Looking Ahead to Lent, Issue 103

February 7, 2017 by Presbyterian Foundation

Witherspoon Press offers a series of “Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar” for use throughout the PC(USA) this year. The following reflection (Reprinted with permission.) by Shannon Johnson Kershner, the pastor of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, reflects on Belhar’s statement, “We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind.”

I keep hoping to persuade folks that difference does not have to equal division and unity does not have to equal uniformity. I have frequently appealed to our “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I have preached that we have been made the one body of Christ, and God did not ask our opinion before God did it. Therefore, it really does not matter if we like one another or not (though we usually do!).

I always emphasize that we belong to each other because in Christ Jesus, we belong to God! For “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Belhar’s central conviction that God has made us one – regardless of, actually in celebration of, our difference – is always central for me.

But in lent 2017, I am even more drawn to the how and not just the what. I am taken not simply with the unity God in Christ has bestowed upon us, but with how God calls us to live out that unity – that oneness in Christ – in our own lives and in our complex world. In Scripture, God calls us to live out our unity not with a power of forcefulness or a sense of mere obligation (you will love each other whether you want to or not), but with humility and gentleness, patience, and love-filled forbearance.

God hopes we don’t approach the gift of our unity out of begrudging obligation, but that by God’s grace, we will embody our unity from a spiritual posture of joy and awe, amazed at how wonderfully God has made us one. In our national conversations on race and privilege, economic disparity, immigration, and other issues, how would our conversations and behavior change if we took the how we are to go about living this unity as seriously as we take the unity itself? What could be different?

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