Sermon for October 3, 2021 -Worldwide Communion Sunday

Gathered Together

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

 

Today many churches celebrate Worldwide Communion Sunday. John A. Dalles of the Presbyterian Church tells of its beginnings. He writes in part:

 

“If you were to turn on to a quiet, tree lined street in the East End of Pittsburgh, and if you were to make your way down that street past hundred-year old homes, you would eventually come to a large stone Presbyterian church building on Westminster Place: Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Inside the building, one of its hidden gems is a brass circle, set into the ivory marble floor of Shadyside’s Chancel. Surrounded by a design reminiscent of a compass, the circle is inscribed as follows:

World Wide Communion Sunday

Was originated in

Shadyside Presbyterian Church

By Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr

In 1933

 

What was the world like, in the autumn of 1933—that first World Communion Sunday? 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.

 

As a faith response to the fears of three generations ago, in 1933, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock. How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians?

 

The idea of World-wide Communion Sunday was born. Donald Kerr of the Presbyterian Church explained, “The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. Worldwide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
(not certain where I originally clipped the above from)

 

This idea of sharing in Communion together across the many churches and nationalities of our world is still a relevant idea because we are still fighting that battle to hold our world together. Maybe it is not Nazism and fascism, but the political divisions of our time. There is too much side taking and not enough coming into agreement for the common good. Maybe there is not a depression, but there are the many impoverished people and families coming to our border. There is the ever-increasing divide between the few who are so very rich and the many who are poor. There might not be a war but there are the millions worldwide who have been affected by Covid 19. In many ways the more things change the more they stay the same. We always live in a world that seems ready to implode.

 

And just as there are ever present forces that seem to press against us to tear us apart, God is still ever present and capable of filling us with the power to recreate and bring us together.

 

As the Apostle Paul once reminded us: Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV)

12  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

 

God has already provided for us to stand against the strain, the challenges, and the battles that lie ahead. One of these gifts that we have is our unity in Christ that reaches across race, national boundaries, and barriers. The common devotion that we have to God and the difference that makes.

 

Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
28  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

 

Colossians 3:11 (NRSV)
11  In that renewal (in Christ) there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

 

Just as a side note the term barbarian originally was used by the early Greeks to define anyone who didn’t speak their language. It was derived from a word that meant babbler, and so here a barbarian is simply a person who speaks in a foreign language and not a cruel and primitive person as we might define the word today. We are all one in Christ, male and female, rich and poor, republican and democrat, American or not, friend and stranger, no matter what color our skin is. Christ is all and in all.

 

There is nothing else that truly brings us closer together than the one Spirit that God has poured out upon us through the work of Grace completed through Jesus Christ.

 

Hebrews is the text we turn to today. One of the main points we read in Hebrews is the supremacy of Jesus life and work. God has spoken to us through the Son through whom God created all things. Verse 3 tells us that, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” Hebrews is telling us that Jesus is like the light that comes from the sun, or like the imprint that is made from a signet ring. I ancient days a person might seal a letter using wax and pressing their crest upon it to leave a clear mark that the document comes from them. The ring and the mark were the same. So, Hebrews elevates our understand of Jesus as being from God and being in the image of God.

 

Hebrews continues to elaborate that Jesus is superior to the angels.

Angels are God’s messengers. There was the belief by some that the Old Testament Laws were given to Moses through angels, although it seems to me the Bible indicates that Moses spoke to God directly. Regardless, angels are seen in places carrying God’s message to people, whether they would listen or not. However, Jesus is seen as being of even greater importance. Further, if people suffered for not accepting the word given to them through angels how much worse will it be if we reject the salvation that comes through God’s son. Hebrews also wishes to warn us of the peril in rejecting what God has offered us. Consider the extend to which God has gone.

 

For although Jesus is of the nature of God, verse 10 tells us “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” This is a reflection of the quote from Psalm 8. Within this passage Hebrews is seeing the nature of Christ being from glory to living and identifying himself with the suffering of creation to redeem it.

 

Now we are back to communion. Is this not the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins? Is this not the body of Christ, given that we might have life in his name? The life that Jesus lived, the death he died, was the instrument God used to bring life to all who believe –to change our lives individually and collectively, to bridge the gap between those who suffer in this life and the glory that is to come, and to bring all together who might believe in his name.

 

This simple bit of juice from the grape and wheat from the field bring a nourishment to the body and life to the soul. This life is not in the simple bit of material matter but in the recognition of the God who has created it so. It takes the sun, the rain, the fertile soil to grow a grape on a vine, or a stalk of grain. When we partake of communion and remember God, are we not acknowledging and participating in the miracle of creation and being. Are not identifying with the work of God that has moved from glory to suffering and from suffering to glory? We are not alone, but rather God has called us a shared life. In Christ return to glory he has called us to follow him.

 

Our answer to the problems, challenges, and sufferings within life are with this shared relationship that is ours in Christ. We have always had the answer. Do we need to fix the problems of our country? The answer is putting self-glory aside and doing what’s best for all. Do we need to overcome this pandemic? If you can, get vaccinated. It is not just for you, but it is for common good of all. Do we have people streaming to our borders? That is a tougher question, but if every country they walked through could help some to find a place, maybe all would find a home.

 

However ultimately the nature of life that will heal and give life is not found in us, but in Christ. We will never achieve the answers we need until we are focused on the one who is above all things and calls us likewise to partake of his self-sacrifice and glory. When we partake and participate in the spirit of Christ, giving as he gave, then we will find the distances between us bridged and the answers to our problems solved. There is and always has been life in His name that holds us and our world together. Amen.

 


 

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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