January 2013 - Vol. 65
Theme and Biblical Text from Micah 6:6-8: What shall God require of us?
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? - Micah 6:6-8
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is actually an 8 day observance or “Octave” of prayer. It has been this way from the beginnings of this international movement in 1908. Following are a set of 8 daily scripture readings, a short commentary on the readings, and a prayer. The original materials for 2013 were developed by a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox leaders and scholars living in India and were sanctioned by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. These readings and prayers are intended to be prayed in common by all those participating in the Week of Prayer around the world.
Genesis 11: 1-9 The story of Babel and legacy of our diversityCommentary
To walk humbly with God means to walk as people speaking with one another and with the Lord, always attentive to what we hear. And so we begin our celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by reflecting on scripture passages which speak of the essential practice of conversation. Conversation has been central to the ecumenical movement, as it opens up spaces for learning from one another, sharing what we have in common, and for differences to be heard and attended to. In this way mutual understanding is developed. These gifts from the search for unity are part of our basic call to respond to what God requires of us: through true conversation justice is done, and kindness learnt. Experiences of practical liberation from all over the world make clear that the isolation of people who are made to live with poverty is forcefully overcome by practices of dialogue.
Today’s Genesis reading, and the story of Pentecost, both reflect something of this human action, and its place in God’s liberating plan for people. The story of the tower of Babel first describes how, where there is no language barrier great things are possible. However, the story tells how this potential is grasped as a basis for self-promotion: “let us make a name for ourselves”, is the motivation for the building of the great city. In the end this project leads to a confusion of speech; from now on we must learn our proper humanity through patient attentiveness to the other who is strange to us. It is with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost that understanding across differences is made possible in a new way, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Now we are invited to share the gift of speech and listening orientated toward the Lord, and towards freedom. We are called to walk in the Spirit.
The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a conversation taking place in a context of travel together, but also of loss and disappointed hope. As churches living with levels of disunity, and as societies divided by prejudices and fear of the other we can recognise ourselves here. Yet it is precisely here that Jesus chooses to join the conversation - not presuming the superior role of teacher, but walking alongside his disciples. It is his desire to be a part of our conversations, and our response of wanting him to stay and speak more with us, that enables a living encounter with the Risen Lord.
All Christians know something of this meeting with Jesus, and the power of his word “burning within us”; this resurrection experience calls us into a deeper unity in Christ. Constant conversation with each other and with Jesus - even in our own disorientation - keeps us walking together towards unity.
Family reflection – Babel reversed
My next door neighbor has partial hearing. He can hear and understand me as long as I look directly at him as I speak. However his wife is deaf and dumb from birth. She has never heard anything and cannot speak. So when I speak to her I have to look at her very carefully and I shape the words with my mouth particularly clearly so she can read my lips. She responds in sign language which I have not learned to read; but still if I work hard at understanding her I can make some sense of what she is trying to say. Usually if we are trying to work something complicated we get out a pen and paper and she writes down what she wants to say. It’s difficult to communicate with her, but when we try hard we can understand one another.
week of prayer for Christian unity is about Christians who are different
and have different ways of doing things, learning how to talk together
after having been separated for a long time, and having forgotten how to
speak well to each other. And the Holy Spirit makes these relationships
possible uniting us despite our differences.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 “Shall these dry bones live?”Commentary
To walk humbly with God means hearing the call us to walk out of the places of our own comfort, and accompany the other, especially the suffering other. ?Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. With injured people of every time and place, Jesus cries out to the Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Christians are called into this way of the cross. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear not only the saving reality of Jesus’ suffering but also the need for his disciples to go outside the camp and join him there. When we meet those who have been excluded and we recognize the crucified one in their sufferings, the direction we should be going is clear: to be with Christ, means to be in solidarity with those on the margins whose wounds he shares. The body of Christ, broken on the cross, is broken for you. The story of Christ‘s suffering and death is prefaced by the story of the last supper: it is then celebrated as victory over death in the observance of communion. In this Christian celebration, Christ‘s broken body is his risen and glorious body; his body is broken so that we can share his life, and, in him, be one body. As Christians on the way to unity we can often see communion as a place wherethe scandal of our disunity is painfully real, knowing that, as yet, we cannot fully share communion or the “Lord’s table”together as we should. This situation calls us to renewed efforts towards deeper communion with one another.
This summer I went to the Paralympic Games. My nephew had won four tickets for the cycling finals at the velodrome on a supermarket scratch card. Inside everything was brand new: the seats, the Siberian oak racing track, the TV screens - everything - and it all worked perfectly. All 10,000 seats were full that day ready for action. Then the athletes arrived. Some were missing the lower part of a leg: others only had one hand or no hands at all; others had only one leg the other being completed amputated. And yet they were dressed exactly in the way you would expect top athletes to be dressed, and more amazingly cycled at speeds that you can only imagine top cyclists cycling at. It was a moving experience. I was particularly struck by the cyclists with only one leg who powered their way round the course at incredible speed - but with just that one very powerful leg - and by the Chinese woman who won a gold medal yet had no forearms. Each of these amazing athletes is loved by God and honored as a human being made fully in his image. And for the ten days of Paralympics in London they were honored as brave men and women, and great athletes.
there people at your school who are disabled? Maybe, maybe not, but for
certain there are people who are different, some of whom get picked on,
or bullied. How do you treat them? As Christians we are to love everyone,
seeing in each person God’s unique creation.
Exodus 1: 15-22 The Hebrew midwives obey God’s lawCommentary
Walking humbly with the Lord is always a walk into receiving the freedom he opens up before all people. With this in mind we celebrate. We celebrate the mystery of the struggle for freedom, which takes place even in the places where oppression, prejudice and poverty seem to be impossible burdens. The resolute refusal to accept inhuman commands and conditions - like those given by Pharaoh to the midwives of the enslaved Hebrew people - can seem like small actions; but these are often the kinds of actions towards freedom going on in local communities everywhere.
The step by step journey into freedom is brought home to us by the story of Jesus’ meeting at the well with the woman of Samaria. Bit by bit the way of a life of freedom is opened up before the woman, as the reality of the complexities of her life are seen more clearly in the light of Jesus‘ words. In the end these personal insights return the conversation to a place where what divides these two groups of people - where they should worship - is transcended. Worship in spirit and in truth is what is required; and here we learn to be free from all that holds us back from life together, life in its fullness.
To be called into greater freedom in Christ, is a calling to deeper communion and freedom from those things which separate us, keep us captives, and hidden from one another. Our freedom in Christ is characterized by that new life in the Spirit which enables us, together, to stand before the glories of God ?with unveiled faces. It is in this glorious light that we learn to see each other more truly, as we grow in Christ‘s likeness towards the fullness of Christian unity.
Family reflection – Making good moral choices (taking the lesson of the Hebrew midwives)
“Hey Dale! Are you coming with us – we’re going to get some stuff from the shops” shouted Conrad, the coolest guy in class. Dale replied softly “thanks for the invite but I haven’t any money.” “Neither have we but we’re still going to get some stuff” said Conrad in a lower voice so only those in his group could hear. Dale knew what he meant. They were going to shoplift. The gang called it “freeing stuff from the rich”- in other words stealing from the shopkeepers. Dale replied avoiding Conrad’s gaze: “sorry Conrad, but I don’t do that stuff”. “What’s wrong with you” Conrad pressed back. “Are you afraid?”
truth was that Dale was afraid. He was afraid of what his parents and teachers
would think if he got caught. Dale pushed him again: “we’re not going to
get caught – we’ve got a system.” But it was not just getting caught that
Dale was afraid of. Deep down inside of him, he knew that shoplifting was
simply wrong, whether he got caught or not. “I am not coming Conrad” Dale
finally said.“You sad wimp” Conrad responded, and looking to his crowd
said “Come on guys, let’s leave this loser.”Dale felt pretty down after
they left.It wasn’t good to be on the wrong side of Conrad.But deep down
he knew that he had won a battle, a battle to be free to choose what was
right, and not choose to do wrong.
As we walk together in the journey towards Christian unity, we must be ready to show mercy towards one another. To walk in mercy is to reflect and share an essential part of God’s own revealed character—a God merciful and gracious, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. And we are called not simply to walk in mercy but to “love” mercy, to nurture it in our hearts as this week’s foundational passage from Micah 6 enjoins us. To love Mercy is to be like our Father. To show mercy to our Christian brothers and sisters is also rooted in an awareness of our own poverty of spirit. We ourselves are poor and needy, in distress and with divided hearts. We cry out for mercy because we need it. And as we receive mercy from God we must be ready to show it to those who are different than us, to those who hold positions we do not understand or who communicate in a way that offends us.
Matthew was a tax collector—an outcast of his day, one of the social “untouchables”. When Jesus calls him to discipleship, the Pharisees attack Jesus on the grounds of theological, social and political divisions. Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees—I desire mercy and not sacrifice—reminds us of our need to show mercy to those who are different than us. Walking in Christian unity involves many opportunities to show mercy to one another and to let mercy triumph over sitting in judgment upon one another. As we do so, we will be sons of our Father in heaven, a God rich in Mercy.
Family reflection on Matthew 9:9-13 – Call of Matthew a tax collector; saying sorry and meaning it.
“My little brother always gets in the way when I have my friends around. He always wants me to be with me when I want to be with them. He is so stupid! Doesn’t he see that when I have my friends I have more important things to do than talk to him. But today when he bothered Elena and I while we were playing I lost my temper. “Get out of here toad!” I shouted at him. “I don’t want to see you again when my friends are here!” and I slammed my bedroom door on him. He left crying and miserable. That evening I felt really bad. But inside me there were two voices: one said I had done something really rotten and should say sorry; but the other said that it was his own fault and I should ignore him. Which voice was I to listen to? What do you think I did? What would you have done?”
When we fail to ask forgiveness of each other and make up, we hurt each
other more deeply, and the wounds take longer to heal. Prayer for
Christian Unity week is about Christians deciding to make up. We have called
each other names in the past, and now we want to give each other one name,
just one name that unites us all together, the name that links us to Christ,
Christians, so that we can be friends again.
Song of Solomon 1.5-8 Love and the belovedCommentary
To walk humbly with God does not mean walking alone. It means walking with those who are those vital signs of God‘s presence among us, our friends. “But I have called you friends,” says Jesus in John‘s Gospel. Within the freedom of love, we are able to choose our friends, and to be chosen as a friend. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus says to each of us. Jesus’ friendship with each of us transfigures and transcends our relationships with family and society. It speaks of God‘s deep and abiding love for us all.
The Bible‘s love poem, the Song of Solomon, has been interpreted in various ways such as the love of God for Israel, or the love of Christ for the Church. It remains the testimony of passion between lovers which transcends the imposed boundaries of society. While the lover says to her beloved, I am black and beautiful, her words come with the plea, do not gaze at me because I am dark. But the lover does gaze, and chooses love, as does God in Christ.
What does the Lord require of those called to walk with Jesus and his friends? In India it is a call to the churches to embrace all men as equal friends of their common friend. Such a call to be friends with the friends of Jesus is another way of understanding the unity of Christians for which we pray this week. Christians around the world are called to be friends with all those who are our brothers in Christ. The walk towards Christian unity requires that we walk humbly with God with—and as—the friends of Jesus.
Family reflection on choosing to be friends as Jesus chose to be ours – John 15
Each of us has a gift that we can choose to give to those around us. It is precious, far more precious than anything we can buy; in fact money can’t buy it, not the true version at least. It is fantastic when life is going well; it is essential when life is going badly. What is it?… it’s friendship. It is a gift that we can choose to pour out on those around us, not just those who we like, but on those who are different from us. You can choose to be the friend of your little sister even though she sometimes annoys you.You can choose to be the friend of the boy or girl at school who no one else is a friend to. Friendship is the gift that God has given us – Jesus calls us friends – and he calls us to give to other people.
unity is about our different churches choosing to be friends, even though
we are very different, copying the Lord who calls us all friends.
Ruth 4.13-18 The offspring of Ruth and BoazCommentary
To walk humbly with God means walking beyond barriers that divide and damage the children of God. Christians in India are aware of the divisions among themselves. The treatment of the untouchable caste within the churches and between them is a church-dividing issue that betrays the biblical vision of that unity for which we pray this week. St Paul lived with the devastating divisions in the earliest Christian community between Gentile and Jewish Christians. To this barrier and to every subsequent one, Paul proclaims that Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall between us. Elsewhere Paul writes, As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3.27-28).
In Christ, all the deep barriers of the ancient world—and their modern successors—have been removed because on the Cross. Jesus created in himself one, new humanity. Matthew‘s Gospel tells of the difficult journey for Jesus—and his disciples— to cross the barriers of religion, culture and gender when he is confronted by a Canaanite woman who pleads with Jesus to cure her daughter. The disciples’ visceral instinct to send her away and Jesus’ initial rejection of her request are overcome by her faith and by her need. From hence Jesus and his disciples were able to cross the imposed human barriers and boundaries of the ancient world. Such is already present in the Hebrew Bible as we also see in the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman of a different culture and religion.
The walk with God today requires that we cross the barriers that separate Christians from one another. The walk towards Christian unity requires walking humbly with God beyond the barriers that separate us from one another.
Family reflection on the story of the Canaanite woman
In 1986 I went to Berlin, Germany, to visit my brother who was studying there. At that time Berlin was divided in the middle by a huge wall. In fact there were two walls, and between the two walls was a no-man’s land about 20 meters wide filled with barbed wire, and patrolled by guards with dogs and machine guns. Many people died trying to cross that wall. However coming from the west you could get a visa for day trip to the east side. The journey meant getting on a certain underground metro train, which went under the wall in a big loop. It had just one stop on the east side and only a few people would ever get out at this stop. Most would stay on the tube and swing back on the train to the safety of the west and go about their daily business almost forgetting the east existed. But one day I got out.
The platform was poorly lit and dark, but there was a sign saying in German “border control this way”. I followed it and after a few minutes joined a short queue at a border post. It was cold. Then it was my turn. The soldier accepted the $20 dollars for my day visa brushed me through. I climbed the long steps out to street level. I was for a day in another country, on the other side of the wall. Yet as I walked around everyone spoke German as they did on the west, and the people smiled and shyly welcomed me as they had on the other side of the wall. The truth was that the people on both sides of the wall were really the same people, Germans. That wall was pulled down in 1989 and now there is only one Germany not two as there was when I visited.
unity is about pulling down walls. We are in fact one people, Christians,
but over the centuries walls have gone up to separate us. When we pray
for Christian unity we are praying that we will have the courage to cross
over the walls that separate us, and that eventually the walls will be
Numbers 27.1-11 The right of inheritance to daughtersCommentary
To walk humbly with God means walking in solidarity with all who struggle for justice and peace. This poses a question for those who pray for the unity of Christians this week: what is the unity we seek? The ecumenical movement is dedicated to overcome the historic and current barriers that divide Christians, but it does so with a vision of visible unity that links the nature and mission of the Church in the service of the unity of humankind and the overcoming of all that harms the dignity of human beings and keeps us apart.
The Body of Christ is called and empowered to share the suffering of all by advocacy and care for the poor, the needy and the marginalized. This faithful witness may involve Christians themselves in suffering for the sake of the Gospel. The Church is called to heal and reconcile broken human relationships and to be God‘s instrument in the reconciliation of human division and hatred.
There are many examples of such acts of healing and reconciliation by the Indian churches. Until very recently, Christian inheritance laws in India disempowered daughters. The churches supported the demand for a repeal of this archaic law. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad, in which Moses turned to God for justice in support of the rights of the daughters, was invoked to demand justice for women. A biblical image of the Church united in solidarity with the oppressed is Jesus‘s parable of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan is from a despised and outcast community. He is the one in the story who cares for the man abandoned by the wayside, and who proclaims by his solidarity in action, the hope and comfort of the Gospel.
The walk towards Christian unity is inseparable from walking humbly with God in solidarity with any and all in need of justice and kindness.
was always on the edge of things and struggled to have friends. He wasn’t
cool, and he was just different from other boys; at school being different
seemed reason enough for most of us to avoid him. One day Sam got picked
on by Greg and his crowd, the “cool kids”. They had him in a corner and
started kicking a ball at him not letting him leave the “kicking zone”
as they called it. Sam started crying which only made it worse. Everyone
on the school playground could see what was going on. And nearly everyone
ignored it. No-one wanted to get in trouble with Greg, and anyway most
thought “Sam is different – he sort of deserves it!” Peter was not part
of the Greg’s gang – he was a good kid, and stayed out of trouble. He also
knew Sam’s family – and like Sam, they were different from other people.
But something inside of him that day would not let him ignore what was
going on – it was wrong – but he was afraid to do anything.”
FFriday, January 25th, 2013: Walking in Celebration
Habakkuk 3.17-19 Celebrating in a time of hardshipCommentary
To walk humbly with God means to walk in celebration. Hope and celebration occur together in today’s biblical readings. The prophet Habakkuk rejoices in the Lord at a time of drought and crop failure. Such testimony that God will walk with his people in their difficulties is a celebration of hope. The Virgin Mary walks to her cousin Elizabeth in order to celebrate her pregnancy. She sings her Magnificat as a song of hope even before the birth of her child. And from prison, Paul exhorts the Christian community at Philippi to celebration: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
In the Bible, celebration is linked to hope in God’s faithfulness. Our celebration for a unity among Christians which has yet to be achieved likewise occurs in hope and struggle. It is grounded in hope that Christ‘s prayer that we may be one will be achieved in God‘s time and through God‘s means. It is grounded in gratitude that unity is God‘s gift, and in recognition of the unity we already experience as the friends of Jesus, expressed in one baptism. It is grounded in the conviction that God calls each of us to work for that unity, and that all our efforts will be used by God, trusting with St Paul in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. The walk towards Christian unity requires that we walk humbly with God in celebration, in prayer, and in hope.
Family reflection – parties!
story of the lost son tells us that when the son came home his father gave
him gifts and called all his servants to arrange for a great party so grateful
was he to have his son home again! Parties are times to say “thank you”.
Parties are times to show you love by giving gifts, and by choosing to
be joyful with music and dancing. Parties are full of fun and games. And
when Christians come together and say “we are actually one people not several”
I believe God calls a party in heaven to express how happy he is!
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