Sermons

Compromise and challenge

Galatians 2:1-14

A son asked his father the difference between love and marriage. His father replied that love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.

If you’ve ever been married, you’ll know that after you get married to someone and set up a home together, you always discover things about your partner that you simply couldn’t know until you lived together day by day, week by week, month by month. I don’t mean big secrets, but things like the way one empties the bins, or the way one does the shopping, or the way one loads the dishwasher, or one putting a new toilet roll on the holder the wrong way around. This is very normal, and these little niggles are always things that you work through and find ways to live with them. You need to talk about them enough to find ways through them, but without turning very small molehills into mountains and blowing them up out of all proportion.

When we held our inauguration service back in September, many people said it was just like a wedding, with a fine speech from our good friend Bishop Chris Herbert. When our churches got married we hadn’t been living together. We had stayed over occasionally, indeed we were only forced to live together properly when the boiler in this building fortuitously broke down and forced us to get real. Now we are in the period where the niggles are starting to show. I know there are niggles. Conrad knows there are niggles. Many, perhaps most, of you all know that there are minor teething troubles and that we all have to learn to make adjustments. This is normal. We need to deal with the niggles, and find ways to live with each other. We cannot and will not sweep them under the carpet, but equally we will not them assume a life and an importance beyond what is necessary.

Today we are in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is wonderful that the other parts of God’s church in Farnham see us a gift and a vision of unity, but we cannot be smug about that, and nor can we be complacent. We need to make every effort to be a model of unity within ourselves. When I say make every effort, I don’t just mean our own efforts I mean being open to God and allowing God to work among us, allowing the Holy Spirit the grace and the space to operate.

Then, we can be even more of a beacon of unity not just to the church, but to the community. Quite understandably, sometimes subconsciously, we see ourselves in competition with other churches. We believe the other churches are real Christians and true churches, even if some of their hierarchies may not officially believe that about us. However, sometimes we still fall into thinking that different churches are competing against each other, rather than we are all different players on the same side. If you like our Harlequins is competing against the Anglican’s London Irish for the best players, rather than that we’re all trying to compete as rugby teams against the encroachment of the game with the round ball?

I suggest to you that Christian unity is about challenge and compromise. Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians is all about the importance of both challenge and compromise. This reading from Galatians 2 is one of the very few passages in the New Testament where Peter and Paul come together. Peter is the impetuous and enthusiastic disciple, always at Jesus’ right hand, rather like Corporal Jones. Paul, of course, never met Jesus, and only became a Christian years after Jesus died. Peter has compromised, he’s got himself into a mess, because he’s manifestly a man of good intentions and quick reactions. Peter is impulsive and often in a mess. He’s compromised the principles which Paul thinks are central. Peter was rather good at creating embarrassing situations. Sometimes Peter’s impulsiveness leads him into astonishingly creative moments of courage and innovation; and at times it leads him simply into mess. Peter is the apostle of compromise.

In contrast we have Paul the apostle of challenge. Paul is quite obviously the person with the clear answers. He knows exactly where he stands, and he knows exactly why Peter is wrong. Paul’s ministry is one of an utterly ruthless integrity, a clarity about what Christ means that is incapable of compromise. Paul is the apostle of challenge.

Perhaps you might find it helpful to think of the distinction between Peter and Paul in something like these terms: Peter knows who Jesus is, and Paul knows what Jesus means. Bert in the Isles of Scilly knows that Harold Wilson bloke who owns the cottage next door for his holidays. He shares a beer in the pub, he chats while they walk their dogs, they share a pipe or two. Fred, on the other hand, was born after Harold Wilson stopped being Prime Minister, but has studied and knows everything about the history, politics, and sociology of Harold Wilson’s governments.

These two different ways of being an apostle, compromise and challenge, aren’t always going to sit comfortably together. We can probably recognise something of these two different ways of being in the people we know, and in ourselves, but we should resist labelling and boxing people too much, for there’s something of both these two ways running deeply in all of us.

Peter is a compromising sort of man and sometimes that’s right and sometimes it’s disastrous. Nobody tells us in advance, unfortunately, which situation we’re in at any given time. Paul, who is incapable of compromise and incapable – it sometimes seems – of seeing anyone else’s point of view except his own, is a necessary figure just as much as Peter. Both apostles push us out of what we feel comfortable with.

To be a true part of the church in The Spire, to encourage unity in the church in Farnham, we need compromise, but we also need the edge of challenge along with it.

The Little Sisters of the Poor were going from door to door in a French city, soliciting money for the poor. One nun called at the house of a rich free-thinker who said he would give 1000 francs if she would have a glass of champagne with him. The nun hesitated, but only for a moment. After all, 1000 francs meant many loaves of bread. A servant brought the bottle and poured, and the nun emptied the glass. And then she said, “and now, sir, another glass, please, at the same price.” She got it. Compromise can be very important.

In 1931, MGM were so keen to buy the film rights to Tarzan, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, that they decided they would spend up to $100,000, an extraordinarily large sum in those days. MGM offered Burroughs $25,000, and he walked out of the meeting. However, they continued to negotiate, and Burroughs eventually settled for $40,000. After signing the contract, Burroughs admitted that he had wanted MGM to make the film so badly, they could have had it for nothing if they had insisted, and the MGM negotiator told Burroughs that they were so keen to get the rights that they would have gone up to $100,000! Compromise can be very important.

Looking at something completely different, it is said that Walt Disney would occasionally present to the Board some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!

We need both compromise and challenge within The Spire, and among all the Christians in Farnham. There’s a time and a place for both. Both are found within all of us, and the gift is knowing when to use which. We meet this in so many situations today and everyday, but in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we know that that this church and every church are full of people who will think in very different ways from us, and they’ll make mistakes sometimes, just as we’ll make mistakes also. Other churches may be very different in worship and ethos from our tradition, but they all have an equal important a part to play in being God’s people.

So, I’m going to end with challenge and compromise. My challenge to you is an easy one. Over coffee after the service we are very good at talking to people we know. When you go to coffee, it’s obvious that most of the groups of people talking are all former Methodists or all former URC people. So, today’s challenge is that I challenge everyone to have a conversation over coffee with someone from the other church. And compromise, open your hearts to God, and gently, quietly, ask God where you, where we, could benefit from compromise.