Reaching for Common Ground, Striving for Higher Ground

Moravian Motto 2To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on Philippians 2:1-11

The apostle Paul understood that unity was essential to the life of a Christian. In our scripture passage from Philippians, we see that one of the greatest ways we can glorify Christ is through our unity. Paul often spoke of the Church as a human body. The members of the church, Paul suggested, are as interdependent as the various parts of the human body, making their contributions in harmony with the other parts of the body. Paul believed that the success of the church depended upon cooperation of all members of the church. Certainly unity is very important in achieving success in every aspect of life. In athletics, coaches want their teams to be united. In the business world, managers want their employees to be united to reach their goals and in the church we certainly want our members to be united to help fulfill our mission statement. Successful groups or organizations achieve the most success when the members can agree on their purpose and mission and work to achieve it together. From his own sufferings, Paul knew the early Church would face determined opposition. Paul warned his friends in the previous chapter to beware of opponents, suffering and conflict. Paul knew those followers needed to be united in order to proclaim the gospel effectively in their community. For this reason Paul made an appeal for unity that speaks to us even today. Paul provided us some points that help us to remain united with each other.

First, Paul calls on us to be worthy of the gospel. He encouraged the Philippians to behave in a like-minded way and share the gospel message with others. Sometimes sharing is difficult for people. I recall reading several years ago about a person named Luis Tarisio. Tarisio owned some of the world’s greatest musical instruments. He lived a very modest life; in his home there were few comforts. Tarisio’s passion in life was collecting violins, and at the time of his death 246 violins were discovered in the attic of his home. The best violin was found in the drawer of an end table in a corner of the attic. In his very devotion to the violin, he had robbed the world of some of the greatest musical instruments ever made. The greatest of his collection, was a Stradivarius, had gone 147 years without being played.

Likewise, we often are guilty of hoarding the gospel message for ourselves and we forget to share God’s message with others. We should all try to follow the example that a missionary once shared in a remote village they were in for several years. This missionary gave a Bible to one of the chiefs in the village. When it was given to the chief, the chief hugged it close and expressed great appreciation for the precious gift of God’s Word that the missionary had given. When the missionary saw the chief a few days later they noticed that the Bible looked like it was already falling apart, and that many of its pages were missing. The missionary asked the chief, “What happened? What did you do to your Bible? When I gave it to you I thought you considered it to be a treasured possession?” The chief replied. “Indeed, it is a very precious possession. It is the finest gift I ever received. The chief went on to say that it was so precious that when they returned to their village they very carefully chose a page and tore it out and gave it to their mother. Then the chief tore out another page and gave it to their father. The chief tore out another page and gave it to their spouse. Finally, the chief gave pages of God’s Word to everybody who lived in the village. The message of God’s Word was so wonderful that they wanted to share it with everyone! Yet today in 2017, in our very love for the church we often fail to share the Good News with those in our community. In our zeal for discovering God’s truth, we forget to publish it. As Paul taught the early Christians, we need not only cherish the gospel message but also share it!

Secondly, Paul encourages us to uphold the gospel. This purpose should unite any congregation. Upholding the gospel involves both sharing the message and living the message through our words and actions. Our purpose as Christians is best stated in the following verses from the gospel of Matthew.

Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love you neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39

Paul also called the Philippians to be united in attitude. Paul wanted them to be like the early believers of Jerusalem who were united to serve God with all their mind, heart and soul. Unfortunately many churches and even denominations fail to achieve this type of unity of mind, heart and soul. They may agree on their mission but they cannot agree on how best to implement their mission. Our motto as a Moravian Church, which dates back to the 1700’s, provides us guidance in achieving our mission.

 In essentials, unity

In non essentials, liberty

In all things, love

Our goal as Moravians is for others to look at us and say, “This motto is more than just catchy words, more than a nice poem, and it is a description of faith and life in the Moravian Church.” (Brochure, The Moravian Church Is…) This motto has served as a reminder that love is the real spirit of acceptance, that love is the bottom line for our life together. We are most Moravian when we dare to make this motto our living witness. What does this motto really mean for us?

In essentials; unity

I believe this portion of our motto is best represented in the hymns we sing and liturgies we pray in worship. These hymns and liturgies reflect our beliefs. We are fortunate that in most of our congregations across the Unity, members are exposed to them every time we worship. What these liturgies and hymns reflect is that Moravians are a Christ centered church. The essential of essentials for Moravians is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The reality of God’s love offered in Jesus Christ is what our life of faith is all about. It can be argued that none of us experience or understand Jesus in exactly the same way, but that does not matter. Our faith in Christ and our commitment to live, as His followers, is an essential to our faith.

In nonessentials; liberty

The list of nonessentials is as big and wide as any ocean or mountain range. Here we go beyond mere tolerance to acceptance of diversity. We need to be able to say that it is okay for our churches to be different in some ways. Having a variety of worship forms, musical selections, preaching styles, program offerings and ministries in churches are good and healthy for the life of the Moravian Church. Of course those things that I just mentioned are the easy nonessentials. When we begin talking about religious, ethical, social, cultural or political issues where we try to turn to Scripture for guidance sometimes this is more difficult for us. Many of these matters are important and require conversation and debate, but they do not necessarily rise to the level of being essential to our salvation. Even when we look to Scripture for guidance oftentimes we are left confused. Nicolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, the Lutheran nobleman and benefactor of the early Moravian Church once said that there were 3 levels of clarity in Scripture:

  • The things that are essential to our salvation are clear enough for anyone to understand.
  • There are other things that are not essential to salvation that require tools in order to be understood like knowing ancient Hebrew or Greek for example.
  • There are things in Scripture that even with the tools may still remain a mystery.

We must be content to live within that mystery. In addition we must continue to struggle with these topics and seek God’s guidance together. In thinking of these nonessentials, we may have to agree to disagree with our brothers and sisters and in doing so follow the third point of our motto, which is “in all things, love.”

In all things love

Love affirms our unity rather than our divisions. We can be wrong about a lot of things, but the thing that God desires most is for us to be in a strong and growing relationship with Him. Love has the power to make our differences no difference. While we could all spend a lot of time identifying our differences, this part of our motto proves to us that love has the power to overcome our differences by refocusing our concern on all that we have in common. God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit brings us together in God’s family and it also keeps us together as a community of faith. The power of love affirms our unity rather than our divisions. Love not only brings us together in God’s family it also keeps us together as a community of faith. We who are here today must join hearts and hands together to uphold the gospel. When we share a common purpose, when we strive to follow our motto:

In essentials, unity

In non essentials, liberty

In all things, love

The gospel of Jesus Christ will be shared and God will be glorified!

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

July 2, 2017