Conflict - sharing prayers of longing for a church too often divided



2   Conflict - sharing prayers of longing for a church too often divided

Sharing Friendship                                                                              30 minutes

As people arrive light refreshments are served.  The refreshments include Hot Cross Buns.  Make sure one Hot Cross Bun is left over ... it might be best to keep one in reserve.  It will be helpful to have a low table in the middle of the room, or at some appropriate focal point, where a plate with a Hot Cross Bun can be placed as the second part of the session begins.

Once the group is settled and everyone has arrived gather the group together and begin to focus the conversation a little more.

·       go round the circle and invite each person to recall some of the things that they have been doing over the last week, and share anything special that has happened.
·       go round the circle a second time and invite people to recall anything they have done in the last week in response to the thoughts and prayers that were shared last week.



Sharing Reflections on the Bible                                                         30 minutes

Take the plate with a Hot Cross bun and hold it in your hands.

A Hot Cross Bun.  It looks a little like a loaf of bread.  And there, as on each Hot Cross Bun, a Cross - an age-old symbol of the Church.  We have enjoyed sharing Hot Cross buns together this evening.  Jesus broke all sorts of barriers down by eating together with all sorts of unexpected people.  Ever since the very beginning eating together has always been part of the life of the Church.  Sharing a meal together - a sign of fellowship, a sign of the love that binds us together.  For many parts of the church one particular time of sharing, of fellowship, of koinonia, of communion has become a sign of division.

Place the plate with the Hot Cross bun on the table in the centre of the circle.

Conflict arises within the Church, within local Churches, between different parts of the Church and between different local Churches.  Conflict can arise within the hearts of those who belong to the Church as they become all too aware of failing to live out the faith they profess.  Inner conflict can lead to inner turmoil and a crisis of faith.

Often the most fierce conflict arises over religious practice, ritual, liturgy, the institutions of the church, and the detail of dogma and doctrine.  The heart of the Christian faith is all too often overlooked.

Read Matthew 12:1-8 and Matthew 21:12-17

What do you make of these two stories?  What are they saying that can feed into our time of prayer for a Church often torn apart by conflict?

Allow the group simply to share their responses to these questions - as leader you might look out for some of these points ...





Points to look out for in Matthew 12:1-8 and Matthew 21:12-17

·       the Pharisees adhered to the letter of the ritual law (12:1-2): Jesus stood in a respected line of those who did not (12:3-5).  Has the Church been true to Jesus, or continued the obsession of the Pharisees with their adherence to the letter of a ritual law?
·       for many there was nothing greater than the Temple - its purity had to be maintained at all costs: for Jesus there was something greater (12:6).  Has the Church put doctrines, dogmas, the institutions of the Church, its liturgy and ritual in the place of the Temple, and regarded these to be of paramount importance?
·       for Jesus mercy took precedence over sacrifice, the needs of people over the Sabbath (12:7-8)  - he was quoting Hosea 6:6, and might well have had in mind Amos 5:21-24 and Micah 6:8.  Has the church too often lost sight of mercy, justice and righteousness and exaggerated the importance of liturgy, ritual and institution?
·       changing currency [from the Roman to the Temple Currency and selling doves was a key part of the life of the Temple and its sacrifices.  Jesus’ actions in 21:12 made the same statement as he had made in 12:6-7 ... but it is made much more graphically.  Should the church have a clear-out from time to time of the things that get in the way of what really matters?
·       notice how 21:13 leads into verses 14-16.  When Jesus longs for the Temple to be a house of prayer he does not want it simply to be a place of religious ritual.  He wants it to be the place where the blind see and the lame walk, where hurting people find healing and where the voice of children is heard and valued.  This is what it means to put mercy in place of sacrifice, to put people over the Sabbath.

Allow a good period of time sharing reflections on this passage.

In the light of the experiences we have shared together from our own lives, and in the light of the reflections we have shared on Matthew 12:1-8, and 21:12-17, where should the focus be for our prayers for the church?

Finish this part of the evening by inviting people to share thoughts that can feed into the last part of the evening, sharing prayer.



Sharing Prayer                                                                                                30 minutes

Play some quiet, reflective music.  Make sure that the Hot Cross bun is on the plate on the table in the centre of the circle, or in some appropriate place.

We hear again the prayer of Jesus.

Read John 17:20-26

Take the plate with the hot cross bun and hold it for a moment.

As you receive this plate hold it for a moment.  Look at the Hot Cross Bun with its cross - age-old symbol of the Church.  Don’t touch the bun.  Simply look at it, round and whole.  And take the opportunity, if you wish, to put into words a prayer giving thanks for the good things there are in the Church at large or in your own experience of life as part of a Church family.

Pass the plate round the circle - as each person receives it, they are to hold it for a moment, and take that opportunity, if they wish to share a prayer of thanksgiving for the good things there are in the life of the church..

When the plate has completed the circle it is placed back on the in the middle of the circle.

Pause for a moment.

Someone reads Colossians 3:12-17

After another pause the leader then takes the Hot Cross Bun and breaks it into two, leaving the two parts on the plate.

Sadly, the wholeness of the Church has too often been broken.  Conflict arises within a local church, between local churches, within a denomination between denominations - and that conflict not only diminishes the church and all who are part of it, but it diminishes Christ and his witness in the world.

Think of your own local church, of the churches in your locality, of your own denomination and the part it plays in the life of the whole Church.  In a moment we shall pass the plate round our circle once more.

As you receive the plate hold it for a moment.  Look at the Hot Cross Bun, broken in two.  Don’t touch the bun.  Simply look at it, damaged and broken.  And take the opportunity, if you wish, to put into words a prayer for the healing and the wholeness, for the unity and the renewal of the Church .... it may be you want to think of your own church,   the churches of your locality, your own denomination, or the life of the whole church.

Pass the plate round the circle - as each person receives it, they are to hold it for a moment, and take that opportunity, if they wish to share a prayer for the church.

When the plate has completed the circle it is placed back on the table in the middle of the circle.

Pause for a moment.

Someone reads John 13:34-35.

We give thanks for the church.  We pray for the church.  But we are the church.  Are we true to the words of our worship and of our praying?  Or do our words go up while our thoughts remain below?

We pray for the victims of natural disasters, for those who hunger, for those who have no home ... but our minds are absorbed with trivialities.  We pray for churches to work together, we rejoice in the diversity of our worship, we give thanks that we are all God’s children, yet we cling to our own tradition.  We pray for those who have not heard the message ... but sometimes it feels as if we have not heard the message ourselves.

Our words go up ... our thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Play the second prayer meditation, Conflict, from Jesus forever the same

Pause for a moment.  The leader then picks up the plate once more.  It may be helpful to place a card with these words on the plate as it is passed round.

In a moment I am going to pass the plate round once more.  When you receive the plate say, Lord, live in my heart, Jesus forever the same.  Then break off a piece of the Hot Cross Bun and eat it.

When the plate has been passed around the circle place it on the table once more.



Let us turn in prayer to the Father
from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
Let us pray.

According to the riches of your glory,
grant that each one of us may be strengthened in our inner being
with power through your Spirit.
May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith.
May each of us be rooted and grounded in love..
May each of us have the power to comprehend, with all God’s people,
the breadth and length and height and depth
of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May each one of us be filled with all the fullness of God.

Let’s join in saying together the prayer which binds us together with all God’s people as one family in his love ...

Our Father ...

Take a Trade Badge and hold it in your hand.

Are they the scales of justice, badly out of balance?
Or is it a cross?
Is it a cross weighed down by the burdens of injustice?
Is the Church truly committed to the poor?
We are the Church.
When we see this badge let’s think again about the Church’s priorities.
Think again about our priorities.

Now to him who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly
far more than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory
in the church
and in Christ Jesus
to all generations,
forever and ever, Amen.

After a short pause, play some quiet music once more.  Have copies of the prayer meditation Conflict ready for people to take home.