The Focus of the Living Church
What do we really mean when we speak of the church as a community in which there is unity in our diversity? We are an inclusive church that values diversity. What does unity in diversity look like?
Rev Peter Walker posed these questions in his second devotions on the morning of day two of the Living Church Synod 2019.
Rev Walker said that phrase ‘unity in diversity’ was a touchstone and perhaps the touchstone in how the Uniting Church described itself to the world.
In his first devotional, Rev Walker spoke about the purpose of the living church. Today he drew on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians to expand on the theme to speak about the focus of the living church.
“Paul faced quite a challenge in Corinth, which is often described as a tremendously licentious city … I suspect the Daily Telegraph would describe some of the Corinthians as ‘colourful racing identities’” he said
A fresh group of Christian missionaries had arrived in Corinth and appeared to be undermining Paul’s teaching, he said.
“Second Corinthians is invaluable to us because Paul locates the way forward in unity for that congregation, not in anything they can do, or provide, or solve. Rather, it is located in remembering the One in whom they are united,” Rev Walker said.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus, Timothy and I, was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes’. For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’. For this reason, it is through him that we say ‘Amen’, to the glory of God. (1: 19-20)
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely, we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.’ (3: 1-3)
We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.’ (4: 7-11)
“Fighting among yourselves? Remember that your focus is on Christ. Perplexed and driven to despair? Remember your focus is on Christ. Starting to think that church is all about you? Remember that your focus is on Jesus,” Rev Walker said.
He also cited the 15th century theologian named Nicholas of Cusa who developed an exercise – which required the monks to break their silence and speak to each other – to understand God’s gaze simultaneously rested on all people at all times – a revelation they could not comprehend without speaking to each other.
Rev Walker said sometimes the gaze can feel so generous upon us that we might mistakenly assume we are its sole recipients, or that ours is the only point from which to gain a correct perspective.
“Yet, as we listen with trust to those who see from other perspectives, we begin to attain an even fuller vision of the One whom we believe and know sees us all,” he said.
Rev Walker said Christ is the focus of the living church and unity of the living church is defined by the one upon whom we are all focused (3: 17-18).
Questions for Reflection
Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 after viewing “The Focus of the Living Church”
- If your church community has experienced times of disunity, by what means have you sought to overcome it? If not, can you bring to mind signs of disunity you have seen in the wider church and ask, again, how have you observed people seeking to overcome the disunity?
- What ‘treatment’ does Paul provide for disunity in Corinth?
- Did you find Nicholas of Cusa’s exercise around the all-seeing gaze a helpful or unhelpful way to reflect on how we deepen our knowledge (vision) of God? Why?
- Did you find Nicholas’ exercise a helpful or unhelpful way to think about the church as a community in which there is both unity and diversity? Why?
- How, and through whom, has your own knowledge (vision) of God been deepened? Who, or what, has helped make the Invisible visible to you?
- ‘The unity of the living church is located in the One upon whom we are all called to focus; the one face upon whom our diversity of faces are fixed. And it is he, not us, who holds responsibility and authority to form from us an image of himself on earth.’ If Christ has responsibility and authority to form his disciples into an image of himself, what is the role of the church here?
Rev. Peter Walker with additional reporting by Martin Thomas
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