We are privileged at this Eucharist today to welcome some sisters and brothers from other member churches of the National Council of Churches. They are here to participate in what we are calling “church to church” visits and we’ve had a good morning together already.
The point of these visits is to underscore the fact that the National Council of Churches is not some external “organization” which we are supporting. The National Council is “us!” The NCC is the relationship we have, as Episcopalians with some 45 million US Christians in 100,000 local congregations – Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, the historic African American churches, and the Living Peace churches. These are our sisters and brothers in service to the Gospel right here in this land…and beyond.
And I thought how appropriate particularly our first reading was today from Ephesians (5:1-8). The second verse is one easily remembered by Episcopalians because it is often used as the offertory sentence at the Sunday Eucharist: “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.” And that verse is preceded by the reason we are to “walk in love” – “therefore be imitators of God as beloved children!”
Because God is love, we who are created in God’s image are to be people of love. That’s why our lives are to manifest holiness (as outlined in the next verses – avoiding sexual sin, greed, coarse speech and all the rest of it). Because these are not really loving things to do! Rather, as in verse 8, now that we have seen the light of the Lord, we ourselves are to be children of light.
We don’t often think of ecumenism as being rooted and grounded in love, but of course that is precisely the point. We seek unity with our brother and sister Christians because we love the same God, are commanded by our common Savior and Lord to love one another, and to work together to share that love with the whole world! The National Council of Churches does that by fostering dialogue and theological reflection as well as by common action for justice and peace, classically called Faith and Order…Life and Work.
There’s one more reason today’s Epistle is so appropriate. When the author writes: “Be imitators of God as beloved children,” that’s right in line with what is sometimes called “Christo-centric” or “Christological” ecumenism. That is, the closer we draw to Christ, the closer we will draw to one another. That’s why “spiritual ecumenism”…praying together…is so important.
So, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than worshipping together in this Holy Eucharist today. Not all the NCC member denominations are in full communion yet. But we are on the way. And our special intention at this Eucharist should be that we will never tire on that journey, but together “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”