Unity Through Simplicity: A Future of Peace (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Chuck Monan,
from a message delivered at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ October 23, 2005
January – April, 2006

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
~ John 17:20-26

In this passage, Jesus in one of his final prayers, prays to the Father that his followers both now and in the future will be one, as He is with the Father and the Fathers is with Him.

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul echoes these words:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanans; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Perhaps the greatest failure of Christians and the church is the rampant division that has characterized the followers of Christ for centuries. There are all kinds of reasons for the fragmented, splintered condition of Christendom: doctrinal error, worldliness, apathy, contentiousness, pride, sectarianism, jealousy and superficiality are but a few. Most folks decry such brokenness, but throw up their hands in frustration and conclude that nothing can be done to fix it.

Roger Schutz was different.

Brother RogerBorn in Switzerland in 1915 to a Protestant family, Schutz developed a deep desire to see unity among all Christians and all people. In 1940 he started a community of believers at Taizé, France. It was a sanctuary for wartime refugees, including Jews and later German POWs. Roger and some Christian friends took monastic vows in 1949, and within years Taizé had become a magnet for young travelers. The brothers there all work for a living, and do not accept donations.

The community at Taizé has a unique style of worship. The leader says a short prayer, then the congregation sings a short chorus, and then the leader says the next prayer. Bible readings from the Psalms are often treated the same way.

Another characteristic of Taizé is stretches of silence. A prayer service may have a ten-minute silence in the middle as the worshipers meditate on what God has done in their lives. Meditation on God is emphasized at all times.

The community is dedicated to Christian unity, and one of its successes is that all kinds of churches now share this same style of worship. It would be an exaggeration of their success to say that the rift between the eastern and the western churches has miraculously been healed, or that the wounds between the Protestant Reformation and the counter-Reformation have been forgotten. But it’s amazing the degree to which the people at Taizé have succeeded in healing some wounds; how many Christians of different stripes, at least when they’re there for a time, cease fighting and firing upon one another and try to focus on their common faith in Christ as their Savior. The community includes many Catholics as well as various species of Protestants. The brothers have also welcomes Archbishops of Canterbury, Orthodox Patriarchs, Lutheran bishops, and Methodist and Baptist pastors. Pope John Paul II paid a visit and praised “the transparency of brotherly love.”

For 65 years Brother Roger led the community at Taizé. In December of 2004, he wrote the following letter, translated into 55 different languages around the world. As you read the words, think about the message it has for our lives as a fellowship of believers:

God has plans for a future of peace for you, not of misfortune; God wants to give you a future and a hope.”

Today, a great many people are longing for a future of peace, for humanity to be freed from threats of violence.

If some are gripped by worry about the future and find themselves at a standstill, there are also young people all over the world who are inventive and creative.

These young people do not let themselves be caught up in a spiral of gloom. They know that God did not create us to be passive. For them, life is not subject to a blind destiny. They are aware that skepticism and discouragement have the power to paralyze human beings.

And so they are searching, with their whole soul, to prepare a future of peace and not of misfortune. More than they realize, they are already making of their lives a light that shines around them.
Some are bearers of peace and trust in situations of crisis and conflict. They keep going even when trials or failures weigh heavily on their shoulders.

On some summer evenings in Taizé, under a sky laden with stars, we can hear the young people through our open windows. We are constantly astonished that there are so many of them. They search; they pray. And we say to ourselves: their aspirations to peace and trust are like these stars, points of lights that shine in the night.

We live at a time when many people are asking: what is faith? Faith is a simple trust in God, an indispensable surge of trusting undertaken countless times over in the course of our life.

All of us can have doubts. They are nothing to worry about. Our deepest desire is to listen to Christ who whispers in our hearts, “Do you have hesitations? Don’t worry; the Holy Spirit remains with you always.”

Some, to their surprise, have made this discovery: God’s love can come to fulfillment even in a heart touched by doubts.

One of the first things Christ says in the Gospel is this: “Happy the simple-hearted!” Yes, happy those who head towards simplicity, simplicity of heart and simplicity of life.

A simple heart attempts to live in the present moment, to welcome each day as God’s today.
Does not the spirit of simplicity shine out in serene joy, and also in cheerfulness?

A simple heart does not claim to understand everything about faith on its own. It says to itself, “Others understand better what I have trouble grasping and they help me to continue on my way.”
Simplifying our life enables us to share with the least fortunate, in order to alleviate suffering where there is disease, poverty, famine… Our personal prayer is also simple. Do we think that many words are needed in order to pray? No. A few words, even inept ones, are enough to entrust everything to God, our fears as well as our hopes.

By surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we will find the way that leads from worry to confident trust. And we tell him:

“Holy Spirit, enable us
to turn to you at every moment.
So often we forget that you dwell within us,
that you pray in us, that you love in us.
Your presence in us is trust
and constant forgiveness.”

Yes, the Holy Spirit kindles a glimmer of light within us. However faint it may be, it awakens in our hearts the desire for God. And the simple desire for God is already prayer. Prayer does not make us less involved in the world. On the contrary, nothing is more responsible than to pray. The more we make our own a prayer which is simple and humble, the more we are led to love and to express it with our life.

Where can we find the simplicity indispensable for living out the Gospel? Some words of Christ enlighten us. One day he said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me; the realities of God are for those who are like them.”

Who can express adequately what some children can communicate by their trusting? And so we would like to say to God: “God, you love us: turn us into people who are humble; give us great simplicity in our prayer, in human relationships, in welcoming others…”

Jesus, the Christ, came to earth not to condemn anyone but to open paths of communion for human beings.

For two thousand years Christ has been present through the Holy Spirit, and his mysterious presence is made tangible in a visible communion that brings together women, men and young people who are called to go forward together, without separating from one another. And yet throughout their history Christians have experienced many upheavals: separations have arisen between those who nonetheless professed faith in the same God of love.

Re-establishing communion is urgent today; it cannot continually be put off until later, until the end of time. Will we do all we can for Christians to awaken to the spirit of communion?

There are Christians who, without waiting, are already in communion with one another in the places where they live, quite humbly, quite simply.

Through their own life, they would like to make Christ present for many others. They know that the Church does not exist for itself but for the world, to place within it a ferment of peace.

“Communion” is one of the most beautiful names of the Church. In it, there can be no harsh words exchanged but only transparency, heartfelt kindness, compassion…and the gates of holiness swing open.

The Gospel lets us discover this surprising reality: God creates neither fear nor worry. All God can do is love us.

By the presence of the Holy Spirit, God comes to transfigure our hearts.

And in a simple prayer, we can sense that we are never alone: the Holy Spirit sustains in us a communion with God, not just for a fleeting moment but right on into the life which never ends.

Those words of Brother Roger have resonated several times around the world. They strike a chord in the heart of the believer who is tired of fighting, sniping, suspicion. Sadly, on Tuesday, the 16th of August ,during the evening prayer at Taizé, a mentally-disturbed woman attacked Brother Roger violently with a knife. He died a few moments later.

What has that to do with us?

I don’t know that there are many ideas in the world better than the idea of Restoration; it’s so Biblical. The idea of going back to the beginning, to the ways that God intended them to be, is a marvelous idea. I believe in it with all my heart.

But something has happened within Churches of Christ that disturbs me. It’s not the Restoration plea. It’s the idea that we’ve got to be very, very careful – not just of people in the world – but even of each other.

Churches of Christ have done some things marvelously well; we’ve done others pitifully poorly. I see in many of them a lack of the Spirit that we’ve heard expressed in the words of this man; in his life of leading a simple community of faith for 65 years.

He possessed something that we desperately lack: a love for one another; a desire to be together; a determination to be unified despite some of the differences of opinion and perspective that we have.

We ought to be, like Peter, entrusted with the keys to the kingdom. We ought to be able to tell people that a Savior has died and been raised from the dead – the best news ever. But some are so predisposed to spar, complain and find fault that the rest of us shrug and wonder if there will ever be unity in the Church of Christ.

That depends on you and me.

What are we going to dedicate ourselves to do? Will we be “guardians of the faith” who act swiftly as the judge and jury if a brother or sister dares not to pronounce “shibboleth” to our liking? Will we be those who know everything about everything and hold out no hope for those who don’t see everything the way we do?

For 65 years, Brother Roger tried to love God; tried to love his fellow man; tried to sing; tried to pray. He didn’t waste a lot of time finding fault with people. He spent a lot of time trying to point people to Christ, and to God’s love. There’s just got to be a lesson in that for us.

Can we do the same, now that he is gone?

It’s ironic that such an advocate for peace and love died by the knife, but isn’t it equally ironic that a church that tries to follow Christ gets sidetracked into judging others?

Christ’s prayer was that we would be one.

May God bless us to be the kind of church that He wants us to be.
New Wineskins

Resources

Taizé Community Web Site http://www.taize.fr/en

Audio of this message by Chuck Monan

The New Wineskins issue themed Spiritual Formation

Chuck MonanChuck Monan is the preaching minister at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Arkansas. A self-admitted “hybrid” – he was born to Southern parents but grew up in Michigan – he has been exposed to two distinct cultures and moves easily between them. He enjoys all sports, especially anything to do with the University of Michigan, feeling that “Michigan football is probably the coolest thing in the world.” He loves music, or at least what he terms good music (particularly the Beatles and Oasis). In addition to preaching, he teaches a Wednesday morning class for senior citizens and an innovative Seekers class on Sunday mornings with a no-holds-barred, ask-the-preacher-anything format. Contact him at [chuck@pvcc.org].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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