One of my life values comes from Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23 NLT). I want to live my life so that the world will know who Jesus is and how much he loves them.
One powerful way to do that is to live in unity. It’s a foreign quality for much of the world, sadly, including the church. Unity starts with me and is firstly about my relationship with Jesus—Jesus in me and me allowing him to direct my life. When my relationship with Jesus is right, there can be unity in my other relationships, beginning with those closest to me. If I cannot learn to love and work with my peers and my family, my witness will not be effective to the world.
I don’t value unity for the sake of unity itself or to make my life easier; often it’s hard work. In a society where personal agendas are valued and individuality is celebrated, setting aside my own needs to be one with others is a witness to Jesus in me. Of course, I recognize and appreciate the uniqueness in others. Living in unity when we are different—that’s the challenge and the witness of Christ in us.
Jesus’ prayer for unity doesn’t end with those near to me but reaches to all people, who need to know how much they are loved and valued by Jesus.
Jesus’ banquet story in Luke 14 is a beautiful illustration of this. After the banquet invitation is rejected by the usual invited guests, the host extends the invitation to those who wouldn’t normally be invited to a feast at the master’s home: “ ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full’ ” (Luke 14:21-23 NLT).
This is the kind of banquet I want to be part of and, dare I say, represents who we are as a Salvation Army. To those who would never expect to be invited to any special event, we hold the invitation to a great party. In this banquet hall, all are welcomed and treated as treasured guests.
Let’s talk practically. This feast is a metaphor for the church and, more specifically, our ministry units. Jesus is the host who invites all to join him and receive his welcoming presence. Does your corps or your ministry demonstrate the presence and love of Jesus? Do those who come into our centres leave feeling as though they have been welcomed and cared for? Is there an opportunity for them to meet and accept Jesus for themselves?
The servants in this parable are you and me—the officers, employees, soldiers and volunteers who are engaged locally with The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda. We distribute the invitations to feast with Jesus as we hand out meals, clean the building, teach a class, offer advice and preach the sermon. Do those you encounter catch from you the joy of being with Jesus? Do they sense you have something special to share with them?
Finally, the guests are all those who are in our communities. They are the clients who receive our services and the children who attend our programs. The guests are our neighbours, including the person experiencing homelessness down the street and the shop owner who sells us our morning coffee. The invitation is for everyone and especially those who are ignored, rejected and different. The Salvation Army was created to reach those who wouldn’t normally be welcomed. We still exist for that reason. Who are those people in your community?
That’s my picture of unity—all of us around the same banquet table enjoying the presence of Jesus. Who should you invite? Jesus’ invitation is to anyone you can find. There is plenty of room at his banquet table.
Colonel Evie Diaz is the chief secretary in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.
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