Has Christ Been Divided?


It is my privilege to be asked to be here tonight and to give the homily, a reflection on the theme has Christ been divided? To help relax everyone, I hope, I am going to give away the end of the story first something that wouldn’t happen in a mystery novel or on an episode of Downton Abbey, and say ‘No Christ has not been divided”. It is beyond the power of any person, country, denomination or leader to chop Christ into pieces. The church universal has, rather like a fine cut diamond, many different facets but as of January 26th 2014 we may feel that we are like the church in Corinth, we are in pieces.
We have not been given different parts of Christ, in some kind of bizarre image as if you have his legs, we have his arms and therefore each church can only reflect a certain aspect of Jesus to the world. Jesus is fully present in each church. But the universal church with all of us present would present to the world the most beautiful reflection of Christ’s intention for the world.  The danger is that occasionally our different churches can seem to suggest to each other that there is something that Christ did not tell us, that one of us holds an extra piece. In trying to better know Christ we are not in competition with one another. Christ is the head of the universal Church of which we are members through baptism and faith. There is always more to know about Christ, there are always people who through the ages have witnessed to this revelation, holy scripture and tradition are aides in our quest to know God. There is always a need for us to keep getting together, to keep talking, praying worshipping and studying together so that we look for that unity in Christ. We are family.
If my sister and I were to sit down and try to write a document that fully describes our relationship as sisters and the constraints – if any – on the bonds of that relationship. I think it would be incredibly hard and I dread to think of what we would write. It might depend a bit on how well we were getting along I suppose – there might be stuff that would get in the way when we were a certain age that is unimportant at another. My relationship with my sister is one predicated on love for one another and we work it out throughout our lives. Our relationship here tonight as brothers and sisters in Christ is much the same. We cannot define it by a document as well as we can define it by our actions and our prayers. So Christian unity is something we do, something we live.
I have to tell you that the week of prayer for Christian unity always worries me. I’m sorry but there it is. I worry that by creating a week for it we stop praying for it each and every day with all our hearts. I worry that unity in Christ becomes a kind of glorious and vain hope for the future that we can’t imagine achieving unless one group’s approach or doctrine wins out over another. I worry that it makes Jesus cry, because we are not one as He and the Father are one. There now I have told you, that’s my baggage.
There is a legend about a community of monks that had deteriorated into factions, divisions, gossip, and suspicion. A wise man visited the abbey, and the abbot told him about the terrible condition among the monks. “It is so bad, that I do not believe that we will survive as a community” The wise man said, “I am so surprised, for it is widely rumored that the Messiah is in your midst.” The abbot went back and reported to the monks the conversation. It entirely transformed the place. Each man treated all the others with deep love and high regard – because this one just might be the Messiah.”
When we think on the topic of Christian unity and the focussed reflection of this week we remember that Christ is indeed in the midst of all our churches and that in getting to know one another better and better we will see Him even more clearly. So when we gather together in church councils, or ecumenical discussion groups, local ministerials or gatherings of leaders we know with all our hearts that Christ is present in those conversations, that the Messiah is in our midst.
We look then with common vision to see ways in which the world can be transformed, how lives can be enriched because that is what Jesus calls us to do. To make sure no one is invisible and to welcome all even seemingly the smallest, least important people as the world would see them. Some of our finest moments in the Christian churches and communities in Edmonton have been when we have worked and witnessed together. The work of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry for example; the unified stand on homelessness and our public support to bring it to an end; projects such as No room at the Inn. There are shades of tonight’s gospel reading there for certain. The more of this we can do then the better for the world around us and the more and more commonality we will find in our faith and lives together.
You see, as the new testament scholar Raymond Brown said, ‘it is the gift of God’s love that makes us valuable before God and makes us a channel to pass this love to others through our ministry’. The gospel calls us to live as people who know we are loved.  It calls us to live as people who are free to love.  People will be drawn to our churches not because of what we say, but primarily because of what we do, because of how we live our lives.  If the world looks at our various churches and instead of hearing a unified gospel message hears only differences in the practice of our faith rather than the fundamental truth of Christ then is it any surprise the people do not find us attractive?
The world is watching, people do look at Christians to see if our words and actions gel.  They are watching communities that claim to love.  The world is watching  communities that claim commitment to justice.  We need in our unity to proclaim the love and justice of God in Christ.
There is a great Christian writer called Max Lucardo, he has a great story on the subject of unity in his book ‘a gentle thunder’ it goes like this.
Some time ago I came upon a fellow on a trip who was carrying a Bible.
"Are you a believer?" I asked him. "Yes," he said excitedly.
I've learned you can't be too careful.
"Virgin birth?" I asked. "I accept it."
"Deity of Jesus?" "No doubt."
"Death of Christ on the cross?" "He died for all people."
Could it be that I was face to face with a Christian? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I continued my checklist.
"Status of man." "Sinner in need of grace."
"Definition of grace." "God doing for man what man can't do."
"Return of Christ?" "Imminent."
"Bible?" "Inspired."
"The Church?" "The Body of Christ."
I started getting excited. "Conservative or liberal?"
He was getting interested too. "Conservative."
My heart began to beat faster.
"Heritage?"
"Southern Congregationalist Holy Son of God Dispensationalist Triune Convention."
That was mine!
"Branch?"
"Pre-millennial, post-trib, non-charismatic, King James, one-cup communion."
My eyes misted. I had only one other question.
"Is your pulpit wooden or fiberglass?" "Fiberglass," he responded.
I withdrew my hand and stiffened my neck. "Heretic!" I said and walked away.
We know that Jesus’ prayer for us is that we are to be one, united in love and held together by the power of the Holy spirit. Isn’t that an amazing prayer? Jesus prayed for the unity of God’s family. That you and I might be brothers and sisters, not friends, not acquaintances, not kissing cousins, but brothers and sisters. As we end the 2014 week of prayer for Christian unity each one of us should reflect on what we have done to bring this our family in Christ closer together.
Our job is to make his vision of the church a reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote: The church is the church only when it exists for others. . . . The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. . . . It must not underestimate the importance of human example which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus.
We will need to allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit working in us.  It demands that we be lead by the Holy Spirit into action.  Our actions, compassionate and caring, are the marks of our faith.  Our witness is our lives, lived day by day and hour by hour in relationship with our loving God.  In looking at one another we should be able to see Christ mirrored in one another.
So for myself what do I do to pray and work for Christian unity. First I do pray for it both when it seems to be moving forward and when it seems to be further away, in both those times I try to do as that godly man Brother Roger of Taize suggested, I try to live as much or as little of the gospel that I understand and know that it will be enough. I am Anglican, I love my tradition but first and foremost I belong to Jesus, I am His and always will be. The church will be one because that is Jesus’ will for the church. In our lifetime we have a choice to strengthen our communion in Jesus in his name, or to break it down in our own. By January 2015 may we be even closer to one another and to the one who has saved us from ourselves. Thanks be to God.  AMEN


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