A sermon preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service hosted by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Tuesday morning, January 27, 2005 at 7 a.m.
One of the things that happens during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and other times when we gather together as Christian churches to pray and worship God together, is that we learn about one another. And it very often means that we’re learning what is different about other churches than our own. The different hymns we sing, or the praise choruses. The kind of prayers we say. What our worship spaces look like, crosses displayed, pews or chairs, straight rows or circles, stained glass, high pulpits, liturgical colours, powerpoint projectors, prominent altars or communion tables. Do we stand to pray, sit to sing, kneel or raise our hands? Add to all of these differences and more, the theological distinctions that you may notice as you visit churches from traditions different from your own.
Those of you who have been attending these services for many years in Saskatoon have probably already encountered the range of differences that once surprised, shocked, or confused you. You may not be completely comfortable in the worship of every other tradition, but you’re not surprised anymore when the RC’s or the Anglicans make the sign of the cross, when the evangelicals raise their arms in praise, or when the Presbyterian preacher goes on a bit long.
Over the last several years, even as I was preparing for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I have also been learning about the Roman Catholic Church. Many of you will know that I am married to a Roman Catholic Christian, and that has meant for me both the opportunity and, in fact, the necessity that I learn about my husband’s church tradition. In order to get to know him, I had to get to know his church, because I could see that it is a part of who he is, a part of his identity. Similarly, he had to get to know my church to know me, because it’s a part of who I am.
I think that in order for our churches to be in relationship with one another – for us to move towards the unity that God wants for us – we need to know one another. We need to learn about our differences and distinctions, and have the opportunities to learn about and from each other’s gifts.
I think this is something that we do reasonably well at. But I think we need also to remind ourselves that while it’s good – this getting to know one another and respecting and even valuing our differences – it’s just the first step, just a baby step really, towards Christian Unity.
All week we’ve been exploring the text from 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, and this morning is no exception. Remember we’re talking about a community of new Christians that is racked with strife and division. If Chloe’s people have reported accurately to the Apostle Paul, some say, “I belong to Paul” while others, “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ.”
And though the Corinthians may seem like they come from a world away, from a foreign culture, place, and time? still, I can’t help but be reminded of the many meetings and conversations around the breakfast tables? I belong to St. Anne’s. I belong to St. John’s. I belong to McClure. I belong to Zion.
And I want to say, “That’s different from the Corinthian situation. We’re not fighting with the people from St. Paul’s down the street. We don’t have any trouble with them at all. It’s just that we like to do things our way.” And I wonder if the Corinthian Christians would have said something similar. “We don’t have anything against the Apollan Christians, but we identify better with Pauline Christianity.” And quietly, to those whom they could trust, “We’re pretty sure that they’ll come round to our way of thinking eventually. It’s just a matter of time. It makes the most sense, after all.”
This morning, I invite you to take a moment and to think of the best thing about your church tradition. What is the unique contribution that your denomination has to offer to the church as a whole and to the world? Take a moment, and think what that gift is. Have you thought of it? Now, believe me, and believe the scripture readings that we read this morning. The greatest gift that you and your church have to offer the world is not the thing you are thinking of.
Paul tells the divided Corinthian Church that they are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in them. And that is the gift that we carry into the world as well. As members of the Body of Christ, God’s Spirit lives in us, and acts in us, and works through us. “We are God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Whatever other gifts we may be blessed with, whatever differences we may have, we share this in common, that we are the church together and God’s Spirit dwells in us. Take for a moment the image a temple. Paul says that we are God’s temple. We – as in, the church, the whole church, the universal church, all of us – we are God’s temple, the place where God’s Spirit lives. And Paul says that if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy.
Okay, now imagine your particular church as a brick, or maybe a few bricks if you belong to a really big church. The bricks are different colours… beautiful colours, many of them. And the ones that aren’t beautiful are made out of the best materials. They’re solid and they’ll last for ages and ages. Some are really old and have stood the tests of time. Some are brand new and have new-fangled designs that make them very attractive. But the bricks are scattered. Some of them are piled together in haphazard groups, and others pretty much stay in their own corner away from the others. They say that the colour scheme just won’t work together, and the bricks are different sizes and shapes, so it’ll be hard to put them together right. And then of course, there’s the argument about where to build… some of them have a wall already started, maybe that’s the place to get going, but others disagree.
May God’s Spirit be with us and in us and work through us to build us together into a dwelling place for God. And may our foundation be Christ Jesus our Lord, that we all may be one in him. Amen.