The Rev Ian Johnson, Minister of the Church of Scotland Linkage in Dumbarton
Today marks the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and Burns’ Night. I’m not sure what Burns would have made of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He could be fairly scathing in his depictions of the Established Church, its ministers and those who frequented it. Yet there are many hints that Burns did believe in God or some Higher Power. It seems that his dislike was not with the concept of ‘God’ but with church structure, church worship (which seemed to do nothing for him), church engagement in doctrinal disputes that seemed irrelevant to his life, and church attitudes to morality and ethical issues (more concerned with incidences of sexual behaviour or drunkenness than poverty, human rights or hypocrisy).
It’s probably not a million miles from the situation in Scotland and most of the Western world today. Many people have a ‘spiritual’ dimension, believe in some kind of Higher Power, in life beyond death, in a sense of Right and Wrong. They agree that there are big moral and ethical issues that must be addressed – human rights, poverty, inequality, inclusiveness, abuse, corruption etc – and they are looking for clear leadership on them. They are also turned off by anything that smacks of hypocrisy or ‘do as I say, not what I do’.
It’s a challenge to us as churches – as individual congregations, as denominations, as the ‘whole people of God’. We want to remain faithful to the Good News that Jesus brought and was. We want to explore the differences between us to see if we can find common ground, or agree to differ, because what unites is more than what divides. (Sometimes that means accepting not only that another branch of the church may see and express things differently, but so might the person next to us in the pew.)
We also have to remember our call to be Christ’s witnesses in the world, trying to live out the values of the Kingdom as an example to the world; and our call to go out and build the Kingdom, engaging with people and the big issues, trying to see both through God’s eyes.
Lord, thank you for your love for us and all people. Following you faithfully is hard. Loving others is hard – whether they are doing things that fly in the face of your teaching, or they simply disagree with us. Fill us again with your Spirit, help us to know the love, the patience that comes from you, and apply it in our interactions with others. Help us as your church to serve you as faithfully as we can
PS As a nod to Burns’ Night:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!