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Harambee!

By Lynn Turner.

What does it mean to be “community and family” in the church? What does it mean to be “one body and one spirit” in the church? As Minister of Christian Community, I have found myself asking these questions over the past couple of months. I have been searching scripture that might lead us and provide some answers. There are many passages that speak to this, but the one I keep coming back to is Romans 15:5-7:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

First, I note that this is a prayer. Paul asks God to give a “spirit of unity.” Often I think we assume that we have some control over whether we come together in unity, but the truth is unity is not a program, plan or project. Unity cannot be coerced or forced. Unity is a gift that comes down from our Father in heaven. So we must pray for God to grant it to us.

Do you see the word “unity” in “community”? Community is defined by Webster as a “unified body of individuals.” Somehow, I don’t think that we can have community until we have the spirit of unity that Paul prays for. The phrase “spirit of unity” translates a Greek word that means to “be of the same mind” or to be “like-minded.” The New Living Translation calls it “complete harmony.” I like that, because harmony is what results from many different people singing different parts, yet in proper relationship with each other so that a pleasing sound is produced. Every choir contains different parts. At any given moment, six different people might be singing six different notes. Yet every note has a precise relationship to every other note, so that the total sound produced is exactly what the composer intended. The result is beautiful harmony.

It is easy in the church to have many people pulling in many directions. That’s why the end of verse 5, “as you follow Jesus Christ,” is so crucial. If the source of unity is God, the focus of unity is Jesus Christ. As we follow Him, the church moves forward in perfect harmony. When Jesus is at the center of the church, we’ll all be pulling together in the same direction as we follow Him.

We pray for unity “so that with one heart and one mouth we might glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If we are to glorify God, we must do it together. It’s not as if you can glorify God your way, and I can glorify God my way, and each of us can glorify God individually and forget about everyone else. We need each other if we are going to truly glorify God by being “one heart and mouth” for the Lord.

And finally this passage concludes with these words from verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” I recently officiated at a wedding in which the bride and groom chose this scripture as the focus of the homily. It is a powerful word for a husband and wife, and it is a powerful word for the bride of Christ – the church. The Greek word translated “accept” is a long word that is very picturesque. It means to see another person and to open your arms to take that person to yourself. It implies taking someone by the hand and walking together as companions. We are to accept each other as Christ accepted us. How did He accept us? He accepted us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). He took us when we were hopeless and gave us hope. He loved us in spite of our sin and welcomed us when we did not deserve to be welcomed. This is a high standard, so high that we will never meet it in our own power. Only Christ Himself can give us strength to accept others this way.

Which brings me to my final thought: We can only be one with each other as we are individually one with God. When I am connected to God personally, keeping my focus on who God has created me to be, I then become clearer on what God has called me to do as a follower of Christ through the church. When my heart is in tune with God, I will be in tune with others who are seeking the same thing.

I am committed to the call of Christ in the work of the church. I am committed to my call of Christ in the work of THIS church. I am excited about the possibilities that God has in store for us as a congregation as we focus on Christ, so that, “With one heart and one mouth [we] … glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May it be so with us. Harambee!

Lynn Turner (Turner@FBCRichmond.org) is the Senior Associate Pastor and coordinates the Ministry of Christian Community for Richmond’s First Baptist Church. She has been a part of the FBC staff since 1988. Lynn has a B.S. in education from Francis Marion University in South Carolina, an M.S. in Counseling from the University of Tennessee, and a Master of Arts in Religious Education from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. Prior to coming to Richmond, she taught school, served as a guidance counselor in South Carolina and Texas, and was on staff at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. She contributed to the book, Youth Ministry from the Ground Up, by Ken Dibble.

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