When we don’t understand differences we can opt to huddle together in like-minded groups to give security and support. While there is nothing wrong with joining with others, pain, disharmony and disunity often result when we develop an “us” and “them” mentality. Too often the wonderful diversity God gives becomes the platform for division.
But that was never God’s intention. In fact, unity is at the heart of the gospel. In Christ, God was bring unity between us and God, and between us and each other.
On the night before his crucifixion Jesus prayed to the Father asking that his followers “may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:11, 12)
Jesus prays for unity not based on the way we worship, the songs we sing, the way we serve or the “purity” of our doctrine. Unity comes because we have one Lord. We are children of the same Father and are united by the same Spirit.
But our unity not only reflects the nature of God, it is part of God’s mission strategy. Our unity is of strategic worth. It is instrumental in the world believing Jesus was sent by God to rescue it. Likewise our dis-unity limits God’s mission in the world because it blinds people from seeing Jesus as God’s Messiah.
So here we have a tension the church consistently finds difficult to sustain. God loves both diversity and unity, and as far as God is concerned they go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. However, sadly, the church has tried to resolve the tension and go for one at the expense of the other. We focus so much on unity that we lose diversity, or we maintain our diversity to the point that we lose our unity.
Jesus’ vision for his church was much grander, broader, richer and deeper than ours. He prayed for unity, because he knew how hard it would be for us to sustain. We need his prayers as much today as the disciples did on the night he died.
Gathering together this morning is one small, very small, answer to Jesus’ prayer. When we make an effort to break down walls that divide, when we bridge across our cultural and language barriers, when have genuine love and acceptance for each other, even in the midst of diversity, God is pleased. But not only that, it is perhaps one of the greatest visual witnesses the church can give to a watching world.
May God’s grace richly bless you as you come together in unity with others around you and may he help you grow to appreciate the rich diversity of God’s people. May God grant us all we need to sustain our unity in the midst of diversity, and diversity in the midst of unity.
Stephen L Baxter