Unity in the Body of Christ

Ephesians 4:1-16

“Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

This morning’s New Testament scripture from Ephesians calls us to be God’s unified people in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  It profoundly speaks to us here at Kenilworth Union Church as we are living in this important time in the history of this congregation.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  (Ephesians 4: 1-2)

Paul reminds us that the message of Jesus Christ calls us to adopt the following outlook toward life.

“Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 3)

That is our charge and calling today as it has been in the past.

In Wayne Dyer’s book entitled, Excuses Be Gone!  He recounts a story about a fictional character by the name of Birdsnest:

Long ago in China there lived a monk who perched in a certain tree everyday to meditate.  No matter if the tree swayed in the wind and rain, the monk settled comfortably high in the branches.  Because of this, the local villagers nicknamed him “Birdsnest.”

Many of the villagers passed beneath the tree while hunting or gathering wood in the forest, and after a time they grew used to him.  Some began to stop and talk of their concerns with Birdsnest.  They liked the things he had to say, and soon Birdsnest became known for his kind and thoughtful words.

After some years, the monk’s wise reputation spread throughout the province.  Visitors from distant cities hiked to the remote forest for advice.  Even the governor of the province decided that he too would like to visit Birdsnest to discuss matters of importance.   So one spring morning, the governor set off to find him.  After traveling for several days, he at last located Birdsnest’s tree in the dense forest.  The monk sat calmly high in the topmost branches, enjoying the warmth and the birdsong of spring.

Looking up, the governor shouted, “Birdsnest!  I am governor of the province and I have come a great distance to speak with you!  I have a most important question!” The governor waited for a reply but heard only the pleasant sound of leaves stirring in the breeze.  The governor continued: “This is my question: tell me, Birdsnest, what is it that all the wisest ones have taught?  Can you tell me the most important thing the Buddha ever said?”

There was a long pause – just the soft nestle of leaves again.  Finally, the monk called down from the tree:  “Here is your answer, Governor:

Don’t do bad things.  Always do good things.  That’s what all the Buddhas taught.”

But the governor thought this answer was far too simple to have walked two days for!  Irritated and annoyed, he stammered, “don’t do bad things; always do good things!  I knew that when I was three years old.”

Looking down at the governor, Birdsnest replied with a wry smile.  “Yes, the three year olds know it, but the eighty-year olds still find it very difficult to do!”

As we seek to be in union with each other and live out the Gospel message of Jesus Christ to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, with all our soul and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves; we need to:  “Do good things, and don’t do bad things.”

Bad thoughts prompt you to engage in self-limiting behaviors; good thoughts, on the other hand, support your desire and capacity to do good things, to live at the high levels of joy, peace, and love.

As we contemplate our mission and vision for the future here at KUC, we are reminded in our scripture lesson today that:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.   (Ephesians 4: 4-6)

Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote that self-actualizing people never use their minds to think about what they don’t wish to attract.

They don’t worry about an illness getting worse, a downturn in the economy, a negative outcome to a daily problem, or thinking that their children will get in trouble, and so on.  Their minds focus on the conditions they wish to produce – then the lucky break, the right people or circumstances or synchronistic opportunity somehow present themselves as a result of their positive attitude.

We all become what we think about, so it’s pretty important to pay attention to those thoughts.

When I was 36 years old, I decided to change careers.  I had been a Presbyterian pastor for ten years, and increasingly unhappy.  I finally decided that I had to leave the ordained ministry in order to learn more about myself: “to be all that I could be.”  I had made a lot of excuses for a long time not to do that.  But I finally decided, “No more excuses.”

I was going to find a new job, a new career.  I had no idea what that might be, but I finally decided that I could do it.  And guess what?  The right people, the right circumstances appeared.

That has happened to me in my lifetime at least five major times.  These were times when I was feeling down, and defeated, struggling with a personal crisis, with career unhappiness, job loss, and other similar predicaments.  I reached out to friends and people who were referred to me.  I was determined.  I focused on all the possibilities.  Yes, there were times when I was discouraged along the way, but I never ever gave up.

In all those and the many other circumstances, I kept the faith.  And throughout my life I have been shown the way. It all happened because I was positive, I was determined, and I believed that with God’s help I would be shown the way.

As you continue to contemplate your vision for the future of this church, are you envisioning a new and glorious future?  Not replicating the past but something new, maybe something unheard of, something way “On Beyond Zebra.” Are you open to letting that happen and for it to develop in its own way and in its own timeframe?  Are you positive? Do you believe that with God’s help KUC will be shown the way?

We are all worthy of attracting unlimited abundance and newness of life, regardless of our past history and all our previous experiences.

In Proverbs 29 verse 18 we read:  “Where there is no vision the people perish.”  Where there is faulty vision based on excuses we will perish.

Throughout this time we need to keep before us our vision of who we are, as contained in KUC’s central tenets, that state in part:

• That God is active in the world and in each one of our lives.

• That by God’s grace, we are loved, forgiven and strengthened to respond to God’s call to live by the great commandment, that says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

• That in the person of Jesus Christ we know what God is like and who we are to be like.

• That the Holy Spirit is present among us encouraging us to work for peace, justice and reconciliation in our broken world.

• And that in response to the gift of God’s loving kindness, we have a responsibility to live out what we say we believe… in our homes, in our workplaces, in how we treat others, in sharing what we have…

If these tenets become your vision, your calling, and you are willing and absolutely determined to accomplish that vision, it will be accomplished.

Abraham Maslow also observed about self-actualizing people:

“They must be what they can be.”

So what can you be?  What can KUC be?

Daniel Smith and Mary Sellon, authors of Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations, make this important observation:

“Your congregation is what it is today not because of what a bad pastor did to it, or because the community has changed or because our culture has so drastically changed. Although those occurrences and many others have had an impact; your congregation is what it is today because of how it responded, or failed to respond, to the realities it faced.

What your congregation will be in the future is up to you and the other members and how you work together to create something new from the realities you face. What you do or don’t do now will make the difference. Your actions will either reinforce the patterns that have become established in your congregation or start to counter and shift them.

The leadership provided by your pastor can help or hinder, but it cannot make your congregation succeed or keep it from ultimately achieving the goals you set for yourselves.”

In order to be all that you can be you need to be willing to say “yes” to the signals from within you, the God within you who wants you to be all you can be as an individual and all that you can be as God’s church.

In our Unity in the Spirit, we are called to be God’s active and compassionate people:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4: 1-3)

As we worship together this day and in the days ahead, may we do so with a vision of becoming all that we can be, confident that God will show us the way.  We have to do our part, which means that we:

• Won’t do bad things, we will do good things.

• We will use this interim time to think about the positive things we wish to attract; and we will focus our minds and attention on those things!

• And it means that we will “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19: 26)

Again listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

“Speak the truth in love,” and as you do that you “will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  (Ephesians 4: 15-16)

Amen!