Sunday, January 24, 2016

“Called to Proclaim God's Mighty Acts”

Vietnamese Folk Story

Once there was an old man
who lived with his three young sons
in a small village in Vietnam.
Though they all loved each other very much,
the boys seemed to always be fighting and quarreling,
as siblings do.

One day the father called them to him.
He said:  “My sons, I want each of you to bring me a chopstick.”

So they each ran and got a chopstick.
When they all returned and stood before him again,
he asked his oldest son if he could break his chopstick in half.

The son said, “Yes, Father.  That’s easy,”
and he snapped the chopstick in two.

Next, he asked his middle son,
“Can you break your chopstick?”

And just like his brother, he said, “Yes, Father.  That’s easy,”
and snapped his chopstick in half.

Finally, the old man came to his youngest son
and asked him to also break his chopstick,
like his brothers before him.

It was harder for him,
But the youngest child was able to break his chopstick in half.

“Now,” the father said to his sons, “bring me three unbroken chopsticks.”
When they returned,
the father asked them to hold the chopsticks together and break them.

Each tried as hard as he could
but none of the boys could break the three chopsticks together,
not even the oldest and strongest boy.

It was then that the old man said,
“I hope you have learned from the chopsticks.
There is strength in unity.”

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today is the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity –
a time set aside each year throughout the world
for churches to reflect on the importance of working together to follow Jesus.
This year’s theme came from the 1st Peter reading that we heard this morning
and it is all about proclaiming God’s mighty acts.
Peter talked to the early Christians about how it was important to remember
that they had been called to show God’s greatness to the world.

I always get a little nervous when we start talking about proclaiming anything together with other denominations.
I have images of soapbox preachers standing on the street corners,
warning people of the perils of not accepting Jesus into their hearts
or of missionaries going door to door to teach people about the Lord.
That is simply not me.
That’s not the tradition I come from or find myself in
and it doesn’t fit with my own theology.

So, if we as churches are to work together –
to be the three chopsticks that are strong and not easily broken –
how do we do that when we all worship God in different ways
and when we all carry within our church communities different beliefs?

I think, for me, the emphasis needs to be on the word “acts”.
Peter wrote:  “You may proclaim the mighty acts of God
who called you out of darkness into the marvelous light.”
Maybe our “proclaiming” could be our “doing”.
For diverse and unique churches might not agree on the words to use
but we can almost always agree on the actions that the world needs.
Maybe we are being called not just to talk about God’s mighty acts
but to call upon the divine to help us to do some mighty acts of our own.
In this city, I’m not really sure that we do that as well as we could.

Fredericton

The churches in Fredericton are wonderful.
They are quite often the biggest supporters of not forprofit organizations.
If you look at organizations like the food bank or the community kitchen,
you may find that church people sit on boards, donate items and volunteer their time.
In our churches, we spend time praying for issues like poverty, illness, and tragedy.
We draw attention to the justice issues and the needs.
Churches are a powerful force here that are making a difference and changing lives.
But, more often than not, we do it as individual communities.


You know, a United Church did this good thing. 
The Salvation Army raised this money for that. 
The Baptist Church helped here. 
The Catholic Church helped there.
So, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in this place
provides for us a challenge.
Maybe this year we can think more about how we might be better at this.

Think about what it would have been like if Jesus stayed in one place.
If instead of gathering followers from all over,
he just stayed where he was, with those who thought like him.

I’m sure good things still would have happened –
sick people would have found healing,
the downtrodden would have found inspiration,
and the outcast would have found inclusion.
But the power of God would have been limited.

By going out into the world
and joining forces with other groups of people
who weren’t always like him –
who argued with him,
who challenged him –
he was able to change the whole world.
He spread his message of love
and proclaimed God’s mighty acts far and wide.
And that still has an impact today.

Now, I know we are sometimes hesitant
and we are sometimes afraid that if we go down those roads
that we will end up in theological debates
or disagreements about how things should happen –
because we are all very different.
But we need to imagine what wonderful things could happen if we do.

There are a few great examples of how this does happen locally.
I think of the wonderful work that the Interchurch Refugee Council does,
drawing different churches together to meet the need of newcomers to our country.
And I think of the great work of Campus Ministry at the university
that is very much the hands on work of several churches in the city.
These are two great examples of how this can happen.

Kairos

When I think about ecumenism –
this concept of the church working as one –
when I think of ecumenism,
my mind immediately goes to the organization called Kairos.

Kairos is an ecumenical group here in Canada
that has been doing the work of social justice for over 40 years.
It is made up of 11 different churches, including the United Church of Canada.
And it began with the desire of these churches to work together in meaningful ways.

The churches were and are very different
but they were able to put their differences aside
and focus on what they had in common –
a longing to make positive changes in the world –
a longing to spread God’s love through justice.

And through the years, they have done so much…
from helping refugees flee from Latin America
to tackling oil exploration on Aboriginal land in the Arctic
to apartheid in South Africa.

And we might take this for granted today,
but the fact that both Roman Catholic and varying Protestant churches
were working together was brand new and exciting.
They saw that is was possible to do together
what may have been impossible to do alone.

And today that work continues on
as they work on issues like the destruction caused by fracking and mining,
the plight of migrant workers, and gender inequality.

11 different churches accomplishing amazing things –
proclaiming God’s mighty deeds.

Let’s be inspired by their story
and make steps toward embracing such unity at the local level.

Conclusion

So, as we go forth from here this day,
the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
let us go with our hearts ready to try something a little new
and our arms ready to greet our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let us go forward with the hope of making Christian unity

something that happens more than just one week a year.