Tag Archives: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Remembering only one thing

 

Timeline-of-Church-History

At one of the noon Eucharists last week at Bexley Seabury, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Rev. John Dally remarked that there are now some 33,582 Christian denominations in the world.

While it is commonplace to mark the first “unhappy division” of the church to 400 CE (the Nestorians and the “Oriental” Churches) or to the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054 CE, I wonder if we don’t actually see hints of the first division much earlier.

There’s some evidence in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:7-10)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is bracketed by two feasts — the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul — celebrating two men who became convinced that the good news of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus applied to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, to everyone.

But listen to what Paul describes in his letter: “we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Peter and Paul are, in effect, dividing the mission of the new church between them, creating two apostolates, carving out overlapping jurisdictions, however you want to describe it. They have one goal, but will pursue it in two different ways with two different populations.

Certainly Paul sees this as a happy division characterized by the “right hand of fellowship,” but I wonder if this isn’t how the whole ball got rolling. Two thousand fourteen years and 33,582 denominations later, we have gotten good at division.

Many of the divisions in Christianity are being healed by time — I just sang the same hymn “Christ, Be Our Light” with Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics this past week — so I wonder if in our time we could become equally good at “only one thing, that we remember the poor.”

Imagine 33,582 denominations laying aside rancor and remembering only one thing. Imagine one billion Roman Catholics and one billion of the rest of us in Christ’s Body the Church (two out of five people in the world) uniting in service for, with, and alongside the poor.

What if we extended the right hand of fellowship not only to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to our neighbors and all who suffer in poverty?

For the Unity of the Church

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 818)

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I want to know Christ

Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:12-14)

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:11).

Paul is in many ways the model for us modern Christians who “want to know Christ.”

Like him, we rely on the testimony of others rather than having met the living Jesus in person.

Like him, we may have an experience of conversion (though perhaps not as dramatic as his Damascus Road experience), and we may have to spend time figuring out what it means and how we should live in response.

In the daily email “Brother, Give Us a Word” from the SSJE community, Br. David Vryhof writes: “Paul lived for God. His new life was born out of a deep desire to love and serve the God who had claimed him as his own.”

How has God claimed you? What do you desire in your relationship with God? What part of your life might need to be made new?

I have come to know Christ better as I spend time in prayer and the reading of Scripture, particularly as I practice the Daily Office. How do you know Christ in your life? Where do you feel his power and share his sufferings?

The Rock of our salvation

christ-with-saints-peter-and-paul

Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. (BCP 82)

We open Morning Prayer with these words from the Venite (Psalm 95) most every day.

On this particular day, the Church commemorates the Confession of St. Peter, and a week from now we will celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul. Because these two apostles represent the preaching of the Gospel to Israel and to the Gentiles, this week is commonly observed as a “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”

Many people will be talking about unity in terms of the Church, and many will talk about Peter as “the rock” upon whom Christ built his Church, quoting Jesus’ pun as recorded by Matthew (16:18).

Truth is, though, Peter is not the foundation for our faith. He is not the Rock of our salvation — Jesus is.

Peter (and Paul) are examples of the firm and unshakeable faith that can be ours, however, when we build our spiritual homes on the Rock which is Jesus Christ. The Church, as the community of Christ’s followers, is meant to help us build on those strong foundations. We can learn from the Church’s 2,000 years of experience and apply it to our daily life and work.

Sometimes the Church is a rock; other times, we have to set our faces like flint against it “because they are not willing to listen to me” (Ezekiel 3:7). At all times, though, we are to “shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation and come before his presence with thanksgiving.”

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 100)