A message on Acts 2 by Rev Richard Keith during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022
Every five years, the Australian government asks me a very good question in the census. What is my religion? It’s a good question because my faith, my spirituality is an important part of me. It motivates my goals, my decisions, and my hope for the future. It informs both my work and my engagement with the community. In a way, the Australian government can’t make important decisions in my interests and for my benefit without taking my religion into account.
The only problem with their question is that they don’t give me the chance to give the right answer. They provide options like Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, and Presbyterian. But none of those labels do justice to my religion. Because my religion is Christian and I hope yours is too. Because if it isn’t then there is no Christian Unity for us to pray for this week.
Let me put this another way. The occasion that we are celebrating tonight, that dragged us out of our perfectly warm homes to meet together in this room, this event is not called The Week of Prayer for God-ian Unity. God-ian is a great word that I learned this week. And now you have too.
God-ian is an adjective that describes people who talk about their faith and their spirituality. They talk about God, but they never talk about Jesus. A politician, for example, might talk about the great benefits of religion. But might never mention Jesus or Christ out of fear of offending their non-Christian constituents. The prayers suggested by the RSL for use on Anzac Day are perfectly God-ian. They mention the Lord, but do not dare to specify the name of the Lord. I have met people who are great champions of faith. They talk about God and about faith. But when pressed on the subject their faith seems to be in faith itself like it’s just the power of positive thinking.
Friends, we need to be more than God-ians. We need more than just a faith in a vague, all powerful deity. We need more than just a faith in our own faith.
But at the other end of the spectrum we are not here to pray for Presbyterian unity either, although you may think we need it. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against Presbyterians. Some of my best friends are Presbyterians and I’m not ashamed to be one myself. I am one by birth and by choice. I’m even on the payroll. But if my faith is in my tradition, if I am arrogant enough to think that out of all the people on this planet I was lucky to stumble into the one, true faith by an accident of birth, then my mind is closed to the truth which is bigger than any one tradition can contain.
If I have nothing to learn from you and you have nothing to learn from me, then there will be no unity between us no matter how hard we pray.
No we are here to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on this day of Pentecost. This day when we remember the gift of Pentecost, the Spirit who came upon the disciples of Jesus and took them out of their closed little room and pushed them out into the streets. It’s also the day we remember the message of Pentecost. When Peter said,
People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
The people said,
“Brother, what should we do?”
And Peter replied,
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is the good news that we have to share with others. God did not remain a vague unknown creator Lord, but revealed himself to us in our own flesh and blood in the life and teaching and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice also how the Spirit of God works like a flood light which when pointed in your face will blind your eyes, but when pointed at something else displays it in all its glory. The Spirit’s work is never to draw attention to himself, but always to give the glory to Jesus, the eternal Son of God, our Lord and our only saviour.
Friends, there will be no Christian unity in our town until we learn this important lesson. Our faith is not in some vague notion of God or it is really just some kind of faith in ourselves. Nor should our faith be in our tradition or we will never listen to each other. Our faith needs to be where it should be, in Jesus, whom his Father has made both Lord and Christ. Then and only then will we have unity, because it will be truly Christian unity.