Posted by: Michael Chance | January 26, 2011

Ecumenical Sunday – January 23th

Hymn: O Church of God, United (Frederick B. Morley)

Opening Prayer: O Christ, who commanded the apostles to go into all the world, and to preach the Gospel to every creature, let your name be great among the nations from the rising up of the sun to its going down, now and forever. Amen.
(Lancelot Andrewes)

Readings from the Word:
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Liturgy for Christian Unity
Let us ask the Lord to strengthen all Christians faith in Christ, the Savior of the world.
Let us ask the Lord to sustain and guide Christians with his gifts along the way to full unity.
Let us ask the Lord for the gift of unity and peace for the world.
We ask you, O Lord, for the gifts of your Spirit.
Enable us to penetrate the depth of the whole truth, and grant that we may share with others the goods that you have put at our disposal.
Teach us to overcome divisions. Send us your Spirit to lead to full unity your sons and daughters in full charity, in obedience to your will; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from Pope John Paul II)

Reflections on the Word
Midwinter can be a part of the year that definitely feels like a time of “deep darkness”. Although we’re past the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), it doesn’t feel like we’ve yet turned the corner back to longer days, and the promise of spring still seems far in the future. While we mostly think of Christmas lights brightening up the winter darkness, by the end of January, most of us have taken them down and packed them away until next December, leaving us in the midwinter darkness. But, here and there, I often still find someone that has left a single electric candle light in a front window. In the deep dark of winter nights, that single light shines forth as bright as a beacon, driving away the darkness and casting a warm and welcoming glow on the cold landscape.

It’s fitting that on this Sunday, which is celebrated as Ecumenical Sunday in many churches, that we have the combination of the reading from Matthew of Jesus starting his ministry, leaving his home in Nazareth and moving to Capernaum, gathering the first of the disciples, and beginning to lay the foundation for the Christian church, and Paul’s letter to the fractious early church in Corinth. Rather than loudly proclaim the creation of a new faith with grand announcements or celebrations in Jerusalem or any of the other capitals of the world, Jesus moves to town populated by people from many cultures, in what many of his contemporaries considered a backwater part of Israel, so that, like with his baptism by John, God’s promises as foretold by the prophets can be fulfilled. Jesus starts his ministry not intending to split the world or to bring salvation to only one people, but unite them in a new relationship with God, as Paul reminds the new Corinthian followers of Christ.

Look at who Jesus calls to be his first disciples. Not the high priests in Jerusalem or the leading rabbis of the Pharisees, or the most learned scholars among the scribes and Sadducees, no royalty or great military leaders. Fishermen. Plain, hard-working commercial fishermen, from the shores of Galilee. As we learn later in the Gospels, Jesus called to be his closest followers those from everyday, ordinary occupations and backgrounds. People just like us. Ordinary people who became the foundation for the kingdom of God, and of his church.

And like that single candlelight in the window on a dark winter night, each of those first disciples was drawn to leave their old lives and walk into the light of a new life in Christ. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the call that Jesus makes, to the people of his time and to ours. Jesus asks us to turn away from the darkness, from our old lives and temptations, and to follow him to a new life in God.

Jesus came into a world that was lost and confused, like someone stumbling around in the darkness, and provided a light of hope and salvation. In many ways, our world is still full of lost and confused people, seeking in the dark for that source of light that will lead them to a new, grace filled life. Christ calls to him followers that, having themselves repented of their old lives, will become beacons of hope and healing for a broken and splintered world, drawing all the world to God like fishermen pulling in their nets.

Christ has found us, and calls to us, “Follow me!” Will we not turn again, and become a light in the darkness for someone lost in the world?

Hymn: We Are Called (David Haas)

Blessing: Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to follow.
Go and tell the news of God’s love.
Cast the nets of grace wide,
that all may see the glory of God.
Go forth and shine with God’s light!
May God–Source, Word, and Spirit–
bless you with the radiance of love. Amen.
(The Abingdon Worship Annual)

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