Unity brings Strength
Years ago, when I was a middle school student, my art class did a unit on pottery. We were each tasked with making a small vase on the pottery wheel during that quarter. When my turn came, I struggled to get the hang of working the wheel and shaping the clay at the same time. I fumbled through several tries until, finally, I found my rhythm. I remember being excited about finally starting to shape my vase. It slowly began to take form and grow to the size I envisioned. However, all the sudden disaster struck and one side of my vessel collapsed at the same moment that the art teacher walked by. I still remember the conversation that followed:
She bent down and asked if I was having trouble and needed help. I was a young prideful perfectionist who wanted to “figure it out on my own”. So instead of telling me what to do, she simply told me to start over and then she watched as began again. A fresh attempt again began to take form on the wheel… and again half of it collapsed. Frustration flooded my body and a smashed the clay with my hands in a loud, Hmmmmmmph.
My teacher knelt down and asked if she could give me one piece of advice. I nodded in anger, I wasn’t good at asking for help at the time (or today). She told me that my vase was collapsing because I was making one side of the wall too thin and they were not even. She explained that where there was unity in the thickness of the clay that there would be strength to hold up the sides.
My next try was successful and the walls of my vase stayed upright so that I could fire, paint, and gift the piece to a lucky family member. In all honesty, the vase itself was not that valuable or important; however the lesson that came with it was.
Today, as I pastor, leading a church that is striving to bridge divisions within the Body of Christ, I often get frustrated at what feels like the collapse of The Church in our culture today. However, during a quiet time of conversation with God many weeks ago where I was asking Him for wisdom in bringing people from different races, lifestyles, genders, incomes, perspectives, denominations, political views, or family structures together to learn to do life together. He brought this experience with the vase back to my mind and the words of my middle school art teacher prophetically echoed in my heart,
Where there is unity there is strength…
Much like my failed clay pot… the walls of The Church are collapsing. The Body of Christ has become so thinly spread out and divided into our so many different groups- that we are weakened.
This week in worship at TCG we shared a message called Across Divides and we talked about common divisions within the church today and we must learn to build bridges. We used the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23 as our litmus test for the church today. Christ prayed that we… “will all be one, just as you and I are one- as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me.”
Jesus prayed that we would be united and that we would be known by our unity. Our unity was to be a testament to the world of the authenticity of the gospel message. Sadly today, the church is better known for it’s divisions than it’s unity. We separate by age, by race, by denomination, by preference, by Bible translations, by Bible interpretations, by our view of gender, by our perspective of family, by how we vote, by the exercises that we argue about… our separation is weakening our witness.
Where there is unity there is strength…
Where we learn to come together and connect, despite our differences- there is strength.
Where we learn to disagree with grace and love and not sacrifice relationship- there is strength.
Where we learn to focus on God in worship rather than music styles or personal preferences- there is strength.
Where we work to bridge gaps and heal hurts and divisions there is strength.
Strength is found by coming together- not by dividing further apart from one another.
My prayer for The Church today is that we would find ways to unite in love and worship. I pray that we would learn to do life together as family- who might not always agree- but will always love one another. May we be willing to do the hard work of building bridges, having conversations, and closing gaps.
My favorite prayer in scripture is Nehemiah 6:9, “They thought that my hands would grow too weak for this work- so I prayed, “God strengthen my hands.”
God give us strong hands for this hard work and guide us to unity.