This summer, Lenora and I had the privilege of preaching a message series guided by Steve Harper's Five Marks of a Methodist. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read this wonderful little book, it is an exploration of the five distinguishing marks identified by John Wesley in his 1742 treatise, The Character of a Methodist, that "confirm our identity as genuine and fruitful disciples and followers of Christ." These marks are:
- A Methodist Loves God
- A Methodist Rejoices in God
- A Methodist Gives Thanks
- A Methodist Prays Constantly
- A Methodist Loves Others
And so, at the conclusion of the series, it occurred to me that a Methodist who bears these five marks, in word and deed, should have the propensity to bear one more mark - A Methodist Seeks Unity.
Defined as “the state of being one; oneness; concord; or, harmony,” unity is not a word that could sanely describe the state of our world today.
Still, our unity is what Jesus fervently prayed for that night in the Garden at Gethsemane, saying “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21, CEB)
Moreover, each week in worship we pray, "By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."
These prayers notwithstanding, disunity abounds.
Maybe it's because of our tendency to confuse uniformity with unity. Or, maybe it's because we're afraid that the pursuit of a more perfect union with those whose beliefs differ from our own will somehow compromise our beliefs.
Whatever the reason, it won't change the fact that we are called to "oneness." As such, I believe we are called to bear what John Wesley called a “catholic spirit.” Wesley wrote in his sermon of the same title, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may.”
Indeed, we don't have any room to doubt that we can "be of one heart," in spite of our differing opinions, because that kind of unity is not something we manufacture. We couldn't if we tried. Rather, that unity is an existing reality, because of the saving work of Christ, in which we must choose to live throughout the course of our everyday, ordinary lives.
Hence, what troubles me most these days is the incessant and reckless rhetoric that perpetuates our disunity and fails to reflect what we, as followers of Christ, claim to believe. This is why, instead of continuing to painfully bear witness to the discord and disunity that has become prevalent on social media, I am taking a leave of absence from Facebook and choosing to pray the below prayer every day between now and November 8th.
You might not feel the need, as I do, to leave Facebook for a season. Nonetheless, let me encourage you, dear reader, to rise above the rhetoric and join me in praying this prayer every day, beginning now:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)