It is not easy for any group of people to be the church. The fact that we have over thirty-five thousand Christian denominations worldwide is evidence of how hard it is for the people of God to be the united body of Christ. I find much in Saint Paul’s letters that tell me he was often working just as hard or even harder to hold the church together as he was working to build the church. At his first church plant at Corinth there were status differences and indifference dividing the community, and there were factions following Apollos versus those claimed allegiance to Paul. There were troublemakers at Thessalonica, idle folk who were gossips without enough holy work to do. At Philippi, there was quarreling between leading members of the church with supporters lining up behind each side. Judgment and condemnation passed between factions in the body of Christ at Rome. Imagine the passive-aggressive behavior. Again and again, Paul preached to the church about the need for unity, the desirability of putting on the mind of Christ and practicing humble service, of seeing each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, of overcoming the world and the ways of the world. These internal challenges were likely influenced and compounded by the challenges coming from the outside. Saint James also knew about the struggle and especially took note of how what we say can be so damaging. He called the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I believe these divisions and our current divisions in the body grieve the Holy Spirit. I believe they also diminish our clam to be followers of Christ, our baptismal vows, and our witness to the world.
Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.” And he famously added, “love your enemy.” As Saint James notes, with the same tongue that we bless God, we curse others. This must not be by the words of our mouths, by the pen, or the keyboard. As followers of Christ, our nly option is to love even those with whom we strongly disagree. This is not about your feelings, not a command to hold particular warm and fuzzy emotions, but is about how you treat others. No one is authorized to judge or condemn another. No one is authorized to speak harshly to another, to call someone a fool or stupid. No one who claims to be a Christian is allowed to gossip, lie or spread lies, engage in hateful speech or spread that speech. Union in the body requires this and our witness to the world requires this. This is not to say that we must agree on everything. Unity is not the same as conformity of thought. Of all denominations, it is us non-doctrinal Episcopalians who should appreciate that the most. We are a conciliar and a “big tent” people. We gather and we talk and we listen, and we seek common ground. There is no allowance for an attitude of “my way or I take my ball and go home.” We make room for varying opinions and, if no where else, we find our communion in our confession that we have again grieved the Holy Spirit and in our healing by Christ at the altar rail.
In our current political climate, it is especially important that we are mindful of our baptismal covenant. We promise before God that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, no exception both within the church and as well as outside the church. So, when we degrade another, we degrade Christ. When we serve another, we serve Christ. We promise to strive for both justice and peace among all people. We cannot seek one without the other nor can we seek one at the expense of the other. We are not likely to be all of one mind on how to best accomplish these ends, but as we promise to respect the dignity of every human being let us be ever mindful of practicing that respect for individual dignity within the church as well as outside the church.
A friend often reminds me of my own words, “it is not easy being church.” It never has, but maybe some mindfulness of the times and how they affect us, some willingness to put on once again the mind of Christ and to love and serve others in humility, and some individual and corporate repentance (Greek metanoia - to think again and to have a change of mind) would serve this faith community well. Saint Paul thought so.
Grace and peace,