A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on April 15, 2012.
During the retreat yesterday, one of our members spoke privately to me and then later publicly to the entire group about how stunned he was at how many differing “world views” there are in our church about all manner of things. I could not help but chuckle and say, “Welcome to my world!”
As we moved though Discernment Day Chris Gambill led us through a process that prevented anyone from clinging to his or her normal group of friends. Over and over we were thrown together with new groups of people, and in some cases people were getting to know one another, and hear one another for the very first time, even though they might have been members of our church together for years.
Now some might consider it laughable to describe a church made up of predominantly white, middle-class people as “incredibly diverse”. But just because we look alike and sound a like doesn’t mean we think alike. Far from it! And trying to mobilize free-thinking Baptists to move together in a single, unified direction often feels like herding cats. Frankly, some days it feels impossible!
And it would be impossible, were it not for the Spirit of the Risen Christ!
It’s interesting to me that the lectionary assigns scriptures related to unity on this second Sunday of Easter. We may think in our vanity that our struggle with unity is somehow unique. But the fact is, since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden people have struggled mightily to live together in unity. Abraham and Lot were relatives in good standing who finally went their separate ways because they couldn’t figure out how to graze their herds of cattle on the same land. And that family feud was tame compared to others in scripture—like Cain who killed his brother Abel; Joseph’s brothers, who thought about killing him before selling him into slavery; and Jacob who swindled his brother Esau out of his blessing and birthright.
No wonder the author of Psalm 133, traditionally thought to be David (who had family problems of his own), expressed delight over those rare occasions when unity broke out among kinfolks. How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
But David doesn’t stop there. He appeals to two images of unity that have ironically confused and divided interpreters over the years. He compares unity to oil that runs down the beard and collar of Aaron, and to the dew that falls upon the mountains of Zion.
We don’t have time to review the many diverse interpretations of these images. So let me cut to the chase. Oil is an agent of anointing, in this case, anointing Moses’ brother Aaron as the chief priest of Israel. Only Aaron was anointed in this case…few other Israelites would ever experience this anointing.
But this exclusivity changes in the New Testament church, where all followers of Jesus are considered part of the priesthood of the believers. And that means all followers of Jesus are subject to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. In other words, every single church member in theory can and will be filled with the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Likewise, the falling dew from heaven can represent the Spirit of the Living God that falls fresh on me and you and all God’s children. Moreover, the falling dew reminds us that The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). The dew is fresh every morning, just like God’s love, just like God’s mercy. That means we in God’s grace we can have a fresh start with God and one another any time we put our minds to it. As individuals and as a church, we can have a do-over. We can always begin again.
If you don’t think those first-century Jews and Gentiles who started the early church were just as diverse as we are – if not more - think again. Their natural inclination was to fight to the death about all manner of things. But that’s not what happened, for one simple reason—they met the Risen Christ face to face, and that Risen Christ unified them in a miraculous way. Yes, of course in their humanity they still had their occasional disagreements. But through it all their unity was very good, and surprisingly pleasant. And with that spirit of unity among them, they accomplished the impossible.
Every time we gather around the table of Jesus, we not only show forth the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ until he comes again. We declare that we typically self-absorbed people obsessed with our own preferences are willing to lay aside what divides us for the good of this church, and for, the good of God’s kingdom. And to the extent that we actually live out this unity through the power of the Holy Spirit, our life at FBC will be very good and pleasant.