United in Christ
Jesus prayed that past, present and future believers would experience unity (John 17). Our unity is found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the recurring Pauline New Testament phrases is “In Christ.” Paul preaches and teaches about the varied blessings and benefits of being “in Christ.”
Believers are “in Christ” first and foremost because God has extended God’s invitation of grace. It is through grace that we are welcomed into god’s family. God’s family is open to all that respond to the invitation to “come.” No one is left out and no one is excluded! In fact, Christ, the good shepherd leaves the flock to look for missing lambs. When lost sheep are brought into the fold there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels.
The fold of God consists of people that are, because of being in Christ, a “new creation.” We are a special group purchased by Christ, redeemed from the law of sin and death, forgiven, reconciled to God and brought and presented to God as beloved children. We are no longer strangers and aliens but we are brothers and sisters together in Christ. We are called out and commissioned together to be the church of Jesus Christ.
I love the wisdom and words of Dr. N.T. Wright, “The church isn't simply a collection of isolated individuals ... we need to learn again the lesson that a hand is no less a hand for being part of a larger whole, an entire body. The foot is not diminished in its freedom to be a foot by being part of a body which also contains eyes and ears. In fact, hands and feet are most free to be themselves when they coordinate properly with eyes, ears, and everything else. Cutting them off in an effort to make them truly free, truly themselves, would be truly disastrous.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense).
The Psalmist used a powerful image when writing Psalm 133. The picture is of Aaron the Priest being anointed with oil. The oil is poured over Aaron’s head and it flows over his hair, drips down his face, and spills onto his clothes. I cannot get the words of Psalm 23: 5 out of my mind, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” The members of God’s family are also called a “royal priesthood.” Women and men, boys and girls, called and consecrated by God to serve as conduits of God’s grace and mercy as we follow the commands of Christ, extending ministry to others through acts of service and witness.
The Psalmist, the Apostle Paul, and the pleas of Jesus focus on the need for harmony and unity within the body. As the United Methodist Church wrestles with taking our next steps forward my hope is that we will not forget the blessings and benefits that are ours in Christ together. There is in Christ unity, diversity, and peace. It is God’s intent that the world would notice the actions of the church and would be so impressed that the world would believe and would accept God’s gracious invitation to join in.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
Bishop Frank J. Beard