1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Over the last year, or maybe longer, there have been calls for unity. I recall after the tragic events of 9/11 or any number of the natural disasters that we have faced; people come together. They can put their differences aside and work together. Working together is an essential aspect of the Christian life, but this was not always the way.
Historically speaking, the idea of Christian unity meant forced conversions to Christianity. It appears once Christianity became a dominant religion, the leaders felt it gave them license to force others to become Christian, many at the point of the sword or the threat of death. The crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and all of the other dark days of Christianity.
Now I know it is not fashionable to talk about history; in fact, there is a push on to prevent the teaching of our past in some parts of our Country. But knowing the truth and understanding the past helps us not make the same mistakes in the future. Holding on to our past with both hands and saying, “this is who we were, but it is no longer who we are, and it will not influence who we are going to be” is called growth. History is not pretty, but history is essential.
But today, there is this idea that we must be united with everyone, and I am sorry, but that is just not possible. There can be no unity with people who hate others and turn to violence to see that their position is forced upon others. It was wrong when the early Christian Church was doing it, and it is wrong today. In all its forms, Extremism is a cancer upon any society and needs to be dealt with.
There is also this idea that we can agree to disagree, which is okay with some exceptions. However, there can be no agreement with taking away fundamental human rights. There can be no agreement with people who want to build walls rather than bridges. There can be no agreement with folks who wish to tell others who they can marry, what school they can go to, or what religion they must practice. Freedom for one is freedom for all or only the appearance of freedom.
In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul uses the body as an image of the Church when speaking of unity. Paul writes to a disunified Church that what is essential is unity. Just as the parts of the bodywork together, the different parts of the Church must work together. We all have a role to play in that unity. An important thing to remember about unity is that unity does not mean conformity.
In many communities, including the Church on this list, the idea is my way or the highway when the Church never functioned that way. There are examples of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles when an issue would arise in a difference of opinion. Then, the Church would come together and work toward consensus. Consensus is a general agreement on something. We may not agree 100% with all of the details, but we agree most.
The other part of Paul’s image of the Body and the Church is the idea of diversity, all the parts of the body are diverse, but for the body to function at its highest potential, all the parts have to work together for the same goal.
Perhaps you have had the experience of your mind wanting to go in one direction and your legs deciding something very different. Sure, I guess your legs can decide for themselves what they want to do, but sometimes it ends terrible, usually with you on the ground. This is because all of the parts of the body have to be in constant communication with each other. No one part of the body can “strike out on their own” and hope everyone else follows along. The body functions best with consensus about what each part is doing.
But what happens when one part of the body is sick or decides not to do what the others are doing.? We work towards healing that part, but there may come a time when that part needs to go.
I love to work around my yard. It is one of my creative outlets. Tilling the soil, planting things, caring for them, and watching them grow is a very satisfying and very spiritual activity. Caring for creation is one of the responsibilities humanity was given “in the beginning,” and I like to think of myself being a part of that.
Pruning is an integral part of caring for plants. Removing the sick or diseased part of the plant enables the remainder of that plant to become healthy again. Sometimes a radicle prune is necessary, or the entire plant will become sick and die.
Over the last couple of years, Nicky and I have been working in our backyard. There were already established planting beds and some lovely specimens, but the yard needed some work overall. It had been left unattended or minimally attended for way too long. As a result, many of the plants had become overgrown and needed to be pruned.
This past summer, our attention was focused on what I call the meditation garden. It is at the back of the property in a shady area. First, the area was cleared of debris that had accumulated over the years, and a border was established with bricks. Next, we put in a meandering path and a bench. Finally, we decided on plant material to install and set off to the nursery to pick out just the right plants.
We brought them home and spent time setting things out and moving this and that. We finally planted everything, and it looked great. It was indeed a quiet spot at the back of the garden to sit and reflect. However, we noticed one plant that was not doing so well. We tried fertilizer water, praying for it and nothing seemed to be working. We were almost at the point of pulling it and chucking it in the compost pile, but we decided to move the plant to another area of the garden in an attempt to save it. It seems fine, but we will know more later in the year.
It was a radical decision to uproot that plant, but it was necessary for the plant’s health and the health of the rest of the garden. Plants that are not doing well become susceptible to diseases, which can spread to other plants. But that one plant can also take necessary nutrients away from the others, so it had to go in the end.
As hard as it is, sometimes we have to remove parts of our lives that affect the rest and keep us from thriving.
You have heard me say this before, and no doubt you will hear me say it again, but Jesus commands us to love everyone. We have to love them, but we do not need to like them. We love and care for them because they are like we are created in God’s image and contain that divine spark. But sometimes, for the health of the body, we have to let them go, or we have to walk away. I can still love someone and not want anything to do with them.
The other point Paul was getting at was with unity; there is great diversity, and, in that diversity, we find our true potential. The foot is as important as the hand, but they each have a job to do. Sure, we can get by without one or the other, but things operate much smoother when we all work together. Diversity is something beautiful and something to be celebrated. Diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.
Very early on in the ministry of Jesus, he sent his followers out to the cities and towns in the area. They were sent to bring healing and the message of love that Jesus came to bring. Jesus told them that if they entered a town and did not receive their message, they were to “shake the dust of that town off of their feet” and move on. As difficult as it can be, sometimes we have to walk away from relationships if they are toxic, dangerous, or unhealthy.
There was a time in my life when I would not speak up, I would not say what needed to be said, or I would pull my punches. I compromised for the sake of keeping the peace, and I tried to make everyone happy but, in the process, I made myself miserable. We are never going to make everyone happy. Every decision comes with disagreement, and sometimes it comes with walking away.
Friends, unity in the Church, and unity in the Country are essential, but unity should not cause us to compromise to such an extent that we forget who we are and what we believe. Consensus is vital in the Church and the Country, but just like unity, if it causes me to compromise so much that I forget who I am, it is not worth it. Yes, we must pray and work towards unity, but if that unity causes us to neglect the least of these, then that is a unity that is not worth fighting for.