“Never resign yourself to the scandal of the separation of Christians, who so readily confess love for their neighbour, and yet remain divided. Make the unity of the Body of Christ your passionate concern.”
Rule of Taizé
There is an often-repeated error that there is a famous scene in the Bayeux Tapestry that shows William the Conqueror “comforting his troops” by poking them with a spear.
If my Latin translator is correct it’s actually Odo, the Duke’s half-brother, who was known to be a nasty piece of work. No surprise then that it looks for all the world to me as if what he’s doing is ‘comforting’ them by waving a heavy club at them.
Pokey stick or heavy battering… sometimes the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, seems to do that to me too. Something pops into my head, often while I’m reading or praying, and from that moment on it doesn’t stop causing me discomfort until I really ‘hear’ it and do something about it.
It all started when I was asked to speak at a regular “Contemporary Service” at a local church. Almost instantly the phrase “that they may be one” landed on me like a blow from that club. I re-read a book by Robert Benson called “The Body Broken” and the pummelling continued. Then it was a few sly blows from “Beauty will save the world” by Brian Zahnd. I was beginning to feel like the spiritual equivalent of “A study in Black and Blue” (I haven’t found a real work of art called that…I made it up!)
So, not being too slow on the uptake, I chose to use that theme for my “Contemporary service” talk. It would be very easy to berate a gathering of Christians about our failure to become part of the answer to Jesus prayer in John 17. It must have been important because he prays the prayer several times:
“that they may be one as we are one”
Jesus words recorded in John 17: 22b.
However, I wanted to be positive and encouraging (although I suspected that for some of my hearers it might be a bit ‘comforting’…you know, ‘pointy spear heavy club’ comfort!), just as it was for me.
As I prepared I quickly became aware of a number of snags in my plan. For starters the people who come to these services and lead them come from a variety of different flavours of Christian spirituality…Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Salvation Army and embryonic Vineyard Church (apologies if I’ve missed anyone…wouldn’t be a good start). Surely these were the last people who actually needed to be encouraged to do this.
The second thing that troubled me was that I felt it might all seem a bit naïve and idealistic…the sort of sermon I might have preached in my teens (yes I started early). In those days I was convinced that denominations were totally sinful, so it was good to discover that I’ve mellowed a bit since then.
Finally, I wanted to give people something small and simple to go away and do to follow the message through with practical action. It is only too easy to be challenged by a message only to find the challenge just too big and not know where to begin.
The underlying subtext was the importance of Christians truly working together and demonstrating love for one another despite our differences, because of the view in the world of us all fighting and competing with each other, which is a real turn-off and a stumbling block to building Jesus alternative Kingdom in a frequently dark and hurting world – “By this everyone will know…if you love one another” (John 13: 34-35).
I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge but I went ahead and prepared. On the night the talk was longer than I wanted, even after dramatic cutting as I prepared. Some bits that deeply moved me had to be taken out and stored for another time.
The challenge of changing our entrenched attitudes became only too obvious when, about half an hour before the meeting began I got into the opening exchanges of an argument with someone who interprets the Old Testament a bit differently to me. It’s a good job we’re both grown-ups as we were about to play together in the worship band. I also happen to respect him as a person and fellow follower of Jesus…
What follows in the next few posts will be slightly expanded versions of the talk I gave that night. It’s not particularly ‘deep’ but I hope it’s encouraging, challenging and practical.
It does represent my attempt to be obedient to the not-so-gentle prompting of the Spirit.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…that there be no divisions among you…Is Christ divided?”
Paul’s words from his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1: 10-13)