Early in my ministry, I worked at a soup kitchen that offered a meal to scores of homeless people each week. A noble, inspiring, loving, well-run effort. There was a standard menu that always included a tuna salad sandwich. The production of sandwiches involved an assembly line. Volunteers would lay the bread out on the counter. Others would smear mayo. Then a scoop of tuna. It was a process polished over years.
One week, someone new was put in charge, just for that week. She came up with another system. I wouldn’t say better or worse. Just different. It quickly got ugly. You would have thought she wanted to turn the Nicene Creed into a limerick. She heard, in no uncertain terms, those dreaded church words: “We’ve never done it that way.’ I believe that was her last day at the soup kitchen.
Later in my ministry, I had to negotiate a fight between two groups. One ran a noonday meal for homeless in the neighborhood. The other group ran an overnight shelter for women. Here’s the issue: they had to share a refrigerator. Who used my milk? Who didn’t clean the shelves? It became my pastoral role to resolve the dispute, which ended up in the Rector’s office, reinforcing my sense that most church disputes are about two conflicting good intentions, two good values bumping up against each other.
Today, we conclude the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Maybe it should be a month. Or a year. Maybe we should just pray all the time for a deeper sense of community. It begs for a spirit conveyed in my favorite Peanuts cartoon (Forgive me if I’ve shared before, but it’s worth it). Snoopy hammers away on his typewriter. Charlie Brown approaches and asks what he’s writing. “A book on theology”, Snoopy answers. Charlie Brown cautions that you need a good title. Snoopy claims to have the perfect title: “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?”
That sense of humility could go a long distance not only in our churches, our denomination, in the Anglican Communion, but also in our families, our workplaces, and Lord knows, our political discourse. Yesterday in church, we read a portion of Paul’s First Letter (also known as One Corinthians if you’re Donald Trump) in which Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ, many different parts working together, each and all valuable, held together with respect and an acknowledgement of interdependence. St. Paul knew about church fights. The New Testament tells us he got in a few. Which is why right after he talks in this chapter about the marvel of the body of Christ, many spiritual gifts working together, with occasional creative tension, he describes the greatest gift. According to St. Paul, that greatest gift is love.
Take time this morning at the end of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity to read One Corinthians Chapter 13. You may recognize it from weddings, but that’s not why Paul wrote it. He wrote it so that a soup kitchen team can make tuna salad in a slightly different way and live to tell about it. He wrote it so that you and I could reflect to the world the difference made by God’s amazing grace. Reflect that grace today.
The love of God creates in us such a “oneing” that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person.In the sight of God, all humans are “oned”, and one person is all people, and all people are in one person-Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)
From Jesus’ prayer for his disciples:I pray that all may be one-John 17:21
All peoples comprise a single community and have a single origin created by one and the same Creator God…and one also is their final goal: GodNostra Aetate, The Second Vatican Council, 1965