“And what does the Lord require of you?” (Micah 6:8). The question posed by the Old Testament prophet Micah is a familiar one to many of us. We quote it, sing hymns based on it and many of our Christian leaders have preached on it from time to time. We are often so sure that we know exactly what it means. The question (and the passage it’s taken from) is well-known to all of the 25 Christian denominations who are members of The Canadian Council of Churches, representing more than 85 percent of the Christians in Canada.
The question is also used as the theme of the 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For more than 100 years, Christians from a variety of denominations have gathered to pray together at least once a year, which led to the creation of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Each year the materials for the week of prayer are put together by Christians in a specific area of the world. For 2013, they were prepared by Christians in India, so it was our Indian sisters and brothers who chose “What Does the Lord Require of Us?” as this year’s theme.
Most of us could finish Micah 6:8 by memory: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And in knowing this verse so well, we should not be surprised that the prayer materials focus in a number of creative ways on walking.
But the resources also challenge us to explore more deeply the core of our faith. They focus on the Dalit of India, who are labelled as “untouchable” because they come from a particular caste or part of society that has been excluded as outcasts. Our Dalit sisters and brothers have not had the choice of humbling themselves; they have been forcibly humbled in ways that are humiliating and dehumanizing.
I have had the privilege of travelling in India and of sending my two daughters to live there one summer. The situation of the Dalits in India can pose challenges to the interfaith relationships of the country. Some believe that Dalits convert to Christianity not out of a deep faith in Christ but because they will be better treated in a faith tradition that doesn’t have much history with the caste system. Also challenging to the Western ways in which my personal faith has been shaped are the Dalit Christians’ visual portrayals of Jesus emerging from or resting on lotus flowers. Most of us are familiar enough with the New Testament to know that lotus flowers do not show up in either the Gospels or the letters of Paul.
So, what does the Lord require of us? In our Christian tradition, I suspect that we often choose to answer this question in terms of service and social justice. But suppose from time to time we tried to answer it from the perspective of Christ’s will for the unity of his church, from the perspective of ecumenism?
Can our services for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2013 encompass not only our sisters and brothers of India, but those of the Indian Mar Thoma Syrian Orthodox Church right here in Canada? Can our prayers for the unity of the church and the hurts of our world encompass the drums of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Canada, the Arabic chanting of our Coptic Orthodox sisters and brothers, the four-part harmony of the Mennonite Church of Canada and the incense of the Roman Catholic Church, of which half the Christians of Canada belong?
What does the Lord require of us in order to have truly loving, ecumenical relationships with other Christians in this country? How will we visibly witness to our unity in diversity?
The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton is the general secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches.
The materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are available on the website of The Canadian Council of Churches, www.councilofchurches.ca.