Unity + Diversity = Community

1 Corinthians 12:4-13                                                                   
June 8, 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                     

I was a child in the Presbyterian Church in small town North Carolina.   It was the 70’s as I was growing up, but our service was classic 1950’s Protestantism-- intellectual sermon at the end of the service, and sacrament only four times/year.   My parents, having been raised Baptist, missed the more personal, pietistic experience of that tradition.   So when the charismatic movement began in our area when I was an adolescent, I spent Sunday nights worshiping with praise choruses, occasionally people speaking in tongues, highly energized sermons and emotional prayers, which invited a close and personal relationship with Jesus.   All the while Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights were at the very staid Presbyterian Church where I was loved and taught a much calmer version of loving Jesus that involved my mind as much as my heart.   In high school each summer my parents took me and a few others to a week long youth conference not in Montreat, but led by a guy named Bill Gothard who taught a very literal interpretation of scripture.   It was there that I heard that the Bible taught me to be submissive to my father until I was married, at which time I could submit to my husband.   It wasn’t long before I realized I did not have to read the Bible that way, but that I could understand the extremely patriarchal cultural context in which the scripture came to us.  What I appreciated about that conference was its clear invitation to make living for Christ my number one priority, and to make scripture reading a joyful, faith-building practice.

In college, I was engaged in dorm Bible studies and worship and services experiences through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.   I attended a Presbyterian Church for half of my college years, and then a Bible Church, one of the earliest of the fast-growing non-denominational guitar and piano contemporary churches that were springing up in the 1980’s.   

Then I began seminary, and came to a new awareness of people who loved Jesus just as much as I did, but came to seminary from a radically different experience of Christian faith.   The words they used to pray were different from mine.   They were so liberal, compared to twenty-three year old me, but they loved Jesus too.    

I was invited to consider that God was not just a grandfather figure in the sky, but so much more, including images that were feminine.   I was challenged to see that God calls all women and men into ministry, that worship and service belong together, just as Word and Sacrament belong together.   Richard and I affiliated with a church that was predominantly African American and learned just a touch of how it feels to be in the minority and among people whose cultural self-image has been damaged by years of racism.   We learned that loving God without loving humanity, all of humanity, is impossible.   

Then in a first call as pastor, I developed close friendships with homosexual persons, church members, who loved Jesus as much as I did, some of them in long-term relationships, loving their partners as much as I loved Richard.   I found through study and reflection with these brothers and sisters that my mind was changed about what the Bible was really teaching us about that – cultural context of the scriptures again.    This was the 90’s.    Then we moved to England and worshiped with  Anglicans in Cambridge, and I came to a new appreciation for what it means to be Christian in a culture that was post-Christian, only 3% of the population being church-goers there.   I learned in that context that to be evangelical was to live out my faith long before trying to speak about it with friends who were not part of the church and had serious misgivings about all Christians.  

For the first time in my life, I began to appreciate the power of a common prayer book, where repeated prayers come to life, through the repetition of them, with careful attention to the movement of God’s Spirit.  How lighting candles and smelling incense and hearing chants and meditating with icons can help us to pray.   Having circled back to my childhood church for a couple of years of interim pastoring, we came here to help shape the early life of Peace, and I think I’ve learned even more what it means to be a diverse people, from different parts of the Uni4ted States and the world, with different experiences of the Church, different attitudes about politics and the social issues of our day, with different expectations of who this church should be.    And I’m still learning what it means to be unified in Christ, yet diverse in perspective, such that authentic community, even communion in the Spirit is not only possible but indeed our reality most of the time.  

We are learning at Peace and at the presbytery how to listen to one another, without saying “yes but.”   We are learning that relationships are more important than being right or agreeing about everything.

Paul tried to help the Corinthians see that loving relationships were more important than being right.    The Corinthians struggled with this.   In the opening of the letter, we hear Paul telling them that it not about which leader they follow – Paul or Apollos or Cephas – but that they are united in Christ.   It is not about being wise in the eyes of the world, but being foolish for Christ’s sake.    He goes on to explain that how you live does in fact matter.   It does.   We should glorify God in our relationships.    It is not anything goes, with God, because God’s love will always be there.   All things are lawful because of our freedom in Christ, but not all things build up.   We are to seek that which builds up the other.    We are not to judge the other, not to do things that offend another, but seek always to build up the church.    Paul addressed conflict over leadership, conflict over marriage, conflict over foods, conflict over appropriate clothing, conflict over how to celebrate communion, conflict over circumcision, conflict over lawsuits, conflict which gifts are most important in the church.    Hear now what he says about gifts:

1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 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. 13 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. (NRSV)


The same Spirit.  The same Lord.   The same God.    Of the Spirit, through the Spirit, according to the same Spirit, by the same Spirit, by the one Spirit.  

By one and the same Spirit, just as the Spirit chooses.   One body, one Spirit, one body, of the one Spirit.   Varieties of gifts, varieties of services, variesties of activities.  Many members.  Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing powers, miracles, vision or prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues.

We must not confuse unity with uniformity.    We are different in gifts as we are in appearance.   God speaks to us, and gifts us differently.    But God puts in us a desire for unity, so we are always looking for ways to connect with other people.    But that desire to find unity should never be forced by trying to be identical to other people or trying to insist that other people be identical to us.

Have you ever noticed how when someone starts telling a story and you find a connecting point, you are often in such a hurry to interrupt and say how your story connects with theirs?    Slow down, my friends.    Slow down.   In trying to rush to unity, you are not hearing their whole story, and the nuaces that make their story unique.   DO NOT rush in with your story.     Hear theirs, all the way.    Ask questions to keep them talking.   Dominant voices crowd out quiet ones, but quiet voices have something to say.  

The other thing we do that is even worse that interrupting with our point of unity, is bringing up hastily our point of disagreement.    They begin to speak their truth, and we interrupt with “Yes but…”    or “How you can say….”   Slow down and be more discerning.    Do you really think you need to “correct” their truth?  Does the Spirit really want you to assert your point.   Or is there a gentler, kinder way of hearing them out, and asking more questions, and finally expressing yourself in a less antagonistic way?

When someone is getting on your last nerve by expressing a faith or sharing a gift or service or activity that you cannot appreciate very much, think of Paul’s word:   Variety…but the same Spirit.    Many members but one body.    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.    For the common good.    Is there a way to appreciate this gift, this activity, this service as being for the common good?   If not, then is there a way for you to encourage the person to be more concerned for the common good as they share their wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, discernment or whatever it is that they do?

Can we hold on to both unity and diversity?    Yes, in the Christ’s Spirit who meets us in the communion of wine and bread, and in the true community of brothers and sisters, who value one another’s dignity completely, yes we can.  

But it is hard work, requiring us to listen more than speak, to care about another’s experience more than sharing our own experience, to value relationships more than being right.   It means we do not rush to conclude discussions and make decisions.   When relationships matter more than being right, the Spirit has room to breathe in us and to move among us, and to make our unity something that transcends our diversity.   It takes patience and discernment.  Remember that Paul ends this discussion of the variety of gifts by saying no gift is of value without love.    If I have all powers but have not love, it is worth nothing.

On Pentecost Day, after all that wind and flame and people speaking in different languages, Peter addresses the congregation.   He quotes the prophet Joel who declared God word saying:  I will pour out my Spirit upon all, and your sons and daughters will prophecy, and your young men shall see visions while your old men dream dreams.  Today we give to the Pentecost Offering believing that the Spirit of Christ is still giving visions to our young adults and youth.  We will hear from Russ Kerr, who has been accepted in the Young Adult Volunteer program to serve in an inner city mission for the next year, while being in an intentional community with other YAVs.   Our prayers and support are with you Russ.

Our prayers are also with Matt Grantham and three elders and three ministers from Peace River Presbytery as they travel this week to join the other six hundred commissioners from 172 presbyteries for the General Assembly in Detroit this year.   We pray that all will treasure the variety of gifts being from the same Spirit, that no respectful voice will be silenced, even though it may articulate a different perspective.  To each is given the experience, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit – for the common good.   The Holy Spirit’s different manifestation in each person’s gifts may be a unique as our facial features and fingerprints, but it is one Spirit.   May unity and diversity come together into a beautiful spirit-filled community – both here at Peace and with all the Presbyterians in Detroit, and with all the Christians around the world, and with all the people everywhere, and with all of God’s beautiful and wondrous creation.