Sunday 24th January 2021

Welcome and Call to Worship

You who call us to be praise in the midst of the earth: glory to you!
We praise you in the midst of the world and among all peoples,
we praise you in the midst of creation and among all creatures.

You who call us to be praise in the midst of the earth: glory to you!
We praise you among suffering and tears,
we praise you among promises and achievements.

You who call us to be praise in the midst of the earth: glory to you!
We praise you in the places of conflict and misunderstanding;
we praise you in the places of encounter and reconciliation.

You who call us to be praise in the midst of the earth: glory to you!
We praise you in the midst of rifts and divisions,
we praise you in the midst of life and death, the birth of a new heaven and a new earth.

You who call us to be praise in the midst of the earth: glory to you

HYMN The Church’s one foundation

Prayer

Lord, you are the vinedresser who cares for us with love.
You call on us to see the beauty of each branch united to the vine,
the beauty of each person.
And yet, too often the differences in others make us afraid.
We withdraw into ourselves.
Our trust in you is forsaken.
Enmity develops between us.
Come and direct our hearts toward you once again.

With the words that Jesus taught us, let us now pray together:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

Scriptures

1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:21-23
 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?

….. So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

John 17:20-23
‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

A Prayer for Unity

A united prayer to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, prepared and presented online by representatives from member congregations of Newington Churches Together.

HYMN Bind us together

Reflection

United, united, united we stand; divided we ever shall fall.” These are not the words of a chant from the football terraces but from a commercially successful song of the late 1970s. At a time when most songs seemed to speak vaguely about ‘love’ this one stood out as different. It spoke of something that was true then and remains so today. Division is one of the great tragedies of human life. We see it from the small scale in families through to political or ideological groupings on a global scale. The Church, sadly, is not immune to this. Division within the Church has sometimes been referred to as its greatest scandal.

I wonder what Christ would have made of this division. True, he did see such among his disciples; note that they did not always agree on how things should be, and even jostled for position. Yet, they were more united than divided. Even in the earliest days of the Church we find Saint Paul having to address the issue as the believers proclaim allegiance to different leaders and so dividing a community that was meant to be one. You can almost sense Paul’s frustration when he asks if he had been the one crucified on their behalf. What would He have made of the division that has split the Church so many times in history, and has led to much pain and suffering for believer and unbeliever alike? Perhaps we may find a clue in His words on the night before the crucifixion; here Jesus prays, “that they may all be one … so that the world may believe.”

Division in the Church is more than simply politics, theology, or tradition for it has a spiritual dimension. Fragmentation in the Church reflects and influences upon our inner lives. It challenges our ability to find inner peace and strength as our energies are directed to defending our own traditions and values against those of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It impacts upon our attempts to find community and belonging as we seek out a place where we are welcome at the table and are not rejected because we were subject to the ‘wrong’ method of baptism or have the ‘wrong’ kind of institutional structures. It needs to stop!

So where do we begin? We first need to challenge our own thought processes. We often speak of other churches; the danger with this language is that we begin to see these gatherings as ‘other’, as not like us and, by implication, somehow not quite right. The truth is there is only ONE Church, though there are many congregations, traditions, and understandings of how we should be. Next, we need to take seriously the call upon us from Christ when he prayed that we may all be one. It means opening our arms in love and grace and accept each other as a part of the one family of faith. It means laying aside prejudices and working for the Kingdom of God. It means doing the difficult task of making sacrifice of things we hold dear that we may enable the world to believe. That is what Jesus prayed for his first disciples; it is what he prays for us today.

We live in a time of unprecedented change. As it impacts upon our own congregations we have the unmissable opportunity to come together in our sharing of mission and witness to the Good News. We will have to give up buildings and practices that are dear to us. It will not be easy, and it will hurt. But we can do it. In return we will gain so much more as we will see the Church unite in its purpose. Its importance is well summed up in the words of the late Brother Roger of the ecumenical community in Taize:

“Never resign yourself to the scandal of the separation of Christians who so readily profess love for their neighbour, and yet remain divided. Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.”

Amen.


Prayer

Holy Spirit, you create and re-create the Church in all places. Come and whisper in our hearts the prayer which Jesus addressed to his Father on the eve of his passion: “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe”.
Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, light the fire of your love in us so that suspicions, contempt and misunderstanding cease in the Church. May the walls that separate us fall.
Lord have mercy

Holy Spirit, Consoler of all, open our hearts to forgiveness and reconciliation and bring us back from our wanderings.
Lord have mercy

Lord Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, give us poverty of spirit so that we may welcome the unexpectedness of your grace.
Lord have mercy

Holy Spirit, you never abandon the men, women and children who are persecuted for their fidelity to the gospel. Give them strength and courage, and support those who help them.
Lord have mercy

Amen.

HYMN Be Thou my vision

Benediction

Be one, so that the world may believe!
Abide in God’s love, go into the world and bear the fruits of this love.

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and all peace in faith, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Acknowledgements:
Council of Churches of Britain & Ireland for permission to adapt prayers from this year’s service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18th-25th January).

English translations of Lord’s Prayer © 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC). www.englishtexts.org. Used by permission.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.