If you have money in the stock market, I suspect you’ve already spent a lot of time this past week, on your knees, praying. It’s been, to put it mildly, a roller coaster. And the gyrations went from one end of the economy to the other. We had the mortgage crisis, and banks declaring shortfalls and huge industries like Ford announcing buyouts and layoffs.
Earlier this week, there was an essay by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite in the Washington Post. She took a unique view of the week’s events noting that one of the missed lessons of this past week is that, more than ever, we’re all in this together. In other words, we are connected - what happens in Tokyo affects what happens in Paris and London and New York. Economic shifts in the yen affect what happens in a local bank in Arizona. Trades that happen in Germany can determine whether a widow in Nebraska can pay for heating oil next month.
Reverend Thistlewaite also looked back at another moment in history when we were all united by a feeling of crisis, The Great Depression. She decided to re-read Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1933; the one where he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” In it, he also said something else important. “The measure of our restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” Roosevelt reminded the country that there was something greater than money binding us together. And America came to realize that were all in it together – with a shared sense of community and common purpose.
For the past week, the church has been praying in a particular way for a similar sense of community and common purpose. We just concluded the 100th week of prayer for Christian Unity. And the scripture readings today speak to that idea. In the second reading, Paul’s letter cries out for unity among the people of Corinth. It was another moment in time when people – the early Church – were united by a crisis, and were struggling to survive. “Is Christ divided?,” he asks. “I urge you …that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
When we come to Matthew’s gospel we are struck by the way in which Christ himself went about building the first Christian community. He walked along the sea and one day, he called first one set of brothers, and then another. He called them two by two. Brother with brother. From the very beginning, the message was clear: being church is not a solitary endeavor. Christ’s church would be built as a community. And it would be comprised of people who didn’t work alone. They were fishermen, casting large nets into the sea. If you’ve ever seen that kind of work done, you know it takes more than one to haul in a big catch. You need help.
Maybe that’s one reason why Christ chose his apostles from that particular line of work. They had stamina. They had strength. And they knew how to work together. The great work they would undertake would demand collaboration and even compromise. There is a lesson there, I think, for all Christians, as we pray for unity.
Some scripture scholars believe there may have been rivalry and tension between the followers of John the Baptist and those who would follow Jesus. But you’ll notice that when Jesus begins his ministry, he uses the very same words as John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He isn’t trying to compete with the Baptist. Rather, he is continuing the work that John began – and enlarging and amplifying it. It’s a powerful example for all of us seeking to enlarge, and amplify, the gospel and bring it into the world. And we should never forget that what unites us is greater than what divides us. As Paul put it, Christ is not divided – and we are the Body of Christ.
As we realized this week, our world is smaller than ever. The global economy means all of us are inextricably linked, for better or for worse. Now, more than ever, we need to bear with one another, listen to one another, hope with one another, and uplift one another -- as residents of the world, and as Christians. We have nothing to fear but fear itself – and together, bound by a common purpose, we can achieve great things, no matter what our differences and difficulties. It is a message to pray over as followers of Christ.
To use a metaphor the first apostles would understand: the sea may at times be rough. But we’re all in the same boat.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”
May God give you peace.