“How pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in Unity” says the Psalmist.
It really, really matters.
Unity is the key for so much blessing.
To be united is Christ’s heart for his Church.
When we read in John’s Gospel it was what Jesus prayed for in the garden of Gethsemane. -Probably spurred on his prayers by the umpteen squabbles amongst the 12 disciples he’d seen? As Jesus thought about the birth of the Church, rolled out across the world and through out time and history, I wonder if he asked himself “how will they get on together as a global movement when they can’t even get on as a cell group?”
The problem with unity is it needs to be rooted in the contest of real community and relationship, which sounds good in theory, but the truth is people sometimes just can’t get along.
Community is great in theory, and sounds wonderful, but in reality is often hard and tough, it reveals our flaws and cracks, and we spot the flaws and cracks in each other too.
We are misunderstood and we misunderstand, and unity is fractured.
Our brokenness collides with another’s brokenness, and unity is fractured.
Our sin slips out, our someone else’ raises its head, and unity is fractured.
Community is a challenging and difficult thing to live within, perhaps that is why well mannered politeness and superficiality sometimes creep into our Churches, true there is little depth, but at least it isn’t doing any harm?
The problem is I believe that it is in the context of community that God often fashions and shapes us, moulds us and makes us, challenges and changes us, grows and deepens us.
Community is the crucible that refines the Gold.
The refining process is painful, but the end results are beautiful, wonderful and glorious.
Superficially and pseudo community robs us of the opportunity of encountering God in one another and to be refined by him.
We can’t have a deep relationship with God and just a superficial one with his bride the Church.
Real community can challenge and be really uncomfortable, especially (like a new car) the gloss comes of, its no longer squeaky and new, the kids grind mud into the carpet and everything feels a bit shabby and lived in.
It is easy to just ‘jump ship’ and find a newer, shinier community, but it won’t be too long before the gloss fades there too and it is no longer squeaky and new. Some people do their whole Christian lives trying to find the perfect Church. There is however a saying, if you find a perfect Church, don’t join it because it wouldn’t be perfect any more. We bring our pain, hurts and baggage and discover that other people have the same too.
In many ways the image of Church and the image of marriage feels appropriate, marriage is a wonderful symbol of unity, a good marriage will bring out the best in each other, can forge an amazing team and a powerful family unit. Yet a good marriage takes work. Sometimes we feel like walking away, sometimes their stuff and our stuff clash and smash, yet it is in working this through that the marriage is actually made stronger, better and more beautiful.
Yet it requires effort, it is costly, it is difficult and there are no easy short cuts… So, why do we think the Church of Jesus Christ should be any different?
Although we do have the promise of the Holy Spirit that he will build his Church, we also know our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour…
The battle that destroys Churches is often internal rather than external.
It requires all of us to submit and surrender to the Spirit of God at work in us, to allow him to shaped and mould us, often he needs to reveal a wound in order for us to see it to let him minister to it.
Bristol Diocese had a vision when I first arrived here, about Church being “communities of wholeness with Christ at the centre”, yet to become a community of wholeness we need to first deal with our junk.
Sports people talk of pushing through the pain barrier before going on to reach their goal, yet too often in Christian community we wont push through past the pain barrier (and I realise that for all of this it does require the other person to respond too) but lets go on to glory, with relationships refined in the fire, and become more precious than Gold.
I’ll close with a couple of quotes I saw this week on facebook….
“How can you receive God’s blessing for today when your hands are still full of yesterdays junk?”
“Why do we write our blessing in sand and our hurts in marble” Spurgeon.
Let’s deal with the junk.
Let’s come to the healer for our hearts.
Lets work out how we can become that community of wholeness.
Let’s take the brave step to push through the pain barrier and dealing with what needs to be dealt with in us and ourselves.
Let’s take the planks out of our own eyes, before highlighting the specks in others.
Let’s not rob ourselves or one another with pseudo community and superficial politeness when real Christian Community is on offer, and is beautiful, but it is costly, but it is worth working for.