In deepest darkest November Jane and I attended a conference on specific problems of being Church in areas of poverty. The key note speaker was a bishop called Philip North. As he started to speak I thought he's going to make a good new Bishop of Sheffield. I thought to myself that's an interesting thought - is this a word of knowledge from the Lord.
The thought did not go away and as time went on he was appointed as the new Bishop of Sheffield He is theologically opposed to the ordination of women and women bishops. However I feel God has prepared me for this appointment and having had a word of knowledge I feel that this appointment is of God. It is, I believe God saying to the church get on with unity.
The lack of unity in church, I have come to realise is such an obstacle to mission. The early church had differences of opinion on matters theological. In fact the first Council of churches that took place in Jerusalem was about whether men should be circumcised before becoming Christians - a Jewish tradition that some believed necessary to be also Christian. There was a point where the early church also believed that only Jews could become Christians the message was not for the Gentiles - us!
Some of Paul's letters are written to churches in clear disagreement amongst themselves. We think largely that the reading in 1 Corinthians 13 about love is for weddings. This is because this reading over the years has been hijacked as meaning the love that is reflected between a man and a woman. However it was originally written by Paul to a divided church in Corinth.
In order to agree to the consecration of female bishops the church came up with the concept of “mutual flourishing”. In essence this means that we respect each others views and that we do not let theological differences prevent unity and mission. A prerequisite to mutual flourishing is mutual respect. We very much need a fresh start in this area in this Diocese and with the appointment of bishops Philip North this is the ideal opportunity for us to do this. In doing this we need to heed the words of Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
To remind everyone what Paul wrote
“If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. “
We need to reclaim this passage in its original intention for church unity, it is also a passage that draws us together as Christians as it teaches us to forget each other's faults, not to keep a record of each others wrongs. Therefore this coming Lent I wanted us to think carefully about the words of 1 Corinthians afresh and to heed the parting words of our Lord Jesus Christ "to love one another as I have loved you.”