Authentically United Methodist – When We Agree to Disagree Agreeably
Colossians 3: 12-17
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers – St. Timothy’s UMC
Life is hard enough these days! Being a Christian just adds to that hardship. We as Christians have been given what some call “the easy pass” to the good life. Life in Christ is seen by some to be the easy way to live, the paved highway to happiness. When in fact it is just the opposite if taken seriously. If we take our relationship with Jesus seriously then we have become the Christian that struggles with “right living.” Simply in fact, working to be Christ-like is difficult, painful and frustrating a great deal of the time.
Not only is it frustrating and difficult, it becomes a way in which we reach out to vindicate ourselves and disgruntle those around us. It is a constant journey of duration, management, and courageous action. But it is not always a pleasant journey! It’s a journey that often takes us to the bitter end of relationships and frustrates us beyond belief. This joyful journey of a Christ-like journey is not always joyful, therefore one of the things we need to do is to work on the pattern of living and loving together.
It has been all too familiar in our daily and nightly news for the past century that this type of conflict exists. It is no stranger to our existence, yet it is in the forefront of our necessary existence as Christians, to learn to love one another even when we don’t agree.
The words of John Wesley sink deep into the soul this week, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart though we are not of one opinion. If your heart is as my heart, give me thine hand.”
We hear this morning in the Colossians text the writer giving instructions to the chosen community of God—“As God’s chosen one’s, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (v.12)—on how to live their life in preparation for what they are experiencing and what they will experience.
One of the major downfalls of our implementing the Christian practice is the fact that we, as Christians, think we need to provide the ultimate answer to the problem. In fact that is one of the great fallacies of the world, to believe that we must provide the ultimate solution to every problem. This in turn aligns us to be the problem solvers for everything wrong in the world, which we are not capable of doing. Paul and the writers of Colossians are clear to point out that one of the things we do every day is get dressed. (Not in so many words) but suggests to us that the way the world sees us as Christians is by the way we act and are visible. Thus we need to “clothe” literally, “put on the attire” of kindness, humility, meekness and patience in our daily lives in order that the world will know who we are.
That, my friends, is one of the biggest challenges we have in the midst of different mind sets, actualities, and the composite life we find ourselves every day we live. I was thinking back some 30 to 40 years ago—now that’s a scary thought—about the type of conflict and differences we had made known to us in that time. I remember sitting in front of the six-inch, black-and-white TV in our little den, watching the 6:00 news. Seeing the helicopters race across the sky of Southern Vietnam, watching riots break out on the west coast, and so forth. Realizing at that point in my young life there were things that I had not experienced that were invading my world. How was I going to handle that?
I believe fully that we, as people of faith, are constructed from our earliest points in life to learn to live as “people of faith,” whether through our parents, our friends, our churches, whatever our outside influences may have been. That is where we learn to “put on the clothes” of being a Christian who lives in the world that is different than we may want it to be.
In this text today we are confronted with the situation of dealing with people who don’t think and believe as we do. Paul was concerned that the people of the faith, get along the best possible way they could. Yet at the center of Paul’s writings, with the conflict of these churches is Paul’s concern for Christian ‘forgiveness.’ The matter of dealing with those whom you disagree with begins with above all else, “putting on the clothing of love.” Peace then is perhaps really a state of “setting at one again”—being forgiven and forgiving, joining together with Christ and, through the grace of God, with others.
Because we have been set at one with Christ, and have found peace of mind in Christ, we are thereby able to offer that peace to others. For certain, people are going to make mistakes. People are going to wrong us, some even hurt you or you have hurt them. But— \the true character of Christian behavior is “peace” that comes because of grace, and love and forgiveness prevail. We have to understand that in Paul’s world, this was a real thing in the Church. They were arguing, bickering, and fussing with one another. The hope that Paul and Jesus set before us is the hope that these items can be worked through and dealt with. Not cast aside, not forgotten, because we are human, but it must become a part of the Christian’s life to work through these things we cannot agree upon.
Being the Church, as I said earlier, is hard work! We love one another but, like Paul, it is a labor of love. Often times in the grand scheme of things we think the Church is going to fall apart because of turmoil, travail, and pure anger. Yet, it is with great honesty that we have to admit that the work of the Church has all been done before us! We just have to model it! We have to be the ones to “put on that clothing of love” and “be of the same mind,” quite literally, “to mind the same things.” So our real work of the Church and as John Wesley saw it, was as one commentator said, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and destroy many.” One of the things that I have come to understand in my maturing faith is that arguments are devastating to the energy of the people. We do a lot of things that drain our energy, some good, some not so good. Yet the growth of anger and fear devastate the amount of “good” energy we can put forth.
Now a preacher always runs the risk of speaking to the choir! Yet I think this is a message that cannot go unnoticed. It is a risk and a factor that prevails in churches, world religions, and in faith communities around the world. We need to hear this reminder that even though we are different in our thoughts and beliefs, we must find ourselves of one mind in Christ. It is when we neglect the goodness and the grace of Jesus that we slip into that hole that cannot be defined and find ourselves struggling to retain and maintain the message of the Church and Jesus Christ. We are in a constant state of being unified beyond belief. Yet it is the belief in Jesus Christ and the grace that He provides that sustains us when arguments, differences, and splits occur.
I encourage you, as part of the Church universal, to keep this practice in mind, seeking the grace and the oneness of God’s Spirit.
Remembering that speaking the love in truth was what Jesus and Paul want us to do! In doing so, when Jesus teaches us to be of one mind, there is the assumption that “learning is going on when and while the teaching is going on.”
A favorite story of mine is about the particular church denomination that believed in baptismal sanctification (the moment you are baptized, you are sanctified, and therefore perfect—you won’t ever sin again). One winter an older man got convicted and decided to join this group. It was wintertime and he wanted to be baptized right away, but the creek was frozen over. Well, he had a great desire to be pure, so he convinced the deacons to baptize him. They cut a hole in the ice, took the old fellow and dunked him in the hole, all the way, twice for good measure. As he came out the old man gushed, “Oh! It’s so wonderful, I’m sanctified, I’m so blessed; I don’t even feel the cold.” The head deacon said, “Llet’s dunk him again, he’s still lying!”
Paul wanted to teach the believers at Colosse how to live as Christians. In the first 15 verses of this chapter, Paul lists the Christian virtues and vices. He says, in grace, “Avoid the vices; live by the virtues.”
That is truly “being of one mind, one heart” My challenge and prayer for ALL of us is to find that place of one heart, one mind, and one body as we live in the example of Jesus Christ.
AMEN and AMEN!