United

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I have always tried to keep politics out of the pulpit but, I couldn’t help reflecting that this summer has been a sad one for the Labour Party.  The infighting between members of Momentum and Progress has led to a bruising leadership contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.

Whatever your political views, in this country, we need an opposition party to hold our government to account and to raise the awkward questions that need to be asked.  The big challenge now for Labour is can they unite to do this?

The phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” dates back as far as Aesop’s fables (about 6th Century BC) and it holds true today.  Jesus certainly echoes that thought when He said;

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

(Mark 3 vs. 24)

How do you take a group of people who, essentially, hold the same “big” values and ideals but disagree on the “smaller” values and ideals and unite them?  This is not a new problem it is a challenge that has faced the Church for centuries.

On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden of Gethsemane praying for His disciples and for the generations to come, who would believe in Him (the Church) and this is what He prayed;

I pray that they will all be one

(John 17 vs. 24 NLT)

I want to offer these thoughts to you as I have struggled with the concept of unity.

  1. Unity Is Not The Same As Uniformity

In other words, we don’t have to totally agree with each other.  We can hold differing views, differing opinions.  As long as we believe the same essential truth we can work together.  For Christians, we hold Jesus as Lord and Saviour and the Trinity as our essential truths, those are our points of unity.  Type of music, style of service are things we can hold differing views about.

  1. Unity Cannot Be Imposed

Organizations that try to impose unity “from above” (a top down approach) do not achieve unity.  Unity is achieved when it comes from the “bottom up”.  Unity, a desire to work with others, begins in our own hearts.  We must hear the prayer of Jesus and commit ourselves to fulfill His desire that we should be one.

  1. Unity Takes Commitment

Unity doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment, effort and energy.  We have to be more willing to listen than to speak, in fact the Bible says;

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

(James 1 vs. 19)

In my own experience, I have found the struggle of unity to be frustrating and disappointing at times but I am committed to Jesus prayer, and so unity is important to me.

Scatter!

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Long ago in a town far far away….. (Okay, it was Immingham and I was 5 years old) I was selected by the headmaster of the school to go with him and a child from the junior’s to deliver harvest produce to the elderly.  I like to think he chose me because I looked cute in my grey school shorts.  He probably chose me because I wasn’t quick enough to avoid him!  I can vividly remember handing over, what seemed to me, giant cauliflowers and marrows to elderly folk who had a bewildered expression on their faces.  I didn’t realise it then but, they were probably thinking they couldn’t refuse this gift but how many days would they be eating it?

Today, we take food for granted.  We wander into our 24 hour supermarkets, we select produce (whether in season or out) from all over the world.  As soon as the shelves are empty, they are re-stocked and we probably don’t give it a second thought.

We celebrated our Harvest Festival in Clacton today, and I suppose I faced that same old question, what is the point?  We are gradually losing touch with the agricultural rhythms of our predecessors, so what is the point of this annual ritual, singing the old favourites “Come ye thankful people come” and “we plough the fields and scatter”.

 My reflections led me to the point where I am convinced now, more than ever, that to celebrate Harvest Festival is probably more important than ever.

Why? (I hear you ask).  Well, in this country, it seems more people need the facilities of Food Banks.  They are not “lazy” or “scroungers”, one set of statistics I saw suggests that the majority of Food Bank users are working on low wages.  The Bible teaches us to “love our neighbour”.

Harvest also reminds us that in the wider world there are many who do not have sufficient to eat or clean water to drink.  I find it a scandal that in our world in the 21st century, where we have resources to spare that there are children dying from preventable diseases.  The prophet Amos said;

 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5 vs. 24)     

We need voices like Amos today, challenging world leaders to get their act together!

Finally, harvest reminds me that, ultimately, this world is not mine, or yours, it belongs to God and we are the stewards of it.  The Psalmist says;

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

(Psalm 24 vs. 1)

We are more aware than ever of our environment and environmental needs.  But, more needs to be done to protect the earth for future generations and it’s up to us to do what we can and urge the world leaders to do more.

Consider Yourself….

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Consider yourself at home.
Consider yourself one of the family.
We’ve taken to you so strong.
It’s clear we’re going to get along.
Consider yourself well in
Consider yourself part of the furniture.
There isn’t a lot to spare.
Who cares?..What ever we’ve got we share!

(Lionel Bart)

So sings the Artful Dodger in the musical ‘Oliver’!  I am not a great one for musicals but, I found myself thinking about that song today when, I was reflecting on a verse from the Bible which goes:-

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

(John 15 vs, 4)

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I lose count how many times people have challenged me on the need to attend Church, “I can worship on my own”, “I don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian”….

The truth is (stand by for a shock) no, you do not HAVE to go to Church.  But (there is always a “but”) consider the risk of not attending Church and that brings me to the verse and the song.

I actually like the old version of this verse which uses the word “abide” because, to me, it conveys so much more than remain.  It’s more than visiting, more than living, it is to continually dwell, in fact, (brace yourself, a bit of Greek coming up) the Greek word used here could be translated as “dwell”.  Or, consider yourself at home in the vine.

So, how do we do that?  Our private and personal journey with God is vital but, so is being in fellowship with others.  In fact, (bit controversial now) I do not believe there is any such thing as a solo Christian – I cannot find it in the Bible.  It’s as we receive and give and serve alongside others that our faith is stretched, we grow and our discipleship develops.  I believe that is why the writer to the Hebrews says;

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

(Hebrews 10 vs. 25)

Perhaps I can encourage you to think about Church, get involved, give and receive because it’s part of abiding and you need to abide in order to bear fruit.