Service of Prayer for Christian Unity, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 20th January 2019

I once had a colleague with whom I worked in ministry.

We would meet every morning and evening

to pray to the daily office of prayers together.

We would take it in turns each week,

one would lead morning prayers,

and the other evening.

We worked together for a couple of years,

and so we shared a couple of weeks of prayer for Christian unity together,

and an interesting difference between us emerged quite clearly over that time.

As I led the intercessions during this particular week

I would often offer thanks to God

for what I considered to be the deep truth

that the church, despite all its division, difference and diversity

is nonetheless united, and as one, in Christ.

We are citizens with the saints

and also members of the household of God.

As he led the prayers,

he would focus prayers on the need for God’s grace

for a church which is, in real, concrete, everyday reality

a deeply and at times painfully, divided institution.

That we are often, strangers and aliens to one another.

As I reflected on this difference in focus,

which is not something we ever spoke about directly,

I began to see that both perspectives are important.

I continue to give thanks for the deep reality

that we Christians of different persuasions

are in fact one in Christ,

fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God.

We are united through God’s love for us,

and that while the relationship between say

the Anglican and the Roman Catholic churches is far from perfect,

it remains true that in God we are all one.

However, I now recognise a danger here:

which is that weare not honest and frank

about the painful divisions that do exist,

and so fail to work together for that complete oneness Jesus prays for.

We Christians here in Battersea – Catholic and Anglican,

are blessed by an uncommonly good relationship

between our two communities.

But I want to encourage us all tonight,

to both celebrate our unity in Christ,

and the bonds of affection we share,

but also to honest and frank

about the divisions and differences between us.

And I say that because I want us to avoid complacency.

There is a lot at stake in the relationship

between the different Christian denominations.

Because that witness will make a difference

to how the world perceives the God we worship.

It will make a difference in the coming of the Kingdom of God,

and the renewal of all things God through Christ is working to achieve.

As Jesus prays in John 17 verse 3,
may they become completely one,
so that the world may know that you have sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.

We are now in the third week of season of Epiphany.

And Epiphany is a season of revelation,

indeed that is the simple meaning of the word Epiphany.

And the kind of revealing we celebrate in Epiphany

is the revealing of God’s love to the Gentiles.

The revealing of the love of-the-God-of-the-Jews,

to the rest of the world.

The season begins with the story of the Magi,

the three Kings who come from afar following the star,

to find the King of the Jews,

and the Saviour of the World.

The wise men were joined by some Jews too.

Jewish shepherds, in fact, humble men.

And of course, let us not forget,

that in the stable that first Christmas there were also animals.

An interesting assemblage of God’s creatures.

Kings from the gentile world,

Shepherds from the Jewish world,

and we imagine, cows, sheep and goats

from the animal world.

All gathered together with Mary and Joseph

around the crib where the baby Jesus lay.

Each coming from different places,

from different traditions,

from different life stories,

but all drawn in to the story

of the revealing of God’s love for the world in Christ.

As I look around me at us all gathered together here,

I marvel at our diversity.

There are at least two different Christians denominations here,

and there may be others.

I wonder how many different countries are represented here?
And there are 1 or 2 hundred of us,

and each of us has had a different starting place

on our journey in faith,

and a different story to tell about what star led us

to the babe born in the manger at Bethlehem.

Brothers and sisters,

we are different in some perhaps quite significant ways,

and let’s not seek either to amplify or dismiss those ways.

Let us not focus our attention on that which divides us,

but on that which unites us

the Lord Jesus Christ.

Because we are joined together with the Saints,

in the one, holy catholic and apostolic church

Yes, an interesting, rag tag bunch of folk,

but together we are the body of Christ,

he is our cornerstone.

And he would have us join with him

in his mission to renew all things,

and reconcile the world to himself.