Check this out. [Preacher whips out an old telescope and looks through it at the congregation].
This is my telescope. I pretend it’s like the ones my ancestors used in the Revolutionary war.
Like my Revolutionary ancestors, I use this glass to scan the horizon, to observe the stars, and to focus on small details.
It’s not good for anything very close though, too much power.
It tends to blows small things way out of proportion.
Kind of like … human nature.
You ever have that problem? You blow things out of proportion, and all of a sudden you just can’t see them as they really are.
This happens to me from time to time I’m sad to say:
I get obsessively focused on some small point of contention, and all of a sudden I’m blind to the larger truth around me.
Quite often this is what happens right before I pick a fight with a loved one, or yell at another driver on the road … of life.
I’m not alone in this I think.
I remember when they introduced the new prayer book – twenty-odd years ago – and people in the church got all grumpy.
“I just hate passing the peace,” a lady once said to me at a coffee hour in a former church.
I was ten years old then, and I didn’t see her point at all. I thought Church was a place where you went to be with other people, in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, as one Body, and one fellowship.
I thought Church was a place where a little boy and a divorced mom could find some Christian people who cared that you were alive.
A place where you could sit next to church friends for whom you were not just “A Nobody” living a work-a-day suburban life.
I didn’t realize then that, for some people, Church was a place where you came to be alone, and that shaking hands was “disruptive and inappropriate.”
I remember when I was a freshman at Carolina I went to church with a guy from my dorm. At brunch afterwards, the guy told me he didn’t believe women should be ordained to the priesthood. I said something like, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Jesus didn’t have any women apostles, and Paul wrote that no woman should have authority over a man.”
I remember sitting in the waffle shop with this guy, thinking, “this is Christianity?”
I didn’t realize that thousands of Episcopalians like him would leave the Church in the last twenty-five years because they didn’t like the new prayer book, the ordination of women, the use of newer translations of the Bible, or the passing of the peace.
I didn’t realize the kinds of forces at play in the church.
But now I do.
You see for as long as people have known Jesus Christ, they have argued over what he said, who he was, and what wanted us to know, to believe, and to do.
Everything that pertains to Jesus – whether it be facts of his life, the words of Scripture, or the customs of His Church – has been examined and argued about for two thousand years – without stop.
And there have been some schisms too.
The first really big schism began a thousand years ago. The Roman and Byzantine Churches disagreed over the wording of the Nicene Creed – positions hardened, self-interests took over, and they got divorced.
The worst episode in this religious quarrel was when Catholic crusaders conquered Orthodox Constantinople in a text-book example of how to indulge yourself in a murderous feast of fornication, impurity, licentiousness, drunkenness, carousing, … “and things like these.”
The second great schism happened five hundred years ago, after the Protestant Reformation. Theological disputes over the meaning of Scripture, colluded with hunger for political power, and managed to rip the European Church in half, with hundreds of thousands becoming martyrs for their religious factions.
In our own branch of Christianity we are witnessing further strife. Chuck Murphy and his “Anglican Mission in America” say they are the true guardians of Anglican Christianity and orthodox teaching in the United States. They believe they have started the first round of a bout which will divide the Anglican Communion “along the fault line of biblical truth.”
Chuck Murphy says that his is a struggle between the righteous way of truth and the wimpy way of unity.
And I say that he is dead wrong.
I say that there’s a difference between revolution and insurrection, between reformation and schism.
Certainly, Thomas Jefferson understood this. But what’s true in the course of human events regarding the political bands which connect one people with another is NOT necessarily true in the life of the church of God in Jesus Christ.
I believe that those Christians who say “Truth is more important than Unity” are deceived, and they are living into a self-indulgent work of the flesh, whose vile fruit will always be enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrel, dissension, faction, and envy. In which ego, pride and religious idolatry play as big a part as true piety.
There have always been points of disagreement in the Church, beginning at the dinner table of Jesus and his disciples. And, there has always been a range of ideas and understandings of who Jesus was, what he said, and what he wanted from his disciples. And this is o.k. — because a uniform reading of Scripture is not what makes us Christians, and a common confession of shared ideas is not what makes us one.
For we are not bound-in-the-flesh by the letter-of-the-Law, but are united and guided by the Holy Spirit.
This is a true saying: “As the Father and the Son are one, so you and I may be also.”
And we who follow Jesus as Lord are anointed to be brothers and sisters, and slaves to one another.
Now is that not unity?
Is that not the Truth?
Like Elisha, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, receiving the mantel of Jesus Christ in baptism, and born again as one people.
And if you and I truly have set our faces to Jerusalem, which is to say to the self-sacrificial life of the cross, then it seems hard to believe that you and I will want to bring the fires of heaven down upon one another, doesn’t it?
It also seems hard to believe that if you and I have our faces set to Jerusalem, then you and I will want to keep both our hands on the plough together.
Pray for the unity of the Church on this the Sunday before Independence Day. Amen.