October 2, 2016
Today we celebrate this sacrament. And as I’ve been doing in recent years, I’m asking you to think about the wide world. This is a rolling celebration of this sacrament, from one Time Zone to another. It started at the International Dateline, somewhere out in the Pacific ocean in the wee hours of our morning.
I like to think of it that way. This celebration has been passed to us from Europe and the east. And we will hand it off to the Midwest, to the Pacific coast, and out to Hawaii and the other islands, some time later this evening.
I don’t think we think enough about that! We tend to think only of our own little world. And we don’t see much of the larger world around us, unless it comes onto our television screens! We don’t know about the problems. We don’t know about human needs. We are the most connected people in history! Satellites, the internet, cable TV, cellphones, and the “World Wide Web,” all have given us access to a whole world and to the vast store of human knowledge like never before. But as one person said about that, “What do we do with all that? We use it to argue with people we don’t know and send people pictures of cats!”
We are very sheltered here in this country. Not that that’s a bad thing! I for one think this is a wonderful place. Though we have threats against us, it’s not nearly as dangerous a place as some! But we do need to “expand our horizons,” and think about the other parts of the world.
We don’t talk about missionaries in the church the way we used to. That at least gave us cause to consider other cultures and other peoples. Now we get little more than promotional videos and sound bites, if that!
I often pray for the Church in our world. I pray for it to be the light of God’s love, as I believe it’s meant to be. But too often for much of the world, the image of the church has been maligned. The news only reports the bad things, the “indiscretions,” the scandals, the controversies.
I think World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to show the world more. I think it’s an opportunity to give the world an image of unity, of joy, and of celebration, as we live out the mandate to be the light of the world! That’s what we need to do! I’m afraid the church is often seen in a bad light. This is an opportunity to show the good light!
I was questioned earlier in the week about the spelling in my sermon title. I used this title specifically as “The Holy ‘catholic’ Church” – that’s catholic with a small “c”. Often people have mistaken that word for the word “Catholic” with a capitol “C”. That refers to the “Roman Catholic Church.” But catholic with a small “c” means “universal.” In other words, we believe in the Holy Church of Jesus Christ around the world. That means we are one with our Christian brothers and sisters everywhere. Or are we? We say that there is truly “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.” But do we believe it?
In the last week or so, we said that Paul was very much into the “building up” of the Church. He liked to use the word “edification,” meaning “building up.” Well this week, I’m highlighting another of Paul’s interests. Paul was also into unity. And here in Ephesians, he’s concerned about the unity, not just of individual congregations, but the unity of all believers.
Now remember, this was written before all the denominations were around. And yes, there are pros and cons for having different denominations. But even in Paul’s time there wasn’t just one big church. They too had disunity. Because remember also that this was before the great truths and concepts of the church were determined. This was before the Bible was around. People had a lot of differing beliefs! And Paul was trying to straighten them all out. Or at least(!) he was trying to get them to show the unity of believers in the church universal – the Holy catholic Church.
There has always been disunity in the church universal. Just the fact that I have to define the word “catholic” is a testimony to the fact that we haven’t always had very fond thoughts about one another. Over the years, some have refused to say that line in the Creed, because it sounded like they were saying they were Catholics, or acknowledging their supremacy or something.
I’m with Paul on this. We need to take these words to heart. Yes, there are differences in doctrine and practice, but I truly believe that there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.”
We need to know that. And just like individuals in the body of believers, we need, as different denominations, to do all those good “Pauline words.” We need to upbuild, and encourage, and edify. We need to love and forebear one another, even when we disagree! Because, just as we have to be concerned about our congregation’s image to outsiders, we also have to be concerned about our universal image – our “catholic image.” And I believe the Church has an “image problem.” It might be from its’ message. It might be from others’ perceptions of it. It might be from others’ perceptions of its’ message. But we in the church universal need to be thinking about that image.
Think about our message. If we just tell people they are “going to hell” without Jesus, and they turn on their heels and walk away from us, what good have we done? And I’m not talking about truth or orthodoxy here. I’m talking about approach.
We can’t just say, “Well, we just put the truth out there, and our consciences are assuaged.” “And it doesn’t matter whether or not people accept it.” Well, that might make us feel good – or at least “justified.” But, if our image, our message, has lost it’s impact, or it’s power, what good are we doing to present it that way?
Besides, the unity of the body here on earth is more than just our message. I said a couple of weeks ago that our actions, and our words reflect on the kingdom of God. Do you remember that? What we do, what we say, how we act can reflect well or poorly on God’s kingdom.
Well, this week I’m asking you to see that the same can be said of the Church Universal – the Holy “catholic” Church. What the Church does, and says, and how it acts, can and does reflect on the kingdom of God. And I’m afraid that reflection has not always been good. And the problem is that there are people out there who are just looking for an excuse to dismiss the church, to have nothing to do with it.
Add to that, the fact that the world we live in is dominated by a media that tends to report only the bad things in the world. It’s rare that you see a positive, uplifting story in the news, isn’t it? And often when there is one, the commentators will introduce it as such. “And here’s a little good news for you!”
Well, my friends, the “Good News” is up to us! The media will tell all about the scandal, the controversy, the division in the church. It’s just the way they report things. I’m not criticizing that. But I am saying that it’s up to us to be telling the “Good stuff.” It’s up to us to live out the good stuff. It’s up to us to show that there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.”
That’s our job. So, as we come now to a time of communion, may we do so thinking about all those who celebrated this sacrament before us today, and those to whom we pass it on. As we prepare our hearts for this communion with the Holy Spirit of God, may we think about the unity of all believers.
Eternal God, help us to know we are part of something larger today. Help us to give thought to the “great cloud of witnesses,” those who have gone before us, those who surround us, those around the world. Help us to be the light to the world and to give you glory and honor and praise, now and forever. Amen.