Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
I was very happy to preach at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church this past Sunday for the Littlestown Ministerium Unity Service. Pastor Tom Stellhorn of St. Paul’s was a student of mine [he studied virtue ethics of course] at Gettysburg Seminary. He is now president of the Littlestown Ministerium–which has a food bank, monthly meetings of clergy, …. Several ministerium colleagues were present for the service–including the local Catholic pastor who had studied Scripture many years ago with Father Roger Balducelli–one of my fellow Oblates [a small world] who later taught me.
1. Thank you for the kind invitation to share a few thoughts with you. Prayer together is essential, is the foundation for the ecumenical movement—the search for full communion and common witness.
a. Last week I was teaching an intensive course on Spiritual Ecumenism at Wesley Theological Seminary on behalf of the Washington Theological Consortium. The 13 Doctor of Ministry students and I prayed together several times each day. It was wonderful.
b. Spiritual ecumenism is the foundation of the ecumenical movement and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity manifests a visible and most important universal commitment. Jesus Himself called us to be one [Jn 17:21]
c. These days as we have come to mutual understanding on so many things—I think of the Joint Declaration on Justification—endorsed by Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists. The convergence is real—and startling for someone who great up in the Catholic Philadelphia of the 1950’s.
d. We need to pray together even more as we engage the remaining difficult questions.
2. The Internationally chosen text, embedded in Lk 24—“You are witnesses to these things [v.24]” is a challenging one. It reminds us that we are to share Jesus message with the world.
a. This text is very appropriate for the 100th Anniversary of the Ecumenical Movement that we are celebrating this year. In Edinburgh, 100 years ago, missionaries met in what turned out to be the beginning of our movement.
b. They realized i. Their divided witness was preventing people from coming to Christ.
ii. The needed to pray
c. This is no less true today—We need to pray and to come to a common witness–here and in other lands.
3. We are familiar with our context—here is where we will witness to Christ
a. A secularizing culture—seen for example in the emphasis on material prospering as measuring our worth! Many live as if God does not exist.
b. A decline in participation in church, especially by young people—and a tendency for our churches to become more introspective in response, more concerned with our identity.
c. Yet many people are searching for God in confused ways
4. We have much to offer—the message of Christ—seen in today’s reading
a. We see in this chapter, Luke and the early Christians coming to understand Jesus, recognizing Him in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread.
b. He brings a message of Peace—“Peace be with You” he says—this is an inner peace and a peace in this world that people are seeking
c. People were radically changed by meeting Christ—forgiven and healed
5. We are seeking to live in the Spirit—confessing Jesus as Lord. We pray for the Spirit’s guidance.
a. The early community was, say the scholars, in this chapter, forming a shared narrative. The community was coming together. The people were sharing with each other their experience of the Risen Jesus.
i. Women came back to share with the others
ii. The two disciples returned to Jerusalem
b. Today our community is partially united. We have much in common—united in our Baptism. We need to continue to share our gifts with others—and grow in appreciation of what we have and of what we have received.
c. My image for this is the attic like we had at home. I think that some of the gifts have been in our Roman Catholic Attic, almost covered with dust, occasionally used!
d. Our Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox brothers and sisters in sharing their gifts have reminded us of the richness which we have forgotten
e. Yet we will need the fullness of the Gospel message fullness of life in the Spirit to effectively witness. We need our identity and that of our brothers and sisters.
6. How do we come together? We do it right here
a. We continue to pray together and share our minds and hearts with one another
b. We take advantage of our opportunities right here:
i. Washington Consortium—sharing resources, developing Certificate programs, providing a Doctor of Ministry programs, hosting events,..
ii. The Ministerium—working together for the poor and those in need, meeting regularly to pray, ….
7. Let us continue to pray together—expecting that the Resurrected Jesus will be with us—and will send us the Spirit to guide us.