On Sunday 24 January the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was celebrated in the Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. We used a worship service provided by the churches of Latvia and available from the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland website. The Bible passages chosen by the Latvian Christians were: Isaiah 55:1-3, Psalm 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18, 1 Peter 2:9-10, Matthew 5:1-16. The following sermon was preached by Helene Milena.
Today is the Sunday of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the Northern Hemisphere. Each year resources are put together by Christians from a particular country. This year it has been the turn of Latvia.
Latvia is a small country in the north of Europe. It has only a little over 2 million inhabitants. It was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944 until 1991. In 2004 it became a member of the European Union. Christianity arrived in Latvia in the 10th Century. During the World Wars and the Cold War Christians witnessed to the Gospel and some suffered torture, exile or even martyrdom as a result. It was Christians who helped lead the independence movement of 1991. At that time unarmed citizens manned barricades, facing Soviet tanks. Having witnessed together and suffered together, there is a deep bond between Christians of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Members of different churches and Christian groups put together meditations for each day of this special week.
The focus of the week is on the priesthood shared by all baptised Christians, their calling to proclaim the Gospel and to be as salt and light in the world. The Latvian church asks us to reflect on our joint vocation to be salt and light. Salt and light are essential for human physical health and the Gospel is essential for human spiritual flourishing.
Peter’s letter was written to people who were newly baptised. He was explaining what the act of baptism had done for them. Choosing to be baptised was a very serious decision. Rather like Muslims today, the choice to follow the Christian faith left people adrift from the support of their family and friends who did not make the same choice. They were often rejected and shunned. There was a lot to lose in this decision.
Peter describes the new identity of believers, an identity which we share. Peter drew on two promises made to the people of Israel, to show that the Christian believers were like a new Israel, inheriting the promises God had made in the past.
In Exodus 19:5-6 God says: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”
And in Isaiah 43:20-21
” The wild animals honour me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.”
So Peter tells these new believers, and us, that Christians are chosen by God. We are children in God’s family, effectively drawn into a new race through our new birth. Of course, the family is a royal family as the head of the family is the King. Each of us is now of royal descent. We are all members of the priesthood. That’s not quite the same as those special people set aside as priests. This priesthood refers to our tasks as believers. We may be royal but that doesn’t imply that we sit around and are waited upon. There’s work to be done! Part of that work is to make the effort to live holy lives, lives which show to whom we are related. We are children of God and we are called to demonstrate that in the way we live. We are encouraged in this by knowing that we are ‘God’s own people’, his special, treasured possession.
Privileges in the Bible always bring responsibility along with them. As Peter wrote: ‘You are … in order that you may’. Having described who believers are Peter tells his readers that their task is one of proclamation. They, and we, are to let the world know who God is. Who is this wonderful one who has called us? How do we know how wonderful he is? How has that been demonstrated? Each of us has a story to tell. We are to make sure that people know the truth. In doing this we follow Jesus’ call to his disciples to be salt and light in the world. Both salt and light make an obvious impact on their surroundings. We too are called to make an impact.
The people who heard the contents of that letter would have been of many different backgrounds. Some would have been Jews and some Gentiles. There would have been rich and poor, old and young, educated and ignorant. They were all called to be members of one race, one priesthood, one nation, one special possession of God. It’s in being one that we have the power to make an impact.
The Latvian Christians have worked and still work together across denominational divides. They have suffered together and witnessed together. They acknowledge their differences but don’t let that stop them in their common calling as Christians.
Here on Epiphany Island we too are a diverse community. We are drawn from different nations of the world. Some of us belong to various Christian denominations whereas others had little or no Christian background before coming here. Although avatars have a habit of being perpetually young unless you make a huge effort to change that, the people behind the avatars are of different ages. I’m sure we have different political leanings also. But, we are all called into this one group with the task of proclamation.
I have no doubt that Second Life needs salt and light as much as any place does. There are certainly plenty of dark and unsavoury aspects to life here. I fail to see how people can keep SL separate from their offline life. Experiences here must make an impact on the person looking at the screen. I know there are many hurt people in SL, some of whom find their way to our island and can benefit from what God offers to those who find themselves in darkness. I don’t think there is any opportunity to take it easy in the near future for any of us. We must continue to follow Jesus’ instructions:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor