Homily of the Rev Laura Ferguson. Sunday of Prayer for Christian Unity 23 Jan 2022

Posted on 27th January, 2022

Homily of the Rev Laura Ferguson, priest of the Parish Team of St. Luke's in the City, for Sunday of Prayer for Christian Unity, 23 Jan 2022


What a privilege it is to be here with you this morning. I am particularly grateful for the meeting which Fr Michael called some weeks ago to see what events we could organise for this important week of prayer for Christian Unity. Trying to keep our own three churches -St Michael in the City, St Bride's and St Dunstan's - running smoothly through these pandemic times, at times already feels like one a continuous prayer for Christian Unity!


I don't know about you but thinking beyond myself, my church, my denomination and reaching out to other Christians can sometimes seem like just one too many things to do. But if I'm to listen to the words of St Paul closely, I am reminded that not only is Christian unity something to seek at all times but it is at the very core of who the Church is. And by 'the Church' I refer to the whole worldwide - Catholic church. We are one body, says Paul. Not one organisation. Not one institution. Not one business but one body. And for a body to function and flourish it needs all organs to be in good health, to be working with each other and to recognise that no one part is of more value than another. The whole body is worse off if one part suffers.


Now, this is all well and good but... we might quietly think to ourselves, what about the members of the body who have behaved in unacceptable ways? Or what of those members who are unable to contribute in ways we would like...

Wasn't Paul just being a bit idealistic?


Well there are no quick answers to those difficult questions but Paul  didn't use the image of a body for no reason. It is true that some members of the body need extra support, careful consideration or care. But what Paul is suggesting is that remaining as part of the body in the broadest sense is better than the inevitable dismemberment  that happens when we disconnect ourselves or others from body. Unity is certainly a challenge but one that is still worth pursuing. Why? Well for one thing, because we have a job to do.


In Luke's gospel we see Jesus ' manifesto laid out for us. He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.'


It is these values that we are called to live by and work towards. And throughout Luke's Gospel it is these things that we see Jesus doing - bringing good news to the poor, whether that's honouring the woman who anoints his feet with perfume or telling little children, who had no sway in society, to come to him, or drawing attention to

the good example of the poor widow's actions or even - think of his 12 disciples - not scholars or academics but mainly ordinary men with low paid jobs.


He also set captives or those who were marginalised free - whether that was to heal those with incurable diseases  (which would have left them excluded from worship) or simply spending time with those who were outcasts because of their social standing or perceived immoralty like tax collectors and sex workers.


And he let the oppressed go free, releasing a chained, demon­ possessed man and enabling him to walk free and helping those who worked with the Roman authorities to discover who their true King was.


But it's not simply that we're called to carry out similar actions to others, but we are called to examine ourselves and ask as well. Asking questions like, 'do I find myself poor in any way?' Perhaps in the spirit  of generosity/forgiveness/kindness/hospitality? Or asking, 'am I marginalising myself or others because of a prejudice or bias I hold to.' Am I oppressed by anything in my life, by the expectations of others or even the company I keep?


So, when we think of how we can be unified by our goal of sharing the good news we might also remember that we don't simply deliver the good news, we are good news. After all, how can we expect the body of Christ to flourish if we are keeping part of ourselves imprisoned?


But the other reason I think it is worth being united is because it gives God joy. We've heard in our reading from Nehemiah reading that the 'joy of the Lord was their strength.' If you think about it this is actually quite an odd phrase. It is not, 'the strength of the Lord was their joy' which is what seems to make more sense. But this whole passage is perhaps not what we might expect from returned exiles.


It's full of weeping but why? The exiles although in Babylon for 50 years have already returned. They've built a new city, a new wall, a new temple so why now would they break down in tears? Because, they've been working in their own strength to get back to Jerusalem and to rebuild all that they lost but they're holding onto a promise of old, a promise which an entire generation of Israelites have not known first hand.


It's only when Ezra reads the first 5 books of the bible to them that it dawns on them that God has been with them through it all. That God was with them in, as they were exiled, in Babylon, he was there in the ruins when they returned, as they slowly cleaned up and rebuild and he is with them now. God has watched them faithfully hold out for His promise of restoration. And this is what moves them - that their efforts did not go unnoticed. Their persistence and determination to unite in their common goal to restore Israel was not carried out alone, they now realise it was all done in partnership with God. He had opened doors for them, brought people of peace into their paths and he'd led them into a deeper trust with him and one another. The weeping comes from the realisation that God was there with them all along.


And not only has God been with them but God is filled with joy at seeing how far they've come. This is what gives God joy - to see his people working together with him and one another being continually shaped, transformed and liberated.


I wonder how we might feel it Ezra stood before us now and read us the first five books of the new testament? OR even if he read to us the first 500 years of Christian history... Might we be led to weep as we heard it?


Christian unity is about all of this. it is about working together for a joint purpose, it's about acknowledging that wheb we do that, God is with us and it's about finding our strength in God's joy. So, this week and beyond, it is my prayer that we as the church wills tand as a beacon of hope, giving good news to the poor, relaeasing captives and setting people free from oppression. And as we do so that we might grow in strength giving the Lord great joy. 



Make A Comment

Characters left: 2000

Comments (0)