United we stand

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all enjoying the three-day holiday weekend.

I think we need holidays like this every so often. The pace of work, the pace of life today, is so fast. There’s so much pressure. It just never lets up.

We need to take time off and rest now and then. The world isn’t going to come to an end if the banks close for a couple of days. The sky isn’t going to fall if we don’t go shopping.

I hear so many families saying they don’t have time, even to eat a meal together. That’s not right. One of the things that defines a family is that we spend time together. We won’t have that family bond if we don’t put time into it.

So, a weekend like this is important. I wish it would be once a week. One day a week, when we did nothing but rest and enjoy not being pressured. One day a week, when we let all the gears come to a stop.

We used to do that. It’s called taking a Sabbath. It used to be almost universal. Did you know that, many years ago, trains didn’t run on Sunday? Almost every business closed. Sunday was for worship, and for family.

It was God’s answer to the kind of social and economic high blood pressure we inflict on ourselves.

But a three-day weekend usually has a focus. It’s not just party time. It’s not just go to the beach time. Most of these three-day weekends are national holidays.

Our country wants to remember something important. We want to remember a person, or an event, or a principle, which can help guide our entire nation.

Too much of the time, people use these three-day weekends just as an excuse to crash, to drink, or race around in circles, or do something else that leaves us exhausted instead of refreshed.

This weekend is Memorial Day. It started out, 150 years ago, as a time to remember the sacrifice of all the people who believed in freedom for every race and color.

It was a day to honor and remember those who gave their lives, because they believed that our nation should never be divided.

A house divided against itself can never stand.”

United we stand – divided we fall.

That’s a lesson a lot of people have forgotten today. People make money and power by division and hate. They prop themselves up, by knocking other people down.

They want us to fight the Civil War all over again. They raise the same divisions and the same hatreds. And they act like God’s going to bless them for what they’re doing.

Allen Jay used to warn us about this. He said, ” People who have extreme views either way as a rule are not safe leaders. They can see but one side of a question. Indeed they would have people believe there is but one side, and that one their side.” (Allen Jay, Autobiography, 2010 edition, pp. 300-301)

This morning we’re going to listen to part of one of Paul’s letters that speaks to this point about unity.

Paul was not in a great place when he wrote this letter. Paul wrote these words when he was in prison. He saw that the church was divided. And he didn’t want that. He wanted us to be strong, faithful and united.

As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Oneness. Unity. Harmony. Integrity. Peace. Togetherness.

Those all sound like good words, don’t they? They’re supposed to be what we’re all about as Christians. But do we really experience those things? Not so much.

We all want to feel as if our lives are somehow in harmony. We want to feel that what we think and what we do and the way we work and everything about us, somehow all fits together.

We don’t want to feel holy at church, and then go home and yell at our kids or our families. We want to be able to practice what we preach.

We’d like to see people stop hating each other. We’d be happier if the whole world were at peace.

And yet, that’s not usually the way it happens.

People today spend a lot of the time feeling torn inside. We’ve got some idea of how we ought to act, and the way things ought to be. But somehow, it just doesn’t work out. We do things, and then we hate ourselves for doing them, just a second later. Hasn’t that ever happened to you?

It happens in our families. That husband or wife who we promised to love forever, or that child who was so easy to love when they were little, or that parent who was so good to us. Why does it fall apart? Why do families fight?

Or take it to a different place – all over the country, right now, people who are brothers and sisters in church are tearing each other apart.

Or in our country – the country that’s supposed to be “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” – our country tears itself to pieces.

The “United Nations” spends most of its time shouting at each other, and arming against each other and fighting wars against each other.

Why do these things happen? Why do we make a mockery of ourselves and what we believe? Why do we give up the dream of oneness and unity and peace so easily?

It’s something we’re all hungry for. All of us would like to see the dream come true. Deep down, we want everyone to live in peace with each other, and for no one to be afraid.

In another one of his letters, Paul said, “When you see people yelling at each other, you know the Spirit isn’t present. When you see people making enemies of each other, the Holy Spirit’s not there. When you see people being jealous, divisive, splitting into factions and parties – that’s not the fruit the Holy Spirit. That’s coming from somewhere else.

The fruit of the Spirit, Paul says, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There’s no law against any of these things.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

That dream is what Paul’s talking about in today’s reading: “One body, one spirit, one hope that God calls us all to, one Lord, one faith, one baptism of cleansing and forgiveness, one God, one Father of all humanity, who is Lord of all, who works through all, and is in all. . .

Deep down, we all have that dream. We just forget about it, when we get angry and frustrated. Even if we don’t all agree what the kingdom of God will be like, or how people get there, deep down we’re all hungry for that kingdom where all the broken pieces will come back together again.

We spend so much of our lives torn apart, and yet we have this deep dream that some day God will heal us and make us all the way we’re meant to be.

How do we get there? It isn’t just supposed to be a dream. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is here among us, here and now, not somewhere off in never-never land. How do we get there?

One of the keys to the kingdom is in that first sentence that Paul writes this morning: “I urge you, then – I who am a prisoner because I serve the Lord. . .

Paul wasn’t a fuzzy idealist. He lived what he believed. And if his faith took him into prison, so be it.

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. . .”

What does that mean? Go back to your calling.

If you’ve ever had one of those moments when you felt that God was near, that God was calling you, when you felt an inner peace, if you felt that the world lay open in front of you, and anything could be done – remember how you felt in that moment, and go and live that way.

Or those of you who are married – do you remember what your promises were to each other? You might have promised “for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish from this day forward. . .

You might have said some different words. But do you remember how those promises felt? That was love, but it was also God calling to both of you. Remember how the promise felt, and then go and live that way.

Or if you’re parents – do you remember holding that baby in your arms, and feeling that this baby was unique and special, and that you would do anything for them? That wasn’t just parental love. That was God calling.

Pick whatever example you like. Just think back to any time when you felt that God was near, that everything was all right, that you were going to live by a promise. That moment when it felt like it was going to last forever.

Even when things break down. Even if the world is torn apart. We’re supposed to remember those moments, when God was calling. We’re supposed to come back to those moments of calling, and keep trying to live up to them.

Paul goes on to give some more directions.

Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

It’s not something which can be forced on anyone, from the top down. The love Paul is talking about is something which only grows from the bottom up.

In our churches, in our families, in our city and in our nation, we’re called to build from the lowest level. The government can’t do the kind of work that needs to happen.

It starts with the person sitting next to us, whoever they are. It starts with our family members, with our neighbors across the fence, with the people we meet at the store or in the parking lot.

One of those letters in the Bible puts it so well: “Whoever loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever doesn’t love, doesn’t know God, for God IS love. . .No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . .” (I John 4:7-8, 12)

A lot of the time, we fail. But we’re called to pick ourselves up and try again. Maybe try in the same way. Maybe try in a different way.

There’s an old Quaker saying: “Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given to you. . .”

Live up to the very best you know how. Live up to whatever you can remember of those moments when God called you, and you’ll be given strength for the next step.

You’ve heard people say, “Live one day at a time.” Well, sometimes we need to live one step at a time. Not a whole day, just one tiny little step.

Take one step, and remember why you did it. Remember who called you. Remember what it felt like, when you heard the call.

Then take another step, and the next, and the one after that. But at each step, remember why, and for whose sake you’re trying.

Each step, one plus one plus one, till the end of the day. Then give thanks that you made it through that one day. And pray that each day will lead us back to unity, with integrity inside ourselves, and at peace with our neighbors.

If we each step, we try our best to hold onto God’s hand, then at the end of the day, we’ll discover that we were in God’s hands, all along.

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