After serving in the 8am service of my Home Parish alongside a fellow ordinand and friend Paul, I heard Fr Simon‘s sermon and then stayed on for Fr David’s sermon at the 9am service in which I helped with the offertory. I then left this service before communion to arrive in time at St Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Cheadle Hulme, where I heard Fr Chris’ sermon at the 10:30am. So a busy morning, and a lot of sermons today!
Each sermon had the same Gospel passage at the heart of them, and similar messages came out in each. Matthew 13:24-30 tells of the Parable of Weeds among the Wheat:
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
Fr Simon spoke of the future we aspire to, the Kingdom of God, and the need for openness, for liberalism rather than literalism when it comes to reading the Bible and to loving others. The need to stop building concrete walls to keep religious leaders from getting at one another’s throats, and instead to listen to one another and love one another as Jesus has done.
Fr David spoke of the weed and wheat inside each of us. He gave the example of Pavaroti – Fr David couldn’t beat Pavaroti when it came to singing, but Fr David would beat him in cricket. He could spend a few decades of his life trying to beat Pavaroti at singing, but it wouldn’t be possible. Fr David spoke of embracing who you are, with ‘weediness’ and ‘wheatiness’ in things such as cricket and singing, and learning from mistakes, remembering others in the case of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Keeping in mind always that each individual is unique.
Fr Chris spoke of free will that we all have. Of the weed and wheat in life. The choice of bad and good. Fr Chris reminded us that we cannot jump to thinking that we can eradicate evil. Pluck the life out of all the ‘weeds’ we think we see in the world. By trying to take away weeds, you would almost certainly be taking away wheat as well. It is not for us to judge. It is for us to learn to bring out the goodness in ourselves and help others through the muddy bits of life.
When I arrived at St Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, a welcome atmosphere and my guide Linda helped me through the service. A younger man in a bright yellow t-shirt appeared a few minutes before the service was due to start and asked me if I’d like to help him with the offertory. So with a nudge from Linda as a cue, up and down I went before following young lads with candles up to Fr Chris in the Sanctuary. Then came a blessing from Fr Chris during communion and space for quiet prayer. It was a mixed-age and mixed-race congregation, and I was not trying to be ‘converted’; I was being welcomed. We were sharing in worship together.
There will always be many things that I do not agree with the Roman Catholic Church on, and so whilst a lovely friendly service does not mean I want to convert to that branch of Christianity, it has heightened my opinion of the Roman Catholic Church – it’s important not to assume that stereotypes fit all – and it has strengthened my certainty that encouraging ecumenism is essential.
As the service ended I opened the hymn book at a random page and read the first one my eyes fell on. A beautiful hymn from Ruth Duck was perfect for the occasion…
Diverse in culture, nation, race,
we come together by your grace.
God let us be a meeting ground
where hope and healing love are found.
God let us be a bridge of care
connecting people everywhere.
Help us confront all fear and hate
and lust for power that separate.
When chasms widen, storms arise,
O Holy Spirit, make us wise.
Let us resolve, like steel be strong
To stand with those who suffer wrong.
God, let us be a table spread
With gifts of love and broken bread,
Where all find welcome, grace
attends, and enemies arise as friends.
With a cup of tea in hand after the service, another woman spoke to me and said that she also wished to encourage ecumenism at a greater scale. I asked her if she would be open to prayer alongside an Anglican parish with a female priest, and she said yes. We all believe some things differently, she said. But who I am to say my faith is better? We have our differences, but we have our similarities. Other religions too, not just those in Christianity, should stop telling one another we need to be a certain way or we’re doomed. You know what I mean?
Yes. We need to be open to difference and remember that whilst we may have different opinions, we’re all God’s children and want the freedom and love to make our own decisions. To live on our personal walks with God. Whatever we believe, we must be open to the beliefs of others, and respect them. We may not always understand the culture of another, but we can respect them if they are loving with it. No forcefulness, no fundamentalism, no human judgement. We must say yes to openness, yes to peacefulness, yes to joining together, yes to Love.
Perhaps what may appear to be slowly (or in some cases speedily) growing weeds of hatred and of ‘concrete walls’, may in time turn into beautiful wheats in a still, undisturbed field. Perhaps it is possible for us to stop fighting and to get along with one another. But only when we stop saying that we know ‘the truth’. That our way is right. We must respect one another. We must be ready to love difference.