This week was a special Sunday. We met in worship with our sisters and brothers from our sister congregation El Mesias. This congregation meets weekly for worship in our building and our children and youth ministries are a joint effort. There was also a potluck following the Downtown Alive service. In that service, some of what we did was in Spanish. It wasn’t a bilingual service by a long shot, but parts of the service were shared in Spanish and English. This is the link to the whole service. Also included is a link to the sermon only. Below is the manuscript. I don’t follow exactly and in fact, I went “off script” several times on Sunday. I love World Communion Sunday if for no other reason than it reminds me that I have brothers and sisters everywhere.
In some of the materials shared with the Extravagant Generosity material was this exercise: I want you to find your heartbeat. Did you find it? We know how to check our physical pulse, but if I asked you to take your spiritual pulse where would you look? How would you look? What would you find? How do we evaluate our spiritual health and wellbeing or the spiritual health and well being in our life as a community of faith? What are the marks? This week, we have as a group been sharing in the daily devotion Practicing Extravagant Generosity. Andrew and I have found it provocative and insightful. This week we were invited to bring back our heart cards. They will be displayed around the church and next week you will receive another one, which has us, look at our spiritual mentors and we’ll bring them back next week. I am looking forward to seeing cards that (will be placed) or (have been placed) in the offering place. What we love about the church helps us understand what we are doing well and also what things we can build on like the nest image from Tuesday’s reading. You might remember that it talked about building nests as a metaphor for describe people providing for their own comforts: we build a nest egg for our retirement or to buy a home or to create a place for ourselves and our children. Nest makes us think of words like cozy, home, comfortable, a shelter from the storm. In actuality, a nest is anything but cozy or comfortable or really driven by the future. Nests are created for a new generation; they are not about keeping those of us who are older comfortable. They are not for us at all. They are for those who are coming behind us. They are building for the future. Powerful really, when we think about our nest here. Someone shaped and shared whom they were to create a place for us to be and become and now it is our job to think ahead about what we are building for those yet to come, those not yet here. It is not about hunkering down and just taking care of ourselves, it is getting outside to take care of those who do not yet know the grace and love of God. Which bring us to World communion Sunday:
The tradition was begun in 1933 by Hugh Thomson Kerr who ministered in the Shadyside Presbyterian Church. according to Presbyterians Outlook and grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their 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 Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.
The concept came out of stewardship…. how do we bring differing churches together for inspiration and information…. and to focus on the Church of Jesus Christ as a gift to the world. Here is a bit context that might make this more amazing. 1933 was the worst year of the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 25% that year, and Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, banned all political parties except his own and built the first concentration camp. It was also a year of severe drought that created huge dust storms. (thepeoplehistory.com) It is in this year that World Communion Sunday was first celebrated. In a time of severe hardship, out of stewardship comes this American tradition that seeks to broaden our understanding of who is our neighbor, who are our brothers and sisters? It carries more than just an ecumenical understanding, that we can belong to different denominations and churches and still follow Jesus, it includes a challenge to cross ethnic and racial and cultural boundaries as well. Some might say even though the economy is good, very good for some, unemployment is at an all time low, still, we have more homeless on our city streets and people are working and working harder, with less to show for it. Our world is filled with scary things, …shootings, bombings, hurricanes, historic flooding, we see the rise again of Nazism in Germany and the far right everywhere which sees everyone not like us as they enemy. In times like this how does one discern who is friend and who is foe? It is easy to focus on people as our enemies, more difficult to see them as our brothers and sisters. Lines are drawn in the sand as to who is in and who is out. And that’s just in the church. Friends, in this scenario, my heart aches, my soul aches. It hurts….does yours? When I check my pulse, it is heavy, very heavy.
When we tend to view people through the eyes of fear, then we want to shut our doors, build fences and walls and constantly be seeking reasons as to not include people for whatever reason: they are too young, they are too old, they are the wrong color, speak the wrong language, are the wrong orientation or the denomination. They are not one of us and we want to fortify our nest, not for those yet to come, but to keep people out….or in the words of our scriptures today: they aren’t following us. Not part of the inner circle, the inner crowd. In our gospel today, the disciples want to build a nest that only some of are welcome….Jesus pushes them out of the nest and says all our welcome.
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
What? What does Jesus mean? Those outsiders…..can do work in Jesus’ name without permission? They can work in Jesus name without Jesus signing off on them….or more importantly the disciples signing off? Even Jesus disciples were uncomfortable with people not like them… Jesus made room a place for the “other”…You see, we need to be open to those who are different from us instead of defaulting to our insecurities about those whom we find strange or fringe, or different not give into what one might so describe as our “sincere yet uninformed stereotypes” of others, we do well to celebrate the considerable extravagant generosity there is in the diversity that exists both within and among our Christian traditions because of God’s grace. After all, one mark of a cult is “enforced conformity,” whereas authentic Christianity celebrates genuine diversity along with our many forms of worship and language and culture and life of faith. Think about the service and mission we could be about if we embrace diversity…. we don’t have to think alike, but we can love alike and serve alike…Prior to these incident, Jesus has caught the disciples arguing about who is superior and then says to be a leader you must be a servant, you must like a child, vulnerable, needy even, and welcome such.? When we call out people not like us to stop what they are doing in the name of Jesus because they are different from us, or we don’t agree with them theologically or biblically or politically….how does that practice extravagant generosity? How does that build and invite and welcome those outside of our doors? In times of great division, deep despair and anger it would be easy to back off of a focus on Stewardship. It’s not the right time. People are already upset about the upcoming General Conference, or what is happening politically in our city and state and nation. The economy for all that it is good for some, is still not good for others. And yet, World Communion Sunday was begun in the worst year of the Great Depression out of a stewardship division of the church, not evangelical….stewardship….and here is why I think it is important: Paul writes in 1st Timothy:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
In times of strife and trouble, that is the best time to focus on stewardship and extravagant generosity…because generosity is a gift of the Spirit and it makes clear who we are and to whom we belong and how we are to live our lives. Being rich is not just about being an athlete who has a multi million-dollar contract, or a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett. Although they are very rich. Comparatively every one is this room is rich compared to most people in the world. So the challenge is how do we set our hopes on God, who provides us with so much and how are we to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…not based on who is already here, but on those not yet here, those yet to come, those who need so desperately to know and experience the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus. Those Jesus challenges us to offer to work with, pray with. It isn’t about being the same, or agreeing or even being united. So easy to draw the lines and say you are not part of us…whoever the us is….but Jesus doesn’t allow it. Are we feeding the hungry, are we clothing the naked, are we visiting the downtown, the sick, the prisoner? Are we actively doing the work of Jesus in the world and creating spaces for people to meet Christ and know Christ and deepen their relationship with Christ? Are we rich in good works, generous ready to share that we might take hold of the life that is really life, our life in Christ our life in the community of faith? How do we begin? Here at the table, we are called to say Yes to Christ, yes to the call, yes to serve ALL people, in ALL places in every way possible…to not put up false divides and conflicts, but to know and believe as God’s beloved children that we are called to shared God’s love and grace with all…. in the name of Christ Jesus…that is why this table is open, this table invites us make room for the stranger, the different, the other, the outsider, the ones not like us, because it is not you and I who get to choose who belongs or who is part….it is Jesus. This week, may this table nurture us, fill us and reminds us we are built into a community of faith and may it challenge us to serve in love and practice extravagant grace
This week, outside of these doors, may all that we do and all that we say witness to our extravagant generosity, to the power of God to change lives and transform the world