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Christian Unity – Just do it!
Sunday 20 January 2019 Evensong Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
1 Samuel 3.1-10 & Ephesians 4.1-6
When we were taught how to preach we were told that we should begin by telling the congregation what you are going to tell them, then you should tell them, then you should tell them what you told them. This is a simple lesson in communication. A beginning, a middle and an end tends to be helpful.
If you think about it almost every book you read will have an Introduction or a Forward which tells you what the book is about or why it has been written and possibly something about the context in which it is set. We are used to this way of doing things. We like things to be clear. We like to know what we are letting ourselves in for.
It’s the same in meetings and in business. We like an agenda, clear aims and objectives, a start time and a finish time. We like to know what our goals are and we also like to do things in such a way that we can measure our success at reaching those goals.
These are good ways of communicating and working. They get things done and ensure that time and talents are used efficiently. BUT it is only one way of working and it seems at odds with the approach of the gospel writers and St John in particular. John says of his gospel ….. these things are written;
‘ … so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.’ Chap 20 v.31
Now if you or I had been writing this gospel we would have put that little sentence at the beginning in the introduction – John puts it at the very end of the penultimate chapter of his book. He tells the story of Jesus and then tells us why! A strange way of doing things if you think about it. So why does he do it this way?
Perhaps the reason why John takes so long to tell us why he has written this story is that he understands what it takes for people to come to belief. John knows that people do not come to belief in Jesus in the same way that they will come to belief in other truths like historical facts or scientific equations. It takes time – it’s only when we have experienced the story of Jesus by listening to it and letting it touch us and inspire us – it’s only when we have tested out the teaching of Jesus and tried to live our lives the way he says we should live them – it’s only then that we truly come to know Jesus and to say that we have come to belief in him.
The disciple Andrew understood this as well. In the gospel story Andrew fetches his brother to meet Jesus and he simply says, ‘come and see’. He doesn’t try and tell him about Jesus, he doesn’t try to tell him what Jesus means to him. He doesn’t hand him a religious tract and he doesn’t invite him to a meeting to hear the Truth of Jesus set out in logical or systematic argument. Authentic proclamation of the gospel is not telling people about Jesus and hoping that they will accept it. Authentic proclamation of the gospel, as John and Andrew knew, is to invite people to come and see, come and experience, come and share, come and share in our community.
This seems to me to be entirely consistent with the approach of Jesus. He never asked anyone what they believed. He never said ‘I’ll cure you of leprosy if you believe in me’ – he just cured them. He didn’t say ‘If you believe in God the way I believe in God and if you do all the right religious things then, follow me’. He just said ‘follow me’. It’s as simple as that. We follow Jesus first, faith and belief follow.
It seems to me that in this week of prayer for Christian Unity it is good to do things the gospel way! Perhaps we spend too long when we think about Christian Unity trying to set out an agenda, working out what we are going to do, we try to set aims and objectives. When we do this we don’t get very far. Perhaps we just need to get on with it – in the words of the Nike advert, perhaps it is better to ‘Just do it!’ I don’t mean that we should ride roughshod over each other’s traditions or each other’s particular beliefs and dogmas – but we should just get on with being as united as we possibly can. If we live together in mutual love and respect then the rest will follow.
It’s not only Jesus’ love that is unconditional it is his invitation to follow, to live his way. We find this difficult. We like conditions. We like deals. We get used to deals – every advert we ever see on the TV or on a billboard is offering us a deal. We’re so imbued with deals we cannot get our heads around a God who does not offer a deal, God just offers love and fellowship and, in Jesus, God offers an invitation. Too much discussion about Church Unity is based on the idea of a deal – if you accept something we hold dear then we’ll think about accepting something you hold dear. If you compromise we will compromise. The only things that Christians need in order to build unity are a desire to follow Jesus and an instinct to love each other. That’s all. We should simply get on with trying to follow Jesus and loving each other without spending endless meetings and synods trying to work out where we may be headed.
This may seem naïve and I suppose it is. But surely the differences there are between the various Christian denominations significant and important though they are, are nowhere near as significant and important as the invitation we have received to follow Jesus and to love each other.
It’s in just getting on with doing things Jesus’ way that we come to belief, it’s in just getting on with loving each other that we come close to God. It’s in just getting on with living in as much Unity as possible that fuller Unity will come. Let’s ‘Just do it!’
I am sure many of us will be watching the next episode of Les Miserables this evening. The stage show concludes with these words attributed to Victor Hugo which articulate a profound truth which cannot be contained or measured and it is not subject to any deal,
To truly love another person is to see the face of God.
It’s by just getting on with living the Jesus way that we draw close to God. It’s just by getting on and living as closely as we can with all our Christian sisters and brothers that true unity will come.
A prayer for unity from the Quaker tradition
Dear God, We give thanks for places of simplicity and peace. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of nature’s truth and freedom, of joy, inspiration, and renewal, places where all creatures may find acceptance and belonging. Let us search for these places in the world, in ourselves, and in others. Let us restore them. Let us strengthen and protect them, and let us create them. May we mend this outer world according to the truth of our inner life and may our souls be shaped and nourished by God’s eternal wisdom. Amen
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