Sermon given at the Churches Together in Rome Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Service at St Paul’s Within the Walls – 18th January 2015 By Reverend Tara Curlewis The Path to Christian Unity is daring to Share and Journey with the Neighbour Who is



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Sermon given at the Churches Together in Rome Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Service at St Paul’s Within the Walls – 18th January 2015

By Reverend Tara Curlewis

The Path to Christian Unity is daring to Share and Journey with the Neighbour Who is Different.
Scripture Text John 4:1-42
I greet you in the Peace of Christ from the Uniting Church in Australia and the National Council of Churches. I wish to thank the Churches Together in Rome for the invitation to share with you today, it is an honour and a privilege to be here sharing for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In my part of the word the week of Prayer is celebrated in the eight days concluding on Pentecost Sunday, which is when the churches in Brazil also celebrate the week. They have chosen a text that we are familiar with and yet it challenges us to consider the path or the journey of Christian Unity afresh. My reflections are shaped by “The Path to Unity is daring to share and journey with the neighbour who is different.” ‘He (Jesus) left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.’ Jesus had choice of the route he could take on his journey to Judea in Galilee and chose to travel through Samaria. First he crossed into a new territory that many would avoid and also crossed social boundaries in the sharing with the woman at the well. As we are aware in Jesus’ day Samaritans were despised partially because in their religious practice they did not hold the stricture against pronouncing the divine name as in Judaism. It was customary for people travelling north to the Galilee region to avoid travelling through Samaria, a route that required several crossings of the Jordan. Jesus in passing through Samaria is indicating that a new attitude needs to be taken. He essentially challenged the practice of avoidance of this neighbour. This text can help us glean markers for the path to greater visible unity. The first marker is daring to cross boundaries that in some instances have existed for centuries and boundaries created in more recent times through intolerance and fear. Even though Brazil is considered to be very religious it is experiencing a time of growing intolerance with violence against those in minority and vulnerable groups: black people young, homosexual people, people of Afro Brazilian religion, woman and indigenous peoples. As well as increasing incidents of Christian intolerance. The socio-religious context of Brazil is challenging and the need for Christian unity is seen as vital. The churches through their National Council of Churches have programmes seeking to address issues, promote greater harmony and model dialogue, particularly interfaith dialogue seeking understanding. Brazil is not alone in this environment of growing intolerance and violence, globally we take notice when violence is committed by religious extremists such as in the last 6 weeks starting with the siege in the Sydney café, a place where I have been many times and many would drop into to buy coffee or chocolate, and the recent events in Paris. These events were both shaped by intolerance and violence. The intent of the perpetrators was to undermine communities and in still a sense of fear yet the opposite occurred. In Sydney the churches responded together in ecumenical and interfaith prayers initially for a peaceful outcome and after it tragically ended prayers were held for the families and friends of those involved as well as for the wider community. The community response exhibited a profound sense of unity in the out pouring of grief. Thousands of flowers were laid in Martin Place where the siege took place. The area filled with flowers and as it did the air was filled with a sweet fragrance. Colour and brightness transformed this part of the city. Religious leaders, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox all came together showing unity as they laid their tributes. The solidarity continued with leaders of other faiths joining together, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindu, Baha’i and Christians an expression of all of God’s children. Oikoumene in its broadest sense. 2 | P a g e You may have heard about the campaign “I’ll ride with you” it began by saying if you wear religious attire and are afraid to travel alone, then I’ll ride with you. Initial fear was for more violence against anyone who was Muslim. On the Sunday evening before Christmas after our family service there was a poinsettia found at the door with a note from an anonymous Muslim woman saying thank you to the people at Wesley Uniting Church for their support. We had “I’ll ride with you on our notice board.” Previously the Australian community had more easily observed Christians of the various denominations together publicly when seeking to raise awareness of persecution in the Middle East and to a lesser degree to call for justice for asylum seekers. Similar public expressions of unity have been seen in France. The global media is quick to pick up and sensationalise some incidents yet slower to notice the continued persecution of Christians and religious minorities, in Egypt, Syria, persecution broadly across the Middle East and in instances such as the massacre this month of 2000 in Nigeria. When the churches dare to act and speak publicly together on any issue this is a significant moment when we glimpse something of the unity for which Jesus prayed. As Churches Together in Rome your actions and support for refugees and particularly the Syrian refugees through todays offering is a marker and a glimpse of this unity of the church as God intended. One of the great leaders of the ecumenical movement, Archbishop William Temple, served as Archbishop of Canterbury for only two years from 1942 to 1944. When he arrived in Canterbury, he was in poor health. One of his lasting images to the ecumenical movement was that of the Christian with bi-focal lenses. In his writing he says that we should look through the top part of our glasses to see the church as God intends it to be, fully united. With the bottom of our lenses we see the church as it actually is, divided. Although we look at the church day by day with the bottom part of our spectacles, we should also always live as if the top part were reality, as if the church was already completely united. In any church fellowship or council of churches it is easy to live most of life looking through the bottom part of our spectacles where we see the church as it actually is but events like the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity encourages us to raise our sights to look through the top part of our glasses to see the Church as God intends, fully united. In our text John highlights how when Jesus stopped in the heat of the day at the well, he entered into a dialogue with the woman. In John’s encounter it commences with somewhat routine conversation around the well and the water. The providing of water to the stranger would be an act of hospitality and welcome. In this instance the offering of water is slow whilst the conversation moves quickly to living water. The reference to living water is a play on words in Greek, in that the phrase refers to water that is flowing rather than still "fresh rather than stagnant" while also actually meaning "living," linking it to the gift of eternal life gushing up in the believer who receives Jesus' gift. Here the marker to be noted is that the encounter with Jesus has an unexpected freshness, on the path to greater visible unity the church cannot stop still it is to keep moving and flowing looking for the unexpected new expressions of unity. In Jesus the living water cannot be easily contained, so it is with the path to greater visible unity it cannot be contained. The church today is called to move beyond being restrained by impervious traditional and denominational boundaries to having a porous receptivity for new expressions of unity as it journeys with the neighbour who is different. – (to move beyond being restrained by impervious traditional and denominational boundaries to having a porous receptivity for new expressions of unity.) The dialogue does not stop here it moves to a deeper level considering both past and present relationships. Jesus knows about the superficial relationships of the woman surprising her at his understanding. The path to unity is marked by listening to each other and moving our dialogue from the niceties of fellowshipping together to a new place where we get to the centre of our relationships. The place where we are open and willing to share our past failings with each other. The place where honesty and diversity is respected and valued. A few years ago the congregation in which I was ordained found it easy to engage with the mosque in a nearby area, yet when it came to engaging with the Coptic Orthodox Church in the same suburb they asked 3 | P a g e me how to talk with them. My response was the same as you talk with anyone go and knock on the door. They did and slowly they are growing in their understanding of each other. The ecumenical journey for much of the last century was one that considered unity to be a form or expression of organic unity. This led to the formation of united and uniting churches. In parts of Europe there are churches joining together after many years of dialogue. Is this the unity that we seek? Is this the type of unity we are praying for this week? As encouraging as unity is when churches join I think that our prayers for unity will be realised when we look for unity as seen in the three persons of the trinity. The early church Fathers developed a wonderful image of the oneness of God using the Greek word perichoresis peri meaning around and choresis from which we get choreography related to dance. They talked about the movement or the dancing around of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one in the Holy Trinity. Some of you are probably proficient at dancing, something I have not mastered, however, I know an older couple and observing their relationship it seems to me that their love has been a kind of dance, a waltz in which each other pays attention to the other as the tempo of the dance. The tune of life guides their movements and yet they are never so close that they cannot move, nor never so far apart as to be dancing on their own. – (they are never so close that they cannot move, nor never so far apart as to be dancing on their own.) The perichoresis or dance of God begins with the three persons of the divine trinity, The Father , The Son and the Holy Spirit moving dancing as one and we the church are invited to join the dance together. The dialogue at the well moves to the matter of worship. Just as Jesus’ initially challenged the practice of avoidance of neighbour he now challenges the notions strongly held in Judaism and Samaritan worship and indicates that worship is to be in Spirit and truth. The woman’s encounter with Jesus fills her with excitement so much that she leaves her water jar and gushes with enthusiasm to share the newness of life she has discovered in Jesus. At the start of this service water was brought by representatives from each of the churches and mingled together. May we as we go through this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity discover our neighbour who may be different being prepared to share and journey with them on the path to greater visible unity. Let us continue to cross boundaries of tradition and denomination to gather at the well with Jesus, and in our dialogue together as Christians, churches and people of faith move from social pleasantries to addressing deeper matters. The living water that Jesus offers is the water over which the Spirit of God hovers, the water into which most of us were baptised. The water that draws us to mingle and dance as one sending us out gushing with enthusiasm of the unity that is possible and the desire to make it known and visible in our world. The path to unity is to share and journey with the neighbour who is different Protestant, catholic, Pentecostal, Oriental or Eastern Orthodox so we may become as God intended - One. May God continue to guide and bless our journey to greater visible unity


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