ways of life.
  
The early church had similar diversity. I have been helped by a Roman Catholic scholar named Raymond Brown who pointed out that there were four different denominations in the first century of the Christian church. From right to left, there were the conservative Jewish Christians who believed that you could keep kosher if you wanted to but what really mattered was faith in Christ. Then there were the progressive Jewish Christians who thought kosher was not necessary and faith in Christ was all that mattered. Then there were the progressive Christian Jews that thought kosher and circumcision for males was necessary but Christ was an important part of trusting God. And then there were the conservative Christian Jews who that kosher and circumcision for males was necessary, the Mosaic Law was important in all its teachings, and Christ was the new manifestation of God on the planet. All of them were what we would call Christians but they had very different notions of how to find and live with God.
 
It occurs to me that we’re in this same predicament today, on this very street. On one end of Kimball Avenue is the Foursquare Gospel Church. It was founded by Aimee Simple McPherson who was a spell binding evangelist and faith healer who energized the city of Los Angeles in the 1920’s. If you’d go to the Foursquare Church today you’d find a service with the speaking in tongues and faith healing alongside tradition Christian beliefs about salvation in Jesus Christ. On the other end of Kimball is another Pentecostal Church. It’s an Assemblies of God. It came out of the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 in downtown Los Angeles led by an African American preacher named William Seymour and continued to 1915. It led to the birth of Pentecostalism of which the Assemblies of God is the largest denomination. They also regularly speak in tongues in public worship and in private prayer, and have traditional beliefs about salvation in Jesus Christ. And then about half way between the two churches is the Presbyterian Church. It came out of what might be called the revival, we usually say Reformation of Roman Catholic Christianity 500 years ago and was an effort to get back to the basics as articulated in the Old and New Testaments. Its notion is to look for positive warrant for all its practices, including the way it makes decisions, in the pages of the Old and New Testament.
  
All three churches are Christian. But if you’d go to any or all of the three you would have a very different experience of this thing we call Christian faith and belief.
 
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians came out of a world where there already were differences in emphases in the Christian faith. Remember, there were four different kinds of house churches along the cities and towns along the Meander River of which Ephesus was by far the biggest. And the writer gave in the sixteen verses that are our reading from the Letters two commands among many words of explanation. “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.” And “make every effort to keep the unity of spirit through the bond of peace.” The rest of the verses is what I’m calling exalted commentary—one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and he gave everyone gifts, so that we can be unified and mature.
  
I’m reminded of a favorite line of one of your Bible class leaders in this church: “in non-essentials, liberty, in essentials unity, but in all things love.” That pretty much sums up the message of prisoner Paul. Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into the one who is the source, namely Christ. It’s a mystical orientation, a belief that it is possible, whether you’re a man or woman, young or old to model a spirit, an attitude that exemplifies the holy and risen One, namely Christ.
 
All of this is a lot harder than it looks. That’s why where the Gospel lesson comes in. John is fond of play on words, and making points out of events in Jesus’ life. Just before today’s reading Jesus turned five small barley loaves and two small fish into food for 5,000. So in typical John style John rifts on the kind of bread that most people are seeking. It’s the kind of bread you eat, of course—hunger is a primal need or pain. But John believes there’s more to life. The deepest need is to believe in the provision God has made for the world. He calls it the bread of life. The bread of life is the one who God sent. We call him Jesus of Nazareth, the one who came into the world.
  
Prisoner Paul doesn’t say it. But the source of unity is all of us munching on the bread of life. Henri Nouwen, a simple yet deep Christian who died much too soon in 1996 said it in his book The Road to Daybreak

The desire for unity is deep and strong among people. It is a desire between friends, between married people, between communities, and between countries. Wherever there is a true experience of unity, there is a sense of giftedness. While unity satisfies our deepest need, it cannot be explained away by what we say or do. There exists no formula for unity.
 
That’s why we have the United Nations, and, again, put on our coin, out of the one many, and gather together in political parties, and I would maintain, even denominations. We want to be unified.
 
How do we find unity in a world of such diversity?
 
As trite as it sounds, we need to remember that unity is not uniformity. In healthy families everyone is able to express their own opinion. And difference are not taken as a sign of weakness, or family squabble, but of healthy living into our own giftedness. What would it take for us to consider people of a different perspective from us as different gifted, instead of simply wrong?
  
Some of us are conservers. We love history and feel it’s a very good teacher. We treat family history this way, and respect the tradition of our elders. Others of are boundary pushers. We think just because something has been tried before is no reason to not try it in the future.

Take Medicare for example. There’s the outlandish idea to extend Medicare to every American. Currently 158 million Americans, that’s over half, do not get the bulk of their medical care paid for by the government but it’s paid for by their employers. That’s how my healthcare is paid for and provided. It’s called Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and my wife’s employer pays 25% of her salary into a fund that covers her and her dependents. The outlandish idea is to do what Great Britain and most other economically developed countries in the world do. It’s called a Single Payer healthplan. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina says it’s the road to socialism. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says it’s the best way to make healthcare available to all. 
I like what one commentator said. It’s like all of us were asked to add up everything we spend in a month on food—grocery store, restaurants, fruit stands. And then send that money to the federal government, who promises two things: to give you all the food you’ll need for the month, including vouchers for restaurants, and promises to cut your food bill by 5 or 10%. Would we do it? It would eliminate hunger. There would be no more need for the Community Pantry. But we might not get vouchers for the restaurants we want, or the kind of fruits and vegetables that we enjoy.
 
Fortunately, we have a United States Congress, and a President to decide on a single payer plan or some version of private and public healthcare. But in the church we only have Presbyterian Women Circles, the Adult Bible Study on Sunday and Tuesday morning, and parking lot conversations to decide what to do. And then we need to communicate our preferences to a Session and Board of Deacons to see any real change. That does nothing about getting the Foursquare Gospel and Assembly of God Churches together to do things in Jesus’ name.
  
So unity is not uniformity. The second thing we learn is unity is hard work. “Make every effort” Prisoner Paul says. He wouldn’t tell us to make every effort unless some in the congregations he knew were lax at this unity business. And this church, has work to do in this effort. 

How do we keep people who are not in our age cohort? We could pay them as we do the kids, but that’s hardly a way to grow a church. People will come into our doors, even serve on our Session and Deacons, but not experience the connection that makes them want to come back. Loneliness is a real problem for guests, leaders and members alike. Where can you share your heart struggles? Do you have to be married to be happy in this church? Henri Nouwen says there is no formula for unity but I have to think that when this church is a healthy place to chew on Christ—in small group, in service, in worship and praise—then people will want to come back be part of the one church.
 
My friend Norm is a retired police officer and now retired baggage handler for Sky West Airlines, Delta’s short haul carrier. He moonlighted as a courier on airlines, and one day had a brain aneurysm on an airplane. He had extensive rehab at Loma Linda Hospital. Norm is the only guy I know who found the Apostle’s Creed an aid to healing in his convalescence. He put a copy of it up in his room.
  
An older, more official creed is the Nicene Creed. It was written by a group of bishops 300 years after Jesus lived, died and rose again to try to unify an empire that had recently made Christianity its official religion. Presbyterians are encouraged to recite it every time we take the Lord’s Supper. Like the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Supper is difficult to understand. But like Jesus’s response to the people who were so impressed that he fed the 5,000 it’s best to just take and eat of him and drink of the wine that reminds us of his blood given out of love. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t answer all our questions. But it gets us headed in the right direction, a direction that includes unity for all. Amen.