“Rethinking World Communion Sunday”
October 4, 2015
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, the African Church of the Holy Spirit begins their World communion worship service by marching through the streets of their village singing and dancing with instruments in order to rally more believers into their church. After the sermon, an elder of the congregation stands to pray and drive out the evil spirits.
In Basel, Switzerland, the ecumenical patriarch blesses a new Orthodox Church and pours holy chrism, or oil, over the altar. This oil is a visible sign of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it is also used in worship to anoint the newly baptized. After the space is blessed, the community gathers together to celebrate Holy Communion.
In Seoul, South Korea, the Yo-i-do Full Gospel Church packs six different worship services each week with roughly 25,000 people in each service, all receiving Holy Communion. As men and women leave worship they are greeted by elders from the church who bow as a way of thanking them for coming. The church is the largest Pentecostal church in the world, and their services are watched around the world on television and the internet
In Seattle, Washington, in the middle of the financial district, the Church of Mary Magdalene is an ecumenical congregation comprised of former and current homeless women. This church provides social services and counseling as well as worship where all of the women are able to take part. They provide “a safe environment to build relationships, experience hope and love, and explore faith.”
And in Reinbeck, Iowa, at Brick United Methodist Church we gather this morning to worship with liturgy and music, to hear the voice of Scripture, and to come to the table for the Lord’s Supper.
All over the world today, Christians are praising God through varieties of worship styles and in hundreds of languages. Today, on World Communion Sunday, we celebrate the march of the Holy Spirit moving and working through every time zone from Asia to Africa to Europe, and finally to the Americas.
We rejoice together in the feast that Christ has prepared for all Christians of the world. Or do we? When we think of World Communion Sunday we like to think of Christians like the ones I just desribed, different from us, yes, but honestly our similarities far outweigh our differences.
If we are serious about World Communion Sunday, however, we have to understand that God’s love and The Body of Christ goes far beyond those who circle the table in churches like ours ... it is extended to those whom we may never meet. As we come to the table with the faithful from all around the world, we may find ourselves kneeling next to people who might make us very uncomfortable.
If we want to point a finger, we , might say that it is all Jesus’ fault. You see Jesus had trouble with boundaries. It seems he was always crossing to the other side of the sea where the gentiles lived. Jesus was never afraid to sit down with a Samaritan. Jesus didn’t hesitate to associate with tax collectors. He gave respect to women. Jesus was known to hang out in cemeteries where maniacs and demons lived. And Jesus ministered to all of them.
The body of Christ we celebrate today in World Communion Sunday, and Jesus’ table around which we all gather includes all of these people and many more you might not want to invite to your table. But if that is the case, you might want to rethink what it means to participate in World Communion Sunday.
A congregation gathers. They all enter the chapel at one time. They are all dressed exactly the same. The pastor begins , “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” What a strange call to worship. Strange because this congregation gathers behind a stone walls 10 feet thick, and razor wire fences, and is surrounded by guards. They are all inmates at a state penitentiary. We have a United Methodist church like this in Iowa; Women at the Well that we have supported and some of you have visited. These congregations are filled with murders, rapists, and child abusers. Their leadership team might include someone sentenced to life, someone who was falsely accused, or someone who robbed a liquor store. ( Someday it might even include someone we know from our own town who has attended our church who will likely be sentenced to 20 years for possessing child pornography.) They gather in this grey bared world, come to the front of the sanctuary, and kneel side by side to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. As I reminded Mike the other day, “No matter what they have done, or haven’t done, no matter how long they may be incarcerated, They are beloved children of God.” But are you willing to kneel at the table with them? If not, you might want to rethink “World Communion Sunday” because these brothers and sisters are certainly part of God’s world.
Another congregation gathers to worship. This one in an open field with a crudely made cross of sticks as their worship center. They are surrounded by tents, and aid workers, and immigration officials because this congregation is comprised of some of the 6.5 million people displaced from their homes in Syria. 10% of these refugees are Christian. They were caught in a triangle between a violent government, heartless rebels, and opportunistic terrorists. They fled for their lives and now live in a refugee camp along the border of yet another country that is arguing about whether they should be allowed to stay. These are people from some of the oldest churches in the world, some of whom still speak Aramaic, the same language Jesus spoke. The priest blessed the bread and the cup and they are invited to come down the muddy “aisle” to receive the holy sacrament. You have heard the politicians arguing about their future. You have heard the arguments for accepting them into our borders and the fear of what might happen if we do. I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know what you think, but I do know that if we are to really celebrate World Communion Sunday, they are brothers and sisters who kneel at the same table and receive from the same cup. If that frightens you perhaps you need to rethink World Communion Sunday.
Another congregation gathers in the heart of a city. They have an older building abandoned by a mainline church that succumbed to the graying of it members. They look just like we do. They sing the same songs, read the same scriptures, and any one of them could live next door to us or check us out at Wal-Mart. The thing they hold in common is that most of them identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender, or queer. Their pastor who happens to wear a rainbow colored stole offers communion. They kneel at the same table we kneel at. We know what the Discipline says. But I am asking you if you can withhold your judgment and anxiety and kneel at the table beside them. If you can’t maybe you need to rethink what World Communion Sunday is all about, because these brothers and sisters are certainly part of this colorful world God has given us..
At the House for All Sinners and Saints, a mission congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado the pastor stands up. Rev. Nadia Boltz Webber is not your typical pastor. In fact when white, middle aged, middle class folks like us started coming to her church, she lost members because they were afraid of us.
Rev. Webber says that she became an alcoholic and drug abuser and often felt like one of society's outsiders. After 10 years of that, she became sober and remained so for twenty years prior to her ordination. Standing beside her is her is the church’s "Minister of Fabulousness," who is a drag queen. The church attracts people of all sexual orientations, with addictions, mental illnesses and others who feel like they are on the fringes of society. And yes, she has a couple of tattoos. In fact one arm tells the salvation story of Jesus Christ. I was with Rev. Webber in Atlanta one year, and she preaches like a sailor, if you know what I mean. Yet when she breaks the bread and lifts the cup she invites us all to come and share. If you aren’t so sure about Rev. Webber and her House for All Sinners and Saints, maybe you need to rethink World Communion Sunday. Because she is reaching a segment of the world that we can only dream of reaching.
In Nevada, a congregation gathers in a small Roman Catholic church. They cross themselves, and kneel, and stand. They hush their children and take them to the bathroom. They get impatient during the pastor’s sermon and doodle on their bulletins … not so different from us. But they are always looking over their shoulders. They are a congregation of undocumented immigrants, here in the country illegally. I don’t have to tell you that these people are not the problem. Our spineless leaders are more interested in their own power than justice, fixing our broken immigration system, or border protection. (depending on your political perspective)
These folks may be pawns to the politicians, but to us they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Think what you will, but Jesus’ blood was shed for them and their families too. Their children look forward to communion just like ours. And they kneel at the table beside us today. Not so sure you like that idea? Maybe you need to rethink World Communion Sunday.
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
It’s Jesus’ table. It’s God’s guest list, and he has thrown the doors of grace wide open to people like us and people very unlike us. I don’t know what you think, but I would love to receive communion from Rev Webber offering the bread and a Syrian refugee holding the cup, with a transgender man on one side, an undocumented immigrant on the other side, and our child pornographer friend in line behind me. I’ll bet I would never be closer to being like Jesus. How about you?