“LIVE IN HARMONY WITH ONE ANOTHER”

I PETER 3:18; JOHN 17:1-21

 

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            The Christian comedian Emo Philips tells the following story.  He said during one of routines,

 

            In a conversation with a person I had recently met, I asked, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”

            My new acquaintance replied, “Protestant.”

            I said, “Me, too!  What franchise?”

            He answered, “Baptist.”

            “Me, too!” I said.  “Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist.”

            “Northern Baptist,” he replied.

            “Me, too!” I shouted.

            Philips said, “We continued back and forth.  Finally, I asked, ‘Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?’

            He replied, “Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

            I said, “Die, heretic!”

 

            That sentiment, “die heretic” is a far cry from the words of the great Lutheran reformer Philip Melancthon who proclaimed, “In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  Unfortunately, those two northern conservative fundamentalist Great Lakes Baptists considered everything essential.  There were no gray areas or places where they could disagree in love.  Furthermore, their interaction with one another was a far cry from Jesus’ prayer in the Upper Room.

            Consider the setting in the Upper Room.  Jesus was surrounded by this disciples, the ones with proud hearts and formerly dirty feet, when he began to pray.  He did not invite the disciples to participate in the prayer, but he did want them to listen to the prayer.  In this prayer, and by the way, we ought to call this the Lord’s Prayer, and what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Disciples’ Prayer, since that’s the prayer he taught the disciples to pray, but I don’t want to muddy the waters, I just want to tell you what I think.  So, in this prayer, his longest prayer recorded in the gospels, Jesus prays for three sets of people.  With the cross looming at sunrise, he first prayed for himself ... verse 1 ...

 

            Father, the hour has come; glorify you Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

 

            To “glorify” literally means to make known or bring into the open.  The chief use of the word is to reveal the character and the presence of God in a person.  Jesus wanted to make sure the disciples see the presence of God in his death.

            Second, Jesus prayed for his disciples, and I’m not going to read that entire part, but sections of it ... verses 9, 11b, 15 ...

 

            I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on my behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours ... Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one ... I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

 

            A number of years ago, my Director of Christian Education preached at a Holy Week service at the church where she shared what it was like to be pregnant with each of her daughters.  Catherine said, “Without a sonogram, I could not see them, but I knew they were there.  I felt their movements, their kicks, their constant, rhythmic hiccups all hours of the night.”  She said, “I also knew that, even though they were separate, we were also one.” 

            Even though separate, Jesus prayed that the disciples’ hearts would beat in rhythm with his, and that the disciples would share the same harmony, the same love with one another that characterized Jesus relationship with his Heavenly Father.

            Finally, after praying for himself and for his disciples, Jesus prayed for you and me ... verse 20 ...

 

            I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. 

 

            On the night of his arrest, he had you and me on his heart and his mind, and he prayed that we have unity, that we would be one, just as he and his Heavenly Father are one.    And I suspect the Apostle Peter remembered those words from the Upper Room when he encouraged a handful of churches in Asia Minor to “live in harmony with one another.”

            In light of Jesus’ prayer, and in light of Peter’s directive to live in harmony with one another, I want to remind us of three things concerning the subject of harmonious relationships among Christians.

            First, I want to remind all of us of the challenge of living harmoniously.  The German philosopher Schopenhauer compared the human race to a bunch of porcupines huddling together on a cold winter’s night.  He observed, “The colder it gets outside, the more we huddle together for warmth; but the closer we get to one another, the more we hurt one another with our sharp quills.”

            My friend, Charlie Scott, grew up in Tennessee, and went to the University of Tennessee and played basketball while there, and he told me about a church in a Tennessee small town.  I can’t imagine it’s true, but who knows, it’s about Tennessee.  The sign in front of the church read, “Left Food Baptist Church.”  It seems a number of years ago, there had been a split in the congregation over the issue of foot washing.  An argument had broken out over which foot should be washed first.  The group insisting on the left foot taking precedence finally withdrew and split off to organize its own church and named its congregation accordingly!

            Living in harmony is a great idea, a noble idea, until we disagree with someone, or someones, and we are tempted to fly apart rather than to stick together.  It can be over foot washing or hymnbooks, or gender issues, or sexual orientation, you name it ... it is a challenge to live in harmony when we disagree and disagree vehemently.  This one another directive is no walk in the park.

            Second, I want to remind us of the rarity of it.  Joseph Aldrich points to four signposts that draw people to Christ.  He says the four are love, good works, hope, and unity.  He contends that when people see these things in Christ’s people they are attracted to Christ.  In other words, when we in the church exhibit unity, those outside the church conclude that something out of the ordinary, something supernatural, must be taking place, because people are more likely to argue with one another rather than live in harmony with one another.  Jesus certainly alluded to the attractiveness of unity when he prayed in the Upper Room (vs. 21-23) ...

 

            As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 

            When we live in harmony with one another, when we are one with God and each other, we direct people’s attention to the source of that harmony, Jesus Christ.

            Unfortunately, that’s not the case often enough.  Far too many times it’s more like what a young rabbi discovered when he went to his new appointment.  The congregation was quarreling and the quarrel was taking up much of the congregation’s energy, so much so that during the Friday services, half the participants stood up during the one part of the proceedings while half remained seated.  All decorum was lost as each side shouted at the other side to conform.  Members of each group insisted that theirs was the correct tradition.  Seeking guidance, the young rabbi took a representative from each side to visit the synagogue’s founder, a ninety-nine year old rabbi living in a nursing home.

            The man from the standing up side said, “Rabbi, isn’t it true that the tradition was always for people to stand at this point in the service?” 

            “No, the old rabbi replied, “that was not the tradition.”

            The man from the sitting down side smiled and said, “Then it is true the tradition is for people to stay seated?”

            “No,” said the rabbi, “that was not the tradition.”

            “But, rabbi,” cried the young rabbi, “what we have now is complete chaos.  Half the people stand and shout, while the others sit and scream.”

            “Ah,” said the old rabbi.  “That was the tradition.”

            Sadly, that’s way too true in too many places, too many churches, and it’s no wonder so many take a pass on Christ and Christ’s church, but when they do find a group who truly is one, who truly lives in harmony and unity, it’s a rarity, not an every day occurrence.

            Then, thirdly, the last thing I want to say about harmony is this: harmony is not uniformity. 

            Psychologists Martin Bolt and David Myers point out a great danger in attempting to live in harmony with one another.  They point out how a great desire for unity can squash dissent if we are not careful.  Let me read how they illustrate this.  They write the following scenario ...

 

            Everyone seems to be on board.  No one raises any questions about the architectural drawings.  One church council member, a middle-aged real estate broker, has some questions about the congregation’s ability to fund the project, but he keeps those questions to himself because he does not want to dampen the enthusiasm.  When he shares his concern privately with another member of the council, he is told, “You lack faith.”  He thinks maybe the council member is right.  Maybe he does not have enough faith.  After all, no on else seems to be concerned about paying for this ambitious project.  Inspired by a dynamic young pastor, and certain the building will attract new members, the council votes unanimously to go ahead with the project.  Bonds are sold, and a sizable debt is incurred.  Two years later, the same council members find it impossible to service the debt.  Disaster looms.

 

            What happened?  Bolt and Myers call it “Groupthink.”  Critical judgment, the weighing of pros and cons, was suspended in an attempt to maintain group harmony.  Unity, harmony, is not uniformity.

            Let me close with this.  I discovered an amazing choir this past week. It’s an ensemble of 185 voices from 12 nations.  What makes this choir unique is the choir members have never met one another, nor have they met the conductor for whom they were singing.  It’s virtual choir, the idea of conductor/composer Eric Whitacre.  Each individual voice recorded with a simple webcam at each singer's home computer.  Whitacre held online auditions, with people sitting at home in front of their computer, then he put together a brief instructional video of what he wanted them to do.  They simply sang their parts into their webcams, and sent them to Whitacre, who enlisted someone to edit all the pieces together to form a choir.  The result is nothing short of stunning.  I encourage you to experience it for yourself this week if you have a computer.  Just Google “virtual choir”, and it will direct you to web site.

            Talk about harmony.  The virtual choir, made up of 185 voices from 12 nations, makes beautiful, extraordinary music together.  Of course, the trick is to make beautiful music together after meeting one another.

            Ah, that’s the rub, and that’s the call of his one another directive.

           

            Here is a link to the Virtual Choir - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs