Re-Post: Unity Sermon

One year ago in May, I preached my first sermon. In it, I shared about how my experiences rowing have shaped my view of unity within the body of Christ. As Christians, sometimes we need to be reminded that we are all on the same team! So, today I wanted to share this sermon on my blog.

You can listen to the full sermon here: http://jcboston.org/unity/

Or you can check out my sermon notes below…

United in Spirit

A few years ago, I was training with the ambition of making the national rowing team – practicing twice a day, six days a week. One fall morning, I realized that my passion and desire for rowing had left. Then, throughout the next few months, God replaced this with an incredible dream for unity within the Christian community here in Boston. Today I want to share a little bit with you about what I’ve learned about Christian unity based on my background as a rower.

1.  A team acts, thinks and moves as one

One of the reasons rowers look so united is because they act, think, and move as one. In fact, the better able rowers are able to work together, the faster the boat will go. When everyone is synchronized, the work almost becomes effortless, and there is nothing like the feeling of eight people moving together, flying over the water.

In the same way, as Christians we are called to act, think, and move as one. The book of Acts describes the first Christian church as being “of one accord” and having “one heart and mind.” Yet, over the years the Church has divided time and time again over certain principles and doctrines, until now there are over 500 Christian denominations. Did you know that denomination means divided nation? We even associate ourselves with our denominations, defining ourselves by how we are different rather than how we are alike. Today, it’s as if we are rowing twenty different boats on twenty different teams, competing with one another and pulling Jesus in opposite directions.
As Christians we have to get in the same boat because we’re all on the same team and a team moves as one. The bible says there is “One body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). As a Christian team we are to act, think, and move as one and be permeated with oneness.

Principle 2: A team is united in spirit

In a rowing shell, our movements are directed by a small woman sitting in the front of the boat called the coxwain. A rowing race is 2,000 meters long, and after 1500 meters of pulling as hard as I could, sometimes I would wonder if I would even be able to make it to the end. At this time, our coxwain would shout out: “OK, now we are going to pull 10 strokes for the Gonzaga legacy. Let’s keep the winning tradition alive!” 
There was something about that call that lit the fire within me. You see, in a battle it is easy for us to get overwhelmed by the struggle and forget what we are working for. But we must remember the deeper reason and purpose of our work is what unites us. It is not a unity of doctrine, creeds, or gatherings, but rather the bible defines this synergy of the same foundation among believers as a unity of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we have a depth of unity that is unparalleled by anything else in this world, as we are not only sacrificing our time and energy for our school team but our entire lives for Jesus, the one who made us and who died on the cross for us. Yes, as Christians we are united in spirit to fight together for Jesus to win the race.
Principle 3: A team earnestly endeavors to keep the unity
From time to time situations arose among team members which caused us to be divided mentally. The interesting thing was that these negative thoughts that we had towards one another drastically reduced the speed of the boat and disrupted the rhythm. If even one person wasn’t working in complete mental and physical unison with the others, you could feel the resistance throughout the boat. As a rowing team, we quickly learned that to keep the unity amongst ourselves was of utmost importance.
In Ephesians 4:3 Paul writes that we must “make every effort” to keep the unity of the spirit among the Christian community. However, the word here in Greek (spoudazo) implies a much deeper meaning  than simply making an effort. Rather, spoudazo means to intensely labor; to endeavor to keep; to guard or watch over. As a rower, I know what intensely laboring is. I’ve heard it said that pulling a 2k in rowing is harder than giving birth. Now imagine pulling a 2k, then waiting 5 minutes and doing it again! My question to you is: What are we doing to intensely labor for the unity of the spirit among Christ’s body? Like rowers, we must fight with intensity and discipline for the unity we already have within the Holy Spirit.
 

Principle 4: A team embraces the diversity of the team members

In a rowing shell, each person has a different role. The girls in the stern were in charge of setting the rhythm of the boat, while the middle four were the engine room supplying the power, and the bow pair helped to keep the boat set from tipping from side to side. I found that when I understood my own role within the boat, it helped the boat go function more effectively.

You see, unity doesn’t imply uniformity. Rather, true unity embraces the diversity amongst the individuals. I’d urge you to find out how God has gifted you spiritually. God didn’t make us all the same, on purpose, because it humbles us. We are unique because it helps us understand that we are better together and that we need one another. We must understand that to be in the kingdom of God is to move away from a model of independence and towards interdependence.

Rather than denying the differences between denominations, as Christians we must embrace the uniqueness among parts of the body and learn from one another. You see, as the Christian communityrather than compete with one another, we complete each other. As we do this, we can be confident that as the body of Christ we will be much more effective in our work:  “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).
 

Principle 5: A team encourages one another

My novice year rowing, we would always shout out encouraging words to each other in the boat during the race, saying, “Yeah Whitney,” or “Go Katie!” The Varsity team actually scorned our boat for this, as it is a well-established rule among the rowing community that rowers do not talk in the boat. The thought is that if you have enough energy and breath to shout out something during a race, you’re not working hard enough. So for a few weeks, my coach told us that we could no longer talk in the boat. It turns out that this drastically decreased our boat speed, until my coach rescinded her comments and instead told us to do whatever it took to go the fastest.
You see, an encouraging word can go so far in improving the morale and mood of another. Encouragement helps us to realize that someone else believes in us and has our back. It’s the glue that binds good teams together in working to accomplish the same goals.

It’s been too long that the church has been simply ignoring one another, striving for the same goals but not talking to its fellow team members. What can you do to promote unity within the Christian community? I’d encourage you to begin by speaking well of other Christians. This week, can you commit to saying an encouraging word about another individual or church of a different denomination than yours? This is one simple thing you can do to promote the unity of the spirit, which is God’s desire for us, His church. When we come together united as one, just imagine what God can do… 

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