On Sunday I preached on the division of the kingdom into the Northern (Israel)and Southern (Judah) kingdoms. One of the points I was making was that while the division was God’s doing in judgment against Solomon’s “divided heart” or half-heartedness toward God, divisions were already present in God’s people. God was taking things to their natural conclusion, really: a divided heart leads to divided purposes and a divided people. Division is never a good thing. However, division – like so many things – can still be used by God. The Church was divided in 1054 between East and West, and again nearly 500 years later in the Protestant Reformation. Did good things come from these things? Did God continue to work with his people? Yes, absolutely, in both cases (and in many more following!). As long as God’s people will work with him, good, kingdom-building, missional things can and do still take place. I was approached after Sunday’s message and reminded of a division of sorts that took place in the New Testament that yielded important missional results. In Acts 15.36-41 Barnabas and Paul have a sharp disagreement as to whether or not to bring along with them a young man named John Mark. Paul did not think it wise to bring him because he had deserted them once before. Barnabas, ever the encourager, felt differently. He wanted to give John Mark one more chance. Their disagreement caused Paul and Barnabas to part ways. But God used this division anyway. One went one way to expand the mission; the other went a different route. John Mark, encouraged by the “son of encouragement” (the meaning of the name, Barnabas) matured and became the author of the first gospel, the Gospel of Mark. Good things happened even amid division and sharp disagreement. That’s the grace of God. The goal, however, is not “reunification.” I do not believe it’s realistic or even helpful to try and unite all of the different sects and denominations and movements within the larger universal Church. The differences between us are real, important and, believe or not, often times good. I believe that the goal is about working together with one another on the things that matter most. It’s about one day coming to that place where we (and I truly do include myself in this) speak lovingly, carefully and sacredly of one another. That doesn’t mean we hide our disagreements, but that we not slander one another in the process. After all, if Jesus says we are to love our enemies, what choice do we have concerning brothers and sisters in Christ? Truthfully, I do not find this kind of behavior to be easy at all. I stumble, I hurt others, I mouth off. But I am learning (again) that these things do not honor God or his mission. I am learning to repent of my divisive wanderings and return to the way of love. I do not do it perfectly. I likely never will. But it is my aim. Finally, if this is true in how relate to other congregations and traditions, how much more so should it be true of how relate to one another as sisters and brothers within the same congregation? It’s not that our local relationships are more important than any of the others. Rather, it is that when we are a part of a local community into which we hope others will find a home, we must work even harder to act and speak lovingly to one another. Our ability or inability to do so impacts the mission in powerful ways. If we do not have community or unity, frankly, I wonder who really needs us?
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