I’m delighted to be here with you……. We are linked in all sorts of ways. We held our clergy conference this week. Our guest speaker was Rev Peter Neilson of the Church without Walls Project of the Church of Scotland. We value one another and we learn from one another. And these things matter. As you are gently soothed off to sleep by my soft Irish accent, you may think about the scandal of the disunity of the churches in Ireland – scandal because the churches should have been able to offer to a divided society the witness of people who could, whatever their differences, acknowledge their essential unity in Christ.
What does scripture say to us this morning?
I think there are three important things in our readings
The first is what Paul says to us. ‘One body and one spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ We are not here this morning to create unity through our friendship and goodwill towards one another. The unity already exists – it is there. What we do is not to search for one another but to search for God together – to discover and enter into the unity which was the prayer of Jesus and which is God’s gift to us.
The second is in the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It’s about how we deal with conflict. The chapter begins with question and conflict about status and power – about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. It ends with the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. And in the middle these words about practical guidelines for dealing with conflict, resolving it, not letting it fester. The central problems of our world are about how conflict can be resolved: Iraq, fundamentalist Islam, scarce food and scarce oil, personal relationships and the family. And within and between churches too. The aim is not just to be nice to one another but to heal our relationships and for our relationships to be the stronger for it. Maybe you never have any conflict – but we are a church of strong and determined characters and we have lots. And between our churches there is history – about Jacobites; about our fears to do with you being so much bigger than we are; about us being the English Church. The experts say that we should head towards the conflict and so head towards each other. And then the words of Jesus become true for us – ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name …..’
The third is about the only way I know in which reality and the past can be truly transformed – and that is through forgiveness which lets go of, lays to rest the past and takes away its power to harm and spoil the present. How often, says Peter. Seventy times seven says Jesus. We who are God’s forgiven people extend that forgiveness to one another and so enter together into a healed relationship with God and a healed relationship with one another.
May God bless you in your witness and service and may we together know his grace and his peace in the days to come.