Sermons from St Faith's

May They All Be One
Fr Neil Kelley, 19th September, 2010

“Christian Unity: Where and when did it all go wrong?”

These past few days I guess many of us have watched coverage of the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to this land. Watching the service of Evening Prayer from Westminster Abbey was both uplifting and deeply, deeply sad in equal measure.

Where did it all go wrong? Why did it all go wrong?

The short answer to that last question is “for very good reasons”. Unity is not about being chummy– pretending we’re all the same really - that’s simply papering over the cracks. Our Unity has come about as a result of what we, in our different denominations, want to believe and what we do not (in some cases under any circumstances) want to believe! Different emphases and doctrines. And I guess all of us can be guilty of intolerance - that the other point of view is wrong, or perhaps they don’t understand us. We in our turn may wish, over the consecration of women bishops or gay bishops (to name a current debate) to claim we are right and the ‘others’ have got it wrong. Where did it all go wrong? Why did it all go wrong?

In 1976 my Aunt (who is also my Godmother) had to ask permission of her Roman Catholic Parish Priest to enter an Anglican church building for my confirmation. It was lovely when in 1992 I was invited, quite naturally and without asking permission, to share in the liturgy of my cousin’s wedding in Portsmouth RC Cathedral, though whether my presence on the altar there contributed to the break-up a year later I don’t know!

It is scandalous to think that only some 40 years ago, Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics were forbidden from saying the Our Father together. We might have a long way to go, and indeed the end of the journey may not be for us to determine, but thank God for the steps which have been taken. Not least the remarkable united witness of church leaders here on Merseyside – a commitment to doing things ‘better together’ which has quite literally had an influence on the ecumenical scene worldwide.

Since 1907 churches have formally set aside a particular week to pray for Unity, and I hope that as the years pass full unity and communion is something more of a reality than a dream.

But does a week in the dark winter month of January actually achieve anything? How many of you place great store by United Worship with Christians of other denominations?

It is true to say, that at most joint events the turn-out is pretty appalling, relatively speaking, for every congregation. Only those who are sad or in need of a life go to those events – some say!

For us to even entertain the idea that Christian Unity is something we can opt for or not is in itself a scandal and an outrage.   Christian Unity is something we might choose to put on our agenda.   In reality it is not our agenda, but God's. Unity is not only desirable but necessary if we are to be an effective church with a credible witness to the world.

Christian Unity is about wholeness - coming together as differing and varying members of one body.   It is about healing wounds. We know from our own experience of physical pain that some wounds run deep and take a long time to heal.   Despite the deepness of the wound, unity is a necessity if we are to be a Church claiming that it is one, catholic and apostolic and holy.
Where did it all go wrong? Why did it all go wrong?

If we are to be a Holy Church we must first be a whole people.    Until that happens our witness and our mission, sadly and perhaps unavoidably, will be impaired. That is cause for concern, and it must be for every Christian a cause for prayer.   There are no short cuts.   It will happen, we pray, when the time is right.   But we must pray for that time; not just during one week of the year but every day,   "Thy will be done" we pray each day I hope.   And we know the Unity of the Church to be the will of God.   The prayer of Jesus in St. John's Gospel makes that clear.   "Father, may they be one so that the world might believe." Our coming together, the unity we seek is more than just a nice cosy idea, it is essential if Christ is to be made known to the world.

There was/is much cynicism about the beatifying today of John Henry Newman. One TV reporter last night suggested that the Church needs to do it… because it is losing members. So, here’s a miracle and people start flocking in – I think not!

The RC Church doesn’t need to do it, anymore than we need to ordain women or openly gay people as bishops because our numbers are dwindling. We don’t do it because we are desperate or clutching at straws in hope of the popularity vote - what these skeptics forget is that communities grounded and rooted in prayer are moved – by God the Holy Spirit – to do things. That in itself is a miracle which if we are not prepared to accept we must in all conscience give up any claim to be people of faith!

You may remember the story of the wedding at Cana; it was the first of Jesus’ miracles.   A desire was made possible and, after all, is that not the point of a miracle? Showing what can be achieved? But achieved not on our own strength but in God's.

To achieve the point of full communion might seem little short of a miracle: the prayer of Jesus in S. John's Gospel must be our prayer. Unity is not somebody else’s problem or the Job of the clergy.  It involves all who have been baptised in Christ's name.

Are we happy to offer the world a broken church?   Are we prepared to pray hard? The visit of Pope Benedict I am certain challenges us once again to lay aside our fears and prejudices; we need the courage to have vision.

Where did it all go wrong? Why did it all go wrong?

Our prayer must be that we seek the building up not of our own little empires, ecclesial communities or denominations, but the building up of God's kingdom. Our prayer at this mass must echo those words of Jesus: "Father may they be one, so that the world might believe".

On this momentous day for the Christian Church in this nation, may Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us, and with us, that, together we might seek that Unity which is the will and prayer of Our Lord Himself.


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