SERMON BY THE REV. DR. MICHAEL KINNAMON — WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY PUGET SOUND REGIONAL SERVICE — Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015-01-22 19.24.41-4This is the second time I have had the privilege of preaching at a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service in Seattle.  The first was in 2009 when I was still at the National Council of Churches and before Mardine and I had any thought of moving to this beautiful part of God’s creation.  This one comes as I am preparing to retire from teaching at the School of Theology and Ministry and move, with Mardine, to southern California.  So it is a good opportunity to say how blessed I feel to have been part of this ecumenical community (and still am part of until June!).  I give thanks to God for the witness to God’s inclusive love that is made by Joyce Cox, Michael Ramos (and his predecessors at the Church Council of Greater Seattle), Jan Cherry, Loren Arnett, my colleagues at STM, Michael Trice and Mark Taylor, and so many others. May God continue to bless your ministries on behalf of Christ’s one church!

I realize that our text for this year’s Week of Prayer comes from an ecumenical working group in Brazil. I, however, have not lived in Brazil; and so I will begin this sermon with a story from a place where I have had the privilege of living.

I was teaching in India in 1987 when I went to visit a former student of mine, Rev. Gnana Ponnian, who served something like twenty-five tiny congregations near the very tip of southern India.  Gnana didn’t have a car, so he traveled to his scattered flocks on an old Enfield motorcycle that looked like it was held together with duct tape.  But I got on behind him, and we roared into various villages where word would somehow be spread to the fields that the pastor was there; and, within an hour or so, people would gather for worship.

Gnana was (still is, as far as I know) a pastor in the Church of South India, a church that is the result of a union involving Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.  As one of the architects of this union put it, “We got tired of being divided by old European disputes.”  Around 80 percent of the Church of South India’s members come from the group now known as Dalits–those who were once called “untouchables” or “outcastes.”  The Indian Constitution outlaws untouchability, but caste oppression is still present in India, especially rural India, and certainly was in 1987.  Some of the Dalit communities I went to with Gnana were simply clusters of huts, set apart like little satellites from an actual village.

In one of these, we gathered for worship under the thatched overhang of the most prominent house.  Gnana led the prayers and I preached.  (Parenthetically, I remember that before I spoke they wanted me to sing, which is a really bad idea! But I launched into the great anthem of the World Sunday School Association, “Jesus loves me, this I know…,” which nearly all of them sang with me–in English.)  I have no idea what I said in my homily, but it was surely some variation on the theme that “God loves you.”  That in the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, everyone is welcome at the same table.  In the words of John’s gospel, “God so loved the world”–and that means all of us.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us”–an amazing declaration that all “flesh” is precious to God.  Sometimes I fear that we take such words for granted, but I guarantee you that is not the case in Gnana’s congregations.

In this particular hamlet, there was a boy whose English was quite good; and so Gnana, wonderful pastor that he is, designated this boy to be my translator.  It obviously made him feel quite proud!  While I preached, and he translated into Tamil, I could see a woman who sat in the rear and off to the side–an apparent outcast among outcasts.  After we finished, and I had prayed over children with various illnesses (which I also prayed I wouldn’t get), I asked the boy to help me speak with this woman.  He clearly didn’t want to, but I coaxed him to come with me.  And as we approached, she pulled her dupatta (scarf) over her face and turned away, but not before I saw that she was badly disfigured.  I said something, but before he could translate, she mumbled a few words.  “She says,” he told me, “that it’s not right for you to be talking with her.”

I start with this story, perhaps because it haunts me, but also because it is as close as I’ve ever come to grasping the situation of the woman at the well.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  And not just that, but one who comes to the well in the middle of the day when she is sure to be alone.  An outcast among those the ancient Jews considered outcasts.

Let’s take a closer look at this astonishing text, starting with verse 9, which contains one of the great understatements in all of scripture: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”  In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel, the northern kingdom of what had been the united monarchy of Israel and Judah.  As described in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrian ruler destroyed the cities of Israel, including the great city of Samaria (after a three-year siege), dragging many of the inhabitants into exile.  (I report this as dry history, but, of course, those sentences mask a tremendous amount of human suffering.)  Almost immediately, however, the Assyrians rebuilt Samaria by importing people from other nations–a typical ancient practice designed to diffuse the possibility of rebellion.

The result was a number of hybrid customs.  In the words of 2 Kings: “They worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.”  For ancient Jews, Samaritans, as they came to be called, were a people “mixed and impure.”  And the animosity worked both ways, especially after the Jews, in the secoIMG_20150123_011012nd century BC, destroyed the temple of the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim.  We read in Luke’s gospel, how a Samaritan village would not receive Jesus and his disciples.  Most Jewish travelers from Judea to Galilee skirted Samaritan territory to avoid danger, including the danger of being polluted by contact with those whose religion and ethnicity weren’t “right.”

(I will add, parenthetically, that we often despise most those who are, in fact, closest to us.  Disciples, my denomination, started as part of the Restoration Movement on the American frontier, a heritage that also includes the Churches of Christ.  But I have had Disciples leaders tell me, with a straight face, that we have more in common with the Russian Orthodox than we do with these other “restorationists”!  So it was with Jews and Samaritans.)

So when we read that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” we realize that this is not a geographical observation, but a theological one.  It was necessary for Jesus to go that way in order to demonstrate what reconciliation looks like in the flesh, to demonstrate the extent of God’s shocking inclusiveness.

Let’s return now to the woman at the well, an account, you will recall, that comes on the heels of the story of the Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus.  Sermons on this text often speak of the woman as “fallen,” of questionable morals–but this misses the point for two reasons.

First, if a woman was married five times in ancient Palestine, it would surely have been due to circumstances beyond her control–perhaps because her husbands had died or because she was barren and, thus, rejected.  In any case, her outcast status was more likely a sign of victimization than moral transgression–as with the woman in India who, I learned from Gnana, had been disfigured when she spurned the advances of a higher-caste man.

To say it another way, this is not the story of the forgiveness of a sinful individual.  (Notice that Jesus doesn’t offer forgiveness.)  It is the story of the reconciliation of communities, a point that is reinforced if we read the “five husbands” reference symbolically, as I think it was intended.  According to 2 Kings, Samaria was repopulated with people from five nations.  With this in mind, we see that the woman at the well is a wonderfully personal representative of the Samaritans as a whole.  They had inter-married with five ancient peoples, and now, while not inter-marrying, they “lived with” the oppressors from Rome.  To them, Jesus says “You, too, are welcome in God’s community, a community in which there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Samaritan, religious leader nor outcast.  All have access to the living water that is not dependent on wells owned by particular groups.  All are children of the One who can be worshiped on any mountain.”

Probably like many of you, I love the particularity, the earthiness, of this narrative.  The very humanness of the interaction itself shows us that reconciliation happens face to face (in the flesh) and through the reciprocal sharing of gifts.  (She, after all, has something that he needs.)  But this is not simply the story of individual encounter.  It is the story of communal barriers being dismantled–and, as such, is an astonishing proclamation of the inclusivity of divine love.

John 4 is not usually counted among the classic texts of Christian unity–such as John 17, Ephesians 4, or 1 Corinthians 12–but I now think it should be.  The church envisioned in the ecumenical movement is not an amalgamation of churches that maintain, however subtly, their old patterns of exclusion and discrimination.  It is a new kind of community in which differences of nationality and ethnicity are not obstacles to the unity of God’s children.  It is a new kind of community in which those we may have considered “lesser” or “other” turn out to be the real evangelizers whose experience of Jesus leads them to call him “savior.”  It is a new kind of community, what Dr. King called the “beloved community,” in which those who have been excluded find a welcome.

This brings me, finally, back to India.  My students there, such as Gnana, know intuitively that Christian unity is not simply a matter of Dalits and non-Dalits living side by side.  They know it is a new community in which no one is outcast and all find a place at the table.  Yes, in the short term, we give thanks that rich and poor, those at the center and those at the margins, exist together in the body of Christ.  But the vision that compels us is of the day when no one, whether Samaritan or Dalit, sits in the rear and off to the side.

This is the gospel! Thanks be to God!

 

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon

Spehar-Halligan Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Collaboration in Interreligious Dialogue, School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University

Faculty Reflections Week of Prayer 2015

DAY EIGHT: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY – Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reflection from the Churches of Brazil

 

With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission. She announces to her people that she has found the Messiah. Many believed in Jesus “because of the woman’s witness” (John 4:39). The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Thanks to her attitude of openness, she recognized in that stranger “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Mission is a key element of Christian faith. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Pope Francis told missionaries, “Wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us.” Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission requires us to learn to drink from the living water without taking hold of the well. The well does not belong to us. Rather, we draw life from the well, the well of living water which is given by Christ.

Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. We seek to live out what we proclaim. The late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, once said that many have become atheists because they have become disillusioned by people of faith who do not practice what they preach. The witness of the woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation.

If our word and witness is authentic, the world will hear and believe. “How are they to believe if they have not heard?” (Rom 10:14).

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Theme for the Day: WITNESS

Exodus 3:13-15 Moses at the Burning Bush

Psalm 30 The Lord restores us to life

Romans 10:14-17 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

John 4:27-30.39-40 Many believed because of the woman’s testimony

Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between unity and mission?
  2. Do you know people in your community whose life story is a witness to unity?

School Cycle of Prayer:

We pray today for the Ministerial and Theological Integration II class taught by Rick Russell; Rebecca Cobb, faculty; Kristin Houvaguimian, staff; Jessica Palmer, graduate assistant; Lynelle Kearney and Lynn Kittridge, students.

Prayer

God, spring of living water,

Make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives.

Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well,

and give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another.

Transform our hearts and our lives

so that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News.

And lead us always to the encounter with the other,

as an encounter with you.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Guest Reflections Prayer Resources SU STM Daily Prayers Week of Prayer 2015

DAY SEVEN: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY – Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reflection

by The Rev. Nindyo Sasongko, Graduate Assistant, Worship and Liturgy, School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University

 

“Give me water to drink”

My family used to live in a neighborhood where traditional Javanese (an ethnic group in Indonesia) houses could be found. When I was young, I was wondering about two things: Why did all traditional houses have a well in the front yard? Why did the owner put a ceramic pitcher (kendi—read: kindee) filled with water in front of their house? Later I knew that these were parts of Javanese hospitality, a hospitality which has its roots from Javanese philosophy of life.

kendi1When the dry season comes, and many wellsprings do not produce water, neighbors may stop by their neighbor’s house and ask, “May I draw water from your well?” This question is not a superficial request. Many times such a question becomes a door to a long conversation between neighbors. So is with the ceramic pitcher. A thirsty traveler may stop by at any house and ask the owner, “May I drink from this kendi?”  The hosts are pleased to give water from the kendi and ask if the traveler wants to come in and have conversation in their home.

Water is essential to human beings. Water is central in human life. For Javanese people, water is believed to be essence from which human beings have their being. If land is like flesh to human body, water is like its soul. Take a look on the map and find the island of Java, you will see that this island is surrounded by water. Who can claim ownership over water? None. This outlook creates an understanding that water is to be shared with others. Indeed, water connects people.

“Give me water to drink” breaks the silence between two strangers at that noon. Jesus is a stranger to the Samaritan woman. But this woman too, she is not only a stranger in Jesus’ eyes but also to her society and even to the Fourth evangelist since John does not remember her name. We know what comes next. This passage indeed is one of the longest conversations in the Fourth Gospel. “Give me water to drink” breaks barriers, taboos, and stereotypes not only between individuals but also between societies. At the well, the host’s life is enriched by the stranger.

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Theme for the Day: TESTIMONY

Numbers 20:1-11 The Israelites at Meribah

Psalm 119:10-20 “I will not forget your word”

Romans 15:2-7 “May God… grant you to live in harmony with one another”

John 4:7-15 “Give me to drink”

 

Questions:

  1. How has your understanding and experience of God been enriched by the encounter with other Christians?
  2. What can Christian communities learn from indigenous wisdom and other religious traditions in your region?

 

School Cycle of Prayer:

We pray today for the Ezekiel: Ecstasy in the Face of Empire class taught by Erica Martin; Sharon Callahan, faculty; Lisa Gustaveson, staff; Jessica Wright, graduate assistant; Elizabeth Hunter and Gayle Johnson, students.

 

Prayer

God of life, who cares for all creation, and calls us to justice and peace,

may our security not come from arms, but from respect.

May our force not be of violence, but of love.

May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing.

May our path not be of ambition, but of justice.

May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness.

May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will.

Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing, today and forever, the bread of solidarity, justice and peace.

This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all.

Amen.

Prayer Resources Student Reflections SU STM Daily Prayers Week of Prayer 2015

2015 WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY PUGET SOUND REGIONAL SERVICE

2015-01-22 18.11.12 2015-01-22 19.04.24 2015-01-22 19.24.59 2015-01-22 19.52.04Faculty, staff, students and denominational partners gathered at Plymouth Congregational Church for the 2015 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity regional service, January 22, 2015.  Dr. Michael Kinnamon, our school’s Spehar-Halligan Visiting Professor for Ecumenical Collaboration in Interreligious Dialogue delivered message based on John 4.

Featured Week of Prayer 2015

DAY SIX: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY – Friday, January 23, 2015

Reflection

by The Rev. Canon Marilyn Cornwell, Ph.D.

Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington

 

You have no bucket and the well is deep” (John 4:11)

The green sloping lawn in front of the church on the corner teamed with people from all over the local community that summer Sunday morning as members of five churches in the Magnolia neighborhood gathered for worship. In the midst of the assembled seating rose the large baptismal font, empty and open to the sky. At the beginning of worship water from the churches of the five different denominations was brought from five directions to fill the font as a symbol of our unity in Christ. My Presbyterian colleague, Pastor Deb, used the words from the chapel of St. John Lateran to proclaim, “No barrier can divide where life unites: one faith, one fount, one spirit, makes one people!”

During Holy Communion our voices lifted in joy as we sang, “One bread, one body, one Lord of all; one cup of blessing which we bless. And we though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.” As one of the five pastors serving Holy Communion, a poignant interaction in the Communion line is etched in my memory: one of the elders from my parish tried to touch the water in the font as she walked by to receive bread and wine, but her cane kept getting in the way; a member of one of the other parishes saw her desire to reach the water and helped her do so.

The well is deep. It gushes up so that we might never be thirsty. And, often we need each other – be it loved one or stranger – to reach the Living Water of life. Our commitment to our common life may take other forms, yet our five churches are committed to ongoing dialogue, worship, fellowship and compassionate action in Christ’s name.

In closing that summer Sunday our combined voices rang out in song, “Let us bring the gifts that differ and in splendid varied way, sing a new Church into being, one in faith and love and praise.”

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Theme for the Day: TESTIMONY

Scripture Readings:

Exodus 2:15-22 Moses at the well of Midian

Psalm 91 The song of those who take refuge in the Lord

1 John 4:16-21 Perfect love casts out fear

John 4:11-15 “A spring of water welling up to eternal life”

Questions:

  1. How do you interpret Jesus’ words that through him we may become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14)?
  2. Where do you see Christian people being springs of living water for you and for others?
  3. Which are the situations in public life to which the churches should speak with a single voice in order to be springs of living water?

School Cycle of Prayer:

We pray today for the Integration of Transformational Leadership for Justice I class taught by Sharon Callahan; Michael Trice, Assistant Dean; Hannah Crivello, staff; Irene DeMaris, graduate assistant; Kathleen Hosfeld and Sheila Houston, students.

Prayer

Triune God,

following the example of Jesus,

make us witnesses to your love.

Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity.

May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity.

May walls be transformed into bridges.

This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Guest Reflections SU STM Daily Prayers Week of Prayer 2015

DAY FIVE: WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY – Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reflection

by Steve Childress, M.Div. Student, School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University

 

Knowing the Gift of God

I realized quickly when I moved to Seattle from Memphis, Tennessee, that the world was a much bigger place than I had imagined.  Coming out of a Christian tradition and culture that has Pentecostal roots, not only did the curricula and content of courses at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry broaden my perspectives and insights, my classmates who come from various Christian backgrounds and other faith traditions have expanded my ideas and thought-life as well.  I occasionally remark to them that before coming to Seattle, I had been living in a “Christian bubble.”

In one class, Pastoral Care Skills, I had concluded that I should just be quiet and learn as much as I could, but the professors recognized the spiritual aspect of my ministerial experiences and encouraged me to make more contributions to the discussions in class.  Not only did I see value in the professors’ lectures as well as my classmates’ insights, they saw value in mine.

This is where my imagination gleans insight when I consider the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John as I reflect on Christian unity.  Christians find themselves in a variety of places in the world.  We are among the privileged as well as the oppressed.  We see the world from the center as well as from the margins.  Our various Christian traditions and cultures give us a diverse multitude of world views, and there is great value to be gained in our dialogue with one another as opposed to being segregated into “Christian bubbles” with like-minded believers.  This is demonstrated for me in the conversation at the well in Samaria outside of the city called Sychar.  Regardless and because of Jesus’ posture as a Jewish Rabbi and prophet, or the sociological insight and perspective of the Samaritan woman who lived on the margins, the two world views benefited each of them through their dialogue with one another.  Surely the Samaritan woman benefited from the conversation that she had with Jesus, so much so that she invited others to come and see him (John 4:29).  Surely Jesus benefited from the conversation with the Samaritan woman, noting to his disciples that he had “meat that they knew not of (John 4:32).”  The everlasting thirst quenching of the Holy Spirit’s living water and the sustenance that comes from the meat of doing God’s will speaks to the sustainability of our identity, the purposes of God and the value of our relationships with one another.  Like precious gold and choice silver, there is value to be gained in our dialogues as well as the community that we have them in.

We pray for spiritual discernment, realizing our value in one another, the value in our dialogues as well as our relationships.

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Theme for the Day: ANNUNCIATION

Scripture Readings:

Genesis 46:1-7 God tells Jacob not to be afraid of going down to Egypt

Psalm 133 How good it is when kindred live together in unity

Acts 2:1-11 The day of Pentecost

John 4:7-15 “You have no bucket and the well is deep”

Questions:

  1. Do you remember situations in which your church has helped another church or has been helped by another church?
  2. Are there reservations from the part of your church to accept help from another church? How can these reservations be overcome?

School Cycle of Prayer:

We pray today for the Christian Scriptures class taught by Leticia Guardiola-Sáenz; Tito Cruz, Associate Dean; Thuong ChuChe, staff; Corey Passons, graduate assistant; Dorinda Henry and Todd Holdridge, students.

Prayer:

God, spring of the Living water,

help us to understand that the more we join together the pieces of our ropes,

the more deeply our buckets reach into your divine waters!

Awaken us to the truth that the gifts of the other,

are an expression of your unfathomable mystery.

And make us sit at the well together

to drink from your water

which gathers us in unity and peace.

We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ,

who asked the Samaritan woman to give him water for his thirst.

Amen.

 

Prayer Resources Student Reflections SU STM Daily Prayers Week of Prayer 2015

A BRAZILIAN REFLECTION ON JESUS AND THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

 

Halfway through the 2015 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it has already been powerful and transformative to engage the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4 – at morning prayer, through guest reflections posted to this blog, and in preparation for the regional evening service tomorrow night at Plymouth Church United Church of Christ in downtown Seattle at 7:00pm. Our sister and brother Christians from Brazil were invited by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to create global prayer and worship resources for 2015 – they chose the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. The following is the reflection the Brazilian folk prepared for today, Day Four, especially on John 4:25-28.

Blessings,

Dr. Mark Lloyd Taylor, Director of Worship

School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University

§§§

The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows that dialogue with the different, the stranger, the unfamiliar, can be life-giving. If the woman had followed the rules of her culture, she would have left when she saw Jesus approaching the well. That day, for some reason, she did not follow the established rules. Both she and Jesus broke with conventional patterns of behavior. Through this breaking forth they showed us again that it is possible to build new relationships.

As Jesus completes the work of the Father, the Samaritan woman, for her part, leaves her water jar, meaning that she could go further in her life; she was not confined to the role society imposed on her. In John’s Gospel she is the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. “Breaking forth” is a necessity for those who desire to grow stronger and wiser in their faith.

That the Samaritan woman leaves behind her water jar signals that she has found a greater gift, a greater good than the water she came for, and a better place to be within her community. She recognizes the greater gift that this Jewish stranger, Jesus, is offering her.

It is difficult for us to find value, to recognize as good, or even holy, that which is unknown to us and that which belongs to another. However, recognizing the gifts that belong to the other as good and as holy is a necessary step towards the visible unity we seek.

Morning Prayer Meditations Week of Prayer 2015