July 17, 2006

Looking Forward to July 23, 2006 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Ephesians 2:11-22
  • From the Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Hymns this week are:

  • Psalm 100 (older words, p. 823 VU)
  • 579 The Church is Wherever God's People
  • 606 In Christ there is No East or West
  • 288 Great is Thy Faithfulness

The Sermon will be based on the Ephesians reading and is titled Walls that Divide -- No MORE!

Early Thoughts: One of the great gifts that Pauline theology has given us is a response to the divisive forces within the Christian church. I remember my New Testament Professor telling of a question asked when he was in seminary. "Was there ever a time when the church was undivided?" The answer: "Probably for the first few hours." In both the book of Acts and in Paul's letters we can see hints of the deep divisions that were rocking the early church. One of the most important at that time was the debate about circumcision and the admission of Gentiles to the church (which began as a subset of Judaism).

In response to these talks about division, Paul gives us wonderful passages like 1 Corinthians 12 (the one about the body parts needing each other) and Galatians 3:28 where he says that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. While this passage from Ephesians may not be as well known or as easily quoted (it really doesn't flow as easily as the body discussion in 1 Corinthians) it is just as good a description of how we are one in Christ.

In recent decades the United Church of Canada has been rocked with the fear (or the threat) of splitting. For a while in the late 20th century reports from General council meetings spoke of the deep anger between the two extremes of the church (there is a story of a bag of excrement being placed (dumped?) on the table of a conservative group by those who disagree and stories of those on the left of the church being accused of heresy and condemned to damnation). The tension still exists. A denomination our size has many sub-groups within it that need to find a way to work and live together.

This summer General Council meets to discuss and discern the future of the United Church of Canada. Discussion about direction setting can be difficult. There are proposals being made that will impact the budgets of congregations, sometimes heavily. It is time once again to remember that what divides us is not as important as what unites us. Ephesians 2:14 says :"For he [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." Christ is our uniting focus. Former moderator Walter Farquharson writes "Walls that divide are broken down; Christ is our unity! Chains that enslave are thrown aside; Christ is our liberty!" As we pray for those who will gather in Thunder Bay August 13-19, let us all remember our unity, our ability to agree to disagree and then join hands and heart in song and in prayer.

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