In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I am preaching at the 11.15 Sunday morning service, one of the two main services which take place on a Sunday at Chelmsford Cathedral. I have chosen to major on the prayer that Jesus prayed the night before he died: “May they be one, so that the world will believe that that you have sent me” (John 17.21). Although in the first place he was praying for the Twelve, for Peter and Andrew, John and James and all the rest of the motley crew, he was by extension praying for all his followers.
So what does this mean in practice? I want to suggest there are three steps
- First, we need to ensure that we are indeed one. We need to ensure that our relationships with one another are right. Remember, it is not necessary to agree with one another. What is important is that we love one another – that we want the best for one another – that we rejoice when God blesses and do not feel resentful that God does not appear to bless us. Now this is quite a challenge to all of us. However, I dare to believe that it is possible. Indeed, it must be possible if there is to be hope for any church. If it is not possible, then we may as well as shut up shop and instead spend our Sundays going to whatever is our favourite leisure pursuit.
- Secondly, if we are indeed a loving church, then we need to bring along friends and family and let them experience how different a Christian community can be from other communities. This is where today’s lectionary reading from John 12 is so relevant. We read there that some Greeks wanted to talk to Jesus. They said to Philip, one of his disciples: “Sir[s] we want to see Jesus”. Philip told his friend Andrew, and together they went to Jesus. As a result of their help, the Greeks met with Jesus. We in turn need to bring our friends to Jesus. If we are to do this, then this means we will want to take advantage of Alpha or whatever the course your church is running. We need to say to our friends: ‘Come to our church and see what the team have to say.’ I know that bringing friends to church is not easy. This is all the more true as we grow older. For our circle of acquaintances and friends becomes smaller. When our children are at school and when we go to work, we have a natural group of people to whom we can say, “What are you doing next Sunday? If you are free, come along with us and see what church has to offer. You’ll be surprised, they are not toffee-nosed at all. They are people just like me. You may have questions about this God whom we worship, but come alone and see.”
- Thirdly we need to pray that God will give us boldness to invite friends to church. Some of us find it easier than others. For instance, God has made me the kind of person who can strike up a conversation with people on the train or in a café and share something of my faith with them. But it is not just extroverts God can use, he can use anybody. That’s why we need to pray. What’s more, we don’t have to be able to preach a mini sermon to our friends. It is the inviting which is important. The first time I shared my faith I was quite unconscious what I was doing. I was seven years old at the time. I simply said to the mother of my best friend “Mrs Coleman, why is it you don’t go to church?”. Unwittingly I shamed her into going along to our church. She went to church, she responded to the good news of Jesus, she was baptised and eventually became what Baptists call a deacon in her church.
In the words of the Apostle Paul God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3.20). Let’s allow our faith to be the catalyst for God to do amazing things among us.
So in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity God challenges us all. He challenges to love as he has loved us in Jesus. He challenges us too to love one another – to be one with one another – and then go out and share the love of Jesus with our friends.