Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Wouldn't That Be Wonderful"

1 Corinthians 1: 10-17

Psalm 133

      Early in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he makes an appeal to that congregation “…that

all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in

the same mind and the same purpose.”  Wouldn’t that be wonderful, that all Christians would

come together and land on the same page; maybe the page that says in Jesus’ own words:  “I

give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also

should love one another.”  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

      In past years, our own Muskingum Valley Presbytery [that’s our geographical consortium of

around eighty Presbyterian congregations] has been trying to define its mission.  Such an endeavor makes it clear

that there are deep divisions among faithful Presbyterians over many issues.  Some of the most contentious in this

day are Biblical interpretation, abortion, and human sexuality.  At many presbytery meetings I’ve attended over the years,

we’d sit down in small groups to share ideas for a common mission.  Yet too often, we’d end up debating who’s right

and who’s wrong regarding those issues of Biblical interpretation, abortion, and human sexuality. 

It got to a point – and it gives me no joy to admit this – that I would search out certain people,

then try to avoid sitting with them in small group discussion as I knew what it would lead to.  That

isn’t unity, nor is it a healthy attitude on my part.

      I think most Christians are aware that the body of Christ, the church, is divided into many

factions.  And some parts of the body don’t appear the least bit interested in working in harmony

with the rest of the body.  In bringing up this topic, I must be very careful not to succumb to my

own feelings, and fall into the trap Paul warns the Corinthian Christians about when he speaks of

divided allegiances and misplaced loyalties.  He asks: “…each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I

belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas [that’s Peter],’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’   Has Christ been

divided?”  The sad answer was Yes.  I also have to be careful not to become holier-than-thou in

speaking about groups with whom I might disagree.  At the outset, I’ll admit that this is a message
which may raise more questions than it can answer.

      The particular words from this morning’s text I’d like to focus on come from verse 10:  “that

all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions [some translations render it “no

dissensions”] among you.”  I think we already see the dilemma.  Church notwithstanding, where

in today’s world do we find groups of individuals in agreement, with no divisions or dissensions

among them?  Who can deny that we’ve created an American ethos marked by distrust, cynicism,

self-protection and self-preservation.  We have more divisions along racial, cultural, political and

religious lines today than possibly any other time in history.   Where and how do we find agreement among

folks who often don’t even speak to one another except in terms of stereotypes, slander, and coarse language? 

One need only spend a short time on social media to witness the incivility into which discourse has descended. 

Let’s break this down.  We are not a kind society.  And despite the theory of the great “melting pot,” it’s become

clear in recent years that we are not a society which is melding graciously.  There have been at times –

usually times of national crisis – glimmers of hope that we could become the America our forefathers envisioned,

and for which so many of our veterans have fought and died.  Yet we always seem to find issues, policies and

personalities to separate over.  By all indicators, the quest for national unity is moving backwards.  Life in the society

of the church of Jesus Christ is – again sad to say – not much different.

      Take the issue of ordination of gays and lesbians in the church as one example.  I’m so sick and

tired of seeing reports, articles and op eds on Christian online sites and in Christian publications

about  whether gay or lesbian people are “eligible” to be ordained as ministers and officers in the

church, regardless the position the writer has taken.  Those who agree with the article too often

just want to find another person who is on “their side.” Those who disagree too often just want

to identify another enemy; someone else to condemn.  The bottom line is there’s no dialogue; no

give and take; no sharing of views or looking for common ground, as the strident voices on both
sides of the issue have drawn the battle lines from which many cannot and will not retreat. 

      The hard part for me is not in staking my own position.  I know where I stand based on my

conviction that each and every one of us are beloved children of God, and all of us are called to

serve God – gay or straight.  One’s sexual identity should not determine their fitness, or prohibit

their response,  to serve any position God calls them to in the life of the church.  My struggle is

appreciating that there are sensitive people of faith who have – through prayer, Bible study, and

serious contemplation – arrived at very different places on the issue of human sexuality, and

other issues as well.  Why must there be victory for one side or another?  Why can’t we live out

win-win?  What I want to know is how we can live together in the kind of unity of which Paul

speaks; as Christian people, maintaining the integrity of our own position, while at the same time

respecting, and even valuing, the position of others.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!  That Chris-

tians would truly respect and value one another’s differences; would respect and value the very

right to differ, and still be in common unity as Christians; that is to say, Christians in community.

      How about absolute truth, some might claim?  Too many folks in the church place themselves

on high pedestals, accusing others of moral bankruptcy, shouting down the opposition.  This

accomplishes nothing good because it fails to recognize that those who disagree are operating

out of their personal integrity as well.  That’s not caving in to opposition as some would claim. 

It’s recognizing that there may be more than one side of an issue that has validity, be it regarding

Biblical interpretation, abortion and human sexuality.  It is recognizing that other people may

come to an issue through faith and hold opinions different than ours.  This is very difficult for

those who are only able to see the world, and everyone in it, in terms of black and white, with

nothing in between. 

      With regard to any issue over which people disagree, the issue becomes larger than people,

and we tend to run roughshod over others because each side tends to operate within its own

vacuum.  The lines are drawn, and there are few – in church or in society at large – who actually

attempt to engage in serious dialogue, or wish to understand the viewpoint of the other.  It’s

easier to antagonistically denounce others than to sit down with them, acknowledge we have

differences, then try to find common ground. 

      Perhaps those contentious issues that church and society are struggling with – in the minds of

many – leave little room for seeking common ground.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t preclude the

sort of oneness and unity Paul was urging Christians to at Corinth.  Just as we are people with

differences, they were people with differences.  The issues have changed, but the principle re-

mains the same.  Paul said to them, and says to us“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,

by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions

among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”  A tall order, but wouldn’t that be wonderful;

that Christians would stand as a light to the world, rising above our differences, demonstrating open, honest and civil dialogue,

embracing what we have in common rather the dividing over those differences?  What I hear at the heart of Paul’s teaching is

that our unity in the Lord Jesus Christ – and by extension, our unity as citizens of these United States – ought to transcend our differences. 

It’s doesn’t take away our right to differ, nor does it make us unthinking machines who blindly follow.  Paul is saying that it’s time

we take seriously our call to family, and come to realize that those we label opposition are our sisters and brothers;in Christ, and in this great nation of ours.

      So……wouldn’t that be wonderful; that Christians would, that Americans would, maybe for

the first time, put down the swords and spears; would put away the poisoned pens, the mean-

spirited posts, the destructive diatribes, and gather under the flag of liberty, and at the foot of

the cross of the One whose greatest desire is to bring healing, wholeness, and unity to His living

body on earth. 

 

Yes, Lord.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful?  Send forth Your Holy Spirit, throughout Your church,

throughout our nation, that we would come to oneness, even in the midst of our differences

and diversity.  You can make that happen.  Please do, in the name of Jesus, and for the sake of

His Kingdom.  Amen.

 

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102