There’s a little phrase in our Hebrews scripture reading this morning that really got my attention. It’s found in verse 11 where we are told that Jesus isn’t ashamed to call us “brothers and sisters.”
Brothers and sisters.
Every time I begin at a new church, people in the congregation will tell me, “Watch what you say because everybody is related to someone around here.”
I served a small country church early in my ministry. There were two ladies in who did everything in that church or at least it seemed like they did. The one lady had dark hair and the other lady’s hair was completely white and they didn’t look alike at all.
It wasn’t until my last month in that church that someone told me they were sisters! I didn’t know that! Everybody assumed I knew! I was there four years and I had no clue! Fortunately, I can’t remember ever saying anything negative about either one of them!
When I was attending my home church in Pennsylvania, the pastor had me serve as a worship leader on Sunday mornings. On several of those Sundays, my brother would offer special music.
When my brother was done singing, it would be my turn to read the scripture lesson. And I would always say the same lame comment that would always get a cheap laugh from the congregation.
I just couldn’t resist. I would say, “Thank you for your beautiful music, ‘Brother, David.’”
But it’s true. We’re not just biological brothers. We’re also spiritual brothers like how the author of our Hebrews scripture reading means it.
We might not call each other “brothers and sisters” like some denominations do, but that’s who we are. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Just because we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, doesn’t mean that we look alike or share the same opinions. Like those two sisters, one with black hair and the other with white hair, on the outside, you might never be able to tell that we are related, but we are.
We’re related because of our common connection with Jesus Christ. Jesus is who makes us brothers and sisters.
And seeing ourselves as brothers and sisters doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to get along and be in fellowship. Maybe that’s why the bible uses this language of brothers and sisters as often as it does. We need to be reminded that we are part of God’s family through Jesus Christ.
This is one of the reasons that we observe World Communion Sunday each year. It’s not only important to see each other as brothers and sisters in this place, but also with churches and other denominations throughout the world.
Even in the United Methodist denomination, we have so much diversity. For example, both George Bush and Hillary Clinton are United Methodist. Last time I checked, they don’t see eye to eye on many issues. And yet, they are brothers and sisters in Christ and they represent the wide diversity in our denomination.
I was at the Steelers/Ravens game this past Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Those teams don’t like each other at all. The fans can be brutal. Steelers fans might see each other as brothers and sisters in support of their team, but they certainly don’t feel very brotherly toward the Raven fans. The same is true of how Ravens fans feel about Steelers fans.
This is what makes the church unique in a world of we’s and they’s. We might disagree with each other over what color the nursery carpet should be.
We might have differing opinions on the meaning of scripture. Our thoughts on favorite hymns will probably be all over the board, but what keeps us together is that we always remember that we are brothers and sisters of Christ.
This is the reason why we think twice before saying something hurtful about another person in the church. This is the reason why we are more prone to offer an encouraging word rather than a critical word to someone. It’s because we remember scriptures like this one from Hebrews that reminds us that we are brothers and sisters.
There are also many Christian denominations that are very different from the church we attend and the United Methodist Church in general. They have different ways of worshipping. They have different methods in finding a pastor. They have different views on what a Sacrament is or isn’t.
All of these differences, and yet on this day, this day we call, “World Communion Sunday,” we remember that in spite of all of our differences, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rachel Held Evans is a Christian blogger, author, and gifted speaker. She’s not United Methodist even though her speaking circuit includes a lot of United Methodist settings.
Rachel’s recent book is called, Searching for Sunday, where she talks about her spiritual journey in finding a church that she can call home. Rachel is in her early 30s and because she is a young adult, her journey gives us a glimpse into how her generation views organized religion.
In one of her chapters, she writes, “At last count, there are nearly as many denominations in Christianity as there are trees growing in a forest. Each one looks different – beautiful and broken in its own way – but we all share the same DNA.”
“We tend to lament this seemingly endless parceling of Christianity (which, let’s face it,” she writes, “can indeed get out of hand,) but I’m not convinced the pursuit of greater unity means rejecting denominationalism altogether.”
“A worldwide movement of more than two billion people reaching every continent and spanning thousands of cultures for over two thousand years can’t expect homogeneity. And the notion that a single tradition owns the lockbox on truth is laughable, especially when the truth we’re talking is God.”
“We might instead think of the various Christian traditions as different facets of a diamond refracting the same light, or as workers tending to a shared garden but with unique tasks, or as a single body made of many interconnected parts.”
“Our differences can be cause for celebration when we believe the same Spirit that sings through a pipe organ can sing through an electric guitar, a Gregorian chant, or a gospel choir – though perhaps not at the same time! – and that we each hear the Spirit best at a different pitch.”
Rachel goes on to write, “In other words, unity does not require uniformity. Jesus said his Father’s house has many rooms.”
“In this metaphor, I like to imagine the Presbyterians hanging out in the library, the Baptists running the kitchen, the Anglicans setting the table, the Anabaptists washing feet with the hose in the backyard, the Lutherans making liturgy for the laundry, the Methodists stoking the fire in the hearth, the Catholics keeping the family history, the Pentecostals throwing open all the windows and doors to let more people in.”
I like what Rachel is conveying in her book. She’s saying that Christian denominations may have their unique approaches to the faith, but the main thing to remember is that even with all of our differences, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
In one of the churches where I served as pastor, I became friends with a non-denominational pastor. He was the founding pastor of a new church in town and they were getting ready to celebrate their fifth birthday anniversary as a congregation.
He invited me to preach for their special Sunday morning worship celebration that I gladly accepted. While I was honored that he chose me, this mainline denomination pastor to speak at their special ceremony. I was also a little intimidated because I knew that our churches were very different with our worship styles.
I don’t think that I have ever experienced a louder worship service than the one I attended that day when I spoke at his church. I mean, it was really loud. Drums, guitars, and lots of singing. Lots of singing. Their worship service that day lasted two and a half hours.
About an hour into the service, and knowing that I still had another twenty or so minutes before I was to preach, I needed to go to the restroom. Even while I was in the restroom, the music was incredibly loud. It’s the kind of worship that even if you’re in the restroom, you won’t miss a thing.
So I go back into the worship auditorium…notice that I didn’t say sanctuary, and finally it’s time for me to preach. I began by congratulating them on their five-year birthday celebration.
This was an incredible church because they were reaching a lot of people through their recovery ministries and helping people who were struggling with addictions. They were doing a lot of really wonderful ministry in our community.
And then I said, “Our two churches are very different, though.” I said that by this time I would already had lunch because our worship services are only an hour long. And they laughed.
And then I said, “You’re church is celebrating five years and next year, my church will be celebrating our 200th anniversary.” And the people applauded which was really nice of them.
And then I said, “The biggest difference between our two churches is that the music here at your church is a lot louder than at my church and I mean a lot louder.” I said, “For example, before worship, you hand out ear plugs because the music is so loud. At my church, we hand out hearing aids.”
After the worship service, so many people came up to me to thank me for sharing with them on their special anniversary. They were so supportive and loving. I could see why they were a growing church.
They saw themselves as a family, as brothers and sisters in Christ. I became one of their brothers that day, even though I had to get my hearing checked later that week.
No, it wasn’t a church I would prefer to attend, but thank God they were part of our community.
Each church and denomination offers a unique history and approach to the Christian faith. We’re not all meant to be exactly the same. Some churches are able to reach people that other churches are not as equipped to reach.
On this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded to pray for churches all around the world who are seeking to live out their faith. We are reminded that the church is bigger than one church or one denomination. We are part of one great big world-wide communion.
The author of Hebrews is right. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.