So this is the international week of Christian unity celebrates what we have in common as a community of believers. The international community focus on this issue, because it was a command from Jesus that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (see John 17.21) For more information and resources, go to https://ctbi.org.uk/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2021/
It’s way too easy to find things that we disagree on, and most of us hold incredible prejudice about each other and our beliefs. The way we disagree is often not exactly a well designed advert for believing in Jesus. Our in-fighting, boundaries and territorialism can really put off people coming anywhere near a church or chapel.
In the image above from https://brendensadventures.files.wordpress.com/ is the source of the Amazon River, Nevado Mismi. It’s high up in the mountains and you can see in this photo is frozen solid. From this tiny stream the mighty Amazon river flows. What’s that got to do with unity? Well as Christians we all turn to Jesus as the source of our faith. We might be Ugandan Catholics, British Baptists, or American Methodists, Russian Orthodox Christians, however regardless of all those differences, Jesus is the source of our faith. Without him we wouldn’t be here today.
From a historical perspective, however significant he is, he’s also a small dot in generations that came before and after him. We’ve just celebrated his birth as a tiny baby, and from this one small child a whole international movement began.
As we move in our lives empowered by Jesus’s love for us, it’s important to remember that it is sometimes in the small and humble moments that we can really explain Jesus’ love for us. So from the outside it’s not always a dramatic gesture or majestic experience when his love touches our hearts, but it can change everything overnight. Looking at this image of the source of a mighty river, you would not realise it’s significance for the planet. For example, from that small stream, flows over 4,000 miles of river, and this has created the amazing rainforest, full of biodiversity. The Amazon rainforest itself produces around 6% of the world’s oxygen.
My experience of Jesus’ love is that it’s a small touch which feels overwhelming, an ordinary experience used for greater glory, and a gentle nudge that can make me rethink everything. As I try to walk with him I’m more often humbled than exalted. I wonder what your experiences have been? This week for the prayers of Christian Unity we are thinking about this verse.. “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”, from John 15:1-17. Abiding in Christ doesn’t require us to go anywhere or do anything but just to be alongside him as we follow his lead from the mountains down into our day to day lives.
As we progress in our faith we often find ourselves joining a community. As you can see on the map below, the Amazon river has over 1,000 tributories, different expressions of itself, some forming larger rivers, and each with it’s own ecosystem, and diverse wildlife. The rivers flowing ultimately into the sea. The array of different rivers in this area, is also part of the unique atmosphere and ecosystem created in the Amazon basin. Different religions within Christianity have moved into spaces uniquely created by God to serve a purpose at that time. An expression of church is often very specific to one community, while following a wider tradition. So a British church might follow Anglicanism, and an American one Lutheranism but there will be huge similarities as we follow similar principles. Where our principles appear to clash or disagree we might diverge from each other, forming distinct patterns.
While it might be easier to understand the Amazon as one river and Christianity as one faith, it’s sheer size, diversity and volume is part of it’s impact. For example the Amazon’s role is as a sink, draining heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Currently, the world is emitting around 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. The Amazon absorbs 2 billion tons of CO2 per year (or 5% of annual emissions), making it a vital part of preventing climate change.
In 2018 I was lucky enough to visit the Ecumenical centre of study for the World Council of Churches in Bossey, near Geneva. The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As such they represent over 500 million Christians worldwide in over 110 countries and territories. Their primary goal is Christian unity and as such they focus on campaigns which unite Christians. Their work might not be rapid or simple, but often influential as it is carefully thought through across cultural boundaries. This year for example, a commission looking at Faith matters will be publishing papers on 16 different controversial issues that divide church communities. Those appointed to do this represent a diverse range of churches and ethnic backgrounds.
The River Mouth
As our journeys take us out to sea, (and lets face it, many of us face bereavement, loss and challenging times at the moment!) we can take comfort that there is so much that unites us in our faith. Our communities are not just local places or people but as Christians we do not have to be alone, and God’s work is beyond time, place or even creation itself. The prayer resources for the Week of Christian Unity have been prepared this year by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp, a group of Sisters who adopt a vow of silence and live in community together. The challenges they face inspire their focus on unity. The prayer resources this year show us that when we move away from each other, we also move away from God.
‘Spirituality and solidarity are inseparably linked. Abiding in Christ, we receive the
strength and wisdom to act against structures of injustice and oppression, to fully
recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters in humanity, and to be creators of a new
way of living, with respect for and communion with all of creation’
While this is a difficult thing to accept, it is also a beautiful experience to be part of when it goes well. Whether that’s working with other Christians one to one, or through planned worship together, God often finds a way through for us to be united. My prayer for all of us is that through the horrors of 2020 and Covid 19, we learn more about how to be together. It’s only perhaps in these difficult situations we realise we cannot manage everything alone, but learn to rely on neighbours more.
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.
Grant us to live from your forgiveness
so that we may be together and praise your name.