Saturday, 21 January 2012

Christian Unity: Let Us Side With The Evil Spirits

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Thursday, 19st of January, 2012, 7.30 p.m.

for the Parish Church of SS. Mary & Nicholas
Littlemore, Oxford

Readings: Psalm 56:10-13 & Mark 3:7-12

Unity? Let Us Side With The Evil Spirits

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This is the second day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I have failed to find out when it was invented, or why it is at this time of year – from the 18th to the 25th of January. But here it is, and it invites us to consider why Christians are so incredibly good at falling out, and so very bad at being nice to each other.

Surely we are citizens of One Kingdom, servants of One God, believers in one Redemption? But no, we find things that allow us to say “yes, but you don’t believe things right, so I will not pray with you”. What Jesus would have made of this is very hard to tell. He didn’t come to found churches and sacraments and holy orders and liturgies and canon law. He wanted to show us what God is like. That’s what we mean by the Incarnation – God made flesh, God with us, God we can understand, because he speaks to us as a friend, a neighbour, a brother. We can hear the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and maybe in our minds eye, even imagine his face, the kindness, the compassion, the thrill, that our first forbears in the faith saw.

So, how did we get in this mess? Why do we have to pray for Christian Unity? One reason is because we mistake “unity” with “uniformity”. Just because we are called to be friends, doesn’t mean for one minute that we have to agree about everything. But we do have to agree about continuing to be friends despite our disagreements. Some would say that Anglicans are in pretty thin ice telling the world about Christian unity, and certainly, we see little sign of commitment to “unity in diversity” in the Anglican scene lately. But we are practised. We have disagreed with one another from the very earliest times. Just as the earliest Christians did – read the Acts of the Apostles, and just imagine what Saints Peter and James and Paul wrote about one another in their diaries after their meetings! Ours has always had to be a broad church, because it was always meant to be the Church of all the English people. Our great foundress, Queen Elizabeth I, once said “I do not desire windows into men’s souls”; and the architect of that policy – who was a generation older than Elizabeth – Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, composed our Book of Common Prayer with the intention of drawing everyone to Holy Communion together. To misquote Saint Augustine, their view seemed to be “have love, and believe what you will”.

Well now, what does all this have to do with tonight’s Gospel reading? Is it good news for us in our divisions, arguments, and difficulties? I think it is. Because it directs our attention to the Incarnate God, to Jesus, who was so popular that they were worried that the crush of the crowd meant they needed a boat to save him from them. Even the evil spirits recognised who he was, and he told them politely to shut up.

So, what are we do make of this calling to be united in our diversity, to mend our divisions for Christ’s sake? Maybe we need to side with the evil spirits, to learn to recognise when the Son of God is amongst us. How are we to tell? What are the signs? We are Trinitarians, so we believe in God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each may be known in different ways, as well as together. They say the surest sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is joy. For God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, surely it is beauty, and the sense of wonder that sees it. For God the Son, it is the kindness that heals, that preaches good news to those who are far off, and those who are near.

If we find those things in our brothers and sisters, no matter that they belong to different churches, or even to no church at all, we are pilgrims on the same path. Different is not wrong. The Glory of the Divine Trinity rejects none of his children. As we are not rejected, let us in turn not reject. To the Glory of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
January 2012

1 comment:

  1. I've often wondered whether by striving and praying for Christian Unity, were wasting out time and prayers?

    Surely better to pray for love and consideration and respect for difference than for a painful unity, which seeks to close the page on new thought, new inspiration, new guidance from the Holy Spirit. If we close the book, now, surely we are actually narrowly defining God, rather than loving the mystery involved and allowing it to blow us in his words "the wind blows, nobody knows from where and where it goes" that seems to me to allow each denomination to go its own way, guided by the spirit, but united in love for the whole of mankind and each other.