I played softball in a community league when I was a teenager. A few of us went to the same school, but we didn’t know each other the first time we stepped out under the lights together. We were strangers in gray polyester uniforms and orange baseball caps. From a distance, you couldn’t tell one girl from another.
At the start of our opening game, there was a palpable feeling of possibility. My teammates were talented, and the coach was tough. As he invested time watching us throughout the season, he positioned and repositioned us in different roles, playing to our individual strengths. As each player lived into her giftedness, there was more synergy and success. We even won a few games.
Today, instead of feeling like a single team with diversely gifted players, we find ourselves in a cultural moment where it often feels we’re on different teams altogether. This is true in society at large, and sadly, it seems just as true inside the church.
There are justifiable reasons for division. We have defensible attachments tied to our beliefs. We’ve developed hard-earned and sophisticated ways of managing our fears and preferences, and we want to protect them.
But there was a time when the church was like a brand-new softball team, stepping out onto fresh-cut grass in late summer, individual differences obscured by what they were as a whole: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. … They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:4, 42, 44).
Those early believers did not wear gray and orange polyester, but they were nonetheless marked by distinct characteristics. Among them: humility and patience, a desire to reconcile their individual differences into a seamless community.
If anyone has said “yes” to God’s call on their life, then they are called to be ambassadors of the same kind of reconciliation. We are to lead lives worthy of that calling, “bearing with one another in love” and maintaining the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1–3).
God is so committed to this unity that Jesus prayed specifically for us, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you … so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Jesus was not naive. He knew that finding unity is patient, slow work. He sent the Holy Spirit to be attentive to his prayer for us.
Jesus knew that bearing with one another is not the same as endorsing someone else’s beliefs against your own conscience. He knew that bearing with one another is neither avoiding conflict nor seeking approval (Gal. 1:10). He knew that bearing with someone who wields an angry agenda requires near impossible strength.
Do we have what it takes to love in hard times? Not on our own! But by grace, we are given impossible strength from God, because we are drawing on the strength of God’s riches, our shared supply (Phil. 4:19; 2 Cor. 9:8).
Do not be surprised if living this common life is painful. It is simply beyond our own efforts. It requires ongoing prayers for wisdom and forgiveness.
But it is painful not only for us. Isaiah 63:9 tells us that God himself is distressed when we are distressed, and he gave his life to do something about it. Jesus’ prayer was clear about the connection between his suffering and our unity: This common ground is our witness to the world.
So let’s lament our losses, confess our failings, and celebrate with sincerity and specificity the ways that we have seen God’s mercy in our midst.
Let’s open up our echo chambers and build bridges instead of moats. Let’s listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit and attend to what he may ask of us.
These are heavy times, but there is kingdom work to be done. Christ bolsters our hope. In Christ, we’ve made the team, been chosen to participate in this reconciling work. We can leave our habits of cynicism and self-protection behind. In Christ, our work is to not give up on one another, on our one faith (2 Cor. 5:19). Because this game is still in full swing.
Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter in Nashville and author of the forthcoming Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song (B&H).
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