St Matthews Logo

Return to homepage

St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

23rd January 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Epiphany 3

Human beings can be divided into two groups:-

There are those who think it was better in the past - conservatives - and that things are getting worse.
and those who think the past was awful, the present grim - progressives, liberals - so things can only get better.

Of course it is never that simple. Our views change over a lifetime and they are more complex than such a caricature suggests.

However such a dichotomy is present in attitudes to Christianity unity. There are those who look back to a golden age, the New Testament period, the C4th, even the 1950's, when everything ecclesiastical was just so. The past needs to be recaptured and then applied to all, and then we will have unity. The reality is that the past of nostalgia never existed.

Others seeing the current scandal of disunity look forward to some utopian future united church. Once all can grasp the vision then unity will be achieved. The trouble with vision, as Bonhoeffer noted, is that it can exhaust if it is individual, rather than communal. To say that takes us back to the problem of Utopia.

So if our current prayer for unity is to be properly informed then we need to get behind and beyond such a tension.

Despite what I may have suggested a proper study of the past can actually inform and shape our vision for the future.

Today's epistle is revealing. It is of course part of St. Paul's correspondence with the young church in Corinth. We only have his replies, not their letters, but we can learn much from a Church so full of zeal, enthusiasm and vision and yet also a community hit by dissension and scandal.

Those who think if only we can back to how it was in the early church then we will have unity need only be referred to St. Paul's epistle. The church then was made up of a very mixed bunch of individuals just as it is now, and then as now there was disunity. (In today's passage about Baptism and personalities) .
Much of the New Testament, the Gospels and Acts, is already to some extent nostalgic, looking back after a generation or so to the halcyon days when Jesus walked on earth. But even then we can note different approaches, some more Jewish, some more Greek.
Diversity if not disunity is a strong feature of the New Testament Churches (note the plural) .
However that is only part of the picture. I'm not saying because it was a muddle then, division then, it doesn't matter that there is disunity now. It mattered then and it matters now. There was, and is, an essential unity centred upon the person of Christ, upon the foolishness of the cross, upon the command of Jesus in today's Gospel to leave and follow. This is something we are meant to both discover and strive for.

So where does this leave us. The nostalgic and the utopian visionaries both need to learn from each other and to temper their views with a certain earthy realism. As you might expect from one trained as an historian I recommend the study of history plus faith. To end a few more practical points about unity at a local level.

Finally the words of Jesus, 'follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Unity is hours because we have all heard that call of Jesu to follow him. The disciples were very different individuals who didn't always see to I but in following Christ they became one body. It is or should be the same with us, all different but one in Christ. Matthew records the only proper response to the call of Jesus: - 'Immediately they left their nets and followed him.'


Return to homepage

Comments about this site or problems? Contact Webmaster (Colin Richards) at Last updated 24/01/2005 17:00 Author: David Shepherd