We are God’s people, by God’s grace

Homily at Cursillo #76 team-commissioning service
Holy Trinity, Geneva, October 30 2023

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world,
yes, we’re the church together!

A favourite children’s hymn in the Church of Scotland, Geneva and perhaps in some of your congregations too.[1] According to the hymnary.org website, it’s currently published in 12 hymnals – one of them in Korean.

Very easily, we think of the church as a building, like this one, now handsomely renovated. Or we think of the church as an organization or institution, set over against us and other than ourselves. Neither of these thoughts is simply wrong. But take either of them as defining what the church is, and we go badly astray.

Fundamentally, the church is us, the people of God, God’s lively people. I am the church, you are the church; and in a little while, at a short course over a long weekend, you are going to be the church together with those, in many of our congregations, who are signing up eagerly (or, perhaps, reluctantly) for Cursillo #76.


I know you have been working hard to make this the best Cursillo ever – although I have to say, without even the slightest hint of prejudice, that you will have to work extremely hard to make it better than last May’s Cursillo #75.

But this is as it should be. You should work hard! At the opposite ends of the Reformation spectrum in 16th-century Europe, Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin said effectively the same thing: Act as if everything depends on you (because it does) but await the results as if everything depends on God (because it does that too).


Half a century ago, in 1973, the English Congregationalist Brian Wren wrote a grown-up version of our children’s hymn:

We are your people, Lord, by your grace
You dare to make us Christ to our neighbours
of every nation and race

– a daring thought about a God not afraid to take ridiculous risks.

In 1996, when he came to revise the hymn, the accent shifted. Now Brian Wren wrote:

We are your people, Spirit of grace
You dare to make us to all our neighbours
Christ’s living voice, hands and face

– this last line a deliberate echo, I think, of someone who was neither English nor Congregationalist, the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite Teresa of Ávila.


In either version of his hymn, Brian Wren has a fourth verse that could stand as a mission statement for our Cursillo community:

Glad of tradition, help us to see
in all life’s changing where you are leading,
where our best efforts should be.

No one in our community is ever asked to reject the tradition in which we have grown up in Christ and into Christ; but everyone in our community is challenged to ask who and what Christ is now calling us to be.


God, Christ, and Spirit – this is how Paul standardly speaks of our distinctively Christian three-in-one God. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

We don’t know how many people will show up at Le Cénacle for Cursillo #76 – there are always surprises in the last weeks and days – but however many there may be, never forget that there are three more in the room, the three persons in one God who create and sustain us, redeem us from our sins, and fill our hearts with overflowing love.

We are God’s people, but only by God’s grace.


In Britain and Ireland in the 1980s, the ecumenical movement – the Spirit-inspired movement of churches together – rethought how it organized itself, mostly to include the Roman Catholic churches in those islands more fully in its life and work.

Very little lasts for ever, and today the rethinking probably needs to be done again. But the 1980s process came up with a wonderful prayer that I plagiarize shamelessly on ever possible occasion. This is one of those occasions. Here is how it goes:

Lord God, we thank you
for calling us into the company
of those who trust in Christ
and seek to obey his will.

May your Spirit guide and strengthen us
in mission and service to your world;
for we are strangers no longer
but pilgrims together on the way to your kingdom. Amen.

On Thursday evening, just over a week from now, some of those registering at Le Cénacle may be unknown to you. But we hope that by Sunday night, as you quaff a well-deserved glass of wine, they will be strangers no longer: that all will leave the building confirmed in faith, set on fire by the Spirit, and committed more than ever to seek and do the Father’s will, that all will be pilgrims together on the way to the kingdom.

That all will be the church together.


The standard pep talk ends with the words, “Go out there and knock ’em dead!” A homily is a kind of pep talk, but I would end this one differently. I would say, “Go to Le Cénacle and knock ’em alive!”

By God’s grace, may it be so. Amen.

[1] CH4 204. I am the church!

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