Today is the Eleventh Day of Christmas and my true love gave to me Eleven Pipers Piping. The Eleven Pipers represent 11 of the original disciples or as it is sometimes called, the eleven faithful disciples. This would include Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot (a Canaanite), and Judas the son of James or Thaddaeus. Judas Iscariot is not included in the list as he was the one who betrayed Jesus. These eleven disciples (listed in Acts 1:13-14 after the Ascension of Jesus) were not Jesus' only disciples, but they were the inner group who would later become the apostles. Joined by Matthias (Acts 1:23-26), these twelve (later joined by Paul who declared himself an apostle in 1 Corinthians 1:1 [his third letter]) became the original patriarchs of Christ's Church. The word "apostle" literally means "one who is sent." What could these men actually teach us as we wind down the Christmas season.
Several years ago, I was a student pastor of a congregation in a small community in Bourbon County, Kentucky. There were five congregations in that community: a Baptist Church, a Presbyterian Church, a United Methodist Church, a Disciple of Christ Church, and a Christian Methodist Episcopal (historically African American denomination) Church. The community decided to celebrate the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day hosted by the CME Church. The pastor of that congregation assembled the pastors of the other four congregations just moments before the service to go over the liturgy. The CME pastor began telling each of the other pastors where they would be preaching in the service. This, of course, was the first time I was aware that we all would be preaching. I interrupted the CME pastor to tell him that I had not come prepared to preach. A silence fell on the room as he stared at me in disbelief. The United Methodist pastor chuckled under his breath as the CME pastor looked over his glasses at me and remarked, "You mean you have to prepare to preach?" The other pastors in the room all looked at me and back at the CME pastor as if they were watching a tennis match. I stuttered and stammered. "No, I'll preach, don't worry about it," I exclaimed with false confidence. We finished our planning and I reached into my pocket where I kept my New Testament. As we walked toward the chancel with the organ playing to begin the service, I uttered a brief prayer. "Lord, I promise I won't ask for anything else if you help me to come up with a sermon before I reach the chancel." As we sat down in our assigned pew, I flipped through the Gospels and landed on Matthew 10:2-4. At that moment, the CME pastor introduced me and asked me to take the pulpit to bring the word. I stepped to the pulpit, took a deep breath and read the the three verses. I closed the text and began to speak. I don't remember the words I said, but essentially I spoke about how Jesus took these 12 men from varied backgrounds to be his closest disciples. Through preaching, teaching, miracles and walking the hills of that ancient land, these 12 people were joined together as Christ's Apostles. From these 12 very different people, God began the work of building His Church and began the evangelism of the world.
These 12 men were fishermen, a tax collector and an anti-Roman revolutionary. Ethnically they were diverse ranging from a Greco-Roman Jew, a Canaanite and hard working Jewish fishermen. These were men who would not have socialized together and the tension between Matthew and Simon the Zealot would have been intense. Matthew would have been considered a collaborator with the Roman occupiers of the land as Simon's friends would have engaged in what would be considered terrorist actions against the Romans and their sympathizers.
The call of these 12 very different men reminds us that the Church is not monolithic. We are a people who share a faith, not an ethnicity, a nationality or a culture. Worship, music and organizational structure may differ, but our faith is one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic. If we confess Jesus as the Christ we are a part of the one Church. To leave a congregation, a denomination or to split and divide over cultural or political issues is essentially impossible. We can never divide ourselves from those who are also a part of the Body of Christ. We are a people who are very different but we do share one thing in common. We share Christ. We share our faith. Tomorrow will be the last day of the Christmas season. We will receive 12 drummers drumming tomorrow. How fitting to end this festive season looking at that one thing the entire Church confesses as the essentials of our unified faith. Incidentally, I now always have a spare sermon or two in the margins of my Bible. I am grateful to my first lessons taught to me by that CME pastor on always being prepared to preach and the unified diversity of Christ's Church.