Christian Unity Service 2012

Sermon  Delivered by Rev Tony Davidison Minister Armagh First Presbyterian Church  on Tuesday 24th January 2012

SERMON TITLE – We will all be changed

BIBLICAL BASIS- 1 Corinthians 15v52-58

Occasion – Week of prayer for christian Unity


We will all be changed

I have to thank you for the immense privilege of occupying this pulpit.

I find myself a Presbyterian Minister standing

in a Catholic church in the heartland of Co Armagh

a church just a few miles from the Diamond and Drumcree

scenes of bitter inter religious strife through the centuries

and I say those words from 1 Corinthians and I know they are true

We will all be changed

in the history of N Ireland it has been

counter intuitive and counter cultural to change

the community I come from is proud of its catch phrase No surrender

a slogan that makes a virtue out of not changing

Seamus Heaney famously captures the mood of no change in his poem

written in 1975

“Religion’s never mentioned here”, of course.

“You know them by their eyes,” and hold your tongue.

“One side’s as bad as the other,” never worse.

Christ, it’s near time that some small leak was sprung

In the great dykes the Dutchman made

To dam the dangerous tide that followed Seamus.

Yet for all this art and sedentary trade

I am incapable. The famous

Northern reticence, the tight gag of place

And times: yes, yes. Of the “wee six” I sing

Where to be saved you only must save face

And whatever you say, you say nothing.

Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:

Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,

Subtle discrimination by addresses

With hardly an exception to the rule


That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod

And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.

O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,

Of open minds as open as a trap,

Where tongues lie coiled, as under flames lie wicks,

Where half of us, as in a wooden horse

Were cabin’d and confined like wily Greeks,

Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.

We will all be changed

the words are simple but at the same times profound

Paul had alternatives

Remember how Frank Spencer in the old situation comedy

“Some mothers do have them” used to say

every day and in every way I am getting better and better

it was usually just a precursor for things getting worse and worse

Paul carefully choses his words

So Notice first

We will all be changed

the words we and all point us to the community of change.

Not I but we

My Dad was a businessman

he was certainly not a preacher

but one day I asked him for advice about ministry

he gave the same advice he gave in business

when someone comes to me with a problem

when they have had some issue about a second hand car or house

I sold to him

I don’t say what are you going to do about that

I don’t say what will I do about that

I say what we we do about that

he makes the problem into a community problem

best pastoral advice I ever received


God is a community

He is revealed onto us a sacred community of Father Son and Holy Spirit

human beings are made in God’s image so are created for community

for we not I

this is very difficult for 21st century people to grasp

our society is profoundly individualistic

we live in an age when most of our most used inventions

are prefixed with the letter I

I mac

I pod

I pad

I player

as individuals we listen watch and access information on our own

we develop our technologies so what we can avoid people not meet people

in N Ireland we have had a ancient historical deep problem

between 2 communities

But it is not a Protestant/ unionist community’s problem

it is not a nationalist / Catholic community problem

it is our problem

we all need to change together

Michael Cassidy the South African preacher

once said the other has the key to your prison

the Good Friday agreement led us out of a phase of violence

we are grateful for living in more peaceful times

but it has not helped us deal with living together

we cannot just have 2 separate communities

we live too close together in this part of the world

we live among a patch work quilt of fields

benign apartheid is not a good enough solution to our problems

the other has the key to our prison

the gospel brings us out of the world of us and them into the world of us

when someone from one community suffers we all suffer

we all grieved with McAreavie and Harte families after the death of Michaela

and with the Kerr family after the death of Ronan

when someone from one community celebrates we all celebrate

so we all celebrated with Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke



I need to hear the stories of all those in the community

who suffered through the Troublesstories

from both sides of the community

so that I become we

I need to experience more of the quiet contemplative prayer life

of the Roman Catholic tradition

to find sacred space in my life to allow God to move

so that I become we

I need to learn from the centuries of community living

in the Irish Roman Catholic community

from how church school family and sport cohere together so comfortably

so that I become we

will I be changed

no together We will all be changed

We will all be changed

not we are changing

Paul is careful to write the sentence in the future tense

rather than the present tense

this changing is a hope

to teach about hope in the future

about patience and waiting is difficult in the 21st century world

this is a world that wants and wants now;

technology has lulled us into

expecting light at the flick of a switch

information on a click of a mouse

and live TV at the touch of a button;

delays make our blood pressure rise

and soon we are transformed into aggressive little Stephen Nolans

addicted to the now the immediate the moment.

Last October the Irish Inter church meeting had its annual conference

co chaired by The Cardinal and anglican Bishop of Meath Richard Clarke

the theme was hope

The speaker was Tom Wright former anglican Bishop of Durham


he said this All Christian hope is focussed on, and gains its meaning

from, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 15 v14 If Christ has not been raised our

preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Resurrection brings together 2 doctrines

the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of judgement

God created this world and said it was good.

people are the pinnacle of that creation

the work of the 6th day.

The second doctrine is judgement.

this is a world in a mess;

a fallen world where selfishness brings home its own consequences

for individuals for communities for the environment.

But the scriptures teaches that there will be a better day

a day of judgment

a day when God sorts it all out.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first day of the new creation

the first day of judgment.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the 1st day of the week

it was not just another week beginning

it was another era beginning.

The rise of the ecumenical movement in the 1960s

coincided with the rise of liberalism in theological understanding

this led many church men and theologians

to doubt the resurrection of the body

they tried to make the Christian gospel more acceptable to modern minds

but in some ways it was a disaster

the great biblical ecumenical dream

of God bringing Christians together

was a wonderful biblical dream

it was taken from the book of revelation

people from every tribe and tongue and language worshiping the risen Lamb

but in denying the full meaning of the resurrection

the dream was robbed of its oxygen and its focus

tonight we want the dream and we want the doctrine

Together We believe patiently in the resurrection of the body;


there is hope for divided communities

there is hope for a polluted earth

there is hope for messed up and screwed up people


because Jesus rose from the dead.

the first act of the greatest drama ever written.

So today we stand together with

Popes reformers evangelists bishops and saints down through the ages

and we declare that we believe in the resurrection of the body.

This resurrected Jesus had the power to come through locked doors.

He appears to disciples huddled together in fear behind locked doors.

he appears to doubting Thomas

questioning the veracity of what has occurred;

he appear to Mary wandering in a garden confused and sad.

Today the resurrected Jesus is moving among you

there are no locked doors.

For me growing up Chapel doors appeared closed

locked in my mind if not reality.

tonight for me Jesus bursts through locked doors

and is in our midst

may the doors of our churches be open to all;

may we live to see the day when people

freely worship in each others churches throughout the year

and there meet the risen Jesus in all his mysterious glory and grace

are we all changed

no together We will all be changed

We will all be changed

not we change but we are changed

Paul deliberately uses the passive tense

change is not us summonsing all our wills to make amends

no change is something that happens to us

we step into something bigger

we participate in change

The resurrection is the beginning of God’s master plan

to create a new heaven and a new earth


for that new era we are changed

our selfish modes of behaviour will no longer be appropriate

our standoffishness and threats of violence will not fit in

our take it or leave it attitudes to God and other people

will no longer do in this new era

so to worship together tonight is take a step inside a change machine

it is to participate in God’s change

now this is a difficult message to communicate in 21st century

we live in an age of enlightenment

an age of self fulfillment and self actualization

look within and you will find the strength

but the message of the gospel is radically different

the message of the gospel is step outside yourself

lose yourself

deny yourself

step into God’s greater world and be part of God’s greater plan

Seamus Heaney in his play the Cure at Troy allows himself

to hope for a better future.

He wonders where the hope is coming from

is it self healing or is it the god who comes from the sky

the God above in whose plan we participate.

Human beings suffer,

they torture one another,

they get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

can fully right a wrong

inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols

beat on their bars together.

A hunger-striker’s father

stands in the graveyard dumb.

The police widow in veils

faints at the funeral home.


History says, Don’t hope

on this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

the longed for tidal wave

of justice can rise up,

and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

on the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:

The utter self-revealing

double-take of feeling.

If there’s fire on the mountain

Or lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

the outcry and the birth-cry

of new life at its term.

How do we participate in this God project

how do we help build the new Jerusalem

Tom Wright gives the illustration of illiterate stone masons

working on a cathedral

they cannot understand the architects plan

but they work on what they can

This man is told to carve his stone

with a particular groove down one side.

That one must make a notch in the corner.

The man over there is working on a stone

that will end up as a cylinder, perhaps part of a small pillar.

And so on.

They are not building the Cathedral;

they are building for the Cathedral.


One day the master builder will come down to the yard

and collect up all the pieces of carved stone.

Then, a few days later, they will come out and look up at the west front,

or the south transept, or whatever,

and there will be their little piece of stone,

part of a structure whose shape, purpose and innate beauty

they could never have imagined,

but whose shape, purpose and beauty

would all have been diminished without their humble contribution.

U2 wrote a song that defined a generation called One

One life

But we’re not the same

We get to

Carry each other

Carry each other

I would expect we gotta carry each other

it is your duty to carry the others

it is not you gotta

its you get to carry each other

2 letters a world of difference

you see carrying each other is not your duty it is your destiny

this is true Christian hope

not that we arrive in an isolated Christian heaven

where we are independent

but that we work and relate in a dependent eternity

where we get to carry each other

we are part of that great plan of change

when we do the simple things

when you pray

when you help in a youth club

when you meet and listen attentively to someone from another tradition

when you visit an elderly neighbour or friends

when you help someone with debt advice


when you welcome the stranger

then by grace you are part of a greater plan

we get to carry each other

We will all be changed

Amen and Amen