Intro to the Community Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity :
Dear friends in Christ,
Welcome! I’m Jeunée Godsey, the priest here at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
As we gather for this service of prayer for unity, we thank God for our Christian heritage, and for God’s liberating and saving action in human history.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an international Christian ecumenical observance kept annually between January 18, the date we commemorate the conversion of St. Peter, and January 25, the conversion of St. Paul. This week, now sponsored by The World Council of Churches, began originally in 1908 at Graymoor, a Franciscan community in Garrison, New York, which now houses an influential Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. Now, each year, The World Council of Churches chooses the churches of a different geographic region to develop the materials that Christians around the world will use in their observance. Congregations and parishes all over the world arrange special ecumenical celebrations and prayer services this week, and so we join with them in the Communion of Saints.
This is the first time, or at least the first time in a long time, that the churches of Bon Air have come together to celebrate this week. We are pleased to have a fairly renewed Bon Air ministerial association, and are still building the group of pastors and vocational lay ministers who meet monthly for fellowship, support and joint ministry opportunities. We invite all Christian ministers to be part of the Bon Air ministerial association. Those leading the service today are those who generally make it to Joe’s Inn for our monthly lunches. You’ll see the names of the leaders and their communities listed in the bulletin during the parts that they lead.
Chris Carr, Christ the King Lutheran Church
Cindy Stratton, Bon Air Christian Church
Janet Winslow, Bon Air Presbyterian
Crista Cruz, St. Matthias Episcopal
Christian Hansen, St. Michael’s Episcopal
A full list of Christian Churches in the Bon Air area are listed inside your bulletin.
I’d like to also note that While this week and this service is about Christian Unity, and the importance of coming together as one body in Christ, the faith communities represented here also value interfaith relationship and dialogue, and we are happy to participate in the Bon Air / Southside Interfaith Trialoges which will be happening April 26, May 3, and May 10th this Spring.
So I hope that you find joy tonight in coming together with Christians from different churches. After the service there will be a light reception in the commons, out and to the right, and I hope you will enjoy some refreshments, and greet some of your Christian Brothers and Sisters in the neighborhood.
Now a little about this service.
The resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the churches of the Caribbean. The history of Christianity in that region contains a paradox. On one hand, the Bible was used by colonizers as justification for the subjugation of the original inhabitants of these lands, along with others who were transported from Africa, India and China. Many people suffered extermination, were put in chains and enslaved, and were subjected to unjust labor conditions. On the other hand, the Bible became a source of consolation and liberation for many who suffered at the hands of the colonizers.
While the bible may be misused, the Good News of God will never stay locked in chains.
Today, the Bible continues to be a source of consolation and liberation, inspiring the Christians of the Caribbean to address the conditions that currently undermine human dignity and quality of life.
So, in the service tonight, listen for the themes of freedom and justice, and our role as Christians to loosen the chains of enslavement, as we come together in unity of love.
Please stand as we sing our opening song:
[Opening song, prayers, scripture]
Exodus 15:1-21; Psalm 118:5-7,13-24; Romans 8:12-27; Mark 5:21-43
SERMON: (The Rev. Jeunee Godsey, St. Michael’s Episcopal)
Lord, Take our eyes and see through them.
Take our ears and hear through them.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and fill them with your fire.
As I stand before you this Sunday evening I feel like I should begin this message like a letter from Paul:
“I, Jeunée, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, together with fellow presbyters, and ministers of the Gospel,
To the Church of God in Bon Air, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Chrsit – their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (A play on 1 Cor 1:1-3)
There is something powerful in coming together across church lines to worship our God. If you are like me, the times we most often gather with those of other denominations are in marking the milestones of someone’s life… a baptism, a wedding, a funeral. And in those cases, when family and friends from various backgrounds come together for a special event, we enter the faith tradition of the one we are celebrating.
And… There are also those unfortunate times, times of Crisis or Tragedy, that pull together a community across denominations and even across faiths to pray for, and to show solidarity with those affected by something awful that has happened in the world. I certainly hope we don’t have such an occasion to do that anytime soon.
Tonight, however, we come together in celebration, to pray for unity in the Christian church. Not uniformity, mind you, but unity. The service was designed by a group of Christians of various traditions, so we will all find things both familiar and strange in the format. Nevertheless, We join Jesus’ prayer that “We all may be one, so that the world will know that God and Jesus are one, and that God sent Jesus into the world.”
Overcoming divisions within the Christian church helps us be a greater witness of Christ’s Love to the wider world.
Yes, there is power in coming together.
The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity also speaks about Power
“Your right hand, O LORD, Glorious in power.” That verse comes out of Moses’ song, the first reading we heard tonight, just after the Hebrews have crossed the Red Sea, and fled their captors. God had rescued them out of slavery. They left behind Pharaoh and their task masters. They were no longer making bricks under the threat of whips and chains.
And while they were free, their future was not trouble free, as we know.
They did not yet know that they had 40 years ahead of them wandering around in the desert.
I’ve heard it said that the crossing of the Red Sea was to get the Israelites out of Egypt, whereas the 40 years in the desert were to get Egypt out of the Israelites.
In other words God freed the Israelites at one particular point and time, but it took a life-time for the Israelites to learn how to truly live as free. The time in the desert was a time for the Israelites to Re-Member who they were as God’s Children. To stop acting and thinking like slaves, and to start acting like heirs of the promised land, to live into being a Community knit together and called to serve the One true Almighty God, and to become inheritors of God’s Kingdom.
In many ways that’s what our continued work as Christian Communities is all about.
We know that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has set us free. Free from Death, free from sin, free to become who God imagines us to be.
As Paul said to the church in Rome: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” ,
While we as Christians have received this freedom all at once by God’s action in Christ, it often takes us some wandering around in the desert to truly appropriate this freedom fully for ourselves. While God has already adopted us as children, we often wander off as prodigals before we finally come home.
But when we do come home, when we have, at least for the most part, discovered the freedom of not being held captive to the decay of the world’s structures, we are not done yet. You and I, and each of our church communities is meant to go out and share the Good News of God’s freedom with others.
It means we are to work for racial reconciliation, and political justice. It means we are to uncover areas of modern day enslavement, and work to eradicate them, whether that’s found in the sex-trafficking industry, or in pay-day loan sharks. It means we are to walk alongside our neighbors when they are held captive to fear from a devastating medical diagnosis, or the fear of not going bankrupt when they are unemployed. We can remind them that they, too, are children of God, and that they can know the freedom of God’s peace.
There are ways we are already doing this in Bon Air. For the last two years, the Chesterfield County Crop Walk has been held here in Bon Air, sponsored by the ministerial association. The money raised helps eliminate captivity to hunger. Bon Air Christian Church has joined our church in providing meals for the hungry and homeless for a street ministry our deacon heads up down in Manchester. I know that each of our churches participates in meaningful programs that help eliminate captivity to substance abuse, hunger, homelessness, grief, or any number of other things that would try to enslave us.
But beyond the programs our individual churches have, or any programs we might work on together, one of the greatest gifts our churches can give the world is you… each one of us as followers of Jesus making a difference in the world.
A friend of mine describes the Church as Base Camp. He said when one goes out to climb a mountain, we need a base camp. That’s where we get fed, rest, get instructions for the trail, share stories of our adventures, recover, if we have been injured.
But the whole point is not to stay at base camp, the point is to be out on the mountain. The adventure is in the world.
You and I are sent out each week from our congregations with a charge and commission to serve the world, To root out situations where people are held captive, and to help them find freedom, to share God’s reconciliation and peace.
And don’t think you can’t do that. Remember, Moses complained that he wasn’t equipped with God called him out of the burning bush to free the Israelites from Slavery, and he ended up parting the Red Sea. Well, actually. He didn’t. It was God.
God’s right Hand is glorious in power.
It’s always God and God’s Power that brings freedom. We are just blessed to be part of the process.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)