Monday, 24 January 2011

May Jesus's disciples be one!

I was very privileged to be invited to give this address at the Evening of Prayer for Christian Unity, hosted by Nenagh Catholic parish in St Mary's of the Rosary on 23rd January 2011.

Dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.
How wonderful it is to come together from our different Christian traditions to worship, to hear God’s word, and to pray together for the unity of Christ’s disciples!

As we do so, we follow Jesus’s new commandment, to love one another as he has loved us, and we echo his prayer, that his disciples may be one, as he and the Father are one.

On behalf of those here from other traditions, I want to thank the Catholic parish for calling us together and for hosting us in this beautiful church.

There are some – Baptists, Methodists and the Living Water prayer group - who sadly cannot be with us tonight, because of prior commitments, but I know they too are with us in spirit and would wish me to extend their greetings to you.

The worship materials we are using this evening were developed in Jerusalem.
Christians in Jerusalem today live under tremendous pressure, from both the political and religious situation and their dwindling numbers. But despite that, they are communities of faith which worship, pray and study together, which work for the good of their society, and which pray for unity of Christ’s Church and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Representatives of their many Christian traditions meet informally each month as the Ecumenical Circle of Friends. The World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity asked them to prepare materials for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

They chose as a theme ‘All things in common’, and they invite the world-wide Church to pray with them not only for Church unity, but for justice and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the world.

They invite us to pray for unity, but that is not the same as uniformity. God loves diversity in the life he has created, and I don’t doubt he loves the diversity among his disciples, their different ways of worshiping, their different ways of understanding their faith. The unity we pray for is surely not uniformity, but a unity of love for one another, and a unity of purpose, to proclaim together, to all who will listen, the good news proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

The theme chosen by Christians in Jerusalem is a challenge to us all.
It is taken from the description of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem in Acts (2:42-47), which we have just heard. How hard it is to see these characteristics of the earliest Church in today’s splintered Christian landscape!

‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’. Fellowship in breaking bread? We encounter such difficulty sharing the Eucharist together, not just between our different traditions but even within them – I’m thinking of my own Anglican communion - for profound theological reasons we are told. But can these so-called obstacles really be insurmountable?

‘All the believers were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need’. Living simply so that others can simply live? Christians live embedded in the greedy consumer culture around us, in which we are defined by what we possess, and we are constantly urged to acquire more. God’s creation suffers to feed the greed, and the needs of the poor and vulnerable are too often ignored. As Christians we may be personally generous - but do we do enough to challenge that pervasive culture of greed and waste, with Christ’s values of loving God, and loving our neighbours as ourselves?

How will we respond to the challenge from Jerusalem?
Will we leave here today with a warm feeling that we have done our duty by praying together for unity this one day of the year?

Or will we leave here determined to act together this coming year to bring unity closer, a unity of love, and a unity of purpose to proclaim together the good news of Jesus Christ?

Let us join ourselves in Jesus’s prayer, that we his disciples may be one!

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