Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020 “They showed us unusual kindness”

By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy

“ Christian experience shows us that God writes straight on crooked lines, and we know, against all odds, we will not drown or be lost. Because God’s steadfast love endures for ever. ”

1After we were brought safely through,
we then learned that the island was called Malta. V
2The native people showed us unusual kindness,
for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all,
because it had begun to rain and was cold.
Once again Christian churches in Baguio and La Trinidad and elsewhere in the country will take turns hosting services to observe and celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WOPCU). This worldwide event is observed every year in the whole Christendom with a common theme which is changed every year focused on the prevailing and captivating human and environmental situation and events on this planet. This year’s theme is “They showed us unusual kindness” based on the missionary journey saga of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 28 verse 2.
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The search for unity: throughout the year
The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic significance. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the Week of Prayer, for example around Pentecost (suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the Church. The Christian churches in the Philippines for many years now adopted the first months of the year to celebrate this event.
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Context of the theme. The materials for the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the Christian churches in Malta and Gozo (Christians Together in Malta). On 10th February many Christians in Malta celebrate the Feast of the Shipwreck of St Paul, marking and giving thanks for the arrival of Christian faith on these islands. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles used for the feast is the text chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer. (WOPCU2020 Guide)
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The story begins with Paul being taken to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:1ff). Paul is in chains, but even in what turns out to be a perilous journey, the mission of God continues through him. This narrative is a classic drama of humanity confronted by the terrifying power of the elements. The 276 passengers, on the boat are at the mercy of the forces of the seas beneath them and the powerful tempest that rages about them. These forces take them into unknown territory, where they are lost and without hope. The passengers in the boat are a diverse collection of characters: there is the centurion and his soldiers that has power over all the passengers; there are the sailors whose skills depend the safe operation and direction of the boat; and there are the prisoners that included Paul who are the most vulnerable among the passengers’ register. As the story unfolds, under pressure and in fear for their lives, we see distrust and suspicion widening the divisions between the different groups.
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This diverse and conflicted group of people runs aground “on some island” (27:26). Having been thrown together in the same boat, they arrive at the same destination, where their human unity is disclosed in the hospitality they receive from the islanders. As they gather round the fire, surrounded by a people who neither know nor understand them, differences of power and status fall away. The 276 are no longer at the mercy of indifferent forces, but embraced by God’s loving providence made present through a people who show them “unusual kindness” (28:2). Cold and wet, they can warm and dry themselves by the fire. Hungry, they are given food. They are sheltered until it is safe for them to continue their journey.
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If we have been watching the morning and evening news for the past week we witnessed human drama played in various stages. With the devastation wrought by the volcanic eruption of Taal, we see similar human trait experienced by Paul and his company from the islanders who gave them food and shelter. People from different social status tried in their own way to reach out and help the evacuees as a result of the cataclysmic natural explosion. The Filipino people are known of their hospitality. This commendable attribute has been played out as witnessed in television by more fortunate citizenry near the affected areas by opening their residents and facilities to the evacuees. Hospitality is a much needed virtue in this time of tempestuous condition towards recovery and healing. It is a practice that calls us to a greater generosity to those in need. Hospitality is much needed to secure unity among all people wherever and whenever the human relationship is threatened by whatever destructive circumstance. The people who showed unusual kindness to Paul and his companions did not yet know Christ, and yet it is through their unusual kindness that a divided people were drawn closer together. Our own Christian unity will be discovered not only through showing hospitality to one another, important though this is, but also through loving encounters with those who do not share our language, culture or faith.
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Let may share the reading, reflection, and prayer assigned for day four of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which I believe very appropriate of the tempestuous event being experienced with the volcanic eruption of Taal and the precarious situation in Iran and Iraq:
Trust: Do not be afraid, believe
“For the last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.” Acts 27:23-26
Reflection
In the midst of the tempest Paul’s encouragement and hope contradicted the fear and despair of his fellow travellers. Our common call to be disciples of Jesus Christ entails being a sign of contradiction. In a world riven with anxieties, we are called to stand as witnesses to hope by placing our trust in God’s loving providence. Christian experience shows us that God writes straight on crooked lines, and we know, against all odds, we will not drown or be lost. Because God’s steadfast love endures for ever.
Prayer
Almighty God,
our personal suffering leads us to cry out in pain
and we shrink in fear when we experience sickness, anxiety
or the death of loved ones.
Teach us to trust you.
May the churches we belong to be signs of your providential care.
Make us true disciples of your Son
who taught us to listen to your word
and to serve one another.
In confidence we ask this in the name of your Son,
and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (Source: WCC WOPCU 2020 Resource Guide)
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We invite everybody to join the Baguio-Benguet Ecumenical Group (BBEG) in the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020 in the city of Baguio scheduled in the following churches:
January 20 – Baguio City First United Methodist Church, fronting BGHMC. “Reconciliation: throwing
the cargo overload”
January 21 – Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Kisad Road. “Enlightenment: Seeking and Showing forth
Christ’s light”
January 22 – St Stephen Lutheran Church, Gen. Luna Rd. “Hope: Paul’s Message”
January 23 – EpiCenter Church, Upper Bonifacio Rd. “Trust: Do not be afraid”
January 24 – Cathedral of the Resurrection, Magsaysay Ave. “Strength: Breaking Bread for the
Journey”
January 25 – UCCP Baguio, West Burnham Park. “Hospitality: Show unusual kindness”
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The Baguio-Benguet Ecumenical Group (BBEG) Welcomes You!**

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