Unity – Loving Through Word & Deed

I want to focus this morning on a five-letter word.

It is a powerful word that describes something important in: the Bible, the Church and the world.

It is the kind of force that impels football teams, even teams like the Adelaide Crows, to perform.

It is what functional families do when a member is in crisis.

It is what we experience at the Lord’s Table in Communion.

It is the experience of unity.

The Uniting Church was born with a vision of unity some 20 years ago, focusing on what churches had in common, rather than what divided them. Sadly there has not been much interest in the wider church community in that vision, but we do still call ourselves the Uniting Church.

Unity is our hope and our goal.

The slow progress of church unity is reflected in a little poem:

To dwell above with saints we love,

That will be grace and glory.

To live below with saints we know,

That’s another story!

Unity is a reflection of harmony, in belief and practice, and it is something, which is rapidly disappearing from our country.

Have you noticed how public life seems to be more polarized lately?

People seem to drift towards irreconcilable extremes so quickly. I am sure there has always been tensions in politics, race relations, industry and so on, but unity seems to be harder to find in our times.

And democracy, which is a finely balanced arrangement of rights and power, can lose strength when any one group or series of groups dominate or overpower others.

Our nation is rapidly dividing in those ways; employed and unemployed, white and black, native and immigrant Australian, young and old.

We are moving into a very dangerous time politically, for in times of stress and change, extremes tend to come to the fore.[1]

It is sad in our current land rights disputes to see extreme positions being taken when concessions are required from all involved.

It s sad to see the emergence of a new political party which would make life so much more uncertain for aboriginal people, for immigrants, which would repudiate all UN treaties, abolish foreign aid, ban foreigners or non-citizens from land ownership and keep out of the country people with skills we need[2].

Christians cannot support any movements that foster prejudice or racial hatred when they live under a Lord who says today: this is my commandment, love one another.

It needs to also be said that no issues to do with politics should be avoided, everything should be up for debate. We should be as open and searching in our discussions about politics and race issues as is the case in the area of sexuality. These days, everything is public, and no topic taboo. Any topic should be able to be discussed without prejudice towards anybody, however Christians can never support actions and attitudes that are contrary to love and its political form – justice.

Justice is the political expression of love, and our job as concerned Christian citizens is to see that governments and political groups pursue justice.

In our rapidly dividing country, the Church is able to offer something special – through unity. For through the Cross the greatest divisions of history were overcome.

The mutual hatred of Jew and Gentile became love within the church.

Slave and master became one in Christ that would ultimately undermine slavery itself.

Men and women transcended cultural and religious factors so that each had equal status before God through Christ.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Christ transcended the differences of race, gender and faith; creating one new race in Himself, defined by faith.

We can help our land then through Christian unity in four ways.

  1. We can show that disagreement is okay, but it is to be done in love.

John Wesley and George Whitefield were good friends in their earlier years; Wesley having begun his outdoor preaching ministry at Whitefield’s encouragement. As time went on the men disagreed, with Whitefield leaning more heavily towards Calvinism than his younger friend’s Arminianism. When Whitefield died, Wesley was asked if he expected to see Dr. Whitefield in heaven. In exaggerated but honest respect he answered, ‘No, he’ll be so near the throne of God that men like me will never get a glimpse of him.’

Though differing, they did not lose their sense of oneness in Christ.

Can we regard our opponents like that? See the best in them? See clearly what they have to say?

If we can model that in our disputes we can show a world full of left and right wing prejudices that there is a better way.

2. Model unity amongst ourselves.

In the Uniting Church we place a great deal of emphasis on diversity, but the time has come when we need to more so emphasise our unity. We have been divided long enough, and events, which will unfold in the media next week will threaten to divide us even more, for the revised report on sexuality has reappeared.

It has ignored the concerns of most of the 8000 responses it has received. It is prepared to divide the Church for the sake of a worldly agenda. Our own unity is being tested as a denomination, yet we have an opportunity to model that which we speak of.

If unity comes from love within the Church, we must maintain right relationships with those we disagree with, for we are commanded to love one another.

3. Unity is about working together.

It is about actions. Actions in love arising from this action, that arose from that action, on a cross.

Unity is about what we can do to bless each other. It is about working together, and from time to time pulling people out of the grates of life.

4. Unity comes from recognizing what others have to offer.

We have a lot of complementary gifts in our little church communities. You may have seen some at work today, but there are many more; from gifted flower arrangers, through to lovers of prayer, practical administrators, evangelists, leaders, those with the gift of helpfulness, those who love giving money for God’s work, those who teach, wait on others, serve and visit.

We are a gifted church. Recognising each others gifts adds to our unity, for we love one another as we appreciate one another.

Sometimes we are slow to recognize the gifts of one another, for example when I turn up to our monthly working bee, there is invariably a cry that goes up, ‘it must be morning tea time.’

Christ has united us. Differences of age, personality, income and gender have all been submerged through this unifying act. We are equal beneficiaries of His Cross, equally accepted, equally empowered to live lives of justice and mercy.

Unity proclaims a living Lord. Let us add to that unity and not detract from it. Let us love one another in word and deed, encouraging each other in loving the Lord and changing our world. Let us keep away from the politics of prejudice and advance the politics of justice. Let us translate our unity into a unity that can heal our country.

By George Robert Iles

[1] Perhaps a prophetic statement? (ed.)

[2] One Nation