Ecumenical Celebration of the Word
Friday January 24, 2014
First Reading: Isaiah 57:14-19
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-17
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:33-41
This year’s theme “Is God Divided?” is really not the question but rather, “Are We Divided?” In light of this, when I reflected on the today’s readings, the immediate phrase that came to mind is, “the devil is in the details”. But I don’t think that’s quite right either. The devil is not in the details but in which details take precedence. The problems are in the details that divert us from the ability to work together for justice, to work together in loving kindness, and from walking humbly together with God.
When we think of Christian Unity, many of us immediately envision the obstacles caused by the diversity and details in the doctrinal or confessional documents of our churches. Perhaps, as the reading from Isaiah is suggesting, if God dwells with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, we should be looking at the details of removing the obstacles in the way of the transformative journey with God for our communities.
Saint Paul, for example, in the second reading addresses his words not only to the members of the Church in Corinth but to all those, who, in every place call Jesus Christ, Lord. Perhaps Paul is suggesting to us that the details we should be worried about are how we are united in mind and purpose. As Christians our minds should be focused on following the Gospel. Jesus told us that our purpose is to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. Loving God means love and justice for everything that came into being through God’s Word because it has the breath of God.
The details of whether we are baptized as Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church, or any other denomination; the details of whether we belong to the liberal, conservative or middle of the road factions of any of these denominations, none of these details outweigh our call to follow the Gospel. Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel.”
I’m not saying that our denominational liturgies, traditions and histories are not important. In many cases these things shape who we are. What I am saying is that the Hebrew Scriptures abound with stories of Yahweh’s love of justice. In the Gospels, Jesus gives example after example that compassion for a person outweighs blind adherence to a rule. What I am saying is that as Christians our commitment to ongoing inner transformation and spiritual growth is manifested outwardly by how we treat each other especially, the outcast and marginalized.
Today, over 2000 years after the Gospels were written, we still argue about who is the greatest. We forget that Jesus told us that whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. In a similar vein, especially in the Roman tradition, we argue over who has the right or the right credentials to serve others in Jesus name. Again, Jesus is quite clear that he is more satisfied by right action, rather than the right credentials; and, acts of love rather than belonging to the right group. As one contemporary theologian, John Caputo writes─
When faith and love call the roll, we had better answer, like the Virgin Mary in Luke's story, "here I am." When love calls for action, we had better be ready with something more than a well-formed proposition even if it has been approved by a council. We had better be ready with a deed, not a what but a how, ready to respond and do the truth, to make it happen here and now, for love and justice are required now.
We love God by loving our World, a wonderful gift, created from the Word of God and, given life by the Breath of God. If we look at today’s global picture, the earth, our home is under threat from global warming. Poverty and unemployment are reaching epidemic proportions. Peoples’ livelihoods and cultures are being destroyed by resource extraction run amuck. Water, air and earth pollution are causing the extinction of various species of plant and animal life.
Our local picture has people dying alone in SROs and on the streets. We have seniors, families, and single people who don’t have adequate food, clothing or shelter. Many also lack a sense of safety, belonging and community.
So, it seems to me that we have a lot of work to do as Christians. Our faith is not faith in the Pope or faith in Luther or whoever; it is faith in our Triune God. A passage from the Letter of James better explains what I’m trying to say. He writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith”
So as we go forward in contemplating Christian unity, the details that matter are not the liturgical, ecclesial and doctrinal details that separate us but the details of how as Christian, in unity, we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
 Caputo, John D. 2001. “On Religion – Without Religion” in On religion. London: Routledge, p.130.