Updated: Feb 4
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Just want to do a straw poll, who came from a family with brothers or sisters raise your hand. Who has 2 or more, 3 or more? 4 or more etc?
[Talking to person with most siblings] You poor soul – was life a bit of a battle with your siblings? For me, as one of four, it was a constant battle… for my younger siblings! For I was really irritating. If they ever come to a parish service in the future, they will delight in telling you. When we played a game, I would always win according to the rules. The thing was that I made up the rules. My poor brother had to share a room with me, and he will delight in telling you how it was fine for me to have the bedside light on when he was sleeping, but the same was certainly not true the other way around! I was quite an early riser for a teenager, but Colin my brother wasn’t and I would delight in singing to him in the morning to help encourage him to get out of bed. My poor family! Despite all this, we have always got on, even though we are each very different people, each with different thoughts and views and ideas. As a family, we remain united to each other. This goes against what often happens in society, where things are painted as black and white. Where you need to pick a side. Its always right wing versus left wing, conservative versus liberal, Remainer versus Brexiter, evangelical versus Anglo-Catholic, Man united or Man City, catholic or protestant. Pick your problem.
This problem can exist in the church too, this problem of division. As part of the family of the church of England, the heads of our wider family have made some decisions which frankly I have deeply struggled with as I am sure some of you have here this last week. For me, and I need to be completely clear, I am entirely convinced that marriage between two loving people dedicated to live together for God regardless of their gender is entirely holy and that it is to our churches collective shame that we still cannot marry people of the same sex in church. That is my view, reached through experience, scripture, reason and tradition as is the Anglican way. But we live in a world were there is great disagreement. I know some of you may disagree with me in this stance for which I am entirely unapologetic and you may have even used the same Anglican way to discern your stance. Some of you may agree wholeheartedly. The questions really is, how do we respond as family when disagreements happen? When we are entirely disappointed by what our collective family has decided?
Just in case we think these kinds of disagreements are new, please let me refer you to all of church history. Always, throughout church history there have always been camps of disagreement, I am sure to the churches shame. In the 19th century the church argued about the use of alcohol, in the 18th century it was all about the established church versus free churches, 17th century puritans, 16th century protestants fought Catholics, all the way back till you see the first stirrings of conflict in the early church here in the 1st letter of Paul to the Corinthians. What all these conflicts share is seeing other Christians as other, as lesser, as unrighteous, which I think is a great sin. I love the first line of this letter and the surprise of Paul sounds almost like a teacher telling off students caught fighting: 'Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.' I just have the image in my mind of everyone looking at Chloe’s people in the corner of church, starring at them accusingly for dobbing them in to the teacher.
What’s the issue? Well, people in the Corinthian churches are forming gangs, where their allegiance to whichever leader baptised them is a way of saying they are different, or better than others who don’t share they same pedigree or the same view or the same whatever. Paul admonishes them for this tribalism, and points them back to the cross, saying did Paul die on a cross for them? No of course not! Jesus did. We are, all of us, pointed back to the cross, where our salvation lies, and it where we are all saved regardless of who baptised us.
Look at our gospel reading, where we hear of Jesus calling the first disciples. To the fishermen He says ‘Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of people’. He does not say ‘Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of the right people, or a fisher of the people who agree with you, or a fisher who are wealthy, or like you, or educated, or easy going. He says ‘Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of people.’ No distinction, no qualification. A fisher of people in all their variety, and disagreement and failure. Thank goodness, right, because who of us would otherwise qualify? His twelve disciples included blue collar fisher men, it included tax men, it included extremists, it included thieves and betrayers. Do you really think these people agreed about much, like ever? But they were to become, nearly all of them, part of God’s eternal family.
In a world of boundaries and conflict, where we are encouraged to tribes of people with similar convictions, the church family is invited to follow the wonderful Latin motto found on the great seal of the United States and printed on every dollar bill. It says this 'E Pluribus Unum', from the Many, one. We are the one body of Christ made of many parts. Today, for many of us, we have to carry the wounds of church that is so slow to move, just as Jesus body carried the wounds of the cross. I say to you who today are a wound for Christ, it is the wounds that are perhaps the most precious part of His body. So we pray for those who feel rejected by the church, and we fight against injustice and for me personally I pray for a day when I will be able to marry every couple equally in their parish church. We pray for those who are our brothers and sisters and disagree, loving them as family and not as the enemy, remember they too are the body of Christ. But most of all we love one another in Jesus’ name, for we are all of His family, we are all His body sent to a broken world and together, despite our disagreements we can love His world closer to His Kingdom. That is a church that goes against the division this world, that is a church worth fighting for, and that is the broken body of Christ to which we belong and to which we are called. Amen