The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

The Love of Christ Urges Us On—A Sermon on Christian Unity, in Celebration of the Reformation

Annually, Christian campus ministries at UC Davis gather in celebration of the World Council of Churches' Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year, the liturgy was penned by the churches in Germany, and themed in honor of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation. As such, I—the Lutheran—was invited to preach to our students.


Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

It is such a blessing and privilege to speak good news into this room tonight. Gathered together as the body of Christ, one body with many members, many denominations, many expressions of our faith. It is so important to me, personally, and I hope to you, that we do this, at least once a year in this official capacity. It’s important that we stand together to sit together, pray together, sing together, eat cookies together, laugh together—because there are forces in the world around us that seek to keep us apart.

Our nation and world is complex, full of life, full of difference. In this room we are united as Christians, yes, but no two of us are the same. We are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, and an amazing group of Orthodox Christians who are, among themselves, already gathered in kinship across lines of difference. Our languages of origin are not simply English, but Spanish, and Arabic, and others. Our nationalities and heritages are scattered across the continents! We come from such a wide variety of families; you are here for different degree programs and majors and opportunities to serve. We are here, tonight, because we are Christians. As Christians who are citizens and residents of the United States, we are free to gather here, in peace.

As Christians, we are people of freedom and liberation. We are people of love and community. We are people of hospitality and generosity. We are people of grace and truth. We are going to sing a song tonight, one many of you have sung around a campfire at sometime in your life, that claims the world will “know we are Christians by our love.”

But “Christianity does not have a good name everywhere. Christianity did not liberate, democratize, or humanize the classes and cultures of many nations, including our own. It practiced the same divisions and disruptions that were destroying human culture. Christianity became an ally to extremist, reactionary, suppressive, undemocratic, absolutist powers. Christianity is ugly and deadly when it is selfishly and narrowly practiced. It is too powerful to be wastefully applied to a narrow nationalistic purpose.” [1]

We are at a place in the history of our nation and world where Christianity is in peril. No, I don’t mean “The War on Christmas” or the ban on prayer in public schools or any of those distractions. I mean that we are at this very moment having to choose whether our churches will align with the oppressor or with the oppressed, with the empire or with the marginalized.

500 years ago, in 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther had a lot to say. He wrote down 95 grievances he had against the Roman Catholic church, and, as the story goes, posted them on the door of the church where he lived. Last week, we celebrated another heroic preacher by the same name, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also had a lot to say about the institutions in our society. All these years after these brave men—and the brave people who joined their movements—spoke truth to power, there is still a lot to say.

As citizens and residents of these United States, whose peaceful transfer of power we witnessed last week, we are well-versed in the inalienable rights of our Constitution. We witnessed, also, our right to peaceful assembly—exercised by millions of Americans in cities across the nation, marching on their state capitols and city halls in protest of the incoming presidential administration. This freedom, and in conjunction our freedom to speak, is, to me, the most precious.

According to the First Amendment, we are free to speak our minds and hearts in the public sphere. We are not free from consequence, but we are free from prosecution. We confuse these two, a lot. And folks from every political persuasion and religious affiliation, legally speaking, share in this freedom. Two weeks ago, there was a massive protest on campus in opposition to a speaker whose words, while provocative, are free.

There are voices, as free as yours and mine, that drive me nuts. Sometimes they are quote-unquote Christian voices, in particular. But how quick I am to distance myself, how quick am I to say, “Oh, no, I’m not that kind of Lutheran. I’m not that kind of Christian. I’m not that kind of American.”

They know we are Christians by our lack of love.
They know we are Christians by our hate and contempt.
They know we are Christians by our false accusation; by our discrimination; by our persecution; by our broken communion; by our intolerance; by our religious wars; by our division; by our abuse of power; by our isolation; by our pride. [2]

Dear siblings in Christ, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The human hierarchy we have made (based on race, gender, class, ability, nationality) is not from God. Do not misunderstand me—these things are real, but they are not from God and they are not ultimate. In the reading from his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul declares enthusiastically, as should we, that “In Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

They can know we are Christians by another way. They can know we are Christians not by our silence, or by our divisions, or by our hate, or by our fear.

When you encounter violence in action or in speech—even when it’s subtle—you can say something. If your personal safety is not at risk, but a racist, or sexist, or classist, or ableist, or xenophobic word is uttered in your presence, you can counter it. You can. When the “Christian” voices on your campus and in our nation and world are not saying what you’d say, or what you believe Jesus has said, you can speak up. Dear siblings in Christ, we can, and we must.

“For the love of Christ urges us on,” the Apostle Paul has written. It will not be easy to speak truth to power—it never has been. It will not be easy to speak truth to our friends and families and classmates and coworkers. But it will be right, and it will be Christian. Amen.

[1] Charles G. Adams, “Easter Day (Resurrection of Jesus)” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, 192.
[2] These sins are found in the Confession portion of tonight's liturgy.

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