Third Sunday after Epiphany and marking week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Service Date: 22 January, 2017
Worship was led by Mrs.Jenny Carpenter who preached on the theme ‘crossing barriers.’ There are natural barriers and human- created barriers in our world. The story of the Prodigal Son is full of barriers; by the end of the parable some have been broken down; some are still there. Paul preached a ministry of reconciliation and reconciliation between Christian denominations is progressing.

Hymns:

Rejoice and Sing 559  Blessed city, heavenly Salem

Rejoice and sing 561  Christ from whom all blessings flow

What shall our greeting be

Rejoice and Sing 567  Thy hand O God has guided

Sermon:

 Crossing Barriers

The theme for today’s worship is “Crossing Barriers”. Great Barrier Reef – barrier between coastline and open ocean. Barrier presented by the Alps  – Hannibal’s feat. Barrier presented by dangerous currents of the Pentland Firth.

Barriers that East Midlands Trains wanted to erect to make Sheffield a “closed” station, interfering with the use of the station pedestrian bridge by people crossing from Norfolk Road/ Park Hill to the city centre without any intention to board a train. (ask Anne Cathels). Barriers stop us crossing from A to B.

They may be there to protect us; Berlin Wall to keep East Berliners from defecting to the west. The wall in Israel/Palestine to regulate the movement of Palestinians and to be a very visble sign of Israeli control and oppression. A wall may keep people In or keep people Out. It signals US and THEM. Donald Trump’s intention to build a wall along the Mexican border. Brexit seen as an attempt to keep foreign workers out. BUT : even when choosing Abraham God had in mind that “in his seed would all the nations of the earth be blessed.”

Paul developed a clear theology of reconciliation which involved the breaking down of barriers. In many ways he had a privileged position : a Pharisee trained by Gamaliel, a leading theologian and lawyer yet hailing from Tarsus in what would be modern day Turkey, and having the privileges of a Roman citizen. Quite an unlikely combination!  But it was his overwhelming sense of  the reconciliation of humanity to God that had been achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus that made him argue so strongly for Christians to exercise a ministry of reconciliation. “We love because he first loved us.”

In the story of the Prodigal Son or the Forgiving Father or the Resentful Brother all kinds of barriers have to be broken. First there is the barrier of the tight-knit family that the younger son is itching to break, demanding his inheritance NOW and going off to explore the big wide world with all its attractions. Then there is the barrier of his pride which he is forced to swallow, first by going to herd pigs, and then steeling himself to return home and admit that he’s let everyone down.

He anticipates that he has erected such a barrier between himself and his father that it may prove insurmountable, but finds that his father doesn’t recognise its existence.

But the barrier between the brothers is formidable and is also creating a barrier between the elder brother and their father. The story ends with that particular barrier pretty firmly in place. Is the elder brother going to join the party, or sulk in his room? How long will it take for the family to settle into truly reconciled relationships?

Perhaps there are parallels within the world-wide Church. The East/West split of Christendom goes back 1,000 years. 2017 sees the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous 85 Theses challenging much of the teaching and practice of the

Roman Catholic Church and calling for its reformation. He did not intend to set up a rival Protestant church: but the Catholic Church was, it seemed, incapable at that point in its history of adjusting to rid itself of its evident failings. Luther was not the only Reformer on the scene – Zwingli and Calvin in Geneva developed distinct brands and Lutheranism and Calvinism between them were soon established almost to the exclusion of Catholicism in the countries of Northern Europe.

Not many people seem to realise how far all the main Christian denominations have moved in their emphasis and their practice.

International ecumeniucal agreements have paved the way for the commemoratioins marking 500thanniversary oif the start of the Reformation. The Porvoo Agreement established full communion between Anglican and Lutheran Churches in Great Britain and Ireland, the Nordic region, Baltic countries and Iberia. Catholics and Lutherans have had formal international dialogues since 1965. The most dramatic result of these has been the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, which established a “differentiated consensus” on what is generally held to be the core theological issue of the Reformation. Pope Francis recently visited Lund in Sweden to mark the beginning of the commemoration. It is clear that reconciliation is real.

Fr. Raniero Cantalamassa, the Preacher to the Papal household recently said :

“Let us not remain prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a canal lock enable boats to continue to navigate at a higher water level.”

A canal lock may appear to be a barrier but in fact it allows two-way movement. Perhaps we have discovered another metaphor for Jesus. “I am the canal-lock. I provide the Living Water which enables you to move freely in the love of God.”

May that be our experience!

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