Something has happened in the nations that make up the UK. It crept up on us silently and unannounced. It took most of us completely by surprise, and is causing many of us to lose sleep.
I see it in the news, I hear it on the streets and I read it on social media. It seems as if everything is changing, and many of the things we have taken for granted are being shaken.
It must have been bubbling away just beneath the surface for many years, occasionally breaking through into plain view before diving again.
Then, it seems that the events of 23rd June 2016 allowed it to burst to the surface and slowly take over our whole society.
Fear, especially of those who are different to us, now seems to dominate so much of our time. It seems that no one is immune – politicians, workers, bosses, educationalists, pensioners, students have all succumbed to it.
Our nation is deeply and dangerously divided.
At the same time, something more hopeful is also stirring.
Long ago, Jesus prayed a prayer that has largely gone unanswered…perhaps until now.
John 17:20-23, New Testament
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
As I talk to Christian people all over the UK, as I travel around and catch up with friends who are also believers through social media, I am aware that God is at work in our land.
Churches in many places are coming together, working together in ways I have not seen in my lifetime. Denominations far apart on the theological spectrum are laying down their differences of interpretation, preference and practice and coming together out of their love for Jesus and each other and from their shared desire to see his Kingdom come “on earth as it is in heaven”.
What has prevented Christians from coming together in the past, indeed, why is our history littered with splits and divisions?
I John 4: 18, New Testament
“Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment”
Could it be fear that has kept us apart, the same fears we see expressed in the world round us. Why do we fear others?
- Fear of difference
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being criticised
- Fear of being “polluted” – “will God be angry with us if we mix with them?”
Many of us spend a lot of time working out who to exclude, based on our fears. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus always hung around with the excluded…maybe we should too if we want to know him better.
Robert Benson, “The Body Broken”
“You cannot love those you fear”
Some of us find it hard enough to love people in our own church who are different from us. How will we be able to be obedient to Jesus and love those in other parts of the church that are different to our own? Paul and the other letter writers in the NT were well aware of this tendency among us, hence the frequent warnings against gossip, criticism and sowing division.
Part of the good news, the Gospel, is that Jesus death heals divisions between people as well as healing the division between us and God. John goes as far as to say that if we can’t love our brothers and sisters who are right there in front of us, it calls our love for God into question too…if Jesus has really changed us it affects the way we love everyone.
It’s important that we ask ourselves, “Why is God bringing Christians together in new ways today?”
I believe that a more united church is demonstrating a prophetic and counter-cultural contrast, as a sign of hope to the increasingly fractured and broken culture in which we live.
I guess the question is: do we want to be part of what God is doing, or will we continue to allow old fears and prejudices keep us apart?
(Adapted from a talk given by me at Tweedmouth Parish church on 20th January 2019, at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)