Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2008

The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 2008. St. Andrew’s hosted an ecumenical worship service on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 at 7 a.m. The Prairie Centre for Ecumenism coordinates a wonderful schedule of ecumenical prayer and worship in Saskatoon each year, and we were pleased to take part by hosting one of the services. Our worship reflected on the readings for Day 4 of the Week of Prayer, and on the theme “Pray always for justice.”

Psalm 146
Exodus 3:1-12

This morning’s reading from Exodus is one of the scripture texts assigned for day four of the Week of Prayer. It is the familiar story of Moses speaking with God at the burning bush. When I’ve preached on this text in the past, my focus has been on the experience of God’s call. God speaks to us in a variety of ways — not usually as dramatically as through a burning bush that’s not being burned up! — but God does speak to us in scripture, through people in our lives, by the Holy Spirit, and as we carefully listen to God in prayer.

And God does call us to tasks that seem, at first, to be outrageous and beyond our capabilities. Like Moses, we are often surprised by the enormity of the things God calls us to do, and we often doubt that we will be able to get them done. A good example for us this week might be the call to work for the full visible unity of the church. That goal seems unbelievably huge to so many of us. It’s so enormous that many Christians don’t even think it’s possible. They argue that just getting along with each other is enough. ONE church is a pie-in-the-sky idea that only discourages us. We should set more realistic goals for ourselves.

But the problem with that perspective is that Christian unity is not a goal that we have set for ourselves. We have been called by God to be one with one another as Jesus and the Father are one. We have been called by God to be the body of Christ on earth — one body with many members, working in a co-ordinated effort to continue the work of Jesus in the world.

When God told Moses that God was sending him to Pharaoh to bring God’s people, the Israelites, out of Egypt, Moses replied, “Who am I that I should go?” “How will I do that?” I can imagine Moses thinking… “That’s never going to work! Come on, like I have enough influence with Pharaoh to steal away all his slaves, move them across a huge desert, and keep them alive until we get to this land of milk and honey that you’re promising.” But God said, “I will be with you, [and you will get it done].” As it says in the Gospel of Luke, “nothing is impossible with God.”

This morning’s story about Moses’ call and mission might serve to encourage us today to keep on working and praying for the unity of the Christian church. Even if it takes the rest of our lives, as it took Moses until the end of his life before he had a glimpse of the promised land, still we can trust that God has not called us to pray for and work for an impossibility. There will come a day when we will be one.

But the specific theme for day four of this Week of Prayer is “Pray always for justice.” Even as we continue our prayer for Christian unity, we are invited also to pray for justice for all people. The story of Moses can help us again, I think. Because in Moses’ call and commissioning, we get a hint of how God feels about people who are experiencing injustice.

The Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… The cry of the Israelites has come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a God who cared about the poor and the oppressed. God not only heard their cries and paid attention to their sufferings, but God intervened in their situation. God called and commissioned a leader to help them, to bring them out of Egypt. And God fulfilled the promise to be with him as he worked to accomplish such a massive undertaking.

The story of the Exodus is one of the central stories of the People of Israel. It is the event that gives shape to their identity as a People and that encapsulates their understanding of the one true God as caring, compassionate, and powerful. For us, as Christians, many years later, the Exodus story still carries a great deal of meaning and significance. And yet, it is only one example of God’s care and compassion towards the oppressed and those suffering from injustice. It is only one story of how God calls human people to take part in transforming lives and creating justice for all people.

God sent many prophets to speak to the people over the years. And through the prophets God called us to live together in peace, in love, and in justice. And then, eventually, God sent Jesus, the Anointed One.

According to the way Jesus identifies himself in Luke’s Gospel, he was anointed by God to bring good news to the poor. God sent him to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. And in his life and ministry, the world saw Jesus doing just that. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he welcomed the outcasts, he forgave those who had made mistakes in their lives. Everywhere that Jesus went, people’s lives were transformed. The people at the bottom of the social stratification were lifted up as Jesus loved them, accepted them, listened to them, and taught them about God’s love and forgiveness.

And as you know, Jesus gathered a following. Even during his lifetime, his disciples began to join in his work. As Christians, disciples of Jesus today, we are still called to continue the work that Jesus began. We believe that God has poured out the Holy Spirit onto the church, and that God has given us the power to be the body of Christ in the world.

As Jesus’ body today, we have the collective responsibility to tackle some unbelievably huge tasks… things like feeding the hungry (here in Saskatoon, and around the world)… things like housing those who are homeless (here in Saskatoon might be a good start this winter, as more and more people are finding themselves without a place to live!)

As Jesus’ body today, we are called to make sure that no one is mistreated because of their gender, or colour, or culture, or any other characteristic. When we know that many Aboriginal People in Canada do not have equal access to education, health care, clean water, and so many other basic necessities, we can’t just ignore that. We are called to do the things that Jesus did, lifting up those who have been pushed down, loving and accepting those who have been hated and excluded.

I cannot mention this morning all of the many justice issues that we need to work on here in Saskatoon, in Canada, and around the world. And I don’t need to mention them anyway, because I know that you already know what many of them are.

Today we are invited to “pray always for justice.” And I think that will be a good start for us. It will be a good start when our prayer leads to the conversion of our hearts, and when our converted hearts inspire us to action on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. May God help us to pray, to be converted, and to act together as the one body of Christ. May God help us to continue Jesus’ work of justice-making for all people. Amen.