January 26, 2020
On this third Sunday after the Epiphany Mo. Mary took the opportunity to address a relatively typical situation within church congregations – how do we manage conflict and division among good-hearted, well-meaning Christians who have the inevitable experience of finding themselves on opposite sides of issues relative to our common life?
One of the Apostle Paul’s seemingly proudest efforts in his unprecedented march of spreading the Gospel throughout the world was starting the church in Corinth. As Mo. Mary described the city, a seaport of rowdy inhabitants and behavior, it seemed that the congregation of the church could be as rowdy as their neighbors. After all, Paul wrote two extensive epistles to the Corinthians that made it into the Holy Scripture, both of which are incredibly powerful statements of theology and practice. In his first letter to them, part of which was our New Testament lesson for the day, Paul addresses divisions and quarrels among them. The specifics in the reading had to do with who baptized whom which led to factions saying that they “belonged” to the person who baptized them. Paul’s response was to keep focus on the one object of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, who through his sacrifice on the Cross reconciles us to God and offers a path to redemption and life everlasting in heaven. It is through Jesus Christ that we have our model for living in harmony and reconciling any differences that may arise among us. Even though every congregation of Christians will inevitably have differences and divisions of many kinds, it is in the teachings, example, and hope of eternal life in Christ that we can find resolutions and common ground to move forward in the mutual life to which we are all called.
Our family’s history at Ascension includes differences of opinion and disagreements that have caused divisions over the years, many of which precede my time in Cartersville. Most of the differences and divisions I have seen and experienced have been effectively healed, while a few have resulted in the loss of family members who decided to move on. While it always hurts to lose a family member, through a focus on Christ’s teachings and his love for all of God’s children we have been able to strengthen our congregational life especially under the spiritual and administrative leadership of Mo. Mary. It is her belief and teaching that regardless of the differences we encounter, putting Christ and his love first in our thinking, debates, and disagreements gives us the ultimate path to settle our differences and move forward in the life of worship, outreach, and evangelism we are called to live. Over time people come and go; philosophies and ideas change; arguments and divisions rise and fall; but Christ is the eternal unchanging example of how to live and love across all time. His message will never change and is the single primary factor in us finding our way to serve together in peace for the glory of the kingdom. May we always love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.