August 9, 2022

Unity and Harmony in the Church 29-05-2022

29th May 2022 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Sermon Title: Unity and Harmony in the Church

(Acts 16:16–34 & John 17:20–26)

                                                                                  By Heeyoung Lim

How and why the shocking tragedy of mass shooting has happened in a primary school in Texas? It’s only 10 days since another mass shooting in New York. Abuses of human worth still occur, and horrible tragedies still arise when unscheduled. There are mistreatment, wars, and unexpected shootings where to be peaceful in the world, many people go through difficult seasons, and struggle to live together. Bound by these difficulties and pain, people ask, “How can these chains be broken?” Challenging situations occur at any time and for any person.

There are layers of authorities and powers in the story of Acts 16. There is a powerful spirit that possesses the girl, who is also controlled by those who own and profit from her. A slave girl and people interrupt Paul’s ministry until he finally heals her. After the healing, she is no longer marketable for her owners. The girl’s masters became angered at this loss of income, and the crowd joined the complaints of local merchants against Paul and Silas. 

With no opportunity to defend themselves, Paul and Silas were beaten with a wooden rod and thrown into the prison with their feet placed in chains. There are civil authorities who mistreat Paul and Silas, and the jailer who imprisons them. New Testament Christians were accustomed to being imprisoned on false charges. However, above all, there is the power of God’s Spirit. 

In today’s text, a slave girl is in chains with the name of spirit, mammon, and power from others, but she is healed by Paul in the name of Jesus. Paul and Silas are in chains, but they act in freedom; they sing and pray even in a prison. This is the message of salvation by grace through faith.

The story testifies to the importance of prayer and praise. The prayer and song serve as their response to imprisonment. Their actions support one another and give witness to those who listen. When an earthquake opens the doors and breaks their chains, Paul and Silas save the jailer from taking his life. Whatever the jailer intended, Paul and Silas directed his focus immediately to Jesus and proclaimed the gospel. Proclamation of the Word held priority over their physical condition and comfort to Paul and Silas. In verse 33, the jailer tends Paul’s and Silas’ wounds, and Paul and Silas baptize the jailer and his household. This is a reciprocal ministry in a new community. The jailer and his family were reconciled to God, then to their former enemies who are two most unusual prisoners. May we be ready to proclaim the gospel to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I also hope that we can make and nurture more beautiful communities of faith through mutual service and ministry.

Sometimes, just when things seem to be going great, the bottom drops out, but may we trust God and sing and pray in the most difficult moments of our life. I also hope that our faith communities can pray and serve harder in Christ for the saints who have suffered.

Many people in the world will have experienced feelings of being trapped in a situation or relationship such as job loss, health challenges, abuse. What testimony can we bring of the Holy Spirit’s action and the power of Risen Christ in freeing us or our community from captivity or bondage?

How can we encourage and support one another amid the challenges of life we face today? What rituals and practices will we cultivate that will or can support people in difficult circumstances? We can pray for a violent world. God’s people can sing in their struggles when they know He leads and blesses each step of their lives no matter how difficult and dark some days may be.

The founder of one of missionary institutions, A. B. Simpson said, “The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people, The sunshine that banishes sadness and gloom, The fountain that bursts in the desert of sorrow, And sheds o’er the wilderness gladness and bloom. The joy of the Lord is our strength for life’s burdens. It gives to each duty a heavenly zest…”

If we lose strength in doing God’s work, it is probably because we are living a life that has nothing to do with the joy of the Lord. If our passion for serving has cooled, it must be because we have forgotten that the joy of the Lord is our strength. The Lord is our strength, and the joy of the Lord is our joy.

In John 17:20–26, Jesus’ prayer for the community and all people defines new freedom-life in relationship with God. The heart of this final part of Jesus’ prayer focuses on unity, and it is the ultimate demonstration of God’s work through His people. We are aware that body unity is patterned after divine unity. The absolute oneness of the Father and the Son will now be spiritually transferred to believers for unity and harmony in the church and community.

Obviously, being one is not easy. However, if we fail to achieve unity in church and faith communities, it means that we are turning away from Jesus’ prayer for all believers and God’s will for us. Jesus invites us to understand unity between the Son and the Father and lead us to walk into the unity and harmony in the church and wider communities.

In Acts, Paul proclaimed the gospel and looked after a slave girl who annoyed his ministry and baptised jailer and his family. When Jailer asked them about the salvation, they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Paul and Silas led a girl, jailer, and his family on the path of restoration, salvation, and reconciliation through proclaiming the gospel and liberating love in the name of Jesus.

In John 17, the last word is love. Jesus does not call for doctrinal unity, organizational unity, political unity, or artificial unity. This prayer is for unity that grows out of the love of God, received, and shared among his followers, leading to an experienced unity in love between Jesus and his followers. This unity in the church and wider communities are based on love of God. Five times within these six verses, Jesus names “love” as the key to divine relationships (vv. 23, 24, 26). Love is the divine gift to the disciples, the grace through which God seeks to attract the world, and the ingredient that the Lord prays for his followers. The purpose of the Father’s indwelling is the imparting of love to the disciples. Now they carry in their community the experience of that love, a power strong enough to remake the world. May we look after others with the love of God and try to remake the world in Christ. 

Unity in Christ and solidarity with those in need are faithful responses to God’s call to community. When love extends compassion, and justice unleashes freedom, unholy chains in relationships can be broken. The good news of God’s liberating grace needs to be delivered to anyone, anytime, and anywhere. The Holy Spirit leads us into the middle of life to do such ministry. 

Jesus prays for all believers. One of Jesus’ current ministries in heaven is to pray for us. As in today’s John’s gospel, Jesus wants us to be united in Christ. Unity and harmony in the church serve as a witness to the world. May we trust God’s protection for our spiritual and physical life and be witnesses fulfilling God’s will for the church by working to keep its unity. May unity and harmony in the church and wider communities be achieved through us in the name of Jesus.

Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Ref. Bible, commentaries, theological books, UCA materials)