The Church Universal – October 6, 2013
Isaiah 42:5-13, Ephesians 4:1-6
October 6, 2013
So, this is World Communion Sunday! And I always like to think about this the way I did when I watched the TV coverage of New Years Eve 1999. Do you remember that? We watched the various celebrations of the new year as they began somewhere in the Pacific Ocean time zone, and then moved to the west hour by hour all around the world. That was so cool!
Well, that is literally what we do here. I know it would be great to think of all of God’s people celebrating this sacrament at the same time. But it doesn’t happen that way. If it did, an awful lot of people would have stay up very late or get up very early! Instead, this is like the coming of the New Year. This is a rolling celebration. It’s handed off from one time zone to the next all around the world.
So if you’d like, you can think of this as a day long event! Even when we leave here, it will still be happening! And maybe you can picture people from all walks of life, and from many different cultures, all celebrating this sacrament in various ways – and in various languages – all around the world. That progression has been going on for 18 about hours now. It started sometime around noon yesterday our time.
So here we are then! The “sacramental baton” has been handed to us, and we are about to break bread together in our part of this event. And we do so today having read the words of the Apostle Paul which were written to the Ephesian Church. And they come from a letter in which Paul is making an impassioned plea for Christian unity. That’s because one of the things that has grieved him the most in his ministry is seeing people in churches in conflict. He spent a lot of time dealing with people who were polarized and divided by differences in beliefs and practice. And there was a lot of that in those early days!
Well, unfortunately, the same thing could be said about the Church in many times in history. And the same thing could be said about the church in our time! And I would love to tell you that it wasn’t so in our church! But you and I both know that’s not the case. We too have our differences, don’t we? And it is incumbent upon us to keep working on our unity, and to seek to grow in our ability to “forbear one another in love,” as Paul pleaded with the people of his day.
In our New Members Class this past week, we talked about what it means to be Presbyterian. And I told the class what I’ve often said here, that one of the most import of the Historic Principles of the Presbyterian Church is the belief that “people of good conscience can differ.” We don’t all think the same way! But despite that, we still strive to love and encourage each other. That’s what it means to be Presbyterian! And I’d love to tell you that because of that, our understanding of church unity is the best, and that we don’t have divisions. But of course, that wouldn’t be true either. Would it? Unity among us is something we have to work on all the time. And we need to know that we do that for the glory of God and his kingdom!
But of course, this day is not so much about the unity within individual churches, though I hope we can take that message with us as well. This day is about the unity of all believers. To the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “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.”
So, do we believe that? Do we strive for dialogue and give respect and encouragement to those in other denominations, even though they differ from us in belief and practice? I hope we do. I hope we make a conscious effort to reach out to and talk with people from other denominations. I hope we can see what it is that makes us one in Christ, and at the same time celebrate the diversity in the different ways people worship the same God we worship.
That’s not always easy. I hate to say it, but there was a time when Protestants and Catholics did not get a long very well. There was a time, I’m told, when the Catholic faith would be criticized and maligned on a regular basis from Protestant pulpits – and vice versa! And I hope were past that, but sometimes I do wonder.
I’ll never forget one particular moment for me. A friend from my college fellowship group asked me one day, “Do you think the Catholics are saved?” I’ll never forget that question. I remember where I was standing outside my dorm at West Chester State College. But the biggest thing I’ll never forget about that moment is the huge red light that went off in the back of my head, and the voice that was not quite audible, but was very distinct. And the voice said, “Be careful how you answer that question! You are about to pass judgment on an enormous group of people who call themselves Christian! And by the way, there are way more of them than all the other protestant denominations rolled together!” I’ll never forget that moment! And I have no doubt the Holy Spirit was speaking to me!
I’m grateful for that! And I’m also grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with many wonderful Catholics over the years. I’ve had many eye opening experiences seeing how devoted and faithful they often are. (Sometimes far more than me!) And whether or not I understand or agree with Catholic doctrine or practice, I’ve come to believe that I must respect, love, and encourage people of that faith. And I hope you agree. In fact, I don’t think youve ever heard me talking about Catholics from this pulpit without referring to them at some point as “our Catholic brothers and sisters.” And I mean that!
Well, it is my prayer that the same can be said of our Methodist brothers and sisters, and our Baptist brothers and sisters, and Lutherans, and Episcopalians, etc, etc And that’s just the Western Church! Don’t forget our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. After all, they started this celebration today! We were a number of hours into this celebration before we left the lands of the Russian Orthodox, the Lithuanian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, etc, etc
Christians all around the world in many places and in many cultures are celebrating this sacrament and have been celebrating it now for many hours. And we are part of that progression. We are part of that “great cloud of witnesses,” as Paul described it.
So let us celebrate! Let us do so thinking of “the unity of the spirit in the bond of Peace.” For there is indeed 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.”
Eternal God, as we share this sacrament today, help us to remember the Lord Jesus who came to bring all people into your kingdom. Help us to know the bonds of Christian unity as we think of all the people who celebrate with us this day. For this we pray in name of Jesus Christ our Savior, the Lord of all and head of the Church, Amen.