Monday, 12 October 2015

Belonging together in one church

Closing worship for synod Oct 2015
2 Corinthians 5: 16-20 (REB)

Some of you will know that I had a sabbatical this summer, looking into Ecumenism.
I was inspired by a quote from the French writer,  Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach people to yearn for the vastness and immensity of the ocean.”

I wanted to find some sort of vision for ecumenism – when it can be such hard work, why is it still important for Christians to seek unity?

I had some great experiences of worship in other traditions – including preaching at one of the ordination services at Methodist Conference, and worshipping in the small Parish Church in Wales – Aberdaron – where the poet RS Thomas was once vicar.
I also did some reading and thinking and attempted to capture in words and images what it means for Christians to be united.

But it was only the week before last, at the Churches Together in England Forum, that some of my thinking came together when David Cornick, one of our own URC gifts to ecumenism, spoke about the search for unity as the search for the penultimate church.

Perfect unity and the perfect church, the perfect oikumene, the household of God, is God’s gift in God’s time and will only happen in the hereafter, not now and not by our efforts. But meanwhile the Holy Spirit can help us to form the penultimate church – the one before the perfect end – where there is a coming together of the broken people in the fractured churches in the imperfect world – a coming together that will form a whole, if imperfect, body of Christ. But that wholeness is not the same as perfection.

For me this is a message of realism – that only God will bring perfect unity -  but also a message of hope – that we can still work to become the penultimate church.

Returning to the passage we just read from the second letter to the Corinthians :

Our worldly standards count no longer
we are looking for God’s kingdom to be real in the church and in the world. We apply God’s standards to what we do – seeking justice peace & grace – life in all its fullness.

a new order has already begun.
God is building the ultimate church – but we are not there yet – it has begun, and it continues every time we follow Christ more closely and accept Christ in others. The new order has begun – but only God can bring it to completion.

God has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation.
Church unity is not just an internal, churchy matter, it is about the message of the gospel we share with the world. The gospel teaches us that division is sinful, that we only imperfectly grasp God’s truth as yet, and that we should listen to and care for the lowest and the least. Another speaker at the CTE Forum said "A broken world needs a united church" and I would add "with a gospel of reconciliation".

Be reconciled to God
Recognise that all that we do to build unity should be about moving closer to God, and closer to God’s will. 

I want to finish with another quote from David Cornick  - this time when he was addressing a Churches Together in Britain and Ireland gathering:
“Unity is not about growing more like each other but growing, together, more like Christ.”
So may Christ be our source and guide and goal. Amen.

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