Summary: My talk for the 2012 service of unity organised by Churches Together in Billericay (CTB). Jesus prayed for unity amongst believers so that the community would see and believe that Jesus was sent by God. It was a prayer for unity for the sake of the wider
The church is the body of Christ; but have you ever thought about what it would be like if the members of our physical bodies behaved like the members of the spiritual body sometimes do?
For example, one day the heart says, “You know, I’m just stuck in a rut. For the last 43 years all I do is beat and beat. Lub, dub... lub, dub... lub, dub... I’m tired of it. It’s time for someone else to step up and do this job. Okay, feet, it’s up to you. You pump the blood.” At about the same time the lungs add their complaint: “We are so under-appreciated around here. I don’t think the other organs realize that they couldn’t do their jobs without us. If we give up doing our job for a few minutes, everyone will finally see how valuable we are to this place. The brain thinks he’s really something. Ha! Let him do without some oxygen for a while and we’ll see how important he is!”
Next, the Liver speaks out: "Why do I get all the dirty work? Do you think it’s fun making bile? I’ve been in this body for 43 years now and do you think anyone has ever asked me to make any decisions, pump any blood, or perform any functions that are noticeable outside the body? Sometimes I wonder why I bother." Finally, the appendix breaks his silence: “Ha! Just watch the rest of those organs work. Day after day, hour after hour, they work themselves do death. I’m just along for the ride. Why contribute when I can just sit here and get the same nutrients and oxygen that they get? Why get involved?"
I’m sure you get the idea. The point is that the individual parts that make up our bodies were created specifically for certain tasks within the body as a whole. The body works as a finely tuned machine when all the parts do what they were uniquely gifted to do. There are no unimportant parts - except the appendix; so don’t be an appendix in your church.
Former Archbishop Michael Ramsay said, “Despite our wicked divisions, there is a unity which is a fact.” We are the body of Christ, warts and all! The fact is that Christ cannot be divided and Christ is not divided, but divisions in the church make us wonder; and as for me - divisions in the church have at times caused me to weep tears of frustration, hurt, and anger; and tears of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Whereas we divide ourselves, Christ is not divided.
Three years ago in January 2009 I returned from a 9 day prayer retreat in the Judean desert. Praying in Jerusalem, standing in the synagogue at Capernaum, experiencing the gloom of the condemned man’s cell underneath the remains of the house of Caiaphas, and walking down the steps where Jesus carried his cross had a profound impact upon me. I physically stood and walked where he walked; and I want to commit my life to walking, behaving, acting and reacting as he did in partnership with all of you.
Another highlight was worshipping at Succat Hallel – a 24/7 worship venue near the slope of Mount Zion. I worshipped the God and Father of the Lord Jesus along with Christians from many different nations, but most significantly with Arab Israeli Christians, with Palestinian Christians, and with Messianic Jews – Jews who confess that Jesus, Yeshua, is Messiah. We worshipped together and I glimpsed something of the answer to the prayer of Jesus, “[Father] may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
Sometimes we’re so aware of tensions within our own church denomination or our local congregation, that thoughts of unity with the wider church seem so far away; but the prayer of Jesus was for every believer in every church to be one in him, without exception. “My prayer is …that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (17:20-21).
And since that is the prayer of Jesus, what are we doing to contribute to his prayer being answered? The Churches together movement is very close to my heart and that’s why I will gladly and willingly serve as your chairman for the next year. I love God, I love Jesus, and I love his church; but the prayer of Jesus is not simply unity for the sake of unity. He prayed for unity for the sake of mission, for the sake of those who will in the future believe in Jesus because of our message (17:20). He prayed, “[Father] may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (17:23). It was a prayer for unity, yes, just as Jesus and the Father are one, but it was a prayer for unity as a sign to the rest of the world!