By Rev. Nancy Cocks on January 20, 2024.
I’m reading a book on the early church right now, covering its first 200 years. The author is curious how a small movement of believers, who were often ridiculed, persecuted, and even martyred at Roman hands, kept growing, and quite rapidly at that.
He concludes that Christians attracted others by the way they lived. They demonstrated compassion, generosity and courage, welcoming the poor, the shunned, slaves and even those who ridiculed them. They lived the teaching of Jesus, rather than arguing about its meaning.
Today falls within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an international occasion for Christians of many different traditions to gather for prayer in each other’s churches. It began in 1908.
This year’s theme comes from Luke 10, when Jesus is asked the key to eternal life. Jesus acknowledges that the key is “to love God, heart, mind and soul, and your neighbour as yourself.”
Jesus then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, showing that our neighbour is often someone we despise or ridicule, yet the very one who rescues us in a crisis.
Seems to me the early Christian movement took Jesus’ teaching to heart. And at our best, Christians still unite to express our love for God in the care we offer neighbours and strangers.
Think of the Salvation Army and all it does for people in difficult straits, here and everywhere it gathers. Or Prairie Gleaners and the Canada Foodgrains Bank and their amazing work turning local produce into food for the hungry around the world.
These days the sins of the churches most often get the press. And churches are so prone to criticize each other when we disagree.
Yet the heart of the Christian movement remains the same as it did in the year 250: to love God, heart, mind and soul – which means we must love our neighbours, even the ones we disagree with, generously, compassionately and courageously.
May it be so.
Rev. Dr. Nancy Cocks is a retired presbyterian minister