No Divisions Among Us! What?
I have been thinking a great deal about the Church, the People of God and our Country. There are overlaps between these three groups but they are not necessarily the same. In preparing to preach on the Third Sunday of the Epiphany I spent some time wandering around in 1 Corinthians 1 and in Matthew 4. I want to use these two scriptures from the Christian Bible as a foundation for my reflections on “life as we know it,” in the church and in our nation.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose”(1 Cor. 1:10). St. Paul is kidding, right? After spending more time with this passage I concluded that what he is talking about is not the details of our faith, or even the details of the political reality of his time or ours. What Paul is talking about is that we be united in “the same mind and purpose.”
That purpose is not to think the same theologically or politically, to be baptized in the same way with the same amount of water, or to agree as to whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only or from the Father and the Son. No, that purpose is to be united in bringing the good news of Jesus and of God’s Kingdom to the world.
But, what does this mean? Does it mean that all of God’s children have to “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Does it mean that we have to understand the Bible, or even Jesus in the same way as every other Christian? Perhaps, looking at Matthew 4:12-23 will shed some light on these questions. It may even broaden the possibilities of just who might be included in the Kingdom of God.
“12 Now when Jesus* heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’*”
Apparently Jesus began to move around in areas that were not all Jewish, that included “the Gentiles.” Perhaps this is Matthew’s way of saying the same thing John wrote in Chapter 3 of that Gospel: 17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus appears to be proclaiming a message of the Kingdom of God to Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus goes on to proclaim that “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” We all sit in darkness on occasion. This may be the darkness of lack of opportunity, or inability to see the Kingdom of God in the world or in our lives, the darkness of depression, confusion, frustration or anger. The light brought to the world by God’s Kingdom shines on all of these as well as on the darkness of sin. We in the church sometimes forget this.
Jesus goes on to call the four fishermen: Peter and Andrew, James and John to help him proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, the good news of health and healing and justice and light in the darkness to all the people they meet. The Collect for the Third Sunday of Epiphany in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer echoes this call and extends it to us in our day. “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world my perceive His glory in His Marvelous works”(BCP, p. 215).
It is my sense that this Gospel from Matthew at least opens up the possibility of the Universality of God’s Kingdom. That the light is intended for all people and that perhaps this understanding can get us past the “unhappy divisions St. Paul talks about. What really matters to most of us is the way we treat people.
“Sadly, within Christendom, many are taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. This is what separates churches, denominations, theologians and those who are saved or unsaved. Historically Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into various beliefs that are either, inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong, with no room for doubt or questions or uncertainty. What matters to me is: when I am sick you bring me a meal, I don’t care whether you are Calvinist or Arian; when you help my grandmother carry heavy load of groceries, I don’t care what you believe about evolution. (Feel free to add your own issues here.) What matters to me is that you love me and others in deep and meaningful and authentic ways. Nothing else really matters” (from a Facebook Post)
I suspect this just might be the reason God sent Jesus into the World.