by Justin Kelly Coleman
One of my favorite hymns is “O God in Heaven.” I love the rich language and Trinitarian theology the hymn expresses so plainly. I’m particularly drawn to a phrase in the third stanza that I don’t recall being in any other hymn: “sealed in our kinship.”*
Churches often speak of fellowship with one another or being a Christian family. But kinship is an even deeper description of how we belong to each other and to God. We yearn to be kin who share the same spiritual consanguinity with Christ and are siblings in Christ.
In the midst of many strains and tensions in the church – locally and beyond – we might lose sight of the kindred nature of our faith. It is through the bonds of kinship that God continues to perfect us in Christ. Christian perfection is about perfect love of God and neighbor, and we strive not only to love God but to live in a deep sense of kinship with others. Father Gregory Boyle says, “It’s connection and kinship that ultimately heals people.”** We are called to be a uniting church in order to create space for connection and healing.
A beautiful vision of the Kingdom of God, found in the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, offers a glimpse of the future we are called to begin living now:
After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language. They were standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9 CEB***)
A healing church holds an ecclesiological vision for the kindred nature of God’s kingdom. In this passage, the multitudes gather around the throne. There are people of every age, nation, and race standing before God, and this image often leads us to emphasize the presence of people from every nation, tribe, and language. We struggle to imagine a scene that too often we fail to see in our churches: a multiracial and multiethnic community of faith.
But what if this passage implies even more? Much more! What if it points to the gathered church as a multigenerational, multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual, multi-gendered kindred community joined together and worshiping God as one? All lines that divide denominations, nations, and tribes are inevitably erased. What remains is God’s Church as God intended it: a kindred body of believers.
We are called to uniting activity in the life of the Church. I long for the day when there are no longer denominations and we are all one in Christ. Yes, this means that many matters related to disputes over theology, ecclesiology, and justice must be resolved.
And that ultimate resolution of differences that now seem impossible to overcome is precisely the promise that our faith compels us to expect:
He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)
I have no doubt that many of the tears that God will have wiped away will be the tears we have caused one another through our struggles and divisions. This is why we yearn for deep communion with God and with one another so that reconciliation and healing can occur. As in every area of our faith, we strive to be today who we know we will become by God’s grace when our sanctification is complete. The eschatological vision for the Church-the new reality to which we all move-is a uniting vision.
The Uniting Methodists movement is a hopeful step on a journey toward kinship. Whatever legislative plans we adopt as a denomination, we’ll have plenty of very hard work to do. As we step forward, let’s pray that we will remain resilient and embrace God’s uniting vision. Let’s work together and build a beloved community, “sealed in our kinship.”
* “O God in Heaven,” words by Elena G. Maquiso, 1961; trans. by D. T. Niles, 1964. The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 119.
*** All scripture quotations from the Common English Bible. Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible.