When will the
Wisps of childhood
Enough gasps of Black People
Enough cries of Brown People
Enough endangerment of white people
For thoughts to turn into flipped tables?
And prayers to turn into peace beyond understanding?
How Long Lord?
I’m tired of this prayer, prayed on behalf of those who no longer pray
Melt our hearts God, move us beyond what we are—to doing what we need to do to bring peace.
No more thoughts and prayers—policies and protests.
Screw it. Times 14,000
In the name of Jesus Christ. We pray.
That was a prayer created by Pastor Katy Stenta, another clergy who is as disgusted as I am about the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Since 1968, there have been 1,516, people killed by guns on American soil. Gun violence kills an average of 168 people every two days! As of today, there have been 202 mass murder events in 2022 (and May is not over!), 30 school shootings, with 221 victims and 790 wounded.
WHEN IS THIS GOING TO STOP!?!?!?!?
But as I ask, ‘when will it end’, I await with trepidation where it will be next –and how soon – and how many more – and how many more innocent lives will be taken.’ Thoughts and prayers’ don’t seem to be working.
God forgive us and have mercy.
Once again (or should I say ‘yet’), I had to change the whole scope of my sermon because of current events. How many times are preachers going to have to address the carnage of mass murders and domestic terrorism?
- When are we going to live in a country that loves it children more than its guns?
- When will we able to stop teaching our students how to be safe during an active shooter situation?
- When are we going to act like people of God and stop these senseless killings?
- When are we going to remove the assault weapons that allow this terrorism?
- When are we going to hold our elected representatives accountable to enact legislation desired by the majority of Americans, including gun owners?
- When will our politicians stop being corrupted by special interests and their money?
- When are we going to exercise our right to vote for people who will remove the weapons of mass destruction?
- When will those who have not spoken out begin to have a voice?
- When are we going to pay attention to signs of primarily homegrown young white males that telegraph their intent to commit these atrocities?
On this Memorial Day weekend, instead of honoring those who fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice, we are caught up in a continuing circle of mass murders. We are too shocked to be able to give those who died in wars the respect they deserve.
All Powerful God,
We honor today those men and women—
Our sons and daughters,
Husbands and wives,
Fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers—
Who have laid down their life for their country.
Whether weary or emboldened, quiet or defiant, Vulnerable or ready when You called them home,
Their sacrifice is too humbling for words,
except these uttered in prayer.
Loving Lord, bless them forever in Your eternal peace.
Let the sounds of strife, the cries of battle, the wounds of war
be calmed for all eternity in Your loving and endless grace.
Let these great warriors find rest at last,
Ever reminded that we who are left behind
Cherish their Spirit, honor their commitment,
send them our love, and will never forget the service that they gave.
Let us take a moment of silence to remember and honor those who died to ensure the freedom we enjoy.
This week’s scripture is the calling from Jesus for all peoples to live in unity. . . with people of faith, people who have no organized faith, for
EVERYONE in the world.
Psalm 133:1 sums it up:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
With unity, there is room for diversity of beliefs and doctrines. There can be unity in diversity, and diversity in unity. Although differences of beliefs, doctrine, interpretation, and opinion may be held and expressed among people, they should be expressed in love and fellowship with those who may differ. This is the essence of true Christianity, based in Christ, through His love.
We are all gifted differently. God did that on purpose; He wants us to share our gifts with each other. He wants us to concentrate on our own gifts and learn to use them to the fullest. Through these differences, we teach each other. If we all had the same gifts, to the same extent as everyone else did, would be like everyone in the world being a doctor. Who would fix cars? Who would work in stores? We need to embrace differences in people!
One of the reasons for unity Is to be a witness to the world of the love of God. We all know how hard it is to love some people; so when love is exhibited by working together in the spirit of unity, it shows the Love of God in a way that is unmistakable.
In John 13:31, Jesus commands us:
we are to love one another.
But we have an environment in the United States where hatred, bigotry, divisiveness, and fear abounds! People deliberately slander, attack and murder those who are different. People plot and plan and commit atrocities under misguided beliefs that we must cleanse this nation of ‘the others’. And there seems to be no inclination to stop this terrorism!
Jesus said to us:
I am one with them, and you are one with me, so that they may become completely one. (John 17:23)
Just as in all people, we have many different ethnic backgrounds, races, social and economic classes, political slants, different talents, abilities, and personalities. We are diverse, yet we are all unified under our faith. What we have in common is so much greater than all those differences. What we share is of such importance to each of us, that we are willing and able to come together as one. We are all children of the Kingdom of God.
We share a common relationship; we share a common focus of worship- we share a common mission – joining together for the purpose of encouraging and uplifting one another and spreading the gospel to everyone we know.
Those are the things that unify us. Those are the things that matter the most. Those are the things that bring us together and cause us to lay aside all the differences.
When the people of God keep their focus, we can accomplish that unity. It’s when we lose sight of those commonalities that we begin to become dis-unified. When we let personality differences, personal preferences, differences in style, and petty details dominate our attention, we lose sight of the big picture – the love of God.
Jesus called us all to work together – yes, each of us has different jobs and positions. But yet, we are all to contribute to the spreading of the Gospel. It is not the bishop’s job or the priests or the deacons – it is about all of us working together, doing our part. We are too fragmented, so concerned about our own agenda, our own desires, our own particular feelings about ‘the others’. What is missing is the most important point:
Unity – coming together to show the love of God to the world around us.
Jesus assured us that
I am one with them, and you are one with me, so that they may become completely one. Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me. (John 17:23)
We need each other. (We actually need each other much more than we even realize!) Some have one gift, …while others do-not. When we come together in the spirit of unity showing the Love of God, that is greater than all the programs and plans man can ever put together.
God has called The Body of Christ to a life of radical obedience, service to the lost, broken and needy of this world. In doing this, we fulfill the scripture of becoming completely one
I am one with them, and you are one with me, so that they may become completely one. (John 17:23)
This is a radical idea – it’s life changing. It requires obedience – to be committed. But it’s this obedience that can transform this world through the expression of unity. We will make a radical difference in the lives of our family, and the families around us.
So, today the choice is up to you: continue to be just another Christian living life as he or she see fit, relying on God’s grace. Or join the revolution; find your place and make a difference. Let God show you where He wants you- He has given us the tools that we need. God will put us together with others. We will fit in nicely where He places us. We are like a piece in a puzzle; we fit together perfectly with others in the Body of Christ. Other pieces will move in around us and something beautiful will be the result. Be open to what God would have you do.
How do we strive to attain this unity?
I. Unity Requires Submission
The first step to unity is submission.
For most-people, when we hear this-word, the hair on the back-of-our-neck stands-up; we feel the muscles across our shoulders tense-up; our jaw clenches. Submit? No Way!
But, without submission, unity will not happen!
Why in the world should we ‘submit’ to one another? First, Scripture tells us to
“Submit-to one another out of reverence to Christ.” (Ephesians 5.21)
Every person of faith is guided by the Holy Spirit. We are accepting, receiving the living Spirit of God. Jesus comes to us, and She dwells within us. What that means is: it affects how we respond to one another. When we are called to submit to one another, we are actually submitting to the Christ dwelling in our brothers, and our sisters!
I don’t know about you, but that is revolutionary to me! It changes everything! It changes how I look at you; it changes how I feel about submitting. It changes my attitude because it’s not you and your DNA and your quirkiness and your strangeness that I’m submitting to; it’s the Christ dwelling within you, who has redeemed you, who calls you His beloved-child – just-like He calls me a beloved-child!
The second reason we submit to one another is because each-believer has been gifted by God. No one is exempt. No one is left out. No one is gift-less.
We are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
What this means is that no one has everything it takes to do the work of the Kingdom of God. We need each other. Unity requires submission. And we submit because others have tools and gifts that we don’t have. No one can be top dog on everything. We are just as indispensable as someone else with a different gift. Submission is an act of confession and an act of faith: It is confession, in-that we confess our own limitations; and an act-of-faith in that we trust that God is dwelling in and working through others in such a way that we need to cooperate with them so that the purposes of God are realized!
II. Unity Requires Sacrifice
Not only are we to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (who dwells in those that we submit to), but we are also to sacrifice for one another. Unity in the church family requires sacrifice.
I am always amazed at how so much of life is woven together by common themes. Unity is one of those themes. In the Old Testament, the central confession for ancient Israel was this:
“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
In the New Testament, Jesus affirms that
the Father and I are One. (John 10:30)
Unity is a common theme throughout Scripture. Is it any wonder that one of the key for unity, one of the essential ingredients is sacrifice?
Sacrifice leads to unity when we place our personal preferences, our individual dreams, sometimes our preferred way of doing things aside. Unity will not be realized when we are unwilling to make personal sacrifices. To make sacrifices is a sign that we recognize: “it’s not about me!” It is all about God.
Jesus was all about sacrifice; His entire life was sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed so much for us – why in the world would we not want to make personal sacrifices for the sake of others!? Why wouldn’t the body of Christ, the church, the family of God, why wouldn’t we see that for us to be unified, we must make sacrifices?
III. Unity Requires Purpose
Purpose… Mission… God’s plans… If we aren’t centered on God’s purposes, we will not be unified. We will be divided, fractured, and split by competing interests and conflicting dreams.
Unity requires purpose. All kinds of goals and aims can unite us:
United by a desire for fun.
United by a fear of outsiders.
United by common hobbies.
But, earthly purposes will never unite us in the way God wants His people to be united. Jesus taught us to pray
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)
for a reason. It is all about discerning the will of God, and seeking the will of God, and doing the will of God.
This is our purpose! Unity requires purpose, but that purpose must be rooted in and derived from God’s purposes and plans.
We can be unified in seeking God’s will, but our unity will not be healthy if we’re not sacrificial and submissive toward one another. We can be sacrificial and submissive toward one another, but miss the mark if we’re not also seeking the purposes of God.
Unity is God’s desire for us. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 spells it out for us:
“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken“
In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy demands that Linus change the channel on the TV, threatening him with her fist if he won’t do it, but Linus is reluctant to do so: “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” Lucy holds up her fist and opens her hand: “These five fingers. Individually, they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a terrible weapon.” Linus, now visibly shaken, asks, “Which channel do you want?”
There is nothing more natural than to separate from one another. As soon as Adam and Eve rebelled, they immediately fell apart from one another. The same strife characterized their children, as their first-born son murdered his brother. This is the testimony of fallen people – war, bitterness, strife, resentment, anger, hatred, murder, animosity, offense, slander, bickering, complaints, and rivalry.
There are several things that each of us can do to create unity in our families, our church, and our nation.
1. Be a grower. Some say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. While that might be true in human relationships, absence makes the heart wander in our relationship with God. And when we wander, we often go to war with others. If you find yourself out of sync with someone, ask yourself an honest question: “Am I walking with Christ?” Unity will only come when we allow Christ to live through us.
2. Be a peacemaker. Instead of judging, gossiping, or slandering others, search for specific ways that you can be a peacemaker. Proverbs 6:19 says that the Lord finds detestable
“a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
Stop being abrasive and cut others some slack. It’s like the Chinese proverb that says, “Do not remove a fly from your friend’s forehead with a hatchet.” Watch your words. And when you hear someone speaking ill of another, speak the truth in love.
The basic principle is whether another has wronged you, or you’ve been the one who has done wrong, as difficult as it is, we must go and meet face-to-face and seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-17). If someone has a grudge against you, do what you can to make it right. And if you have something against someone, go and meet with them.
- Admit that you’ve been wrong (Both attitudes and actions).
- Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
- Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
- Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
- Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
- Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
- Ask for forgiveness (Request release from the result of the action)
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
What is one thing you can do this week to keep the unity of the Spirit? Have you made every effort in that relationship you’re thinking about right now, or have you just made a lazy attempt?
3. Be a forgiver. Be like the young child who was overheard reciting the prayer given to the disciples:
“And forgive us our trash passes, as we forgive those who have passed trash against us.”
Are you passing trash around this morning? Get rid of it before it starts to stink!
4. Be a lover. Christ calls us to love one another in John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”
Love is not an option; it’s a command. And when we do love, people will notice and know that we’re followers of the one who loves unconditionally. Is there anyone you do not love right now? Anyone you’re avoiding? Giving the cold shoulder to? Every great awakening, large or small, throughout the whole course of Christian history, has invariably begun by a breaking down of barriers between Christians first.
5. Be a server. One of the best ways to have a unity-centered life is to be involved in serving. We need to equip people to become growing and faithful followers. But it doesn’t end there. As preparing and serving take place, notice what happens next in Ephesians 4:13:
“…until we all reach unity in the faith…”
One of the best ways to build unity is to serve side-by-side with others.
6. Be a pray-er. Pray that the world will embrace unity. The Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer for unity:
Almighty God, whose Blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit,
We need to be a people who are humble and trustworthy so that other believers can feel safe coming to us with what they’re struggling with so that we can pray with them and help them overcome. In the sweet fellowship of the Spirit, there is love and trust, accountability and confession, healing and restoration, and renewed strength and growth. When Christ is at the center of this fellowship, it’s the deepest, most meaningful fellowship. This is the value of coming together and loving one another, working with one another, and helping one another grow and mature in faith. Our spiritual fellowship accomplishes the will and purpose of Christ.
The Church itself is culpability for the ‘separated-ness’. We’re living in a world seething with cruelty — not only with abuse scandals, but also with mass shootings, political barbarism and the atrocities in Ukraine. How much will continual exposure to 24-hour news lead to people separating themselves more from others? Where will the forces of re-unification come from? Apparently not from our religious elites. Just look at the exposure of the abuse within the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist church hierarchies.
Churches, whether as a result of Covid, or because they are viewed by many as irrelevant, have loss the sense that they are centers of community, therefore, unity. They used to be the place that people congregated, ate, and worked together for the betterment of themselves and their community. Post-Covid, if we can say that, the religious institutions seem to have chose to stay in their silos, rather than go out into the world.
However, here is a small glimmer, However small, of hope: Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Church of Scotland Moderator Iaian Green Shields will be traveling together to South Sudan on a “Mission of Peace” in July. I cannot imagine Pope Pius V, John Knox, and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer journeying anywhere together. Since the civil war in Sudan ended, Sudan became two different countries, North and South Sudan, separated by huge disparities in religion and poverty.
Pope Francis will go with the message, “I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward”. . . go forward in unity. They are risking their personal safety to travel to a dangerous place to promote peace and reconciliation … and unity. We pray that their united effort will ease the life of those people, and be an example for the rest of the world of working in unity.
Let us pray:
“Abba God, you are in me, and I am in you; may they also be in us, I in them and you in me,
that they may become completely one.” (John 17:21, 23)
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 9 May 2022
 Pastor Katy Stenta
 The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Unity, pg 255