Unity in the UMC

Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

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I love meeting people in our community and introducing myself as a pastor for the United Methodist Church. I love doing this because I never know what people will say in return.

“Oh, you must be that pastor who encouraged his church to start wearing hardhats to worship because God has a knack for tearing down walls…”

“No, you’re thinking of Clayton Payne at Cherryvale UMC.”

“Oh, you must be the pastor who loves shouting things like ‘Mercy!’ and ‘Praise the Lord!’ in the pulpit”

“No, you’re thinking of Bryson Smith at St. Paul’s UMC

“Oh, you must be the pastor who is forever mentioning apple butter and its many uses and applications.”

“No, you’re thinking of Sarah Locke at Christ UMC.”

“Oh, you must be the pastor who is absolutely obsessed with the Washington Redskins and even had the office painted burgundy and gold.”

“No, you’re thinking of Bob Sharp from Marquis Memorial UMC. Though I wish my office looked like his.”

“Oh, you must be the pastor who loves using objects in sermons, like handing out mirrors for people to remember the need to shine Jesus’ light.”

“No, you’re thinking of Janet Knott at Jollivue UMC.”

“Oh, well you don’t look Korean…”

“No, you’re thinking of Won Un at Central UMC.”

“Oh, you must be the pastor everyone raves about with a particular gift for preaching, handsome features, and can get congregations to shout ‘Amen!’ with feeling.”

(Sigh) “No, you’re thinking of John Benson at Augusta Street UMC.

“Oh, well then who are you?”

All of us pastors, and all of our churches are known for a variety of things. We’re known for our community engagement: Fish Fries, Apple Days, and Christmas Tree Sales. We’re known for the ways that our pastors like to preach and pray. We are known for a variety of things. We are known for how different we are from one another.

But the one thing I wish all people in Staunton knew about the United Methodist Church is that we love and worship the living God.

 

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

The psalmist is right. We all know, on some level, the beauty of a community in unity. When we are working in one accord, when we harmonize with one another, it is very good and pleasant. But then we grimace at the way the psalmist talks about the beauty of unity. Can you imagine what would happen if I pulled John Benson up to the front of the sanctuary and poured extra virgin olive oil all over his head? And what is it about heavy dew that it supposed to elevate the blessing of unity?

Well, in the world of the psalmist, oil and dew were signs of God’s blessing. Like manna in the wilderness and the anointing of the prophets, these images speak to something greater at work than mere mortals. Yet, we are so removed from the time of the psalmist that these images no longer carry the weight they once did. Perhaps we need a new way of imagining the beauty of unity in community.

About a year ago, we started putting plans together for a community wide Trunk-or-Treat. Many of our churches had participated in some sort of Halloween celebration over the last few years, but we began imagining how much of an impact we could have if we worked together.

By the time October came around, all of the pieces were set and we were ready to host the Trunk-or-Treat at Gypsy Hill Park. On the day of the event I arrived super-early with hopes of setting the area up and organizing volunteers. We really had no idea how many people would show up but we were prepared for whatever would happen.

We handed out extra candy to all of the trunks, we set up safe areas for children to wander around, and we passed out orange vests to volunteers. The whole afternoon honestly felt like a whirlwind as we were trying to get everything together.

At the height of our preparations I noticed a small family off to the side of the parking lot watching us run around. They must’ve been standing there for ten minutes when I finally walked over to introduce myself.

What are you all doing?” the mother asked while keeping her three young boys close.

I said, “We’re calling it a Trunk-or-Treat, it’s a safe way to celebrate Halloween. We’ll be finished setting up in about an hour and we’d love it if you’d come through.” And with that she smiled shyly smiled and left the park.

Hours later, after 3,500 people came through the Trunk-or-Treat I was exhausted. Some of the last families were making their way through the few trunks that still had candy when I noticed the small family from earlier standing by the edge of the lot. The boys were not wearing costumes, but each of them held a bag full of candy with huge grins across their faces. I started walking over to find out if they had enjoyed themselves, but as I got closer I realized that even though the children were smiling, the mother was crying.

Is everything okay?” I asked.

With a wipe of her sleeve she tried to cover her tears and then said, “My boys have never had a Halloween before. All these people gave them candy and talked to us and asked us questions and they don’t even know us. You invited us to come earlier and you don’t even know us.

I replied, “You’re right. I don’t know you. But God does. And God loves you.

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How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like a mother all on her own, trying to raise her boys, who is treated with love and dignity by a strange community called the church. It is like the tears of a young mother rolling down her cheeks in recognition that she is not alone, and that she is loved no matter what.

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like a group of people striving to be Christ’s body for the world through acts of grace and mercy. It is like volunteers giving out candy to countless children for no other reason than the fact that they too are children of God.

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like a church that no longer treats other churches as competition, but instead sees them as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is like a group of people who believe that need trumps greed, that there can be unity in community, and that by the power of God’s grace the world can be transformed.

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. Amen.

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