World Communion Sunday 2022
This sermon: That They May be One from John 17:18-24, shows the importance of World Communion Sunday to strengthen our faith.
A slice of heaven on earth
I wonder, what would experiencing a little heaven on earth look like?
In July, we gathered for my father’s 80th birthday party. It was a big blowout. He stood and looked over a small, ethnically diverse crowd of family and friends. A look of absolute bliss washed over his face. “You’re all here. I couldn’t be more pleased.” It was the first time the Clarks were all in one place since my brother’s funeral 23 years ago. “You’re all here!” He repeated. “The only one who couldn’t be here is my son, who passed away.” I thought, “He’s here, too, Dad. In spirit. He’s here.”
Our family savored every minute of the banquet, laughing and eating, dancing and toasting, and even a little roasting of my dad, per his request. Heaven on earth.
It’s no wonder Jesus kept comparing the kingdom of God to feasts and banquets.[i]
For many of us, our favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Not a lot of pretense or hoopla. Share food and think about the goodness of life with people you care about. A little slice of heaven on earth served up with pumpkin pie.
On World Communion Sunday, we gather as God’s family at the gospel feast around the communion table. Today people from every corner of the globe come to focus not on differences but on our common need for forgiveness, grace, and guidance. Imagine the bliss on God’s face. “You’re all here. Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.”
The kin-dom of God
It’s a foretaste of the kingdom in the here and now. Many scholars say that our word for kingdom doesn’t quite grasp what Jesus was trying to communicate because it merely implies a vertical relationship between humans and God. These scholars suggest that kin-dom of God is a better fit because it emphasizes our relationships with one another in God’s beloved community.[ii]
Jesus prays three times his followers would be one
In our scripture lesson, Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers. It was the night of the last supper, and he was preparing the disciples to carry on his mission without his physical presence. Three times he prays that God would make them as one. Don’t you wonder why it was so important to him that he prayed it three times in one night?
Perhaps it reflects the anxiety that the whole enterprise would fly apart without him as the wheel’s hub. You know how it goes. Maybe your family has gone through a split. Once the older generation passes, it suddenly becomes not worth the effort to coordinate calendars and demands of inlaws. Or maybe there was fighting and division. Someone’s feelings get hurt. Someone doesn’t get what she thinks she deserves. Someone else didn’t feel properly appreciated for being a caregiver. It’s painful, but it happens. Jesus knew it could happen to his followers, so he prayed three times that they might be one.
Unity not uniformity
We come to the table today with people from churches throughout the world as one to receive grace and celebrate the goodness of life and one another.
Our unity is not uniformity. We have different approaches, things we hold as important, and ways of worship. But there is something we have in common a message of love and peace and forgiveness. World Communion Sunday reminds us of this.
Feeling sheepish about identifying as a Christian.
It’s a reminder I need. The faith and the whole society fractures where mere differences of opinion become oppositions. It’s as if anyone who disagrees with us is a threat to all that is good. It seems everything is viewed through political prisms amplified by social media algorithms to divide us into different teams. We are quick to point out the faults and hypocrisy of others and just as quick to dismiss the abhorrent behavior of people who are generally on our side.
Maybe Jesus repeated himself because it’s hard to focus on unity rather than division. As Brian McLaren points out, many life-long Christians look at what many extremist clergy say and wonder if they should even identify as Christian. Some of the stuff I see makes me cringe. Homophobia, misogyny, and a general disregard for science and the environment cover mean-spirited people who confidently say they are the true representatives of the Christian faith.
On Wednesday, I gave a presentation where I needed to identify myself as a pastor, not the mean judgy kind. Then I thought, “That was kind of judgy. Fail!”
Why we need World Communion Sunday
So, I need this World Communion Sunday to remind me not to focus on how others fail to follow what I think is important about the faith. My call is to work on myself. Jesus warned about the dangers of looking for the speck in someone else’s eye while ignoring the log in your eye. The question is, how can I better apply the teachings of Jesus to my life? How can I become a more faithful, loving, and compassionate person?
I think it takes a degree of humility. Jesus told the disciples he had sheep who were not in their fold. We run into dangerous territory whenever we think we have a lock on the truth and the right interpretation of scripture. What is right for us might not be right for someone else. The things I say make other pastors cringe. Sometimes I look back at things I’ve said and cringe at myself. But hopefully, I’m evolving and growing. And I hope that for you, too.
Growing in faith implies that you are open to changing your mind, admitting you may not have the whole picture. I always return to Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s line about foolish consistancy born of certainty being the hobgoblin of small minds.
Bay Shore Church’s Bond of Union
As most of you know, I fell in love with Bay Shore Church and decided to accept the call to be pastor here because of the third line in our Bond of Union. We cherish for each person the fullest liberty in the interpretation of truth, and we gladly grant others the freedom we claim for ourselves.[iii]
That statement of unity accepts diversity. Remarkably, it was written in the 1940s when society focused on uniformity, squeezing everyone into the same mold. It was also a time when the United Church of Christ was formed out of four denominations that didn’t have much in common but wanted to show the world that those differences didn’t make us enemies. There is more in common than not. We can celebrate our diversity, our differences. And still, come to the table.
Before God invented football and fun, the predecessors of one of those denominations conducted Sunday afternoon theological debates. Hot Kentucky churches filled up with people from all over the community to hear strongly opinionated pastors go after each other like cats and dogs on topics like infant baptism, virgin birth, or infidelity. It got heated. But at the end of every debate, the pastors locked arms, went to the communion table, and kneeled together, signifying that something deeper united them than the opinions that divided them.
So, on this World Communion Sunday, let us lock arms with each other and people of faith on every continent and come to the table, the feast. Let us receive grace and forgiveness and guidance, pledging to grow and live out the teachings of Jesus. Let us do our part in answering Jesus’ prayer that we would be one. And let us imagine how God smiles upon us, grateful that we’re all here. Amen.
Jan Richardson Poem— https://fccucc.org/sermons/world-communion-sunday/
To your table you bid us come. You have set the places, you have poured the wine, and there is always room, you say, for one more. And so we come.
From the streets and from the alleys we come.
From the deserts and from the hills we come.
From the ravages of poverty and from the palaces of privilege we come.
Running, limping, carried, we come.
We are bloodied with our wars, we are wearied with our wounds, we carry our dead within us, and we reckon with their ghosts.
We hold the seeds of healing, we dream of a new creation, we know the things that make for peace, and we struggle to give them wings.
And yet, to your table we come.
Hungering for your bread, we come;
thirsting for your wine, we come;
singing your song in every language, speaking your name in every tongue, in conflict and in communion, in discord and in desire, we come,
O God of Wisdom, we come.