2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Connecting the missionary enterprise and the desire for Christian unity is not an easy one for everyone to make. It was for practical reasons that the need for Christian unity was first raised by missionaries.  Often it was simply the need to avoid wasteful and unnecessary competition in the face of enormous human and material need. Lands to be evangelized were shared and occasionally attempts were made to go further than having activities run parallel and collaboration began to occur on some common projects. One example is where Missionaries from different denominations  combined their resources to undertake a new translation of the Bible. Such cooperation inevitably led to reflections on the divisions between Christians.


 

An Introduction to Ecumenism:

The word ecumenism has its roots in the Greek word oikoumenē which is descriptive of the inhabited world.  Today it is most commonly used to refer to how different expressions of the Christian faith work together.

It is sad to say but only fair to mention that there are some individuals and groups, including a few Friends, who practice what they call the doctrine of separation or non-fellowship and hold themselves apart from cooperation with other Christians based on their interpretation of a couple of Pauline passages.  To their mind Christians who don’t hold views identical with theirs are “apostate”, “unfruitful works of darkness”, and “unbelievers”. 

During the past one hundred years ecumenism has shown how important prayer is for Christian unity. Thoughtful discussions of theological differences have resulted in restoring long broken relationships. Practical cooperation among churches in addressing human need has given birth to fruitful initiatives. But preceding these major accomplishments it is the ministry of missions that is accorded a special place. The 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh Scotland marked the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement.

Connecting the missionary enterprise and the desire for Christian unity is not an easy one for everyone to make. It was for practical reasons that the need for Christian unity was first raised by missionaries.  Often it was simply the need to avoid wasteful and unnecessary competition in the face of enormous human and material need. Lands to be evangelized were shared and occasionally attempts were made to go further than having activities run parallel and collaboration began to occur on some common projects. One example is where Missionaries from different denominations  combined their resources to undertake a new translation of the Bible. Such cooperation inevitably led to reflections on the divisions between Christians.

Without denying the rivalries that existed between missionaries sent by different denominational boards, we need to acknowledge that it was first those who were actually on the mission field who recognized the tragedy of Christian division. The scandal of disunity seemed dreadful to those who were announcing the gospel to people who prior to their coming had known nothing of Christ. Could exporting these divisions to peoples who were newly discovering Christ be justified?  In the midst of their fresh beginnings new Christian leaders could hardly fail to notice the gap between the message of love which they felt called to live out and the actual separation between Christ’s disciples. How can you make others understand the reconciliation offered in Jesus Christ if Christians themselves ignore or fight one another? How could Christian groups who lived in mutual hostility preach one Lord, one faith and one baptism in any kind of credible way? 

There was no lack of ecumenical questions for the participants at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910.  The Conference had no other aim than to help missionaries forge a common spirit and coordinate their work.

Traditionally, John 17.21, taken from Jesus’ high priestly prayer, has been the favorite text for ecumenical gatherings. In Jesus’ final testament we hear the importance of the unity of Christ’s disciples: “That all may be one … so that the world may believe.”  For the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the churches of Scotland, the home of the 1910 Conference, have called us to listen to the whole of Christ’s final discourse before his ascension which is Luke 24. The theme comes from these verses:  “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”  Whether we identify with the terrified women at the tomb, the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus or the eleven disciples overtaken by doubt and fear, all who encounter the Risen Christ are sent on mission: “You are witness of these things”. This mission of the Church given by Christ can neither be appropriated by others nor shirked by us. It is the community of those who have been reconciled with God and in God, and who can witness to the truth of the power of salvation in Jesus Christ.

We can’t miss the fact that Mary Magdalene, Peter or the two Emmaus disciples do not witness in the same way. Yet it will be the victory of Jesus over death that all will place at the heart of their witness. The personal encounter with the risen Christ radically changed their lives and in its uniqueness for each one of them one thing becomes imperative: “You are witnesses of these things.” Our stories will accentuate different things, sometimes dissent may arise between us about what faithfulness to Christ requires, and yet all will work to announce the Good News.

 

 

 

 

Readings for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

 

Monday, January 18th, 2010

 

The early morning visitors to Jesus’ tomb were asked: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Our journey of Christian unity is firmly rooted in our common belief that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ,- we celebrate not only the life God has given us but the offer of new life through Jesus’ conquering death once and for all. As we meet together we witness to our shared faith by our concern for the life of all. Life is God’s gift to us, and the more we support and celebrate life, the more we give witness to the one whose generous love brought us to life initially. Our gospel passage challenges us to look for new life in the face of a culture of death. It encourages us to trust in Jesus’ power, and so to experience life and healing.

To what extent does our witness, individually and corporately, celebrate life?   Will others know from our witness that Christ has been raised from the dead?  Are there areas of newness and growth in your life?  Are there things of the past to which the churches cling which ought to be laid to rest?

 

We learn of the Emmaus road travelers that:”…their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”   Growing in faith is a complex journey. Many people in our world today lead busy lives and have lots of pressures and responsibilities. It is easy to miss God’s revealing love to us in our everyday life and experiences. The more pressure and activity with which we surround ourselves the greater the possibility of overlooking what is before our very eyes. Like the two disciples in the gospel, we sometimes think we know what is real, and try to explain our view to others, yet we are not aware of the full truth. In our world today we are invited to be aware of God in the surprising and unlikely events of life.

In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we seek to be aware of God in our everyday events and experiences. We meet people who are familiar and others who are strangers. In these encounters we learn from each other’s spiritual experiences and so get a new view of God’s reality. This awareness of God’s presence challenges us to work for Christian unity.

When have you been aware of God’s presence in your life? Are you aware of global celebrations and tragedies, and how might we coordinate our response to these with other churches? Is being aware enough, or is there something more that you might do in order to give witness to your faith?

 

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

 

Then the question came:” What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Sharing our stories is a powerful way in which we give witness to our faith in God. Listening to one another with respect and consideration allows us to encounter God in the very person with whom we are engaged. Here Jesus is presented as the one who enlightens our blindness and dispels our disillusionment. He helps us to understand our stories within the unfolding plan of God.  We listen to the faith stories of others in order to encounter God in the variety of ways God’s very self is revealed to us, in us, and through us.  New means of communication can help us share more widely, and so create a community that is broader and more extensive than the purely physical. In listening with attentiveness we grow in faith and love. In spite of the diversity of our personal and collective witness, we find ourselves intertwined in the one story of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ.

How open are we to be drawn into the stories of others?  How open are you to share with others your stories of faith, and so give witness to God’s presence in your personal experiences of life and of death?

 

“But we had hoped…” they said.   We have an enormous debt of gratitude to those whose faith has provided the foundation for our Christian lives today. Through their prayer, witness and worship unimaginable numbers of men and women have ensured that the faith is handed down to the next generations. As we unite with our Christian brothers and sisters in praying for unity during this week, we welcome the rich variety of our Christian heritage. We pray that awareness of our common heritage may unite us more closely as we progress in faith.

Who inspired you in your faith ?  What are the aspects of faith which inspire you in your everyday life ?  What do you feel were the most important teachings which were passed on to you?  How can you recognize God at work with you in the transmission of faith to future generations ?

 

Wednesday January 20th, 2010

 

Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples Christians encounter Scripture in a privileged way. In faithfully listening and by prayerfully meditating on them we open our hearts and minds to receive the very Word of God. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to enable them to understand this Word, and to guide them into all truth. Historically, Christians have been divided in reading and understanding the Scripture. It has all too often been used to emphasize our disagreement rather than to find ways for reconciliation. In recent times, in the search for unity, Scripture has brought Christians closer to one another. Shared Bible study has become a major means of growing together. The Christian journey that we celebrate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one that is firmly rooted in our shared listening to God’s Word, trying together to understand and to live it.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word powerfully proclaimed is indeed effective and operative. It does not return to God empty but succeeds in the purpose for which He sent it. This message is repeated in the words addressed to Timothy, as he is directed to believe in the efficacy of the Scriptures by which the faithful are equipped for every good work.  The Psalmist implores God to give understanding, that we may keep the Holy Law with our whole heart. During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray that all Christians may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s wonderful revelation as it comes to us in Scripture. We beseech the Holy Spirit to help us better comprehend the Word of God and to direct us on our common journey of faith.

Which passages from the Scriptures have helped you to better understand the witness of other Christians?  How may our churches use the Scripture more effectively in their daily life and prayer?

 

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

 

“He interpreted to them the things in Scripture  about himself.”  As the events of September 11th did for us, the bomb attack on the plane above Lockerbie Scotland and the massacre of children in Dunblane school brought the world’s attention to the people of this small nation which will always remember these terrible losses of human life. The two events caused suffering and unimaginable anguish to a large number of people and the consequences were felt well beyond the physical borders of the two places. Innocent people met their death in horrifying circumstances.  The reality of suffering is something about which the Prophet Isaiah speaks. He reminds us that God is never resigned to seeing humanity suffer. In response the Psalmist  proclaims the trust that believers must maintain in their Savior. In Romans we hear proclaimed the certainty that love is always strongest and that suffering and sorrow will never prevail. For before offering the resurrection to the world, Christ entered into a terrible death and into the dark depths of the tomb so as to be completely with us at our very lowest ebb. In the Lord’s footsteps, Christians who seek full unity show their solidarity to those among us who are confronted in their lives with tragic situations of suffering, by confessing that love is stronger than death. And that it was from the extreme humiliation of the tomb that resurrection came like a new sun for humanity; a clamoring annunciation of life, forgiveness and immortality.

How can you show empathy to those who suffer and are in difficulties?  What wisdom and deeper understanding have you gained through suffering you have known in your own life?  How do you live in solidarity with the suffering and oppression that so many people living in poverty in our world experience, and what is your own experience of it? How would you bear witness to the mercy of God and to the hope you find in the light of the cross of Christ?

 

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

 

We are told that the disciples were startled and terrified.  During their journey in life and faith all Christians experience times of doubt. In those times the challenge we face is to continue to trust that even when we do not see or feel God, God remains with us. The virtues of faith, hope and trust allow us to give witness that our faith goes beyond our own possibilities. The character Job gives us an example of someone who faced difficult trials and tribulations and even argued with God. In faith and hope however, he believed that God was faithful. This reliance and conviction is also shown by the actions of Peter and John in the account with the lame man as told in Acts. Their belief in the Name of Jesus allows them to witness powerfully to all who were present. Our meeting to begin this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity allows our communities to grow in shared faith, hope and love. We bear witness to God’s steadfast love to all people, and God’s faithfulness to the one church we are called to be. The more we witness together, the stronger our message will be.

When have you faced up to your own fears and doubts and so given witness to your faith in Christ by overcoming these difficulties?  How might you be a cause of fear and anxiety for others by your behavior? How may Christian communities encourage one another in faith and hope?

 

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

 

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures Today, electronic communication has made neighbors of us all on this one small and overloaded planet. As in the time of Luke, many peoples and communities have had to leave their homes, wandering and journeying to strange lands. People of the world’s great faiths have arrived bringing new beliefs and cultures to our communities. In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we recognize in our shared journey towards unity the hospitality and companionship of Christians of all churches. Christ also calls us to both offer and to receive the hospitality of the stranger who has become our neighbor. Surely, if we cannot see Christ in the other, then we cannot see Christ at all. The story in Genesis describes how Abraham receives God in opening his house and offering hospitality to strangers. The God of all creation also stands with the prisoner, the blind, the stranger. Romans reminds us that the kingdom of God comes about through justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The resurrected Christ brings his disciples together, eats with them and they recognize him again. He reminds them of what the scriptures said about him and explains what they did not understand before. Thus, he frees them and us from doubts and fears and sends them out to become witnesses of these things. He enables them to receive his peace, that implies justice for the oppressed, care for the hungry and the mutual up-building as the gifts of the new world of the resurrection. Christians throughout history have found the risen Lord as they have served others and been served by others in faith, so we too can encounter Christ when we share our lives and our gifts.

To what extent is our nation hospitable to the stranger? How in your own neighborhood can the stranger find hospitality and a space to live?  How might you show gratitude for those who have shown you hospitality by being available? How does the cross show us that God’s hospitality is a hospitality that must be lived out sacrificially?

 

The theme for 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was chosen in Scotland, where churches were preparing to celebrate the centennial  of the 1910 World Mission Conference which marked the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement. This document has been modified from material jointly published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches for use by Spokane Friends Meeting.

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