Stability in Unity

I was teaching a class on what the church believes for new members several years ago at another church. One of the couples in the class were newly married after both being widowed fairly young. She was Catholic, he was Protestant. About mid-way through my lecture, she leaned over to her husband and whispered, “Your Jesus sounds a lot like my Jesus.”

Yes, the Jesus who prayed, “for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17). Jesus prayed for the unity of the church, and yet, in the first Century it became clear that there would be faithful people who would not accept Jesus as Lord, who would continue to worship God as their ancestors had. And eventually they forced out those who were followers of the Way and a new term emerged, “Christian.” Within a few hundred years, Councils of Bishops were being held with heated debates about the nature of Jesus, was he human, god, born, made, begotten? What about Mary? And the splits began. Syrian Orthodox and Coptic split off first, then Eastern Orthodox from Roman Catholic, then the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago now…and then the splintering of denominations began. Why? We forgot that “Your Jesus sounds a lot like my Jesus.”

Churches have bickered and fought. We have divided over beliefs and personalities, money and lifestyles, abuse and lies and secrets.

As we emerge from a year of pandemic and being separated from our church families, there is a lot being written about whether or not people will return to church. Pastors are even writing about the epiphany they have experienced of the blessing of Sundays as we recorded worship earlier in the week and stayed home to worship with our families on Sunday morning. I can tell you, it was a joy for me for a while! We all went to the game room and curled up on the couch with our coffees. I brought up a heaping bowl of dry Golden Grahams Cereal and everyone asked for some of my cereal throughout the service. They made fun of my bumbles and blunders. We sang together, read together, listened together…I had never sat in worship with my family before. And then, after 45 minutes or so, we watched a YouTube show that the kids like called “Good Mythical Morning,” fixed bacon and eggs and toast for brunch, and we were ready for a full afternoon with the kitchen cleaned up by 1:15…when I usually am arriving home from church ready for a quick lunch and a nap.

While it won’t be an option for me, worshiping online will be a way for many to continue to worship when their family needs more Sabbath time, when they are running in all different directions so much of the week and don’t have the hour it takes to get ready and come to church and the 90 minutes to be at church, when they need to curl up on the couch together as a family to affirm and grow in their faith. Not to mention, those families whose lives include travel teams and weekend competitions, college students, work travel, on and on.

Worshiping online will be a way that people stay connected and continuing to follow Jesus and grow in their discipleship when they otherwise would not be able to. Worshiping online will be a way that people visit and determine whether they want to come and worship in person with a congregation as they move toward finding a faith community where they will follow Jesus and grow in their discipleship. Worshiping online will be a way that some learn about Jesus and find that they want to follow him and grow as disciples.

So, of course, the question has quickly been raised, how do we measure church? Attendance? Online views? How do we take in new members who perhaps have never attended church in person, and maybe never will? In fact, when we had to fill out the Statistical Report for the denomination for 2020 and put how many people attended worship on average in 2020, my pastor friends and I all just shrugged our shoulders because we really don’t know how to count views of worship, or when since they gain views the longer they are on YouTube… So, how do we measure church? What does it mean to be a part of a church? Does an active member have to live in the area? We saw a flood of people turn to church worship online during the pandemic…and not just Farmington, it was a trend many churches saw. Why? In the midst of the storm, as we were getting blown to and fro, we needed something solid. Something unchanging. Something to measure our lives by. We needed Jesus. We aren’t returning to church because we haven’t left church. We measure church by Jesus.

Believe it or not, that is exactly what Paul is addressing in this passage from his letter to the churches in and around Ephesus.

The NIV translates the Greek, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In Greek, the word translated as worthy, though, is axios. An axios is a set of balancing scales. To be worthy of God’s invitation is to know what you are being measured against. There is, says Paul, one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is over all, through all, and in all. There is only one standard of measurement.

It makes me think of the riddle which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks. A pound is a pound. The measure for the church is God revealed in Jesus Christ. Here is where I think the church has gone wrong. We have divided and fought…we have measured ourselves against other churches, against civic organizations…we have advertised ourselves as though we were a country club or a gym, but a pound is a pound is a pound. Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is our unit of measure. We are invited to step onto the scale, and all together experience the stability of unity.

“We must no longer be children,” wrote Paul, “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love” we weigh our actions by how they promote unity of the body, knowledge of the Lord, and growth in love.

Whether you are worshiping online on your couch or in the pews in this Sanctuary, if you have been a part of Farmington for as long as you can remember, or this is your first time to worship with the Farmington family, measure your life and the church against the standard of Jesus. As we emerge from a year of disruption, we will be making choices about what we will do and what we won’t do, what we will return to and what we won’t, settling into new patterns of relating and participating, clubs and organizations we will be a part of,…what will give our lives meaning. May we remember Paul’s plea: “I beg you to live a life that balances with the invitation of God to be like Jesus” and keep this measurement before us in all that we do and all that we say: How does this promote the unity of the body of Christ? How does this promote the knowledge of the Lord? How does this promote growth in love?