One Parish, Three Churches

Age of Marmite: The challenge of unity in this age

Imagine a time, maybe thirty, forty….a hundred years from now, when children will be sat in history lessons.  The teacher patiently takes them through a timeline of how the the world developed.  
Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age…….20th Century…...Marmite Age.
Yes, I am decreeing the time we are currently living in, as the Marmite Age.
Marmite is usually used as an example of things people either really dislike, or utterly adore.  
People are rarely ambivalent about it.  
Why the age of Marmite?  Well I don’t meant that Marmite is our new way of developing and building things, as in previous historical eras.  No….the Age of Marmite is to do with the Age of Opinion.
Last year we saw people on both sides of the Atlantic make big decisions.  We have elections regularly - we live in a democracy, so no surprise there.  But this year the decisions made - the voting outcomes - seem to have provoked results which you really do, either love or loathe.  It is very hard to maintain a neutral position.
Whether we are talking about Brexit or the election of President Trump…..it tends to be a Marmite response.  Love it or loathe it.
Now we live in a democracy,  so no matter which opinion you hold...we are now living with the outcome...and we have to live together.
On Wednesday we began to observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It is an initiative run by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.  I think we might be in a time when this has never been more important.  
The introduction on their website says this:
There are fifty million Christians in Germany who, traditionally, have mostly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Protestant State Churches. Recent developments, particularly the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, have begun to change this balance and other Christian traditions are finding expression. Whilst that which unites the churches is stronger than that which divides, there are still areas of difference in which the churches remain self-absorbed or construct new walls.
(The text from 2 Corinthians) We know from scripture (announces) that God has, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself. The love of Christ compels us to be ambassadors of this reconciliation, which is enacted by dismantling the walls. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany experienced how a seemingly insurmountable wall could be brought down. The fall of this wall is a symbol of hope that, with the love of God, nothing is impossible.
Important words for us today.  You may have seen in the news on Friday, groups of people unfurling banners around the world which read #bridgesnotwalls as a response to the inauguration of President Trump.  Impressive, quiet resistance, and a powerful message for us as Christians.
In the reading from 1 Corinthians we hear Paul’s concern that the Christians in Corinth are disagreeing and divisions are being created between them.  We know that a woman of some standing in the community - Chloe - has alerted Paul to the problems, and he has written to them imploring them to banish their differences.  It seems they have begun to take sides and claim allegiance to different groups or leaders within the church.  
Paul reminds them that it was Christ who was crucified for them, Christ in whose name they are baptised.  Not the leader of whichever group or opinion they have decided to align themselves with.  Paul says that Jesus’ focus was not on baptism but spreading the good news and preaching.  Something reflected in our gospel today.
We are still good at creating “sides” but Paul is saying that these differences of opinion really do not matter - what matters - what we as the body of Christ are called to do - is to tell people the Good News of grace, hope and love.
It doesn’t matter if we hold different opinions about same-sex marriage, or women bishops.  Whether you think all services should have a choir, worship group, or should contain no music at all.  Where you stand on transubstantiation, the virgin birth or even messy church.  We are called to be one body in the unity of Christ and our job is not to take sides but to stand as one and show God’s love to all.  Yep.  All.  And that includes each other.
For many years I worked for BBC Radio.  I was privileged to work with some great people, and among them the late England football manager Graham Taylor.  I hope you have all been fortunate enough to work with people who when they turn up, you just know it’s going to be ok.  You can trust them with the job.  Graham was like that.  I usually dealt with Graham down the line, as we say, rather than face to face.  But on the odd occasion I met him, he was straight forward, down to earth, and warm.  There are two quotes associated with him which have struck me this week.
One was a comment he made to fans who were abusing the player John Barnes.  He said, “You're talking about another human being, so just watch your language, alright?”
Such a simple statement, but so true.  And something the world needs reminding of.
The other quote is about Graham Taylor, which emerged in the tributes to him after he died.  We regularly hear of players or managers “bringing the game into disrepute”.  One commentator suggested Taylor should be…..charged with bringing the game into repute.”
Bringing the game into repute.  Can we be charged with bringing our faith into repute?  We need to be.
There are Christian internet bloggers claiming Donald Trump is a sign from God based on a translation from 1 Thessalonians 4.16, which reads :
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.”
My hunch is that most of us would at least raise an eyebrow at that.  How do we find unity with people who, while proclaiming they believe in the same God, hold such different opinions to our own?  (I’m not here to say which I think is right by the way)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby came to Greenbelt (where I now work) last August, and was interviewed by the lovely Rev Kate Bottley. She asked him how he copes with the tougher moments and he went on to explain how important WE the church are in people’s darker moments...
The Archbishop said that BEING the church is so important.  Archbishop Justin continued “people say : You’re always stressing unity over truth, as if you can divide the two : - which you can’t…..the church being Christ to one another is what makes us a distinctive body in the world - it’s the only thing that matters.  If we’re not that, nothing else counts at all.”
He says we show God by learning to disagree well, and love each other.  He acknowledges that we fail - we are human - but we have to keep trying because that is what Jesus tells us to do….and today it is also what Paul is telling us to do.  Division - according to Welby - is sin.
Incidentally....What frustrates Welby?  He says - himself - and that he has to not send an awful lot of emails.  His wisdom: “The best friend of Christian Unity is the draftbox.”
So perhaps you’re listening to this, thinking it is all terribly obvious.  Love one another.  But at times like this, when division is so rife, and so clear we need reminding of what our job, as the body of Christ is.  This morning we have heard from Paul that our focus should be on Christ and proclaiming his saving grace.  In the gospel, Jesus called his disciples - ordinary folk like us - to become fishers of men.  Not to become academics, not to get into arguments about ethics and doctrine, however important that may be, but to become preachers of the message and lovers of the people.  Because that is how we BE church, and that is how right now we can show hope, Christian Unity and God among us.
So now, in this Age of Marmite, my prayer is that we follow the words of Paul & the commands of Jesus, showing love and unity, so that we might bring hope...and be charged with bringing the Christian Faith in Repute.    Amen

PS: I don't believe this means that we cannot challenge issues, and just accept the status quo, but we must live well alongside each other, and despite differences of opinions what counts is BEING the body of Christ.  Showing love. Preaching the good news.  Standing up for the marginalised and seeking justice and peace for all.

Rachel Wakefield