From Heaven Above to Earth I Come: Unity

Here is the sermon I gave for the Midweek Advent worship service at St. Peter’s Brownstown, IN  on 12/7

Is unity just a dream, just an ideal we strive for?  Is unity only for the new heaven and earth when our bodies are perfected, when sin is no more and when we are worshiping before the throne of God?  When God’s Word speaks about Unity, just what exactly does it mean?

Unity is not just something for the far off future, it is for the body of Christ today. Psalm 133 describes how wonderful a thing it is when we have unity within the Church:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!  It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Unity is likened to images of God’s blessings showered down on us from above. This short and beautiful Psalm provides imagery of God’s blessing and favor to his people as manifested in the service of Aaron as the first ever high priest.  The anointing of oil represented God’s forgiveness and salvation to his people. The oil dripping down his beard and the dew drops accumulating into water and streaming down the mountain are parallel pictures of God’s abundant blessing showered upon His people.

Likewise, our unity is a gift from God, a blessing that comes from above and that also gives a picture of our salvation. For as we hear Jesus teach in John chapter 17 “that they may become perfectly one, so the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”   Our unity in Christ shows the world that Jesus is sent by the Father, and that the Father loves us just as much as He loves his Son.  Just like in Psalm 133 our unity is an illustration of God’s blessing and love come down from above.

As the body of Christ our unity comes simply through our common submission to Jesus as our Savior.  Ephesians chapter 4 makes this clear as it describes the reason for the pastoral office in terms of our unity of faith.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

God’s Word makes clear that the design of the pastoral office and other teachers in the church is to build up the body of Christ with firm doctrine. Unity is a natural result of all of these teachers proclaiming the same message of Christ crucified.  We can think of the same unity of message from all those pastors we have all known over the years. Maybe different styles of preaching and teaching, maybe different personalities, but the same message.

We have a remarkable degree of unity in our national synod.  It is no small thing that we can take for granted that any church we visit, any members we talk to, are going to agree that the Bible is God’s inspired Word that we want to learn to follow and listen to as much as possible.  This is not the case with many other church bodies.

At our most recent tri annual Convention, the LCMS was unanimous in the resolution to provide protection for the consciences of women objecting to conscription for military service.

These reasons include the biblically-ordered relationship between men and women, women as God’s vessels for bearing life, and the requirement for husbands to love and honor in a way that follows Christ’s own sacrifice for His bride, the Church. Other reasons are found in natural law and several serious reason-based arguments.

Just as important our church body consistently with one voice opposes the greatest evil of our times, the legal rights to abortion.  We can be proud to be moral leaders in our society through our unity on supporting the cause of life from conception to the end of life.

unity ultimately comes from The Holy Spirit. The message of Christ as Savior that God ordained be taught is a message that is given through the Holy Spirit.  We have been united in our baptism to a common gift of faith.

1Corinthians proclaims: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Dieterich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together relates the inestimable value for Christians to have the opportunity to live among other Christians.  Bonhoeffer identifies the default mode of life as a Christian before the Last Day as one of remaining alone scattered in far countries.  Just as Jesus experienced his disciples deserting him to die alone on the cross, the Christian today finds life in the kingdom lived among enemies.  In the midst of this solitary environment “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer”

Those are some amazing comments made by Bonhoeffer. We don’t often think of one another as an incomparable source of joy and strength.  But imagine what it would be like if every time you came to worship in the next few weeks you were the only one there other than the pastor and the organist. You would sure miss the other members of the congregation. We can easily overlook or take for granted how important the presence of fellow believers in our congregation is to us.

We may not always like each other, we may have had our feelings hurt or been misunderstood by one or a few people in the church at one time or another, but we actually derive great comfort from the presence of others.

Some people have asked me what it is like to have a 90 minute drive to come here? If I were to come only to sit at a desk and work at a computer it would seem like a long distance to drive. But driving 90 minutes is a very small cost for the opportunity to worship with so many members of the body of Christ.  To be in the presence of many believers is an invaluable privilege, not a sacrifice.

Part of the Western European heritage that so many of us share is reluctance to share feelings and be open about our appreciation and love for others.  In a way the unspoken myth is that we ought to be self sufficient unto ourselves and always be able to answer the question of how are you doing with “I’m fine, or even better, I’m blessed in Christ.” Yet Bonhoeffer makes a case that it is entirely Biblical to desire the fellowship of other believers and be encouraged by this:

“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians.  Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual–physical creatures.  The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother.”

Unity is not only within our congregation, but also within our family relationships.  The basic unit in our society as God has created and designed is the family and specifically through marriage. Even if you are single, you are defined by the circumstances of family and marriage that led to your birth.

Unity exists in our families in the same way, as a blessing from God above.   Ephesians chapter 5 describes the church’s submission to Christ as the model by which husbands and wives love each other.

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,”

Unity comes in our families comes from this foundation of husband and wife loving each other as Christ loved the church.  Submission is of course an unpopular word in our culture. But the submission described in God’s Word is not a ‘do as I say or else submission’ , but a practice of willingly accepting God’s blessings from above.  Submission in marriage is simply accepting the blessings from above of the forgiveness we have in Christ.

Unity is something we already have in Christ, and is something we can continue to strive for as we grow into the fullness of our faith. During this time of Advent, as we consider how the world changed at the birth of Jesus, let us pause and appreciate the cause for unity that our Lord’s birth brings to us.

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