Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Acts 2:44-47 (NRSV)
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Have you ever sacrificed your first choice for the greater good of the group? Perhaps your family wanted to order pizza in on Friday night when you really wanted BBQ. Maybe your spouse had a different movie to watch in mind on date night. Perhaps even unconsciously you made the choice to accommodate their wants for the greater good of your relationship with others. The laughter that you and your family shared that night quickly silenced the inner voice that told you pulled pork was the only way. Or that movie that made your loved one laugh touched your heart in a way that made you forget the film that YOU really wanted to see. As human beings and as children of God we feel more fulfilled when we embrace the beauty of community even if it comes at some personal cost. These examples may seem small, but they illuminate the fact that we make sacrifices daily in order to invest in the greater good. This spirit of unity was a driving factor in the formation of the early church as described in the scripture above from the book of Acts. Unfortunately, today, many have confused unity to mean homogeneity, and many seek groups or communities that look, talk, and think exactly alike. The beauty of unity is that it pulls people together to connect upon more profound and deeper truths when things like their eating habits, worship preferences, and social status might be vastly different. Today more than ever, the Church has the opportunity to reach across differences and connect individuals through a spirit of unity whose origins lie in the universal Truth of salvation in Christ.
I feel very privileged to say that I am part of a faith community here at Long’s Chapel UMC that embraces this spirit of unity. When I worked at The Open Door Ministries, I met congregation members weekly that would come down to Frog Level for lunch to share in the word and in breaking bread with some of the most vulnerable neighbors. In this season of construction and transition I have witnessed the selfless attitude of Sunday School classes who were willing to inconvenience themselves for a season in order to accommodate the greater community. I work with a worship team that passionately pours their hearts and souls into three distinct styles of worship and a new worship schedule that will pull in a diversity of worshippers from around the area to hear a unified message. I am so proud that this congregation embraces the beauty of unity and does not succumb to the temptation of homogeneity.
It is impossible to meditate upon this spirit of unity without recognizing that the conversations surrounding human sexuality in the United Methodist Church present a challenge to the denomination. A lot of discussions around this topic, as well as other theological discernments, have perhaps made the idea of homogeneity attractive, especially when we cannot seem to agree. I do not want to understate the importance of these topics that the Church is discussing and how they inform our faith, I also want to recognize that something very profound is at play when we come together to discuss our differences. I will confess as one of your pastors that there are still many unanswered questions in my own heart around where God’s spirit is leading our denomination in terms of whether the creation of more expressions of Methodism is Spirit-led or not. There are, however, a couple of things that I can say with confidence as being a part of this Spirit-filled congregation:
Amazing things happen when God’s people come together over what unites them.
This congregation is diverse in so many beautiful ways, including the varying perspectives on specific theological topics. Yet these differences are transcended by Long’s Chapel's heart in serving the vulnerable population that lives in our community. One thing that we proudly find unity around is answering Jesus’ call in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and welcoming children. Whether it is through The Open Door Ministries, The Hangout after-school program, our prison ministries, or one of our many other outreach programs and the list goes on, the people of Long’s Chapel are on fire for being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
This Local Church will only grow in its call to minister to our community
I know when I look out upon our world that our work as a church body is not done. We are envisioning ways to reach the impoverished in our county more effectively. We are working hard to meet the growing and complex needs of school-aged children. We are growing both physically as a church building and spiritually as a community of disciples because our community needs us to.
The best is yet to come
Friends, if there is one thing that I have learned in ministry, it is that God does amazing things when we embrace the impossible. I have learned this as an individual in my own call, and I have witnessed this congregation performing miracles because we know that all things are possible through Christ. As we lean into the difficulties of our present reality, we can rely on God to show up in massive ways and accomplish things that we could never have imagined.
I am so excited to be on this journey with you,
Pastor Tom Henderson Owens
Executive Pastor for Ministries Tom.Owens@LongsChapel.com