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22nd January 2017 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Epiphany 3 - Morning Service

Sermon for Epiphany 3 - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Isa. 9. 1-4
Matt. 4. 12 -23

It seems both poignant and ironic to meet to celebrate Christian Unity in a week when the world has seldom seemed more divided and rent by schism.

America has a new President, who speaks of uniting the country, but whose every utterance and tweet seems to inflame both those who support him and those who oppose him.

In this country we are still coming to terms with our decision to separate ourselves from the European Union, complete with the single market and customs union. Again, passionate opinions are voiced both pro and anti.

But we should not be surprised, because history - not least the history of the church, teaches us that wherever people meet together, disagreements arise. It is true for nations, in the political life of every country, between denominations of the Church, and in most congregations. It also occurs in most families, from time to time.

When things work for the good, and through God's grace, people who differ can meet together, have a friendly discussion, and either find a compromise or agree to differ. If this is done in friendliness and love, that is fine.

Even if voices are raised, the harm can be undone if both parties cool off, apologise and shake hands.

But where one side in an argument starts to criticise the other behind their backs (and this is where social media has a lot to answer for - people will thoughtlessly post or tweet sentiments that they are unlikely to say to someone's face.); when they imply that the truth is all on one side - namely their own - that is when we can see satanic influence at work. Lasting damage may be caused to the nation, the Church, or the family, that God is trying to use in order to spread his love in the world, by demonstrating their unity. Gossiping and backbiting cause scars which take years to heal.

Now it is great to welcome visitors today from other churches..... Someone who has shared God's word with us by reading from the Book of Isaiah; someone who will be leading our prayers in intercession to God shortly. Here in St Chad's we do things in a certain style - probably not to everyone's taste, but which seems to please the majority and not be (we hope!) too displeasing to God...

We use structures that are identifiably Anglican - because we find that structure, or framework, gives us a certain freedom to offer our individual and collective worship to God. And since we are the only place of public worship in the village, I often say that we represent 'churches together' within one congregation. Anglican we may be, but I know that many people find a spiritual home with us who may have started out belonging to different denominations...

Shall we just explore that? Hands up anyone who has thought of themselves as Methodist at any point? .... Baptist?...... Presbyterian?.... United Reform? .... Roman Catholic? ..... Brethren? (Ken) ..... Anyone else that I have missed out?
You get the point. We are a rag-tag and bobtailed collection of Christians, who come together from a sense of mutual support and maybe geographic convenience - and none the worse for that!

So here in St Chad's we try to conduct ourselves with a certain formality and style, but we also like to let our hair down from time to time and have some fun in church. We like to be reverent and dignified, and we love to hear good choral music; but we also enjoy our family worship and youth services - and when we can manage it, Messy Church too.

And, for what it's worth, I think God loves that too!

And with our colleagues and fellow Christians in the Covenanting Churches Group, we pray together (as we will be doing this afternoon in St Michael's), we witness together, we care for the needy and service to our local communities.
So, when we encounter Christians who are different from us we can maybe show the world how to relate to them.

We stand shoulder to shoulder by doing things together,
We carry those who are weak, or helpless,
We face each other in open-hearted sharing,
We hold hands in prayer and in praise,
Or alternatively, we could always walk by on the other side?
Which will you do - today and in the year ahead?