I recently had the privilege of gathering with clergy across our conference at Glen Lake Camp and Retreat Center in Glen Rose. The purpose for the gathering was to reconnect, enjoy time together and to meet with Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., our new bishop. We had various activities to choose from – porch sitting, cornhole, golf, basketball, or just visiting over coffee and pie. We ate lunch together and we worshiped together. It was really a wonderful time for all of us, in both large groups and small.
Bishop Saenz preached during our worship time. His scripture focus was Ephesians 4:1-6. My copy of the New Revised Standard Version notes that this section is subtitled, “Unity in the Body of Christ.” It was both a timely message and a jarring one.
He pointed out that unity is the work of the Holy Spirit. Let me confess, I always imagined you and I needed to do that work. We had to decide to come together, to set aside the things that divide us and choose to join together for the sake of greater call on our lives (making disciples, building God’s kingdom). I still think there is truth to that but I admit I haven’t fully considered the role of the Spirit at work in and through us, nudging us towards such a life. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, here, but bear with me as I wrestle with this…
If unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, does that mean a lack of unity is our unwillingness to allow the Spirit to work in us? If unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, does that mean a lack of unity signals that we are somehow working against the Holy Spirit? If unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, does that mean the Holy Spirit is on vacation right now?
I mean, looking at the world we inhabit, it would be a stretch to imagine that there is unity anywhere, right?
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul identifies four characteristics he sees as essential for us to embody as we make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3): humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. These are beautiful traits we tend to value in other people. For ourselves? Well, maybe we’d like to be more like this but it is so easy to build our armor up as we take on the world striving to be all we can be.
Paul is advocating for a life in which unity of the Spirit connects each of us as one – unified in “one body, one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6) In other words, we shed all that is self-serving, self-protecting, and self-promoting, so that we embody this humble, gentle, patient, loving posture with one another. As Jesus did.
Paul says “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph 4:15-16)
Well, hmm. I have some growing up to do.