The following was preached at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, on Tuesday 24th January 2017 on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
I firstly would like to thank Fr Michael for his invitation to preach at this service. It is wonderful to be part of a community which works in many many ways together - a community which looks out for each other and cares about one another.
As I think back over the past 12 months - it has been a time of lots of ups and lots of downs, lots of tears of sadness and tears of joy as well. I want to thank Fr. Michael & Fr Anthony publicly for their prayers - which I greatly appreciated following my father’s death - It was quite amazing to come back and walk around a village which expressed sympathy to me on the street as Brothers and Sisters in Christ from both the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Community. It really meant so much to me.
It was also good to be able to stand with you following the graffiti on your church building. It is also good to be invited to many public events during the year. For me this working together where we can is a priority as for too long in Ireland churches have been divided fearing one another or being suspicious of one another motives but in the end we are Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
As someone who values practical ecumenism - I do like the rolling up of our sleeves and sharing gifts which our traditions have to offer. There will always be things we disagree on but I take heart from the many ventures both coming from leadership at the higher escelons of the church. To see what our communions are doing in Rome - What the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are displaying in terms of practical ecumenism is to be welcomed I believe
Also what is happening on the ground in parishes the length and breadth of this island where lay members of both churches are doing in terms of common mission.
And at leadership level here in Blarney - It is simply wonderful to be able to meet up with Fr Michael and Fr Anthony and work in partnership with you at Christmas, at this service and in the many events that happen throughout the year such as the School Prizegiving and the community events in the square .
Not only are our churches praying as we must for Christian Unity with Christ at the centre but also working in many ways for unity amidst our diversity.
Tonight’s service also points beyond ourselves here in Blarney - Our readings and liturgy has been selected by the Christian churches in the Carribean to highlight the world wide issue of Slavery. An issue which we here in Blarney probably have not come in contact with and which we could bury our heads in the sand and think nothing about.
However listen to these figures
Modern slavery in numbers
40.3 million people are in modern slavery across the world
10 million children are in slavery across the world
30.4 million people are in slavery in the Asia-Pacific region, mostly in bonded labour
9.1 million people are in slavery in Africa
2.1 million people are in slavery in The Americas
1.5 million people are in slavery in developed economies
16 million slavery victims are exploited in economic activities
4.8 million people are in forced into sexual exploitation
99% of people trafficked for sexual exploitation are women and girls
4.1 million people in slavery are exploited by governments
US$ 150 billion – illegal profits forced labour in the private economy generates per year
*All estimates by ILO
When we talk in the millions we can become immune to huge numbers … but each one of these are an individual - and surely something needs to be done. I’m sure we agree with that but what does that look like. There are so many social problems, so many issues which affect us to a greater or lesser extent. However this surely is something which unites us as communions, its something which could stir us to action if we let it. if the millions and billions of Christians raised our voices - Like we did in the end of the slave trade in the 19th Century policy changed
I just wonder are there things that we really care about and want to get sorted.
Am I a radical? … I dont think so … but unless we actually do something - unless we get up, speak up about these things I’m worried about the future of our world - if we dont challenge injustice and speak out about inequality as Christians I’m not sure what we do.
Yes there are many tasks for the Church - we’re dealing with issues of eternity,
But I love the phrase made famous by Christian Aid some years ago - we believe in life before death.
It’s not OK that people are enslaved - It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Whilst we might not encounter forced labour or people in Chains in our everyday … there are people in our village, in our housing developments who are enslaved.
In our readings this evening we heard of the the God who freed the children of Israel by the response of Moses to God’s Call, in our epistle we remember that God did not give us a spirit of slavery but rather a spirit of adoption to be his Children where we can cry Abba Father, and in our Gospel Reading we read how Jesus was moved to respond to Human Suffering of Jarius’ Daughter, and the women with the hemorage. God cares for the individual, the oppressed Group.
The other big issues today in our communities is that of enslavement to
- To debt
- To alcohol
- To drugs
Now you dont have to go too far from this church to meet those affected by this type of slavery - I just wonder are there things we could do about these issues in our community.
When we read the passages we see big issues being looked at and God being intimately working in and though individuals … it has always been the case.
In our world there are Lots of issues I’ve highlighted a few - is this stuff OK? … No its not - and the churches need to do something about these things.
What are our options, for those enslaved to anything? - it was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Surely the vast resources of the churches - right across the denominations could be utilised to tackle some of these issues. Lots of those in this land are suffering - is it possible to do something? - Of course it is
We’re doing lots of praying about these issues but could we do some practical things so that we could be known for our love and our action to change communities.
Its a huge problem but I do believe that our words sometime will need to be turned into action.
As the familiar phrase says … ‘talk is cheap’ but we do need to do something. This generation is depending upon change and we as Christians are the ones who actually could make a difference. Somehow, somewhere. but are we willing to take a lead, to step up, to shout out and do it.
What is God saying to you about it? if he’s stirring something … maybe you might be the person to take this on. God does raise up leaders - individuals … its how he has always worked!
As we sit here this evening - in this church I believe there is a challenge - yes of course there is a challenge to Unity - Pope Francis in 2014 said … 'It is beautiful to recognize the grace with which God blesses us and, still more, to find in other Christians something we need, something that we could receive like a gift from our brothers and our sisters…. This requires something more. It requires much prayer, it requires humility, it requires reflection and continual conversion. Let us go forward on this path, praying for the unity of Christians, that this scandal [of disunity] lessens and that it may cease among us.
This unity could possibly be brought about by tackling some of the big issues of our time together. For many critics of the Church they see our disunity and say that they dont want anything to do with a churhc divided. Surely here we have the opportunity to do something.
I would like to conclude by reading slowly a reflection for this week from the resources in this service - which rings very true for me and has challenged me deeply- as I think about Global issues, National picture and even at local and personal level as well - as we think of things past, things current and things which might become.
I’m going to read it twice - Do take time to listen and reflect on what it means for our world, our nation, our community, and your relationships
Past hurts rooted in slavery and dominance
have left a legacy of deep divisions among God’s children.
The lack of repentance for history and memories make us cling to hurts;
we let ourselves be defined by them.
And our embarrassment in having caused them
and the pride which will not let us admit it
ensure that hurts and divisions are perpetuated.
The Body of Christ remains broken;
we are pulled ever further from the reconciler of our faith
and the unity that is possible through His love.
The Spirit speaks
but are we listening?
Can we not hear?
We can say sorry, seek forgiveness, forgive,
What should be rendered to God? Are we willing to surrender to God the hostility, jealousy, bitterness and guilt that separates us from God’s reconciling grace and mercy? Lord reveal to us our failings, that becoming aware of them and seeking your grace and forgiveness, we may be united in a relationship of love where institutional divisions fall away.
Then together we will move towards a spiritual reconciliation which unites in the dance of the Triune God.
Surely this is what God is up to in our day in our community - This is vitally important.