CMC Worship in Place | October 4 | Cultivating Beloved Community

Sermon | Julie Hart

Scripture | Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Sermon | World Communion Sunday: Expanding the Table

World Communion Sunday is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger body of Christian Churches.  Observed on the first Sunday in October, this day calls the Church to be the universal, inclusive Church.  The first celebration occurred in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933. It was their denominations attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the broader Church is, and how each congregation is interconnected with each other. Apparently, the concept spread slowly initially. It took the suffering of the Second World War as our nation struggled to create unity and sacrifice that the idea finally caught hold. World Wide Communion Sunday reminded us of our spiritual oneness. It emphasized our common call to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world as well as to share our resources with our brothers and sisters in need.

Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church, founded on Jesus Christ, peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly torn apart by profit-focused economies and governments based on greed.

World Communion Sunday offers congregations an opportunity to experience the practice of Communion as a global community of faith. This Sunday has become a time when Christians in every culture break bread and share juice to affirm Jesus’ message of inclusion. On this day, we remember that we are just one small part of the whole body of believers. Imagine some sharing communion in a grand cathedral or a mud hut, outside on a hilltop, in a meetinghouse, in a storefront, or in our homes. Christians celebrate communion in as many ways as there are congregations. World Communion Sunday can be both a rich worship experience and a time for learning more about our wider community of faith. Today, I want to focus on Expanding our Circle or our Table of Inclusion even further

Just as we have learned to love and cherish the people and their many gifts within our own congregation, I want to remind us of the many global faith groups and the unique gifts they bring to our quest to love God and neighbor.  I start with our congregation and think of those in our midst with the gift of hospitality and welcoming; those with talents for teaching children; those who are willing to step into the leadership circle and balance our books; those who sew comforters; those who maintain our facility and those who reach out beyond our community and borders.  I am so grateful for all those hands, feet, hearts, eyes, ears, frontal cortexes, stomachs and kidneys that keep our body of Christ going because I only have a few gifts to offer.

We take the practice of cherishing inclusive community and communion straight from Jesus who in eating with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and religious leaders, didn’t discriminate who he shared the table with.  Jesus broke bread with whomever would share their table with him.  Jesus is my role model for reaching out and seeking the gifts that the least likely have to offer.

There is a magical power in the act of sharing food with others as Jesus did. When someone invited Jesus to share a meal, it didn’t matter who it was, what they’d done or whether they had it all figured out, Jesus joined them. Jesus used the table as a way to bond with others. It was a place to have honest conversations and sometimes a place of healing and reconciliation.  I am so glad that we at CMC emphasize this type of hospitality.  The invitation into many of your homes helped me to feel welcome as a newcomer 15 years ago and to connect with many of you in a new way.

When we share the table together, we are participating in an ancient practice of community and healing. In Jesus’ last supper with his followers, Jesus did the inviting. He washed his follower’s feet as a servant. He offered the bread and cup as a servant. He offered it to everyone-even Judas who he knew would betray him. The gift of communion is that the table is open for anyone who is willing to receive it- any part of the wider body. And when we choose to participate, we are reminded that we have been given the ultimate example of service, grace, hope and healing.

This gift of Jesus is for all people who desire to be servants.

This gift of Jesus is for all people who desire to receive grace.

This gift of Jesus is for all people who desire to embrace hope.

This gift of Jesus is for all people who desire spiritual healing.

This gift of Jesus is for all people who are longing for unity in the world. 

So, shortly we will gather around our own tables as people longing for the gifts Jesus offered to all people everywhere, no exceptions.

On World Communion Sunday, this Christian call to communion has  expanded to include a call to love beyond our own community.  This same call to love beyond our own circles of good folks  preceded Christianity and even Judaism.   As Father Richard Rohr recently reminded us, we hear this call to expand the circle from indigenous leaders throughout the ages. We hear it from ancient spiritual teachers, and even secular social reformers through the centuries. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak called us to see no stranger. Buddha challenged us to practice unending compassion. Father Abraham modeled opening his tent to all travelers who passed his way.  Muhammad called us to take in the orphan.  The Hindu mystic Mirabai beaconed us to love without limit. Jesus made it specific that we were to love not only our neighbor but our enemy. They all expanded the circle of who counts as one of us, as part of the body and therefore who is worthy of our care and concern, who is worthy to eat at our table. Although each of these faith teachings were rooted in the cultural and spiritual contexts of their time, they all spoke of a common vision of our interconnectedness and interdependence. . . just as Jesus did and just as Apostle Paul did in our scripture for today from Romans 12.

As Richard Rohr also reminds us, this ancient spiritual truth of our interconnectedness is now increasingly verified by science: We are all indivisibly part of one another. We share a common ancestry- a common human body- with everyone and everything alive on earth. The air we breathe contains atoms that have passed through the lungs of ancestors long dead. Our bodies are composed of the same elements created deep inside the furnaces of long-dead stars. We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say—as a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact: You are a part of me that I do not yet know.

So, I wonder, is it time to broaden our Christian practice of World Communion Sunday to include in our circle of the beloved chosen and saved community all people everywhere?  The first World Communion Sunday pushed the Presbyterian Church to embrace all Presbyterian congregations as part of its own body.  Later, World Communion Sunday pushed Presbyterians to embrace all Christian denominations as part of its body: bible thumping Baptists, the pacifist community-focused Anabaptists, Evangelical Methodists, Holy Roller Pentacostals, pious Lutherans and Episcopalians, loosey goosey Unitarians, door-knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and even the Pope-centered Catholics as part of the one body of Christ.  I think it’s time now to embrace the Hindu’s, the Muslims, the Buddhists and even the secular humanist social reformers.  Perhaps it’s time to invite them to our table not to save them but to celebrate the fact that they are born in God’s image and part of the one body we in the Christian world call, the body of Christ.