unity in diversity

slocum union church and elkhart first united methodist church–sunday august 2, 2015. 11th sunday after pentecost.

ephesians 4:1-16 (common english bible)

therefore, as a prisoner for the lord, i encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from god. conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the spirit with peace that ties you together. you are one body and one spirit, just as god also called you in one hope. there is one lord, one faith, one baptism, and one god and father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

god has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by christ. that’s why scripture says, when he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.”

what does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? the one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. his purpose was to equip god’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of god’s son. god’s goal is for us to become mature adults–to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of christ. as a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into christ, who is the head. the whole body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.
reminders

give in.
to your uniqueness.
the very thing you’ve been fighting not to be your whole life.
it is the very thing that is your genius.
–nayyirah waheed

i don’t know most of you very well yet–my time has been short so far, but i am still looking forward to sharing kitchen tables with you, soon–so this assumption could be wildly off base. however, i am fairly confident that something all of we humans do sometimes is forget. we forget to buy milk and have to turn around and go back to the grocery store. we forget someones birthday, or our partner’s anniversary. and sometimes, we forget who we are.

some of the time it is not on purpose–it happens slowly, one little slip at a time, over months or years. then something wakes us up from our interior slumber and we think “wait, who am i? what am i doing? am i living my life according to what is important to me?” and, hopefully, we get back to the work of being true to the unique gifts god has given us.

and some of the time we forget who we are on purpose. we see that our passions and gifts that bring us the most joy are a little to a lot outside of what society considers “acceptable” or what the “norm” is. and so we fight it. we share our wild dream to become a marine biologist, or the first woman to walk on the moon or to be a full time artist and someone well-meaning says “you can’t do that.” or “we’ve never done it that way before.” or “why can’t you just do things like everyone else.” so you fight it. you push your dream or your talent away and fight to be just like everyone else. but i agree with nayyirah waheed’s poem i read–she says, “the very thing you’ve been fighting your whole life” she writes, “it is the very thing that is your genius.”

but we are so forgetful.

i wonder if you have friends and loved ones in your family who can help you remember. those people you sit around and tell stories with, with a common phrase “do you remember when…” which is often met with “OH YES. but do YOU remember…” we remind each other of the parts that have left our individual memory–by accessing this collective and shared memory.

and i wonder if these friends and loved ones are also able to turn to you and say “hey, you’re not really acting like yourself. are you okay?” and you can be honest with them and say “you know, i’m really struggling right now.” and what i hope is that these friends and loved ones are such that they can look at you and hold your gaze and remind you of who you are. that they can tell you “you have such a way with teaching children.” “your banana pudding is transcendent.” “i don’t know anyone who can fix a carburetor faster than you can.” “when you sing, i feel closer to god.” “you are beautiful.” “you always make me laugh.”

in this letter from paul we hear that god’s purpose is to equip god’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of christ “until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of god’s son.” and to attain that great overarching goal of all knowing the profound love of god and of god’s son jesus that we all have to be exactly who we are, and work together to get there.

but we are so forgetful.

the ancient moralists (philosophers) believed and taught that people should be reminded of what they already know, so that they will act accordingly. i know several of you are teachers, and so perhaps this [pedagogical/teaching] method of repetition is familiar to you in the classroom (be it school or sunday school), but i also want to consider this [pedagogical/teaching method] for our spiritual lives, too. sometimes we have to be reminded.

a while back i was lamenting that i didn’t feel like i was really excelling at anything–and that a few life events had led me to a place and time of feeling unsure of what my gifts were. i was sharing this honest struggle with a wise woman in my life who responded by finding a bell and ringing it when a gift of mine was seen or mentioned in that conversation. i needed to be reminded–and often it is our community that can help remind us of “the very thing that is your genius.”

interconnectedness

we each have been given unique gifts and talents, personalities and loves. and owning and honing these individual unique gifts is immensely important for our personal well-being of our body, our minds and our spirits. and we need to remind one another of those gifts that we see in each other–and to learn to ask for help naming our talents when we have forgotten. and this is important to do not only for our individual health and faithfulness, but also because of our interconnectedness.
paul writes in verse 15, that “…by speaking the truth in love, let’s grow in every way into christ, who is the head. the whole body grows from him, and it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. the body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”

our society teaches us and forms us into highly individual people–and where creating strong ties are optional. fewer and fewer people RSVP anymore, or do so in a timely manner. statistically, americans are eating alone more and more often. we do not have to go to an actual physical store to buy most things if you choose not to–you can literally buy everything AND the kitchen sink on amazon and have it delivered to your doorstep without having to interact with another human being. as an introvert this is both a stunningly amazing thing, and a terrifying possibility for isolation. our society is trending toward less and less in person human interaction–and this is causing our permanent ties to other human beings to atrophy.

the oneness of the body of christ is not something that happens because we merely desire it to. for a body to be knit together–either in a mother’s womb, or the church which is the body of christ–takes a lot of work. it is hard won.

in 1883 emma lazarus penned her most famous sonnet called “the new colossus” and in 1903 part of this sonnet was cast in bronze and affixed to the statue of liberty–that great symbol of welcome, hope and freedom that was the first sign to so many weary refugees and pilgrims that they had finally arrived on the shores of the united states. part of that sonnet reads: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

the oneness of the body is hard won. it is hard work to remember that we are all one–that at some point or another we have been literally or figuratively the homeless and tempest-tossed refugee fleeing a physically or emotionally violent home, a body and soul racked with guilt or shame, we have been literally or figuratively the one filled with doubt, who has been overwhelmed with grief and numbness.

and it is hard work to remember those times of being the tempest-tossed when all is well–when we are happy and healthy and living well we can tend to forget that there are others still battling their own storms of doubt, anger, sadness and who have forgotten who they are.

emma lazaraus has another phrase that has become quite famous. so famous in fact it is attributed to the reverend doctor martin luther king, junior– he is attributed with having said, “no one is free until we are all free.” this year marked the fiftieth year since bloody sunday, when those marching for civil rights set out from selma toward montgomery and were met with bully clubs, tear gas and violence. in many ways we have come a long way since that day in 1965. voting rights have broadened, segregation is no longer legal and the color of one’s skin cannot prohibit our siblings from jobs or housing. but then again, just in june nine black lives were taken, during a bible study in a church, by a young white man in charleston, south carolina who wanted to “ignite a race war.”

we are so forgetful of who we are.
we forget our own beauty.
we forget the beauty of others.
and we forget that we are all connected together–that we are all the tempest-tossed, we forget that we are to speak the truth in love to one another, that we are to grow in every way into christ, who is the head. we forget that the whole body grows from christ, and it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. the body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”

we are so forgetful.

paul wrote this letter to a people who had already begun the journey–this was a letter of encouragement and to remind the people of who they are and what they have already begun.

so let us let this ancient epistle remind us, too, of what we have already begun:

remind yourself of who you are.
and when you need help, ask your neighbor.
remind yourself of who you are.
and when you are remembering,
remind your neighbor of who they are.

give in.
to your uniqueness.
the very thing you’ve been fighting not to be your whole life.
it is the very thing that is your genius.

remember that we are all connected, through christ our head–
remember that we are all tossed by the tempest–
remember that we are not free until all are free.
and there are so many of our neighbors who are not free.
we have work to do.

amen.

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