Today I want to reflect with you on the importance of relationships. All of us have relationships and relationships are important to each and every one of us. Whether you are young or old, married or single, male or female, able-bodied or disabled, introvert or extrovert, all of us need to have relationships of some kind and all of us want those relationships to be good. And when we move from the individual to the community level, relationships become even more important, for now we have a huge inter-connected web of relationships. But how do we have healthy relationships? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that our relationships are not as good as they could be. What I want to present to you today is 2 keys for healthy relationships, both at the individual and community level.
Now here is your first key: Be united with people who are different from you. Another way of saying this is have unity in the midst of diversity. Unity is what gives a community cohesiveness—it is like the glue that holds a community together. Diversity is having a broad range of different characteristics, and diversity what gives a community resilience—it acts like a shock absorber that helps the community remain upright and stable when unexpected bumps in the road come along.
So unity and diversity are both important. But they can act like opposing forces. So how does a diverse community stay unified? How does a unified community welcome and invite diversity? There is one community that exemplifies this characteristic unity in the midst of diversity and that one community is the Christian Church. The Christian Church is not like any other institution or organization. It is not like a service club or a community association. The Christian Church is a single, living, breathing, moving organism.
Other organizations achieve unity by gathering similar people around a common purpose. But the Christian Church—a world-wide community of more than 2 billion people—has a supernatural unity because of one person, Jesus Christ. The Christian Church has unity because it is Jesus who gathers the church together. When a person is baptized, Jesus is bringing making that person into a body of believers that cuts across space and time. The Christian Church has unity because it is Jesus who gives the church life. Each person who is given faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit is brought from death to life. The Christian Church has unity because it is Jesus who interconnects each person. And through Jesus, we are not only connected to each and every other person who believes in Jesus, we also belong to them. As Paul tells the Christians in Rome, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5). And finally, the Christian Church has unity because it is Jesus who leads, guides, directs and empowers the Church. Referring to Jesus, Paul wrote to the local church in Colossae, 18 ”And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:18-20)
So the Christian Church has unity because of Jesus Christ.
But what about diversity? Well, diversity is highly valued in the Christian Church. In early times, when the Church was young there were wealthy men and women in the church who would host the local Christian community in their homes because the Church did not have buildings back then. And worshiping alongside these wealthy people would be slaves who performed the most menial tasks in the household where they served. The Church contained people of various ethnic backgrounds—Jewish, Greek, Roman and more. The Church was located throughout the various ethnically diverse regions of the Roman empire: North Africa, Egypt, Judea, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Rome. And within a generation or two of its birth, you had within the church both brand new believers and people like Timothy who learned about the Christian faith from their mother and grandmother. (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5)
Now the first reason that diversity is important in the Christian Church, and this is important both in the local congregation and in the universal Church, is this: In the Christian Church, everyone has something to contribute. As Paul writes to the local church in Corinth, 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:15-17). Just as each part of the body plays an important role in the overall functioning of the entire body, so also each and every person in the Christian Church plays an important role in the overall functioning of the entire body. Even a person who is confined to their bed can pray, and the church needs people who can dedicate themselves to prayer.
The second reason that diversity is important in the Christian Church is that each of us needs those people who are different from us to be part of the Church. We need them because we are part of the same body. We need them because they do something different than we do. And we need them because they are significantly different from who we are. As Paul writes, 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21)
The third reason that diversity is important is because the Christian Church is serving a diverse world. The Church is the Body of Christ in the world. Everything that Jesus did while he walked around on this earth is now being by his Body, the Church—proclaiming the message of life, forgiving sins, healing broken hearts, reconciling people to God and to each other—Jesus is continuing to do all of these things on earth through his Body, the Church. And it is going to take people from every nation, tribe, people and language to reach and serve people from every nation, tribe, people and language. (cf. Revelation 7:9)
The Christian Church exhibits unity in the midst of diversity because of who she is: People from throughout the world who have been gathered by Jesus Christ into his Body to serve the world. And it is Jesus who helps us to be united with people who are different from us.
But what about the second key for healthy relationships? Here it is: The second key for healthy relationships is to value people the way that God values people. Usually in a culture, a society, a community, the people that are valued the most are those that are the most visible and are thought to be contributing the most. So what are the names of some people that are highly valued in our culture?
Even in the church we tend to fall into this trap of valuing people based on how visible they are in the church and how much they are seen to be contributing. So it is often the case in churches that the most important people in the community are considered to be the pastor, or the people who serve on a music team or the Leadership Team or by leading a ministry in the church.
But the Bible tells us that is not how things ought to be. We read, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. (1 Corinthians 12:22-24a).
In God’s way of valuing people, those who are considered to be weaker or hidden are to be held in greater honour. We know this from our bodies. Last fall, my Dad was facing two health issues: He had cataracts in his eyes and he had cancer in his colon. Now a person’s eyes are visible and prominent, but we could live without them. On the other hand, there are a lot of organs in our abdominal cavity that are hidden, but we couldn’t live without them. You can’t live without a heart. You can’t live without a gastro-intestinal tract. And it was the colon cancer and not the cataracts that led to my Dad’s death. And so we take good care of those organs in our abdominal cavity even though we cannot see them.
In the same way, in the church, those who are considered to be weaker or hidden are to be held in greater honour. What does that look like at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church? Over the past five years, we have had several people who have stopped attending Sunday morning worship services because of health reasons. These are the people of our community who we might consider to be weaker and they certainly have become less visible. But these are the people that, the Bible tells us, we should be giving a special honour, so that all the parts of the body have equal concern for each other. The Bible tells us, But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Cor. 12:24b-26). So how can we give great honour to those who are shut ins? What if we start by lifting them up in prayer each week as part of our Sunday worship service?
So remaining united with those that are different from us and valuing people like God values people will help us to have healthy relationships. But where do we find the empowerment and the motivation to do those things. Because, after all, if it was natural and easy, we would already be doing it. So here is your take-away. If you leave with nothing else from this message today, remember this one thing. All of us, even the most highly functioning, well-resourced among us has a hidden and weak side. The world says, “You better keep that hidden and weak side out of sight because no one will accept you if they knew what is lurking in your secret darkness. No one will affirm you if they discover your weakness.” But Jesus says, “Bring that part of you that is hidden to me. Let me wash away all of your guilt and shame. Let me lift you up and give that part of you special honour so that you have integrity and wholeness throughout your entire being.
And Jesus also says, “Bring your weaknesses to me and let me show you how my grace is sufficient for you. Let me show you how my power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus loves you so much that he died for your hiddenness and your weakness so that you could have wholeness and strength in him.
You see, there are actually 3 keys to healthy relationships. Having healthy relationships begins with this: Take your hiddenness and weakness to Jesus and let him love your weak and hidden parts. And when you begin to experience how much Jesus loves you in your weakness and hiddenness, it will become easier to love others in their weakness and hiddenness. It will become easier to be united with those who are different than you. It will become easier to value others the way that God values them. And you will have healthier relationships. Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on February 3, 2013.)