Every year, the church designates the week of Jan. 18-25 as the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” Coming so soon after the busy Christmas season, it rarely merits more than a mention in our General Intersessions. Last week’s snowstorm meant that few were able to hear even that. Today’s second reading from St. Paul, reminded me of last week’s importance and that the need to remind Christians to work together has been an issue since the church’s infancy. As long as humans have egos, and those egos insist on being in the “right,” the temptation to “divide Christ” and his message will also exist.
What would St. Paul say today about the many denominations in our world all claiming to follow the teachings of Christ, or on discovering how many conflicts have been waged in our church’s history between various factions, each claiming they held the “true” faith? Are these pleading words of St. Paul any less relevant today? “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no division among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” What would he say about the constant bickering within our own church; about disputes over who is deemed “worthy” to come to our table, or how often is “enough” to pray and confess or in what manner it is “correct” to pray? Would he complement our church leaders on how they at least are “united in mind and purpose?” When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, John (and us) to “Come, follow me” he didn’t ask them to become theologians or committed debaters. They were asked to follow and emulate what Jesus himself did, “to proclaim the good news of the kingdom….and cure every sickness among the people.”
I may receive some criticism for this reflection, but it often seems to me that although we all claim to be baptized followers of Christ, we find a million and one excuses to actually ignore his message, or complicate it to such an extent that we avoid actually doing what he asked us to do: to love one another, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, accept the outsider, comfort the grieving and fearful and to be forgiving and merciful to one another. As the gospel tells us today, to follow Christ is to be Christ; to do for all humanity what Jesus himself first did for us. How often do we hear Jesus criticizing the Pharisees on their insistence on “ritual correctness,” and then avoid doing what God actually asked of them? As St. Paul says in his letter, there are times when insisting on correctness with “eloquent wisdom…empties the Cross of Christ of its power.”
So, I propose that we extend last week’s “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” for a bit longer. Perhaps we can, just for a while, place our personal opinions and agendas on hold so that we can listen to our fellow baptized family with the compassionate heart of Christ. Perhaps we can, just for a while, refrain from arguing and quoting from complicated theological texts or convoluted, overly-embellished traditions and take time to respond to the most basic needs of our fellow humanity of food, warmth, acceptance, hope and forgiveness. It may seem “foolish” to those who feel they have an authoritative certitude, but to those who wish to follow Christ, “it is the power of God.”
Let us pray for a greater unity in mind and purpose among all Christians. Let our common commitment to follow Christ help us to set aside our divisive need to be “right,” and work together with Christto bring light and hope to a world that desperately needs it.