Sermon Archives

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Ecumenical Service 2017
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Prayer for Christian Unity

O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you,
the Life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you:
Help us, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you,
whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (A prayer of Saint Augustine)


Monsignor Halfpenny, before I say anything else, let me first say what I suspect is on all of our minds this evening, especially those of us from Memorial Church and from Christ Church:  thank you.  Thank you for your invitation and thank you, in fact, to all members of Saint Paul’s your hospitality, for opening your home, this house of prayer, to the Household of God here in Grosse Pointe.  Thank you also for your invitation to me this night, to stand here in this thin place where we encounter the mystery of God’s love and life, and to offer some bit of insight into our common bonds in Christ.  (We will see in a few minutes whether or not others are pleased with your generous invitation to me!)

If I may, I’d like to thank you, Desmond, as well for your initial vision several years ago that has brought us now to this 4th year of ecumenical prayer and shared affection.  In the hurried state of life these days such a good vision as our common prayer together this evening is too easily put aside in the interests of our other “more pressing” matters.  Your attention to God’s call that we “may be one” has been a gift to us all.

Lastly, allow me to thank all of you who have given up of yourselves this evening.  It is no small thing in this world, when we run from bed to work to errand to dinner to bed to work again, to stop for something as odd as prayer, let alone an evening of prayer with strangers in a strange place – or worse yet, strangers occupying our ancestral seats!  And so your willingness to lay aside other obligations and burdens for a night such as this is a gift to us all; so allow me, on behalf of us all, to thank you all for coming together tonight to pray and remember God’s common call to us in Jesus the Christ.

Well, then, I have been set a particular task this evening, so let us begin.  May I speak to you in the Name of God, the Holy Trinity, through whom the whole creation is made new.

If we have learned anything this past year, it is that we live not merely in a multi-faceted and complex world, but in a world in which our many diverse communities appear to be un-reconcilable with one another. 

Over the pasts decade our world has collapsed at a previously un-imaginable pace.  Today, we not only travel regularly to places previously only glimpsed in the most beautiful of travel books, but speak to strangers across seas and continents as if they were our neighbors, purchase goods directly from artists across the globe, and come face-to-face on a near daily basis with the immense needs of the poor and dispossessed in our one, human, society.

Such globalization has brought with it immense gifts – an awareness of the “other” in social, cultural, artistic, and religious ways that was previously reserved to the most adventurous among us.  Today we are able to tour not only the remarkable collection of art on display at DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts Museum), but take a virtual tour of the Sri Lankan Art Gallery or a collection aboriginal art from Australia.

Similarly, today we are able to study not only the life changing writings of the great religions of the world, but to visit and pray among the most ancient religious communities human society has to offer, communities of whom our grandparents, and great grandparents may never have heard, let alone considered visiting. 

And yet, as remarkable as 21st century globalization may be, the rich diversity has also led to extreme isolation and distrust among our countless global and local communities.  On the global scale, we are watching whole nations rethink their involvement in this ever-changing and threatening global society.  On the national level, we have watched this remarkable experience of American society, which for generations has pledged itself to be one nation under God, be rent asunder by our ceaseless political divides, to the point that we have to ask our political leaders if they can name even one thing which they respect of the other. 

Even locally – at families dinner tables even – we are being pulled apart, even as our society opens up.  So fraught are our bonds of affection that our beloved news media had to provide instructions on how to survive Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with family members of an opposing political party. 

As remarkable as globalization is in spanning the great distances that have long divided us, a natural result has been the development and entrenchment of affinity groups formed around commonly help values, beliefs, experiences, or hopes.  And while these affinity groups provide an individual with a disparate community in the face of increasing global diversity, renewed identity in a rapidly flattening world, and strengthened resolve in the face of seemingly overwhelming pressures to conform to some strange “thing”, we must recognize that affinity groups can never bring us together.  No matter how good and comforting such a group is, and no matter how essential such groups are, these natural retreats into our selves (for that is what an affinity group ultimately is – a reflection of our selves on some larger scale) – no matter how good or comforting such groups are, they are ultimately incapable of bridging the divisions that give rise to their creation.  Born out of our natural divisions, that is what makes us different and distinct from one another, such affinity groups lead only and ever to further division. 

This is nothing new.

This is, in fact, rather similar to world that Saint Paul encountered in the burgeoning church in Corinth.  First century Corinth was as “global” a society as any in the ancient world.  That four-mile wide neck of land that is ancient Corinth link the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean Sea, and placed Corinth at the center of trade from east to west and west to east, bring the ancient world to its door.  Similarly, the ancient Hellenistic community of Corinth was, following Roman conquest, overwhelmed by settled freedmen, bringing an extreme economic diversity to 1st century Corinth as well.  And Paul finds himself writing to a Christian community that is beset by myriad divisions, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, and various tribes aligning with various teachers in their midst.

And just as we find ourselves today, the natural affinity groups of the ancient world were failing to reconcile the Christian community in its midst.

Saint Paul reminds us, however, that we – we a Christian people, we a human society, we, even as part of the cosmic order – are not without hope.  Whereas our natural affinity groups will never reconcile our divisions, Saint Paul reminds the ancient Corinthians then, and us today, that hope remains in Christ who has died for us.

In contrast to the countless divisions of our human identities – male and female; rich and poor; Jew and Gentile; Black, Latino, Asian, and White – Paul implores us to look at one another, not simply from our human point of view, but rather to see one another – our Christian sisters and brothers, yes, but all of human kind as well, and even all of creation – with the same eyes and the same heart with which Christ himself sees us – beloved, redeemed, and reconciled. 

When we speak of Christian unity it must be found here.  For it is this alone, the life and death of Jesus the Christ, that makes us one; not our ancient formularies, not our particular expressions of the Christian community, not our several and significant, even common, ways that we serve Christ in our neighbor.  No, the one and only thing that can and does truly unite us, the one and only thing that can reconcile our century old divisions, is Christ’s love which loves us even unto death.

But here’s the thing, this hope is not ours alone.  The hope that Saint Paul proclaims to the Church in Corinth is not merely a tool to overcome our ancient divisions within and among the Christian community.  Any hope we have as a global, human society, to overcome our ancient divisions, any hope we have to overcome our modern affinity groups, will be found in this same Love which binds all things into one.  Until we are able to see “the other” – the poor or the rich, the straight or the gay, the Muslim or the Latino – as, first and foremost, a new creation in Christ’s love and death, they will always be an “other.”  For it is in the shadow of Christ’s death that we begin to proclaim a reality that is hidden in the darkness of this world:  there is, in fact, no longer Jew nor Greek, rich or poor, Black or White or Latino or Muslim, there is longer straight nor gay, but simply beloved of God for whom Christ has died.

This is our hope.  This is the love that reconciles us to one another, and us to the world.  This is the Love that we proclaim, regardless of our different practices.  And, this is Love of Christ which compels us to love our neighbor whoever she may be.