A sermon for the week of Christian Unity
January 29, 2017
BY SISTER PAULINE LALLY, SP
As I was walking over his morning I wondered if Jesus came to earth in Kingston some Sunday, where would he worship? With whom? Where would he feel most at home?
Would he come to St. Andrew’s? Would he go to St. Mary’s? Would he attend the service at Chalmers down the street? Or up the street, to Kingston United? Or to a Pentecostal, evangelical type service?
Would he want to go to the synagogue over on Centre Street? Or would he want to try the mosque out on Sydenham Road? Where would he fit in? Where would he find authentic worship?
St. James says in his epistle 1:27, “Religion pure and undefiled before the Lord is coming to the aid of widows and orphans when they need it…” Where would Jesus find that kind of religion being practiced?
In Kingston I think that he would find much of it in our ecumenical community where the love of Christ for his poor has urged us on with the Food Bank called Partners in Mission, founded by the Sisters of Hotel Dieu Hospital, to which all churches contribute; Martha’s Table begun by Saint George’s and St. Mary’s; your own delicious hot Sunday suppers here at St. Andrew’s “Out of the Cold;” Lunch by George; Loretta Hospitality Centre named after one of our Sisters; St. Vincent de Paul; the Kingston Street Mission on your very property. By their fruits, we shall know them. The testimony of these works gives proof to the Gospel. These are the folks in whom am sure the Father is well pleased and with whom Jesus, no doubt, would want to “hang out.”
And then, I thought perhaps Jesus might want to call us together in the park down by the water for worship. And would we go? Or would we practicing Catholics (still practicing, as we haven’t got it right yet) feel we’d have to go to Mass first?
And I thought, wouldn’t it be a great idea if we did meet together in creation (well, maybe not in this weather, but you get the idea.) For creation, as you know, is the first revelation of God. To meet together in the midst of God’s creation with Jesus – the one we profess to follow, the one who shows us the way – presents to me an awesome image. Would that appeal to you?
This year’s theme
This year, as we celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the theme is reconciliation, under the title “The Love of Christ Compels Us,” taken from 2 Corinthians 5: 14- 20, the reading to which we have just listened.
At the heart of this text is the basic truth of our common Christian mission: God has reconciled the entire cosmos to himself through Christ, and has made us ambassadors of this reconciliation to all peoples and the whole of creation. Here in Canada we have been presented with an opportunity to live up to our responsibility as reconcilers. Our indigenous brothers and sisters have called for reconciliation. The Whig Standard had a good article about that in yesterday’s paper, I thought. Let us ask ourselves: What are we as individuals and a Christian Community doing about this?
For the last hundred years or more through the ecumenical movement, the power of reconciliation among Christians has been at work, and has made us, by God’s grace, even more apt for the mission of announcing and bringing about forgiveness and mercy.
Two key movements
You know I always thought the two movements in my day that have done more for ecumenism are the Charismatic movement, in which all kinds of people regardless of denomination or tradition, came together and prayed; and the social justice activity of which the environmental movement is a part. In fact it is within that context that I met your minister, Rev. Andrew Johnson.
The first movement, the charismatic one, speaks of the mystical dimension of Christianity and, the second, the prophetic. All Christians are called to both – to pray, and to act out our prayer in the social elements of our lives.
The late ’60s to the ’80s have been referred to as “an extraordinary period in the life of the Canadian Churches.” Mobilized by a growing conviction that transforming unjust social structures was as integral to their life and mission as charitable works, Christian churches began to turn their attention to the ways in which Canadian government policies contributed or hindered the building of the just and peaceable kingdom. With this in mind, advocacy – analyzing and speaking to issues of concern in public policy – became an important vehicle for us to live our commitment to peace and justice.
So, it is I think in those essential dimensions, mystical and prophetic, we can be united and be drawn closer to Christ.
Geometry of ecumenism
In the geometry of ecumenism, we ascend a pyramid from all different sides and come together at the top. As each of us pursues union with God through our own tradition or faith, we would necessarily grow closer to one another. In the end, as each person is united with God, all Christians will be united with one another – in Christ. This unity would not simply be an intellectual, theological achievement but an achievement of the heart which perhaps one day would progress to full theological communion.
And maybe this is where unity is to occur. Possibly we are not meant to give up our catholic or protestant heritage but maybe these traditions, complete with their historical pain, are now meant to be part of the Christian mosaic. This year we are especially drawn to celebrate with our Lutheran brothers and sisters their contribution to the life of the Christian Church for 500 years. God has taken our sins of division and made of them a deeper gift of Christ’s love and power to heal.
As you are well aware Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion that all may be one. But you know, in fact, we are already one at a very deep level. We are all made of the same stuff – stuff of the earth. That’s why our planet is referred to as “Mother Earth.” And we Christians are all baptized into the same Christ, and we all believe in Jesus Christ and are called to live his way.
The challenge for us, I think, is to realize our oneness, our unity, our interconnectedness – not only with God, one another as human beings and as Christians – but as earthlings, with all of creation, even the entire cosmos. How’s that for the “big picture?”
In his environmental encyclical Laudato ‘Si, Pope Francis writes: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” How big is MY GOD?
It’s ours to see
We are born of God’s love and the only thing that separates us from knowing the love of God is our own (lack of?) recognition of it. We live, move, breathe – have our very being – in the Merciful Loving Divine Milieu (which includes the sun and moon, the planets and stars, all the plants and animals, the air and water and those that fly and swim in them.) No wonder St. Francis spoke so fondly of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Sister Water and Brother Wolf. From this Divine Milieu comes our solidarity and our power – our power for doing good, our power for reconciliation with one another and the renewal of the earth.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes: “I say that we are wound with mercy round and round as if of air,” for as spiritual writer Thomas Merton, says: “God is mercy, within mercy, within mercy.”
At any moment I can pour into the world either an energy of that love and mercy or an energy of hate and severe judgment. I can build up or I can destroy.
Do you find that when you have a chance to ponder in silent reflection or prayer, like Mary, about the events in your life that afterward (for a time anyway) you begin to view the world and your life a little differently? Do you experience awe? Do you sense a greater capacity to love and be loved? … an increase of self-respect and an improved reverence for others? .. or an appreciation of and an energetic creativity for your work?
These are the blessed times of our faith journey which today can take us to an expanding vision of reality. Such awareness is gift.
And we need to realize that everything we do affects each other and the entire universe. My thought, intention, move to dialogue, to understand, to be compassionate, to love, to rejoice, to forgive another who annoys me, can mobilize mercy, tenderness thousands of miles away, so interconnected are we.
The astronauts who went into space as scientists returning as mystics, along with the Hubble Telescope astronomers, shepherds of the galaxies, who have released amazing photos from 14 billion years ago, have changed our world vision! We now know that we are part of an organic evolving universe in which everything is interrelated and interdependent. This is deep ecumenism.
The earth can exist without us humans, but we cannot exist without the earth and the universe. We are earthlings and children of the universe, brothers and sisters of one another and everything else that exists. Is it any wonder that treatment of the earth must be considered a moral issue and is the work of reconciliation today?
Geologian Thomas Berry finds the deep-rooted causes of human destruction of nature found in the philosophy of law and the assumption behind principles couched in all national constitutions, written or unwritten. We cannot have a viable human economy by destroying the earth’s economy. We cannot have healthy humans on a sick planet. It’s absurd. Everything we have is derivative from the larger community, yet we seem to think and live as if the human world is primary and the natural world is secondary. Therefore, we exploit this natural world for our human purposes. We have got to fit human health into the health of the planet; we’ve got to fit human project into the earth project; we’ve got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet earth. Our survival depends on it.
At the end of the reading, St. Paul says, “We are ambassadors of Christ.” And so I turn (return) to St. Andrew, after whom your church is named. What better ambassador was there other than your Andrew. In John’s Gospel account we read that one day, at the urging of John the Baptist, Andrew turned to Jesus. And Jesus asked, “What are you looking for?” Andrew, like a good Jew, answered another Jew’s question with his own question, “Where do you live?” Jesus said, “Come and see.” So as you know Andrew and another disciple went and spent the remainder of the day with Jesus. And what a day it must have been! For Andrew was inspired to hurry home and share this experience with his big brother, Simon, exclaiming “We have found the One for whom all these years we have been waiting.” In fact, he brought Simon to Jesus who on the spot changed Simon’s name to Cephas, which translated means Peter, who later became the leader of the band (of apostles.) What an ambassador was Andrew!
Go forward as ambassadors
So you, too, who hold the name of Andrew as your patron, have the impetus and power through the love of Christ which impels us, to be ambassadors, like Andrew, of the Good news of the New Universe Story, which incorporates the Christian Story, like those Russian dolls that fit into each other, to tell of our oneness with each other and the Universe – the primary sacrament of God.
Our Canadian churches have had a remarkable history of collaborating with one another to promote a peace and social justice agenda in our country. Now is the time for us to continue the long-term advocacy of the integrity of the planet – our beautiful garden home.
As ambassadors, as parents and grandparents, let me close by quoting in part from a poem by Thomas Berry: