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Unity In Diversity

Daily Devotional for Wednesday, September 9, 2020 from Rev. Eric Douglass


I Cor. 12:12-13: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

In the last meditation, we addressed the issue of ‘unity.’ Today, we will explore this further.
 
What does it mean to have unity? Certainly, it does not mean that everyone is exactly alike. This would create unity, but it is not the biblical view. We were not designed to be little xerox copies of each other, like robots programmed to talk and act in the same way. That would be like having a body that is composed only of ‘mouths.’ The mouth can speak, chew food, kiss loved ones, and praise God. But there would be no way to get food to the mouth! There would be no way to reach a loved one’s house! A body of mouths would shine brightly for a moment, but perish in the long run.
 
This is why Paul talks about unity as occurring within our diversity. Indeed, the image of the body in the preceding paragraph, is Paul’s image, found in I Corinthians 12. Paul is addressing the problem of unity, in a church filled with many different gifts. Here Paul states that we are the ‘body of Christ,’ where some are feet, some are hands, some are eyes, and some are ears (I Cor. 12:15-17). He celebrates this diversity, as each part is essential to the normal functioning of the body. For him, God calls some as leaders, others as teachers, and yet others with gifts of helping.  
 
However, with all this diversity, one must wonder how unity is possible. It’s a nice thought that the body needs mouths, hands, and eyes, but wouldn’t they just get into competition? We periodically see this, where one group states that ‘evangelization’ is the only legitimate mission of the church, or that ‘the pastor’ should be the sole authority, or that ‘helping the poor’ is the only appropriate use of the church’s funds, or that ‘the teachers’ are the only ones allowed to interpret the scriptures. It’s almost like each group is in a race with the others, to see who can ‘win’…who can have the loudest voice in the church…who gets to lead.  
 
Only the church is not about winning. It is not about power or authority. It is not about who gets to call the shots. This is the problem that Paul’s church in Corinth faced, where members warred with each other, gossip disrupted relationships, and backbiting created factions. It is the problem that every church faces. Paul’s solution comes in the very next section—verses often quoted in the modern church, but which Christians often fail to connect to the root problem of internal rivalry and antagonism:
 
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).
 
Our unity is in our love.


Our Lord:
 
You have given the church many gifts,
so that she might function well,
as a single, whole person
in a broken world.
 
Yet too often we see these gifts as ‘deserved,’
as if we earned them by our goodness,
as if only our gift matters.
And so we war and fight.
 
Our Lord, step into our wars and our fights,
our backbiting and our gossip,
and show us a new way
without antagonism.
 
Teach us to love, just as you loved,
willing to sacrifice your son,
to bring us to the table,
to bring us home.
 
Unity in love.
 
Amen.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, though which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.