It is wonderful to be here with you this morning.
It’s neat to be preaching in this great space for the first time, which is your space now, that you have done so well at making your own, making it work, freshening it up, giving it your flavour…
it’s so great this chapel is being used. I really like what you’ve done.
Thank you for the invitation of Barbara to do something concrete and practical this week of prayer for Christian Unity, not just to talk but to do something. Bill is over in our Sanctuary preaching and I’m here. It’s a marvellous feeling, even we’re down the hallway and you’re here,
it’s neat to think we’re all worshipping at the same time, there’s a real connection!
As I did mention on your first Sunday here in November, Bill and I go back a few years as colleagues in the Thornhill Ministerial, (a group of 5-7 churches in Thornhill north of Toronto)
That group will be celebrating this year: 50 years of doing ecumenical ministry together, particularly their shared worship Series during Lent, it’s a real role model for ecumenical partnership and planning (they also do Christmas hampers and Out of the Cold together).
So it was a pleasant surprise when Bill showed up for our installation service in November,
it’s been great having him in the building and we hope to do more things together.
One of the overarching ideas I think is important for this ecumenical landscape is the so-called “Lund principle” which basically says: “don’t do things separately that you can do better together" and I’m a firm believer in that. For too long churches have operated in silos,
competing with each other. I’m glad those days are starting to be over (in some ways).
Let’s work together where we can achieve better results…it’s just plain good stewardship of what God has entrusted us.We’re seeing that here with Sunday School and Messy Church,
and youth and confirmation working together, some of our social events like the end-of-life workshop you organized that we’ve had our folks attend, and there was a least one of your members at our Movie night last night.
It’s so great that we can be working together, and I hope there is more yet to come.
In ecumenical relations, it’s not about ignoring the differences, obviously there are differences, you can’t hide those, but to concentrate on what’s in common, that’s key. Also, to learn and admire what is different about the “other”. One thing I like about the United Church and your orders of service, is the clear, modern language used. A lot of Lutheran liturgy and doctrines are often quite traditional, and a bit of a barrier, frankly. You United folks have some great flexibilities and freedoms, United Church was always a big tent with lots of diversity.
Lutherans tend to split on issues of doctrines…there are over 30 different Lutheran denominations in North America. (We’re not quite as bad as the Baptists, but we’re close.)
Our closest Lutheran neighbour down the street, St. Paul’s is part of a Lutheran denomination where I could not go and receive communion. (yet we do collaborate on Canadian Lutheran World Relief, our international aid and development agency)
But the best is not to dwell on what separates us, but focus on what’s in common.
And one of the big issues is of course dealing here in the downtown core with issues of homelessness and housing and the myriad needs of people who live and work on the street.
And that’s one focus that we have at St. Matthews, with our community meals during the cold months, and our soon-to be-opened emergency warming centre run by House of Friendship.
So there is a lot of common ground possible.
Bring the best you have to the table! they say, and I think that can work.
Lutherans and Anglicans have been in joint communion since 2001, and there is a lot of partnerships going on in that front: a friend of mine is an Anglican priest serving at a German Lutheran church in downtown Toronto, another friend is a Lutheran pastor at a merged Anglican-Lutheran church in Midland.
There is less Lutheran-United partnerships going on, but there is an established framework that the national church bodies have agreed to, and a handful of communities that are trying to make things work.In any case, I’m just glad to be here and living out a small piece of Christian Unity right now in this building. I hope we can do more together in the future,
not only small events but even maybe bigger things. I think the synergy potential is huge here.
The trick is seeing the opportunities and deciding what to do.
In our reading today from Mark’s first chapter, the story of the call of the first four disciples,
we have an extremely compressed narrative, it focusses only on the essentials, there’s no filler in the plot, it cuts right to the chase. It centres on Jesus.A Simple, fresh narrative: Jesus sees Andrew and Peter, James and John in their fishing boats. He calls out:
Follow me I will make you fish for people.
Immediately they left their nets and followed. Jesus calls, they follow. We don’t hear whether they disliked or liked their work, whether they were rich or poor, whether James and John got along as brothers…There’s an intense focus: on call and response 4 ordinary men doing routine activities, and in the midst of that Jesus comes in and says:
Now, one must mention that fishing for people is a somewhat negative image, you might think about ensnaring people, enslaving people, hooking and trapping them, it’s not perhaps the best image I might pick…but in this region of Galilee where Jesus’ ministry started, it was a fantastic image, that anybody would have grasped.Being a follower of Jesus is about spreading the message of Jesus, and inviting others and getting them hooked (for better or for worse)
So a Good disciple is a follower. not that a disciple has to be perfect, but in following Jesus you try to do your best, and do what he does. Following Jesus means discovering where our ultimate loyalty lies. As a follower of Jesus it means we should question:
What is the priority in our life?
What is our ultimate source of life and light?
And as a follower of Jesus this week especially, we need to be asking ourselves: how can we make our common response to Jesus’ call a source of unity rather than disunity? If we all follow Jesus, it should be mean that there is more that unites than divides.
>>>>3. CHRISTIAN UNITY WEEK
So what is the Week of prayer for Christian Unity anyway? I’ve never been personally involved so I had to do a little research.
The beginning of the Week of prayer for Christian Unity goes back to 1908 (so over hundred years ago) with Father Paul Wattson, who was a co-founder of the Graymoor Fransiscan Friars, a monastic order that until now focusses on ecumenical work.
Originally, for the first 50 years, this week for unity was mainly a movement of prayer for non-Catholic churches to come back to the Roman-Catholic church, but the more recent roots of the prayer week go back to 1968 in the post-Vatican II era, where a true sense of ecumenism was born, that is where: there is no push for any denominations to “convert”, all denominations are welcome to join and bring their best to the table, with the idea that we can all learn from each other.
These days: themes, and materials are developed each year by different regions of the world (it’s still run by the Graymoor Franciscans). Millions of Christians throughout the globe participate. A basic idea is that prayer together and worship together are a good first step, and that hopefully builds the relationship for doing more together.
The Biblical guiding focus comes from Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John Chapter 17 Jesus prays for his followers: “(11)Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (21) As you, Father, 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.”
>>>>4. THE CALL TO CHRISTIAN UNITY
So I promised this sermon would be on the “call to Christian Unity”, So you may be wondering to yourselves: when is he getting to the point?
Well in a way it’s really simple.
We’re at a great time in Christian history, where more and more Christians are hearing the call to Christian Unity. As the world shrinks and we get more connected with one another throughout the globe, More and more are realizing that their faith means seeking the common threads with other Christians and More and more churches are saying: let’s do stuff together.
You know: every day when I come to work and I see our main entrance door, and one side says St. Matthews, and the other side says Trinity United, I go: “I like this place. I’m so glad I’m a pastor here”