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Sunday January 22, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner

I Corinthians 1:10-18

"Unity in Diversity"
- Rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find.

Today we are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and our scripture readings both encourage us and but also challenge us as a Church. The theme of this year’s week of prayer for Christian Unity is taken from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians; “The Love of Christ compels us” [1] and the scriptural passage commended for study this week is about reconciliation.

Here at Saint Thomas Church, as a community of faith, we are made up of all kinds of people with all kinds of views and backgrounds. Sometimes (and, like any community) this may occasionally cause tension or anxiety, especially when such a community finds within itself people of differing or even opposing views on all kinds of matters, both important and trivial.

When Jesus called his first disciples he did not use an employment agency or a team of head-hunters, neither did he ask for resumes or lists of qualifications. He saw people in their everyday lives and he called them; he saw their potential and he called them to follow him. In so doing he called a disparate bunch of followers. They were as diverse a group as us here today and sometimes they fell out with one another – whilst they journeyed with Jesus and after his resurrection too. They argued over matters of interpretation and emerging doctrine; over important things and seemingly trivial things. Paul and Barnabas had such a falling out on one missionary journey that they needed to go separate ways to cool off! Peter and Paul argued and remonstrated with one another but both were united in a martyrs’ death in Rome. What did they die for? For dogma or law? For what they believed? No, they died for a person not a cause – they died for Jesus Christ. The love of Christ compelled them to witness to his love and reconciled them even in spite of their occasional disagreements.

So we do well to examine today’s epistle reading. It is significant that the Corinthian Church had its own problems, and note how they were bound up in personalities and loyalties. From the earliest days of the emerging Church, Christians have struggled to remain united. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed prayed to the Father that his disciples “may all be one” but the emerging Church – the new Israel – was going to be different because it was for Gentile and Jew; for all people and, therefore, would cross cultural and even racial boundaries. I loved the beginning of Fr Daniels’ sermon last Sunday afternoon:

“One does not have to have the keenest powers of observation to notice that Christians are a quarrelsome bunch. We argue over everything there is to argue about, from the profoundly serious to the embarrassingly trivial; we argue about things speculative and things prosaic; the sacred and the profane. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, Of the making of quarrels there is no end.” [2]

From a human point of view one might say that a new Israel – the Church - was bound to have difficulties if it tried to bring together people of widely different experiences, cultures and even languages, but the church is not an organization or a corporation; it is even more than the Jesus Movement favored by our Presiding Bishop; the Church is also the body of Christ; but the body of Christ remains broken. As I have said before, when Christ ascended to the Father he showed the disciples his hands as he blessed them – they saw the scars; the wounds taken up into heaven. The wounds are not a distraction, they are a reminder that the world and the Church within it is still broken and in the process of being reconciled. Jesus took those wounds to the right hand of the Father; the Church in the world is, therefore, an agent of reconciliation when it exemplifies the woundedness of Jesus Christ and the struggle to find unity in diversity.

So, writing to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that they had been baptized into Christ’s death. Let’s just stop for a moment and think about that: ‘Baptized into Christ’s death.’ We are not baptized into a denomination or into a body of faith, important as those things are, ultimately we are baptized into Jesus Christ – we die with him in order to rise with him. This truth binds us together in spite of our differences and our quarrels on interpretation or authority.

A few weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Common Declaration between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis signed a new common declaration in the Church of St Gregory the Great who sent Augustine as a missionary to the English peoples. In that common declaration they recognized the serious obstacles that caused division – they named them. They did not hide from them but significantly, and in spite of them, they said this:

“These differences we have named cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions.”

“Rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find.”

My dear friends, this is not only true of the Roman and Anglican traditions, it is true within Anglicanism itself; it is true within the Episcopal Church; it is true in the local church; it is true here. Paul gave the members of the Corinthian Church the encouragement to love one another because Christ loved them first. Christ sets us the same example and we fail him if we let disagreements become one of the hallmarks of Christian Community. Of course, none of this is easy to deal with; remember, the Corinthian Church received two letters from Paul! It takes time to build trust and that trust can only come with mutual respect. But where does this respect come from? As the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have said, it comes from our baptism into Jesus Christ.

At the end of the celebrations in Rome in October, something remarkable happened; Roman and Anglican Bishops were sent out in pairs to mission. And they included an Episcopalian Bishop too! We can journey together even when we have disagreement. Jesus invites us – invites you and me to bring people to Christ. If we make our parish a place where differing views are respected it will help us grow; our friends will find it a place where they desire to belong.

‘The message of the cross is the power of God.’ [3]

_______________

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:14. The passage for the week of prayer is 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

[2] Preached on Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 4 p.m.

[3] cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18


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