Year C, EASTER 7

 

(Remembering the week of prayer for Christian unity.)

 

John 17: 20-26                                                                        (Sermon 1 :”Unity?)

                                                                                                                                                                              (Sermon 2: “A Celebration”)

Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21.

Acts 16: 16-34

Psalm 97

 

PREPARATION

 

The joy of the Companion Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

See what a wonderful thing it is, when sisters and brothers can live together in unity.

Though we have many differences, we are members of one body in Christ Jesus.

If one part of the body hurts, then the rest of the body shares its pain.

If one part of the body is successful, all of the body shares its happiness.

 

Let us worship the Holy God who brings us together in love.

 

OR -

 

We are here today, not because of any particular denominational virtue or superior doctrine,

but because of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

 

Light is sown among the people of God,

and happiness among the sincere in heart.

Rejoice in God, O your people of faith!

Give thanks to God’s holy name!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most wonderful God, before your glory we are like vagabonds, and compared with your seamless love ours love is as rags. Yet you have chosen to exalt us, and treat us as your own children in the family of the church. Grant, we pray, that your whole church, in every race and denomination, may sing its praise with one harmonious voice, and serve the world with one inclusive love. Let our worship and mission, our fellowship and our attitudes, witness to your love and declare your glory. Through Christ Jesus our redeemer.

            Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

 

In this ecumenical week of prayer, let us confess those sins that can divide and sometimes alienate us from our fellow believers.

Let us pray.

If we have honoured the particular emphases of our branch of the church more than the health of the “one holy, universal church”.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

If we have been jealous of denominations that seem stronger than ours, or if we have despised those that appear weaker.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

If in our dealings with secular friends, we have by word or deed denigrated other churches or damned them with faint praise.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

If we have treasured the things that divide us more than the “priceless pearl” of gospel that we hold in common trust.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

If we have we have been eager to lecture others, but slow to listen, and prone to use them to our advantage rather than serving them.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

If we have placed any item of churchly creed or practice above the command to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Rebuke and forgive us, loving Saviour.

 

God of remarkable patience and inexhaustible resourcefulness, please continue to have mercy on us and on all your church. Forgive our denominational sins and those of each individual member, restore us to a humble faith and to a vigorous pursuit of the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

By the grace of Christ, you are a forgiven people, God’s very own, enabled “to declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

May God make us bold to live as a forgiven and redeemed and enlightened  people.

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Bring Us Together

 

Loving Lord Jesus,

it must make you sad to see your church

all split up into different gangs

like silly kids at school

who won’t play with each other.

 

Please help me and my church

to be friendly to all others.

Bring us together,

please God.

Amen!

 

PSALM  97

 

God is in charge, let the earth celebrate!

let coastline and inland shout for joy!

Our clouded eyes prevent us seeing God,

whose rule is founded on loving justice.

 

Like a fire, God’s power flows straight ahead,

and consumes the enemies of love.

Like lightening, the world is alight,

the land and sea tremble.

 

When God is near, mountains melt,

and fall in the presence of the earth’s Maker.

The stars at night pulse with God’s power,

everyone can look up and see a wondrous glory.

 

The boasts of the image makers look foolish,

the gods we worship fall over in shame.

Your daughters, God, dance and laugh,

because of the decisions You make.

 

For You are not confined to the universe,

You precede and succeed all other powers.

Those who love God will hate evil,

the faith-keepers stay safe and well.

 

Light will dawn on sincere minds,

and happiness will swell in sincere hearts.

Be happy in God, all you true souls!

Give heartiest thanks to God’s holy name!

.                                                                       ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

THAT THEY MAY BE ONE.

 

       John 17:21

 

Like a mother praying for her family,

not expecting copied opinions

or the identical abilities

but a plentiful grace

with each other.

 

Like a Father praying for his family,

not wanting blind obedience

or pretended enthusiasm

but a commitment

to each other.

 

Like a lover praying for the beloved,

not asking for a mirror image

or cloned words and gifts

but a shared belief

in each other.

 

As the Lord praying for his vulnerable church,

not wanting conglomerate Quaker-Catholics

or emulsified Baptist-Anglicans

but an unbroken love

for each other.

                                                                        ©  B.D. Prewer 1999

 

COLLECT

 

Most wonderful God, in your True Son you have called the church into being and granted it an environment of amazing grace.

Enable us, and all the branches of your church, to deal graciously with one another, that glimpsing the compassion of an inclusive community, the world may turn from fear and doubt into faith and peace.

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: UNITY?

 

John 17: 20-21

 

 

How do you feel about the many denominations of the church? Are you comfortable with the proliferation? Do you think total unity would be a good thing.

 

By the time the Gospel of John was being put together, in the latter part of the first century, some fragmentation of the church was happening. Therefore, these words of prayer. attributed to Jesus, were keenly pertinent: 

 

I don’t only pray for these persons with me now, but also for others who will come to       

believe in me through their word. May they all be one; just as you, Father are in  me,

and I in you, so may they be at one in us, in order that the world may believe that you

have sent me.

 

 

Notice how the middle section of the prayer is filled with concern for the first disciples; that they stick together through thick and thin, not allowing the world’s pressures and personal temptations to divide them.

 

The last section moves on to the host of new converts; those who because of the witness of the disciples, will come to have faith and love. Therefore we are included in this part of the prayer. The prayer is for us and for all our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, that we may be one.

 

I am not sure how many denominations there are in the world today. The last time I looked it up in an encyclopedia, there were over 700 listed. These are mostly (but not always) derived from the 3 large parties of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant..

 

How does all this fit with the prayer for unity in John’s Gospel? I don’t only pray for these persons with me now, but also for others who will come to believe in me through their word. May they all be one; just as you, Father are in  me, and I in you, so may they be at one in us, in order that the world may believe that you have sent me.

 

What is the one-ness we should be exhibiting? What does the word of Christ have to say about our current menagerie of churches and sects?

 

DIFFERING INTERPRETATIONS

 

The first thing I must admit is that the words about one-ness are so general that it is easy to make different interpretations. Some could argue that means there should only be one, physical church organisation; one denomination. Others could argue that it is a purely spiritual one-ness that is intended, all confessing the one Christ, and therefore diverse outward denominational expressions are quite okay.

 

Years ago, when the eminent New Testament scholar, Eduard Schweizer of the University of Zurich, was a young man, he made an intensive analysis of the pattern of the church in the New Testament. His conclusions were that the style of the church was elastic, and varied considerably from place to place. Congregations were linked, but loosely so. But it would have been inconceivable to them to have one church on a corner of a city street competing with different church on the other corner.

 

From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we know that divisions did occur and were regarded as scandalous. He hits out at the disunity which caused one group to call itself the church of Paul, another the church of Apollos, and another the church of Peter. There is only one Christ, Paul thundered. Don’t cut Christ’s Body up into little separate bits. 

 

(One cannot pause and wonder about our denominations: “I am Calvin’s, I am Luther’s, I am Wesley’s, I am of Rome, I am Orthodox, I am Anglican, I am AGO, I am Baptist).

 

MOVEMENT OF THE SPIRIT

 

As I see it, the ecumenical movement has been, and still is, a movement of the Holy Spirit to bring the churches back from the scandal of multiple alienation (and at times fierce hostility) to a position of fundamental unity in Christ.

 

But I strongly doubt that such unity means the uniformity of one grandiose world body under some hierarchical structure. That kind of one-ness would be cumbersome, with about as much flexibility as the cruise ship QE2 trying to stop, turn and rescue a man overboard.

 

Nevertheless, many of us feel constrained by the Spirit to seek common ground in fellowship and outreach and, where possible, in some loose structural affiliation.

 

This is in fact what has been happening. There is a grass roots ecumenical movement going on all around the world. For example-:

      

Here in the centre of this city, there is no sense of rivalry between the denominations. I have gladly commended people (who are not comfortable with this congregation) to the pastoral care of another denomination where they may feel more at home. Likewise we have received transfers from them.

We have shared in ecumenically significant marriages and baptisms.

       Lay groups drawn for a number of differing denominations study and pray together. 

       And as I mentioned earlier, we have reached a stage where the natural diversity of our humanity, finds us feeling more at home with similar souls of other churches than with certain people in our own.

 

You see, I think we really are recovering some of our lost one-ness. The last hundred years has been an exciting and challenging ecumenical era in which to live. We should feel privileged to be alive in this age and to be a small part of what Christ is doing with the churches.  There is much more to come, the exact directions may be unclear to us but we are being taken on a journey with a divine Guide who certainly knows the path ahead. 

      

The more the boundaries between the denominations become blurred, the better. This, of course, makes for a sense of insecurity, and maybe the weaker sisters and brothers  will get a bit rattled, but it is the way to go:
May they all be one; just as you, Father are in  me, and I in you, so may they be at one in us, in order that the world may believe that you have sent me.

 

ONE NUN’S WITNESS

 

Let me give you one example of Christ’s prayer being fulfilled.

 

One morning a Nun came into my office at the church. She belonged to an Order working with the homeless, the alcoholics and the drug addicts of the inner city; at the raw end of the churches mission.

But now, she told me, because another Order (dedicated to a life of seclusion, silence and prayer) was in danger of dying out through lack of numbers, she was going to join them in Sydney.  In the few weeks before she was due to leave, she was visiting all the city churches to get an understanding of their ministry, so that in the years ahead she could pray for us each day.

This lovely Christian woman spent a couple of hours with us, joined fully in our midday Eucharist, and then went back to her work with the addicts. The next day she would visit another of the inner city churches in preparation for her future, secluded ministry.

 

A few years have gone by. Today I ask you to think of her, and to pray for her as she prays each day for us. This woman profoundly understands the unity which Christ wanted for his church.  While I touch the edges, she has plunged into the depths.

 

May they all be one; just as you, Father are in  me, and I in you, so may they be at one in us, in order that the world may believe that you have sent me.

 

 

SERMON 2: NOT A SERMON BUT A CELEBRATION

 

 

This is not a sermon.

 

More a celebration of our unity in Christ as I name some of those from many different denominations, whose lives have touched mine with love.

 

As I think of the deeper unity of the church which surfaces in spite of the flaws and divisions which have scandalised the secular world, I give thanks to Christ Jesus. I rejoice in the good things about my own Uniting Church in Australia, but I also rejoice in others who have enriched me with the things of Christ Jesus.

 

Let me tell you about some of them.

 

Archbishop Y:

 

A scholarly Roman Catholic who in speaking to a group lay persons and ministers from across the denominational spectrum asked us:

                        Please forgive the past arrogance of my church.

                        Please be patient with us, for we must hasten slowly.

 

Max B:

 

A Baptist psychiatrist who free of any charge agreed to be a counsellor to my Uniting Church colleague and I in a hectic team ministry. He not only helped us keep our relationship healthy but encouraged us to work through a number of complex pastoral issues as they emerged. Always with grace and wisdom.

 

Miss J.:

 

Gospel Hall (Open Brethren) who nurtured me in junior Sunday school and gave me a wonderful grounding in the Scriptures. In later life I had to sift her doctrinal emphases, but her warmth and love never needed any sifting or revision.

 

Alan R:

 

A brilliant, over-sensitive, sometimes bullied, youth in one of my parishes. The burning sincerity of his teenage struggles made an impact on me. After a period of atheism, he has now “got it all together” as a middle aged Coptic monk in Egypt, known as Brother Lazarus.

 

Ev L:

 

Lutheran pastor and editor who “nursed” me, and my raw talent and strong convictions, into publication. When we differed and had to negotiate, he always did so with manifest grace and cordiality.

 

Ron W:

 

Anglican priest, now a bishop. Whose down-to-earth approach, warm hearted enthusiasm, and hospitality helped make the gathering of a certain minsters’ “fraternal” a          delight rather than a duty.

 

John R :

 

An evangelist whose denomination was unknown to me (I never thought to enquire!), who came to my town when I was in my late teens. His forthright preaching made me face up to the call of Christ.

 

Brother G:

 

A Catholic member of the Taize Community whose visit to an early morning HC in my church, made the chapel radiant with love.

 

A R.C. house group:

 

Where as a guest one evening I felt the vitality and good humour of Christ’s fellowship (one body!) at its warmest and deepest.

 

Sister D:  A gracious, tenacious spiritual supervisor. A Roman Catholic nun. who encouraged me to recognise (most important that!) and develop my own spirituality.

 

Conclusion

 

It is painfully easy to see and deride the faults in our own and other branches of the church. In truth the “bride of Christ” sags and bulges in all the wrong places, and too often acts more like a shrew, and occasionally like a whore. 

 

But this same church has produced all of those lovely Christians who have ministered to me in immeasurable ways, and has nurtured in me the very best qualities that have taken root and grown in my own tatty life.

 

Today is not the time for churchly self flagellation.

 

I rejoice in what God has done, and still does, through such an imperfect body of people. The church, like each Christian, exists and bears fruit only by an act of amazing grace. With the patience of that unfathomable grace, God is still blessing us in remarkable ways through a whole variety of church people. I give thanks for them all. I give thanks to God for you here now. I give thanks for the shabby yet glorious bride of Christ.

 

Prodigious in generosity is our God, whose name is to be praised in the church, through

Christ Jesus, now and forever !

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Let us make our prayers of thanksgiving at least as strong as those gripes that occupy many of the people outside these doors in the city around us.

 

Let us pray.

 

God we thank you for that holy and loving Wisdom which decreed that  it is not good for a person to be alone”.

 

We give thanks for life in communities, and especially for the Christ who links us to other Christians in the body of the church.

 

We give thanks for our denomination, for its leaders and its people, and for the particular friends or inspiring guides whom the church has given each of us.

 

Especially today we give thanks for those in our denomination with whom we often disagree; who have a different views, yet who feel knit to us in Christ as we do with them.

 

For the other churches we give you thanks, loving God. For their heritage and emphases, their worship and mission activities.

We give thanks for the drawing together of Christians in this era; for the National Council of Churches in Australia, and for all the churches that are active in our community.

 

Wonderful is your name, God of all peoples.

Wonderful is your name, reconciling Saviour Christ.

Wonderful is your name, Holy Spirit, source of fellowship.

Glory be to you, one God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

Let us pray for the Church of Jesus Christ, “militant on earth and triumphant in heaven.”

 

Let us pray for the people of those denominations to whom we feel close and with whom we can work with minimal friction.

 

Let us pray for the denominations that make us feel uneasy and with whom common mission at the present time seems unlikely.

 

Let us pray for any who look down on us as irregular and inferior, and for those towards whom we are tempted to act with a patronising kindliness.

 

Let us pray for churches which appear to be flourishing and growing and for those that seem to be shrinking and ineffectual.

 

Let us pray for all those individual Christians who reach out towards others with big hearted openness, and those who are timid, anxious or suspicious.

 

Let us pray for the National Council of Churches in this nation, and for the World Council of Churches in their service to the world.

 

Let us pray for each other here, that the love we find and share together may not become introverted, but make us more generous and patient with those of all classes, races, and creeds.

 

We give you thanks, loving God, for those who have gone this way before us, and who are now among the great cloud of witnesses in your eternal church. May our prayers and theirs hasten the day when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Remember,  people of the church of Christ, that here on this Australian continent¾

you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,

the people of God entrusted to declare the wonderful deeds

of Christ who has called you from darkness into glorious light.

 

May we be lovingly one as Christ is one with God:

 so that the world may believe.

 

God will go with you by day, go with you night by night,

be with you in light, be with you in shadow,

strengthen you in work, strengthen you in sleep,

the great God will encircle your thoughts, your prayers, and you service.

Amen!            

                                    ( From a Celtic blessing)