Wednesday this coming week is the feast day of the Conversion of S. Paul. It must be one of the
most influential of conversions that the world has ever known, so it is no wonder that it has a
special day of commemoration unlike that associated with any other saint! And Wednesday also
marks the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that we were thinking about last Sunday.
In fact, the Anglican priest who first suggested the prayer week over a hundred years ago now
deliberately chose two feast days as beginning and end – the Feast of the Chair of St Peter (now
kept at a different time but then on January 18) and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul.
There is also another commemoration on Wednesday, though it is not a liturgical one. It is Burns’
Night – a commemoration of Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns. This commemoration in the
past when Geraldine and I lived in Strasbourg involved us driving our car back to France with large
quantities of neeps, and frozen haggis, for the Burns’ Supper which drew in a lot of folk, and
helped our Chaplaincy funds! That, of course, was before Brexit – and I dread to think what
legislative paperwork might be needed now for the importation of haggis – in any quantity!
Nevertheless, it may not be inappropriate on this Sunday to refer to a text from the Bard himself.
Actually, it does have an ecclesial reference. For the poem I am going to quote from was written
To a louse – on seeing one on a lady's bonnet at Church. And so of course it is that wonderful line
O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!
And I mention this because the theme of today's Eucharist embraces a few ideas but amongst
them is that of enlightenment. Christ is ultimately the light that is to direct and inform our lives, but
of course his light comes to us in many different ways and through many different people, things
and situations – small and great. And yes, indeed, it is a rare gift to see oursels as ithers see us.
Self-knowledge is a very important part of our spiritual growth.
And of course at this time we are keeping the Week of Prayer for Church Unity – and so Burns'
prayer to see oursels as ithers see us is particularly apposite in another way too! What are
seekers after truth, seekers after enlightenment to make of our divided churches, our broken-
Of course, it's not just the Church that is broken. This last week in Davos, the World Economic
Forum has been meeting. Again, plenty of room for a prayer for enlightenment as they tackle the
theme of the conference Cooperation in a fragmented world. Clearly those designing the
conference must think that there is something broken – fragmented – about the world and they are
not wrong. Far too much of the world's wealth and resources reside in far too few hands. And
during this last week, the great and the good mixed and debated issues of economics in this forum
at Davos – whose mission statement is committed to improving the state of the world.
I suppose that mission statement could be applied to the Christian Church as well, if we were in
need of such a thing! Certainly to improve the state of the world we are in need of a great deal of
enlightenment. And, we might also say, we need as Christian people to overcome our differences
– to grow together and to speak with a single voice. For surely we cannot expect to be taken
seriously in the world if we exhibit such division, such broken-ness? And if a world economic
forum is about improving the state of the world, perhaps an even more determined world
ecumenical forum is needed to improve the state of the Church!
Because it is pretty awful really, and sometimes we are all tempted to become despondent about
it. In Western society, so much of what we hold dear, so many of the pillars of modern life are a
result of centuries of Christianity. But life today has become – very quickly – fragmented. People
have little sense of purpose or meaning, and everything has become a matter for the fulfilment of
the individual. And in the midst of this morass exists a Church which is broken up and
So around the world at this moment little groups of Christian people huddle together vaguely
hoping that they will attract a few more people than their neighbours across the way, whilst all of
us realise that many of our neighbours just don't see the point or the purpose of what we are
Now of course we must do all that we can to make the good news of Christ known and intelligible.
We must also do what we can do together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and rejoice at
the diversity of our responses, whilst repenting of the hurt and scandal caused by division.
But we must never become despondent or despairing about the situation. Because if we are – as
Church – the Body of Christ then there will inevitably and inescapably be something broken about
We often feel that if the Church was somehow perfect then all would be well. What we mean by
perfect of course is another matter! Perfectly one, perfect in my eyes (but perhaps not yours),
perfect in always being able to say and do the right thing at the right time, perfectly infallible. But it
is none of these things. And were it so, I wonder if it would be much use at all. For who could be
a part of such a perfect entity? Certainly not fallible, sinful creatures like you and me, who would
mess it up pretty quickly.
Now, today in this Eucharist we are thinking about the Light of Christ. And how did people first
see that light? They saw it shining through the cracks of human broken-ness. In the Gospel
reading we've just heard, Jesus, the Light of the world, healed the sick and the broken. He
reconciled sinners so that they knew God's forgiveness. And he chose some spectacularly weak
and flawed humans to be his closest associates who would carry forward his work. The leader of
them at the most crucial moment denied he even knew Jesus three times before he wept over his
failings. (Pope-training, Jesus style – as a contemporary Roman Catholic theologian describes it)
If the broken-ness had not been there, the light of Christ would not have shone through it.
We are not promised as members of the Church that we shall always get it right. But we are
promised that Christ will always be with us and that his light will shine through the cracks of our
flawed humanity. Where we are forgiven, where we are made whole, where we are raised up
anew from ways of death to new life – wherever there is human broken-ness, there the light of
Christ can shine through the cracks and raise us up with him.
And that's all that we can or should ask. As Church, we are not here to draw attention to our great
success. Heaven help us if that were so! We are here to let the light of Christ into our world. That
is part of the greater mission statement of the Church which ultimately is about being agents of the
coming Kingdom of God – making that reign of God a reality in our world. And we do that by letting
Christ's light work on ourselves, and shine out of the cracks that we know all too well are there. Or
at least we know that those cracks are there if we see oursels as ithers see us!