Set Apart for Unity

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As the sky darkens with an approaching spring storm, I am looking around my office at the salmagundi (I love this word!) of more than 25 years of ministry. The accumulation of items on my wall cover such a span of years and memories. I have “The Child’s Creed” from my third grade Sunday school class, cards, crosses, and pictures from each place I have served, receipts waiting to be handed in, pictures of my wife, and even my CREDO covenant. If this wall could tell stories, it would tell you of people and places who have touched my life. It might even tell you about those who served here before me and what it held then. It would tell you of sadness and joy, hopes and heartbreaks. Mostly, it would speak of love and service, the core of any ministry.

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Next to the wall with all its tacks and pins, are the shelves. They hold everything from books to palms, duct tape to dolls, and an assortment of other things, like the duck nativity set collected at the last Synod. I’ve read these books and written a few of them. There’s an old picture of Jesus and the children that I have loved since it was given to me in junior high. Memories stack these shelves, too. They whisper of youthful hopes and wisdom’s dreams. Together they tell the story of where I have been, and point toward where I might be heading next. They hold onto the ideas for children’s sermons (some better than others) and leftovers from Pentecost and Christmas celebrations. These shelves hold the possibility and promise born of years of gathering and learning and trying new things, knowing the resources will be needed again.

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Behind me hangs a quilt given to me when I left my first call. The blessings and prayers written on it have faded over the years, but there is joy in it still, and company. This quilt reminds me that I am truly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I need that reminder. I need to be reminded that I am not alone in this calling. I need to remember all the places I have served, all the people whose lives are linked with mine. I need to hear that being set apart for sacred purpose means being united to others in love and joy. That’s what this chaotic collection of tangible memories does for me; it reminds me that I am deeply connected to the Body of Christ.

You see, I’ve spent so much of my life feeling apart, different, unwelcome that the idea of being sanctified was not a comfort. I didn’t want to spend more of my life apart from others, even if it meant a life of service. Let’s face it, ministry can be a lonely job. How many times have I told people who express feeling lonely and isolated to go to church to be connected to community? How many times have I suggested that people can find ways to volunteer or find kinship in church? I tell people all the time that church can be a place of healing and a place to claim one’s value. But for a pastor, one’s congregation can’t do these things. And for someone like me who grew up always feeling the outsider, I’ve often felt lonely in ministry.

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As I read Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, assuring them that they are sanctified, something new opened up in me. As followers of Christ we are sanctified in love for the sake of creating unity. We aren’t meant to create unity in thought or practice or creed, but unity of purpose. The purpose is, of course, to make manifest the Realm of God, to incarnate Divine Love for our neighbors. We are sanctified, set apart for sacred purpose. And that purpose is to love others with a godly kind of love. If it were as easy to do as it is to say, then I wouldn’t have this office full of ministry miscellany. We’d all just be out there doing it.

My friends, we are all sanctified in God’s eyes. We are all set apart for the purpose of loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbors, and loving Creation. And we are all united as we try to live into God’s vision of and for us. This is the good news of this Easter season. May we all fully claim our identity as God’s sanctified people and have the courage to live this truth out loud.

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2018
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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About rachaelkeefe

Hi. I am a pastor, an author, a painter, and a poet. My latest book is available now to order from Chalice Press, The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (http://amzn.to/2DZ55EU).
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