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Called as One – Called to be One 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

Introduction
Many of us have been concerned for Kenya in recent weeks. It has been a shock to see an apparently prosperous and stable African country erupting into tribal violence within a very short time. It seems that the unity of Kenya is only superficial and that long-held grievances and tribal divisions were only waiting for an appropriate trigger to set off destruction and killing. This is all quite apart from the running and result of the Presidential elections which set off the violence.

Holocaust Memorial Day
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year actually falls on a Sunday. In a recent conversation within church circles but not in this church, the question of observing today came up. Perhaps I misunderstood the speaker, but I was shocked at the response: “Holocaust Memorial Day is not a Christian celebration.” True, it is not part of the Christian calendar in the sense of being a saints day or a day to commemorate something important in Christian teaching or observance. My shock was in part to do with the apparent dismissal of something which I think is of vital importance for us to bear in mind at least annually. Indeed, holocaust denial is in some countries, a legal offence, and whilst the comment I was shocked at didn’t mean to deny the holocaust, it did dismiss its commemoration somewhat.

This year’s theme is: Imagine remember reflect react. In other words, we are encouraged to try to imagine what the killing or persecution of your own people because of who you are is like. We are encouraged to remember the terrible events in recent history that have led to the deaths of whole tribes or races. We are encouraged to reflect on the lessons that are to be learnt and then to react in appropriate ways – turning our thoughts in action.

Just to help us imagine and reflect here is a brief survivor’s story:

Mardi Seng was 10 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh. Because Mardi and his family were from the area around the capital, they were labelled as New People. New People could include city dwellers, civil servants, teachers, educated people, French speakers; in other words, those who weren’t poor village peasants or Khmer Rouge cadres (the “Old People”) were classified as New People and thus suspected as traitorous allies of the former Cambodian government. As Mardi tells in his story, being labelled as New People was tantamount to a death sentence for much of his family. With the help of his grandmother, Mardi and his four siblings miraculously survived and escaped into Thailand before settling in the United States. Today both Mardi and his younger brother Lundi are active members of the online Cambodian community and contribute to numerous Internet resources.

Division and Rivalry in Corinth
Let me suggest some connections between holocaust memorial and today’s Bible readings.

St Paul had been one of a number of Christian missionaries to visit Corinth. It was a prosperous, cosmopolitan city. It was diverse, competitive and multicultural. There was a sizeable Jewish community there and so it proved attractive to those with an apostolic ministry in the days of the early Church. Paul had spent 18 months there, far longer than he usually lingered in centres of population whilst he preached and founded local churches. Now, from a distance, news reached Paul that there were some serious divisions opening up in the young church in Corinth. Not only did this alarm Paul, but what shocked him was the reported cause of this quarrelling and division. Members of the Church were taking sides according to who had influenced or converted them, and especially who had baptised them – initiated them into the faith.

In a society that was used to factions, following their own special teachers or gurus, it seemed that a similar attitude had found its way into the Church. In a sense, the believers carried it in and that part of them – their immersion in the surrounding culture – remained unconverted. The last thing Paul wanted to be was a cause for the splitting up of Christ’s Church. It was more important to him that he proclaim the good news of Jesus than counting the numbers of people he might have baptised, or initiated into the faith. Why, they were not meant to be followers of Apollos, Cephas (meaning Peter), Paul or even those who piously tried to stand above it all and said they were of Christ’s party. They were all missing the point. Each of these apostolic figures had come to bring them all to Christ.

Paul was even more horrified to think that they were in danger of tearing the body of Christ up between them in their quarrels. Paul, in common with the other apostles, had come preaching Christ and him crucified, and though it seemed nonsense to the people of Greek culture and unimpressive to Jewish people, that message was in fact God’s wisdom. Christ’s body was already torn on the cross, and the cross was what brought people into communion with God. The cross also brought them into fellowship with each other. So to threaten to tear the Church apart was to break the body of Christ open once again – that would not do, because his body was broken once and for all on the cross.

Called to Follow Christ
Paul would have been aware of the calling of the first disciples. Matthew tells us how Jesus began his mission when he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod. Perhaps Jesus had been waiting for a sign, for the right moment, and now it came. He withdrew to a place of relative safety and of strategic importance – well away from Herod and in a place similar to Corinth in its own modest way: Capernaum was near the lake of Galilee and a place on the route west of the lake north and south.
Jesus began to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom of God.
But his next action was to call his disciples. They immediately responded. We don’t know how this came about – whether there was something miraculous about Jesus call to complete strangers, or whether, in fact, they had been prepared in the time preceding Jesus’ actual call. The point is, they followed Jesus – leaving behind both their families and their occupations. In other words, what defined them – family connections and their occupation – that which gave them identity, was forsaken. They left not only their nets, but who they had been so far in life. They took on a new identity – carrying their experience with them – becoming now fishers of men.

Jesus does not tell them what to expect at this stage. He does not negotiate terms or contracts; he simply calls them to follow. Although the first few disciples were fisherfolk, others were not – they were a mixed group of men. But the call of Christ drew them together, and as followers of Christ they took on a new identity. They were the beginnings of a new community which developed into the Church.

Conclusion
We are half-way through the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity which begins with the feast of Peter’s confession and ends with the conversion of St Paul. The Church has suffered many splits and schisms in its 2,000 year history. But thank God for the healing of some of those divisions in our day and through the efforts of Christians in our city. The call of Christ still comes to us all to leave behind those identities which threaten to keep us apart. We are all part of the one body of Christ. Is holocaust memorial a Christian festival? It is in my book, because it reminds me that preserving Christian Unity can be a way of helping to stand against the kind of division that creates suspicion of the other at its least and genocide at its worst. So let us, as Paul prays: be united in having the same mind and of the same purpose – that of being faithful to Christ who gave himself that we might live.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

   


 
 

God of all mercy,
your Son proclaimed good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
and freedom to the oppressed:
anoint us with your Holy Spirit
and set all your people free
to praise you in Christ our Lord.

Amen

 


 

 



Acknowledgements