I didn’t grow up Mennonite Brethren, but I feel like I am really part of this Mennonite Brethren family. A few months back, I was at the Denver Airport, flying home after a meeting. This guy started talking to me. He asked what I do. I told him I was a pastor from South Texas.
“What’s your denomination?” he asked.
“Here in the United States, we are USMB,” I said.
“You don’t look Mennonite Brethren,” he said.
“Yep, you’re right,” I said. “My skin color might indicate that I am not an original, but I’m part of the family now.”
I praise God that he brought us to South Texas 12 years ago, and from the beginning, God has been doing amazing things.
“That the world may believe”
Last night, God was reminding me of one of the verses that we will look at tonight. That verse is John 17:20-21: “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.”
Just 24 hours before he would be arrested, Jesus is praying. His prayer for his followers is that they will be one—unified—for a purpose. That purpose is that the world may believe (John 17:21). This is the heart of Jesus.
Our theme verse for this conference is I Corinthians 12:27: “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (NLT). How does Jesus want us to let the world know that he is one with God? This verse tells us: “All of us together.” How many times do we forget this because we are focused on our local church. There are many of us, and all of us together are the body of Christ.
This verse sounds so good—like something we could put on a banner right in front of the church. But Paul was writing this to a church he had founded, with the help of Priscilla and Aquilla, in Corinth. He was with them in Corinth, and then he went to Ephesus. In Ephesus he hears the Corinthian church isn’t doing very well. There was division. They’d forgotten why they existed. Paul writes this letter to remind his fellow brothers and sisters that “you are the body of Christ.” This wasn’t a light admonition; this was in your face: Remember you’re the body of Christ.
“Have you forgotten who you are?”
I’m a big Sylvester Stallone fan. In the movie Rocky 3, Rocky is in a slump; he forgot who he was. Apollo Creed is trying to help him, and in the middle of the movie, Apollo says to Rocky, “What’s the matter with you? Have you forgotten who you are?”
You see, what we believe about ourselves determines how we behave. If you believe tonight that you are part of the body, then you are going to behave accordingly. And Paul is telling his people, “Don’t forget. Remember you are the body of Christ.”
We have to remind ourselves of this in our churches at times. I just traveled 1,300 miles with my family. With five kids it got pretty bad at times. I’d have to look back at them in the Tahoe and say, “Hey, you are brothers and sisters. You have the same last name; you live together. You have the same blood. You’re family.” And I think Paul would tell us tonight, “You’re the body, all of you together. You’re the body of Christ.”
A few verses before this, Paul gives us a picture of what this body is. He says the human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. “Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part,” says Paul in I Corinthians 27:14. “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it,” he writes in verse 18.
I didn’t ever dream that I would end up in La Grulla, Texas, in a Mennonite Brethren church. I never imagined that I would be here tonight. But God did. Every one of us is part of something bigger. All of us together are Christ’s body.
Author and pastor Gary Inrig says: “The truth is that the body of Christ is designed to teach us that we need one another and that we must care for one another. To the world we must show ourselves one in Christ, united in love and a shared life. Such a unity is not uniformity or conformity, it’s rather a Spirit-given sense of our mutual needs and the recognition that our diversity is both God-given and essential to maturity and health.”
The purpose for our diversity
God has a purpose behind our differences. And Paul gives us this picture of a body and how we are to work with each other. There are three important aspects to this body of Christ.
First, there is physical unity. Next, there is diversity and finally there is interdependence. Many times, we don’t even think about the many parts of our physical bodies. Many things happen just so we can move our hands. There’s unity.
When we look at ourselves, we also see diversity. Paul says that not every part is a foot, not every part is an ear, not every part is a hand. There’s diversity. And every part of our physical bodies needs the other parts. There is interdependence. Paul tells the Corinthians—and us—not to forget this. All of us together make something greater than ourselves.
There are three things I want us to do today.
First, pray for unity. We’ve heard the last few days that unity is supernatural. We could all put on the same shirt tonight—preferably a Dallas Cowboys’ jersey. We could learn the same systems, speak the same language and do church the same way. And yet, something supernatural has to happen in order for there to be unity. Remember what Jesus says in John 17:21: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one. As you are in me, Father, and I am in you.” That’s supernatural.
We could try to create things that would lead us toward unity, but we desperately need to pray to God for unity. Why? Because our tendency is disunity. Paul tells us, and Jesus reminds us pray for unity. Why? Because it seems to escape us at times.
Second, we need to stay humble in diversity. We might be the same in Jesus, but he made me Hispanic and he made some of you white and some black. Yes, there’s diversity in our appearances.
There is also diversity in our gifting, in our abilities, and Scripture calls us to be humble in diversity. Philippians 2:3 says, “Don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others, be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.”
I’ve had the privilege to be in some circles in our Mennonite Brethren community with people that are much more influential than I am. They were much more educated, with much more authority, and in this family, I have received the humility of others in diversity.
I praise God when we humble ourselves and are able to receive from somebody that is different than us. I saw this happen yesterday when my brother Daniel Rodriguez from Omaha led a workshop on discipleship. Most of those attending the workshop were from white churches, and they were being taught in a humble way by Daniel.
I Peter 5:5 says, “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (NLT). Notice the phrase, “dress yourselves.” Make it evident that there is humility when you are with others that are different than you.
Third, we must embrace interdependence. We want to be autonomous. We do not like to be told what to do. But Paul says if you’re part of the body, independence doesn’t exist. You have to be interdependent.
Steven Covey in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality. Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players.”
We all have different gifts. The Corinthian church was beginning to say, “Well, my gift is better than yours.” Paul is saying no, no, no. All gifts are needed. Every part of the body is needed. Every part needs to be dependent. We have to be interdependent.
Ephesians 4 says, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly.” As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow so that the whole body is healthy, growing and full of love.
Do we want to be healthy?
How many of us want USMB to be a healthy family? For that to happen, we need to pray for unity. We need to stay humble in diversity. And, over all things, we need to embrace interdependence so that the world will believe Jesus sent us. Jesus says being a healthy body is necessary so that the world will believe he sent us. How many of us want to be the answer to Jesus’s prayer?
Father God, we are grateful. Because of you, we are part of the body. We are from different neighborhoods; we’re from different circumstances. But Father, tonight we are one in you, and there’s one spirit that flows among us. We are family.
There are many things that could divide us, but Father, we pray that you would protect this unity, that you would make it grow more—much more than we could ask or imagine. So, Father do in this family the work of unity. Bring down the walls. Bring down the fears that have caused us, Lord, to hold back. Father do in us your will and let your Holy Spirit flow in us in a beautiful way. We ask this not for the glory and the name of the MB family, but for the glory and the name of the name of Jesus. Amen.
This article is adapted from Aaron Hernadez’s keynote address at the 2018 USMB National Convention held July 26-28 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The theme of the convention was “Celebrating our diversity and unity.” Hernandez spoke Thursday evening, July 26, at the opening session.