WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY.

Our theme for this ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’, is based upon Ephesians 2:17. ‘And he came to preach peace to you who were far off, and peace to those who were near’. In terms of there being a war on, a battle to secure that peace, and to apply it to the world all around us, the ‘seed thought’, on the leaflet supplied is: ‘THE WAR WOULD BE OVER, IF PEOPLE DID NOT FEEL REJECTED’.    
 
I once listened to a radio programme, in which critics discussed the work of Sibelius. One of them said that he admired the technical brilliance of the music, but did not really like it, because “All of his music is evocative of great, open spaces; of mountains and lakes; of glaciers sweeping down to the sea. It is filled with forests and storms, but, for me, it is utterly lonely. There are no people in it. The sort of music that I like to listen to: is filled with people. Whether they are great or small, happy or unhappy; as long as the music speaks to me of people, then I am happy. People are so very important’.
 
A similar thought was expressed by an opera singer being interviewed in the B.B.C. radio-programme ‘Desert Island Discs’.
 
Most people interviewed in that programme, simply list the records; explain why they have chosen them, and then play the music. But the opera singer said: “So there I am, dumped on that desert island, and I would hate every minute of it. There would be no orchestra to sing with; and no audience to sing to. Nothing and no-one to give the meaning to my life that I now experience. People are so very important”.
 
‘People are so very important’. In social terms, their importance lies not so much with what they may, or may not, do for us; or us for them; but more at a much simpler, basic level; the plain fact that they are there
 
The plain fact that people are there: is good as far as it goes. Many an old; frail, house-bound person is glad to know that there are neighbours all around, even if they don’t actually knock on the door: people who might notice, if things go wrong. But it does not go far enough.
 
Man is, by nature, gregarious. He needs other people: not just to ‘be there’, but to accept, and be accepted by; and to relate to. Acceptance by others, is a basic, human need.
 
One trouble is that, in normal, human relationships, acceptance is very often conditional. Although it may never be expressed quite so plainly, the inference is, often enough, ‘I will accept you if…’.
 
One morning, ‘Schools Broadcasting’ on B.B.C. radio, presented a programme on ‘Social Issues’, including alcoholism. An alcoholic said that he had been rejected by just about everyone whom he knew personally, and by various agencies; even some of those established to help alcoholics. Then he came into contact with the Cyrenians.
 
He went on to say that they did not lecture him; did not demand anything from him; did not try to put him on a ‘drying-out’ course, or expect him to overcome his alcoholism. Instead, the Cyrenians simply accepted him; and gave him a home. For the first time for many years, he felt that he belonged somewhere, and to someone. And this: by a simple act of unconditional acceptance.
 
The trust contained within that acceptance was the thing that helped him the most. Their accepting trust became the context in which he began to desire to help himself: and to do something about the great problem of drink.
 
When Jesus said to Zacchaeus: “Come down out of that tree. I am having supper with you, at your house, tonight”; we do not read that our Lord attached any conditions to getting alongside the tax collector. Instead, what he offered, to the surprise and amazement of Zacchaeus, was acceptance: that acceptance itself becoming the context and base of a new and changed-for-the-good life.
 
In his dealings with people, Jesus took risks; the greatest risk being that of rejection, by the very people to whom he offered acceptance. But when those whom he accepted, accepted him in return, relationship began to develop.
 
Good change in peoples’ lives may be helped along by teaching; persuading, by example, and in similar ways; but I believe that, at the root, must lie mutual acceptance, if the good change is to be both effected and effective.
 
People are important! Acceptance is essential to relationship! Relationship is the foundation of almost every kind of good, worthwhile step towards the fulfilment of life.  
 
In the book ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’, we read of Nicky Cruz, one of the main characters, who was a dangerous criminal; and of David Wilkerson, the other main character, who was an ordained minister in a respectable American town.
 
Wilkerson felt called of God to go to New York, and live and work in the heart of gang-land, where many youngsters were drug-addicts; where life was cheap, and where gang wars wounded hundreds, and killed many. Central to the theme of the book, is David Wilkerson’s acceptance of the young gangsters; an acceptance of them just as they were, not as he hoped that they might become one day.
 
And the theme picks up the amazement of some of the gang-leaders, that such acceptance was possible, without any conditions attached to it. Those who have read this book, and its sequel ‘Run, Baby, Run’, knows that the man who was most amazed at such acceptance, was Nicky Cruz himself.
 
Claimed by the police to be the very worst of the gang-leaders, with more knifings and arrests to his discredit than he had years to his age; he changed, to the good. Acceptance, closely linked with trust, was the turning point of his life. He changed so much that, eventually, he, too, became an ordained minister within the American church. Would we have accepted and trusted such a man?  
 
For a while, a church mainly made up of bank-managers; stock-brokers; civil servants; accountants, insurance executives and so on, had in its membership a young factory-worker who was not well educated, and unable to express himself at all well. He was very much the odd-man-out in that congregation. It may be true to say that he was never rejected, but he was not accepted either. So, he drifted, and became lost to that particular church.
 
However, that same church used to have a coach-load of spastic teenagers at its morning services each Sunday: who, despite the fact that some of them had noisy spasms during worship, were never complained about, or rejected in any way. Instead, they were welcomed, and completely accepted.
 
Perhaps, quite unconsciously, we tend to be selective in our acceptances within similar circumstances. Is it that, sometimes, what may seem to be a rejection, is by no means deliberate; but more an act, or series of acts, of default; where we never took the trouble to find out who those people were, and what their hopes and fears were, and so on?
 
Jesus appears never to have been selective. He took trouble with all kinds of people, and, with many, his acceptance of them brought about the response of their acceptance of him; and the mutual acceptance led to relationship, and to their change for the good, based upon that relationship.  
 
People are important for all sorts of reasons, but, basically, because they are there. They become more important to us when they accept us: particularly when they accept us as we are. By so doing, they demonstrate that they do not seek to teach or persuade on the one hand, or coerce on the other; but, by their very acceptance, and the trust that goes with it, open themselves to us.
 
Non-acceptance of people often stems from over-emphasis upon particular unacceptable-to-us things about them; that we do not approve of: things that, perhaps, we might accept, were we to be truly unbiased. It is a bit like looking through a funnel, from the wide end: with everything becoming narrowed down, concentrated upon, and focused to the exclusion of proper context.
 
On the other hand, acceptance is something like looking through a funnel from the narrow end; with everything widening out, and each thing seen within its proper context; and with new things coming into focus. Then, attention is not narrow-focused upon one thing, seen negatively; but is wide open, looking positively upon the potential of the new events, situations, relationships and opportunities within the bigger and wider life.
 
How might we, through acceptance, encourage others to look at their own lives, as though through the narrow end of a funnel; and help them to see all the great potential that lies within themselves; acknowledge Jesus Christ, and, through him, begin to accept others, even as Christ accepts them? 
 
Christian Unity does not ‘happen’ during one week each year, but is lived out on a daily basis, through ongoing acceptance. Amen!