It is one thing to say that we eat Jesus’ body. For in some fashion as we receive Christ’s body and his blood, we do consume Jesus. As Christians we need more of Jesus in our lives, both internally and externally. So, we follow Jesus’ command to do this breaking of Jesus’ body and sharing in his blood.
However, it is another thing entirely for a Christian to say that we have devoured each other. How do we devour one another? We have had fights in the church. We have taken sides within the church. Oh, these fights in the church may not have split the church wide open. But even when two or three are at odds with each other, we are consuming one another.
I hear how Christians can devour each other at the district and conference level. As part of the Wytheville District Strategy Team I have heard about the level of mistrust among our churches. We have small churches that don’t trust the larger churches. We have clergy who don’t trust other clergy. At the conference level there are rumors of factions that are favored by the bishop. Some would even say there are political maneuverings to get such and such a pastor a particular pastoral appointment. It may not be the 43 year old debate about homosexuality that will tear the United Methodist Church apart. It just might be our competing, envying one another!
This leads me to ask the question, why can’t we be more like Jesus? For Jesus himself was gentle, meek, and filled with humility. As we have been baptized into Jesus’ name, we are clothed with Jesus. We even realize that in time as we follow Jesus, he is formed in us (4:19). The Holy Spirit of God is working in us to help us to overcome the flesh. He is working so that we learn to desire the things of God. As the Holy Spirit is working in and among us, we grow fruit. For us today we are focusing on the fruit of the Spirit that is called, “Gentleness.”
We need not think that “gentleness” is a weakness. For this is not an attribute that means we roll over and play dead. Nor is gentleness a way for Christians to be sidelined in this society. As we look at Jesus’ life, we see having gentleness is a strength.
Jesus put up with so much. How many times do we read in the Gospels the repetitive times that people questioned Jesus? How many times do we see Jesus standing up to the religious leaders?
Then there was that time that a woman was caught in the act of adultery. The religious leaders were ready to condemn her to death. So they brought her to Jesus. But all Jesus does is to start writing on the ground. Then, after more questions from the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus stands up and says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus goes back to writing on the ground. Every one of the accusers slowly leaves. After all have left, Jesus tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again. (John 8:1-11)”
Was Jesus steamrolled by the religious leaders? Did he give in to their view of God’s law? Did Jesus show any weakness in this scene?
Jesus showed gentleness. He showed a strength to withstand the questions from the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus stayed true to God by giving grace to the woman, for there was obviously a man who was part of the act of adultery! Jesus also showed strength by reminding the woman how she was to live.
Can we have that same strength? Can we be as gentle as Jesus was gentle? I believe we can. When people are accusing us, questioning us, we can give them grace. But we need not roll over to our accusers. We can remain true to God and to other Christians without succumbing to their bullying. As Christians we show the fruit of gentleness by forgiving and loving one another.
What would happen if we were to consume and devour one another in this church? We would be alone. It is extremely difficult to be church if we are not talking, respecting, loving, and forgiving each other. I think May Angelou sums this up well.
Alone Maya Angelou (b. 1928)
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
So what do we do to not be alone in the church? We trust God. As each of us is trusting God, then we learn to trust one another. We continue to know the good that God has for us. And we continue to trust that God will give grace to the other Christians around us.
We lay down our conceit. Just because we think we know what is best, that doesn’t mean that is how God will get things done with us!
We stop competing for against one another. It is not who brings the most people into the church who is the best. It is not the one who gives the most money to the church that is the best. It is the one who loves his/her neighbor as yourself that is best for the church.
We stop envying one another. Let alone the idea that we need to cozy up to the pastor, the district superintendent, or the bishop. For the pastor, the district superintendent, and the bishop are all part of the household of God. God loves us equally. So we can love each other equally.
Let us be gentle with one another. For then we can see what God can do in and through us!