Friday, June 18

Christ’s Universal Church

Below is a short homily that I delivered on January 18, 2011.  It is part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that commences on the 18th and ends on the 24th.  For more information, please visit the World Council of Churches website.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [1]

Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.

            Thanks be to God.

I remember a day in my home church about 3 years ago when I thought I was going to have a brain aneurysm.  I was leading a learning team and one of our biggest concerns was that we had to reach more than just the 20 or 30 people on leadership teams that were willing to participate in learning teams and committees.  The conclusion MOST of us came to was that we should do an all church study.  Again, MOST of us thought it was a wonderful idea and MOST of us were willing to go buy 200 books.  All except one.  Let’s call him Dennis.  Dennis is what we would affectionately term a curmudgeon.  On that day about 3 years ago, he stood up and declared that he WOULD not participate in such a study and that it didn’t suit HIS personal needs AND that his spiritual journey is his own spiritual journey and nobody was going to make him do anything.  This one crushing declaration from a founder of my home church was enough to put an end to the idea of an all-church study.  If someone who had been journeying with us through the 10 weeks of the learning team study couldn’t join in with the whole community, what did we think would happen when we presented it to 200 people? 

On that day, I felt so many emotions.  Sadness, anger, frustration, bewilderment.  I could not understand how someone could place their personal spiritual growth above the growth of the church body. 

This experience was a far cry from the church that was born in Jerusalem so long ago.  The church body as portrayed in Acts outlines how we can be successful church with each other.  There are four elements of unity:

  • Firstly, the Word was passed on by the apostles.
  • Secondly, fellowship was an important mark of the early believers whenever they met together.
  • A third mark of the early Church was the celebration of the Eucharist, remembering the New Covenant which Jesus has enacted in his suffering, death and resurrection.
  • The fourth aspect is the offering of constant prayer.

I sometimes feel hopeless and angry when I look at my home church and know that even within my small community, we are not united as the early church in Jerusalem was.  If I look at the wider universal church, my bewilderment only increases.  And yet, we are not called to hopelessness.  Our Christian story is one of rebirth, resurrection!  To me, that is a call to constant hopefulness. 

Ironically, through the divided churches in Jerusalem, we see a vision of hopefulness.  In Jerusalem, there are currently 13 churches with an Episcopal community and a number of independent churches including Presbyterian, Reformed, Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal.  Christians are about 1-2% of the total population.  And yet, these churches are able to put down their differences and come together during Easter and Christmas to offer one cohesive, communal message.  That is a sign of hope.

Three years ago, I believe that Dennis was waiting on a magic wand that would automatically fix everything.  The right marketing plan, the right message from the pulpit, the right mood during worship…but what he is now coming to realize is that it isn’t about him.  Recently, Dennis came to the leadership of our church and said that he was willing to do whatever needed to be done.  After I picked up my jaw from the floor, I praised God for the movement in Dennis’ heart.   Dennis is indicative of so many churches.  Many of our churches, in the work towards community and unity, are simply waiting for everybody to get with the program.  We have all heard the phrase, “Build it and they will come.”  What we may need to do is to change our approach.  Instead of asking God to change everybody else, we need to ask God to change us.  Change our hearts.  Work in us to create Christ’s universal church.

So, today, we begin a journey of faith through the next eight days as we live into the idealism of Christ’s universal church.  Today, is the day we remember the birth of the church and the idyllic early community.  And in remembrance of all that Christ has given us, it becomes real again.  So we remember the early church and the four elements of unity:  word, community, bread, and prayers.  As we remember, we become emboldened and who knows?!  We may even become bold witnesses to Christ’s universal church. 

Shalom and Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ac 2:41–47). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


  • Nourishing. I love such homilies as the philosophies are presented to you in such away that you can think about how you can apply them in your life.

    It reminds me of a quote from one of my favourite ‘poets’;

    ‘Smarts, get smart with your smartness; too busy surviving to be arguing about Darwin.’

    There is many ways of looking at that, however to me it suggests (in context) that we shouldn’t focus so much on debates on doctrine that we forget what the main purpose of the church is.

    It is such homilies; those that can speak to peoples hearts so much so that they can look at themselves as individuals, those that are sincere…. those are the ones that are powerful.

    I like what Einstein once said; ‘Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.’

    Well, I’m not sure if I’m on to something, but I enjoyed reading this.

    I pray health and happiness upon you and yours.

    Yours sincerely.

    • I was looking at those very first moments of the nascent church when, for a brief moment in time, there was unity (or so Luke tells us!). But, all-in-all, I think diversity is good. It allows people who think differently, have different social environments and backgrounds, to approach being church together differently. I just wish we wouldn’t get so hung up on procedural things or rather, including other people in “our” procedural and sacramental things. Of course, I come from a church that is fully inclusive sacramentally. So it is easy for me to say!

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