Interfaith Relations and Christian Living

Session Five

Prepare your meeting room

1. Have Bibles available.

2. Prepare handout sheets or a display listing the questions saved from Session I. Be sure you use a method that enables every participant to read the questions during discussion.

3. Prepare a card with the quotation from Georges Khoder and ask a participant in advance to be ready to read it as requested.

Prepare for issues you may face during discussion.

1. Read one or more commentaries and Bible dictionaries for background on the biblical passages for this session.

2. Reflect on your own evaluation of the trip to another religious community and prepare yourself to lead discussion about it. Especially consider if there were theological issues, etiquette failures, misunderstandings, difficult interpersonal relationships, or other concerns that will require special debriefing. As necessary, seek an opportunity to talk with your contact person in the other community before you have your group discussion.


Hope and the Holy Spirit

Goals for this Session

• To reflect on interreligious relationships, either through discussion of the visit with people of another religious tradition or through further attention to the relational "map" and questions of the group

• To clarify our understanding of God’s sovereignty and the power of the Holy Spirit in regard to our lives among men and women of other faiths

Welcome and Opening Prayer

Open the session with prayer and the singing of a hymn, or with a brief liturgical service. Check in with each other: How is everyone?

Experience (30 minutes)

1. If you made a visit

Invite participants to form pairs and talk with each other about the visit you made:

• What particularly caught your attention in the visit?

• How did you feel about these things?

• What did you learn?

• What questions do you have now? (5 minutes each)

As participants form again into the larger group, distribute or display a list of the questions identified in the first session. Ask each participant to reflect in silence on how the experience of the visit addresses or changes these questions. (5 minutes) Next, ask the group to speak about the following questions and list responses on newsprint or a board: (15 minutes)

• What have you learned?

• What new questions do you have?

• What previous questions might you want to change or modify?

As you engage in discussion of the questions, as appropriate, briefly summarize for participants the other remaining questions you have noted from your review of the cards and previous class sessions.

2. If you did not make a visit

Distribute or display a list of the questions identified in the first session. Ask each participant to reflect in silence on how, in light of this ongoing study series, she or he might now change or modify these questions. Briefly summarize the remaining questions you have noted from your review of the cards and previous class sessions, as appropriate. (5-10 minutes)

Look again at the relational "map" that the group made in Session II.

• What do these people and places make possible for you?

• What more do you want to know about them?

• What concerns do you think would be shared by people in many or all faith groups?

Do you see ways in which these people and places could become more a part of something you are trying to do, or to understand?

Exploration and Reflection

1. Biblical Perspectives (30 minutes)

Read the following passages regarding the Holy Spirit:

John 15:26; 16:12-15 (The Spirit of truth)

John 3:1-10 (The spirit blows where it chooses)

Acts 2:1-13 (The Spirit enables understanding of God’s power)

Tell the group: Discerning the truth is always a difficult task. Not all Christians will be able to affirm every truth claim made by those within the Christian community. The faithful are called to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). In the gospel of John, we read, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

Ask:

• How do we understand the illumination and understanding brought to us by the Spirit?

• What does the freely moving and illimitable nature of the Spirit suggest to you about the possibility that the Spirit could be present in the experience of men and women of other religious traditions?

At an appropriate time in your discussion, ask a participant to read the perspective of the ecumenist, Georges Khoder, rooted in Orthodox theology:

God says, "This will happen in the last days. I will pour out upon everyone a portion of my spirit" (Acts 2:17)…. The Spirit is present everywhere and fills everything by virtue of an economy distinct from that of the Son. The Spirit operates and applies his energy in accordance with his own economy, and we could from this angle regard the non-Christian religions as points where the Spirit’s inspiration is at work. And all who are visited by the Spirit are the people of God. (from G. Khoder, "Christianity in a Pluralistic World—the Economy of the Holy Spirit," in M. Kinnamon and B. Cope, edd., The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts (Grand Rapids, Eerdman’s Press, 1997)

How do you respond to Khoder’s suggestion?

2. From the Policy Statement

As an extension of your biblical reflection, read and discuss the section on The Spirit of God and Human Hope from Interfaith Relations and the Churches, paragraphs 36-44, in Box 6. (15 minutes)

Response

Ask the participants: What does the Holy Spirit have to do with how you/we relate to men and women of other faiths?  (10 minutes)

For Next Time

Ask participants to bring an object with them to the next session that symbolizes one thing they find most nourishing in their experience of the Christian life.

Closing

Take a few minutes for comments. What are you learning that you wanted to know? What are you learning that you did not want to know?

Close with a prayer.

Box 6

36. The Spirit of God and Human Hope

37. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit fill us with hope. The realities of religious fragmentation and conflict could become a cause of despair, especially in a world of broken community, racked by division and hate based on color, language, ethnicity, and class. We are pained when our religious traditions do not empower us to build community. Yet we have hope because of the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters when the earth was void and without form (Genesis 1:2), who brings order out of chaos, and who can reshape our warped societies.

38. We believe that our relationships with people of other religious traditions are being shaped by the Spirit who, like the wind, "blows where it chooses" (John 3:8). Though we do not always understand the Spirit’s purposes, we need never be without hope, for neither we nor the rest of creation are ever without the Spirit of God.

39. In this time of constant change, a sometimes bewildering variety of technologies, cultures, religions, and languages impinges upon our lives. The ways in which we should witness and act to bring about reconciliation in our torn world are not always clear. But the Spirit enables us to discern how to nurture the loving community of persons which is God’s intention for creation and gives us the strength to keep working toward it.

40. Our experience of the transforming power of God’s love overflows in joyous anticipation of a renewed and reconciled humanity. As the body of Christ, we are called to live out this new reality and to be a sign of the restored community to which all people are called. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we witness in word and deed to this hope.

41. This witness will be as varied as the many circumstances in which we meet men and women of other faiths. We meet them in our families and among our friends and colleagues, at the corner store and the doctor's office, in community action groups, and at work. We meet in boardrooms and schoolrooms, facing common agendas and concerns. Since God is the Lord of history, we can be open to the presence of God’s Spirit in these encounters. They invite us to faithful service and witness.

42. We are aware that our churches are part of the body of Christ throughout the world. Our encounters with people of other faiths here in the United States are informed by the experience and reflection of our sisters and brothers living among men and women of many religious traditions in many nations. We stand in solidarity with each other, taking a role in international dialogue and seeking in our own circumstances to be faithful to the gospel.

43. We do not always agree, however, on how best to love our neighbors. Commitment to justice and mutual respect is the paramount consideration for some. For them the practice of Christian love is the most powerful witness to the truth of the gospel. Others, while not denying the witness of faithful lives, believe that love demands the verbal proclamation of the gospel and an open invitation to all people to be reconciled to God in Christ. Still others understand evangelization as our participation in God’s transformation of human society. As we seek to respond to God’s call to love our neighbor, we all must seek to avoid ways of interaction which do violence to the integrity of human persons and communities, such as coercive proselytism, which violates the right of the human person, Christian or non-Christian, to be free from external coercion in religious matters. We pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that through our life with all men and women, of every religion, color, language, and class, we will be instruments of God to build that time in which "steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10).

44. Clearly, a basic aspect of our relationship to people of religious traditions other than our own must be to engage in the struggle for justice, as the prophet Amos challenges us:"Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:23-24). Our actions must be based on genuine respect for all men and women."The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy" (James 3:16-17). And beyond respect, we are called to love all people so that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, we may "above all, clothe [our]selves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14).

Interfaith Relations and the Churches

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