One of the joys of being a United Methodist pastor is leading my congregation towards a deeper appreciation and understanding of the sacraments of communion and baptism. I firmly believe that each time we celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism that it gives us a time to reflect on what they mean for us and how they call us to live today.
Our liturgy helps us in this. Each time we gather to celebrate communion, for instance, we do so through a prayer we call “The Great Thanksgiving.” It is a beautiful prayer that reminds us of God’s faithfulness, Christ’s passion, and the power of the Holy Spirit that equips us to be the church today.
There is one portion of the prayer that always seem to move me. A portion that reminds me of the difficult and challenging life that God calls us to in this time we find ourselves.
By your Spirit make us one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
For me, these are words of hope in a restless time. They are also my prayer for our church as we seek to discern what it means to have unity in this day and age.
We find ourselves, as United Methodists, wondering if there is a path forward us to remain, well, united. Our disagreements over sexuality-related concerns have led us to a point where a separation is seen, by some, as the only solution. That we are better apart than we are together.
I believe we are better united than apart. I believe we are better when conservatives, progressives, centrists, and others work together than working to find ways to oppose one another. I say this because I believe there is more that unites us than separates us. We focus on our disagreements, because it is easier to focus on the negatives than the rich positives of our connection. Yet, I believe we all share a common desire to love Christ and serve the Lord through our words, actions, and deeds.
There are moments when we need to be reminded of what we hold in common, and the need for the church to be united. I believe this is one of those times and those beautiful words of the Great Thanksgiving help us in this task. These words remind us of our call, as partners with Christ, to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ even when it is difficult. Each phrase reminds of the difficult task before us and the need for us to stay committed to this task.
By your Spirit make us one in Christ – We are reminded that the work to come together is not up to us alone. We cannot heal our divisions by ourselves. If it was up to us our disagreements would overwhelm us and hinder any ability to work together. The work towards unity in the church is the work of the Spirit. We pray for the Holy Spirit to unite us, to help us to see the sacred worth in our brothers and sisters in whom we may be in disagreement with, and to help us see that we are unified by the love of Christ that is shared with all.
One with each other – In our divided times, we like to believe that we do not need each other. Conservatives and progressives, both, believe they can exist without the other. In holding this view, all we do is pull ourselves away from one another. We end up create images of the other that sees them as the obstacles to our holy desires. The truth is we need each other to help us see things we may not see on our own. Conservatives need progressives to remind them of the call to justice. Progressives need conservatives to remind them of the call to scriptural holiness. More than that, though, we need each other just to get through life. We pray this prayer to bring us closer together and remind us that we each have a desire to love God and serve one another. We pray yearning to be together with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
One in ministry to all the world – The work of the church is challenging. There are people who need to hear the love of Christ in our neighborhoods and across the world. There are people who have needs that the church is able to best meet. This work is too important to let slip away due to our divisions. We need each other to reach people and share the love of Christ. We need each other to help alleviate racism, poverty, and the other needs of our world. There is more we can do together than apart.
Until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet – Recently, I told my church that the work of the church continues until the final bell rings. What I meant was that the work of the church continues until the day of Christ’s return. Until this happens, there is much for us to do and much that Christ calls us to do until the Lord’s return. The truth is we will share life together for all eternity when this happens. There will not be a separate table for conservatives and progressives. We will be there together with our Lord.
I have a deep hope for the United Methodist Church. I believe we have a unique and needed message of God’s love and grace to share with our communities and world. My prayer, today, is that we will find a way to work together, to find our unity in Christ, and to share the work together to make disciples and change the world for Christ.
As well prayer is that this work doesn’t begin with others, but that it begins with me.