Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Unity is a word we have heard many times in recent days. At his Inauguration as President of the USA President Biden used much of his speech to call on his people to come together as one after the turbulence and divisiveness of the recent past; to put aside their differences and unite. Interestingly his Inauguration fell during this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and you know how difficult other Christians can be to get along with!
The USA is a huge country extending from mountains to marshland, forests to desert, from agriculture to industry with a correspondingly diverse population comprising many different races, religions, colours and affiliations. He has an immense task on his hands. Yet St Paul faced similar problems with the churches he had set up on his missionary journeys across what we now know as Asia Minor. The communities were insular in a way that is difficult to imagine today where global communications and 24 hour news are readily available. In those days all communication was by word of mouth or by letter carried by hand, on land or by sea. Corinth, to take just one example, had been a prosperous city but had declined until the Roman Empire expanded in the East. They re-opened the derelict port and the city grew rapidly which, of course meant immigration from East and West; freed slaves, rural workers, anyone with an eye to commerce. These people would obviously have brought their traditions and cultures with them. (Perhaps rather like the original settlers of the US?) It would have been difficult for the seed of the Word of God to take root, as Paul was well aware, but it did within a small group of people. However their different origins and customs meant they soon broke into factions with some declaring “I’m for Apollos” or “I’m for Paul” or I’m for Cephas”. Paul’s answer to this was to say “Well, I’m for Christ”.
And this is the crux of the matter!
As Christians, whatever our tradition, whether Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian or Anglican, we are the Body of Christ on earth. And since as St Teresa of Avila pointed out: "Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours”, our mission, set out in the prayer Our Lord taught us is therefore to work to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This will be a Kingdom of love, peace and unity where hatred, violence and oppression have no place. By our lives, our words, our thoughts and our actions we must show the world that Jesus, the Christ, is Lord of All and that the great God Mammon is not. Now, it is not going to be an easy task. Indeed, alone we can do nothing but Jesus promised that: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 NRSV. So alone we can do nothing but united as a community of believers, the Body of Christ, the Church of God, and with faith in Our Lord and Creator we can. That task may not be completed in our time on earth. But the time will come. So let's get started.
The theme of last Sunday’s readings, 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and John 1:43-end, is “calling”. Samuel’s call to his future ministry, serving God in a world where the worship of the One True God was ambivalent to say the least, and Jesus’ call to His disciples.
I know this is a subject that I have addressed before but I make no apologies for revisiting it, since I believe that at this time, perhaps more than ever, this turbulent world needs to hear God’s message of joy, of peace and of love.
In the previous week’s Gospel reading we learned of Jesus’ baptism. Now He starts His ministry but first needs to gather around Him those who will assist, learn, follow Him and carry on His mission after His death. And what an odd- ball bunch of humanity He chooses! People who follow Him on His exhausting journey round Galilee, cheering enthusiastically on His entry into Jerusalem and deserting him just as swiftly in His greatest time of trouble. Now before you sneer at them remember they were, like you and me only human. What would you have done? Remember too that after Jesus’ death and resurrection they were baptised with fire, as John the Baptist had foretold; baptised with the Holy Spirit. As a result of that baptism they were able to carry on Jesus’ mission to bring God’s message to the whole world.
At our baptism we too have received the Holy Spirit. Therefore we too are called to carry on Jesus’ mission on earth. That sounds a daunting prospect I know, but there are two points to bear in mind here. Firstly, whilst on our own we can do nothing, with faith in God anything is possible, and we have the Holy Spirit with us. The second and equally important point is that God does not expect us all to do great things. We are not all called to be one of the great Saints of old, or even St Teresa of Calcutta of our own day. We are, however, called to be what Father Peter referred in a recent sermon as saints with a lower case “s”. In other words our mission calls us all to do something for God however small that may be.
So what can we do today to show the world how much better a place it would be if instead of our present pursuit of power, fame and material wealth, God was, as St Paul puts it “Lord of All”? Well, we could start by showing in our own lives as Christians what scripture, in both the Old and New Testament, sets out quite clearly; we are to love God and our neighbour. And let us not forget that our neighbours are not just the folk who live next door, or attend our church or who look and think just like us, they are also those who perhaps we would rather not be associated with; the poor, the hungry, the refugee, the homeless drug or alcohol addict sleeping on the street. In other words those who we might find it difficult to like let alone love. Yet God loves each and every one of us unconditionally, and so this is our calling, to love our neighbour as God loves us. By loving our neighbour we show our love for God.
Here are two prayers I prepared for Sunday’s service you may like to use:
As Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel to follow Him, so we are called to be the Body of Christ. Make us worthy of that calling we pray, fervent in all our prayer and worship, loving, faithful and honest in our lives, so that the whole Church displays to the world what God is like. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We remember those of our sisters and brothers who, like Samuel, as yet have ‘no knowledge of the Lord’. We ask that they may come to know the safety and peace such knowledge can bring in this uncertain world. Comfort and heal all who suffer in body, mind or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles and bring them the joy of your salvation. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
And now may God bless you and walk with you on your life’s mission to love God and your neighbour.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK