Sermon, 8.9.09"Cliques and Christ" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Ephesians 4:1-6
In this passage Paul is expressing unity because he uses the word "one" so many times. It's hard to miss it.
But in reality we separate ourselves. In subtle ways, we draw distinctions between us and other people. People often feel like they're on the outside of groups that form around things like having kids or similar jobs, or looking alike.
We form groups to get affirmation and identity, and we tend to reinforce them whether we're inside or outside of the group. When we're inside a given group, we keep our conversation within the group and we don't extend invitations outside the group. And when we're outside a given group, we don't make an effort to get to know those within the group and we assume they don't want us around. This connects to the last sermon, "Seduced by Cool," because things like cool and cliques persuade us to see ourselves based on how humans would define us, not how God defines us.
But how does God define us? Christ has "broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph. 2:13-14). He has obliterated cliques: instead of being divided, we are all one.
Christ is always about bringing people back together. Jesus' death has obliterated the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, and likewise obliterates the other walls we set up -- like tattoos, clothing, education, home ownership, and neighborhoods. Those things don't define us anymore; Jesus' death for us defines us. So all those jokes made about you, your feelings of loneliness, and all those times you felt like you were on the outside looking in -- they don't define you.
If you live in discord with other believers, you're delivering an affront to God because he set things up so that cliques don't matter. If you decide to exclude another Christian, you're making a statement about what you think about Jesus Christ. You're not able to love and forgive this person, so you must not believe that Christ loves them unconditionally. Excluding other brothers and sisters based on arbitrary things, based on anything other than Christ's love for them, is wrong.
"I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
So in this spirit we ought to say yes to differences, and no to divisions. You should definitely have friends and you will naturally gravitate toward those who have things in common with you. And it's natural for us to want to share good things with those we care about. But we must be careful to keep our hearts open to everyone, not just those who are easy for us to love.
The only way for our church to remain without cliques is if we constantly look to God and not to anything else to prescribe us our identity. This unity is not something we achieve, it's something God already did! We can keep it alive by living in the way that's described in verse 2: with humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. Imagine if we really treated each other in this way.
"Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them." -- John Calvin
Isn't it true that the most difficult thing is to love our enemies? John Calvin offered a really helpful point when he said to just remember that they were created in God's image. If we truly make this our focus, then with every new person we meet we will not be able to WAIT to get to know and love them.