Menachim, a Jewish father was troubled by the way his son, Benjamin, had turned out, and went to see Rabbi Goldberg about it. “I brought Benjamin up in the faith, gave him a very expensive bar mitzvah; it cost me a fortune to educate him, then he tells me last week he has decided to be a Christian. Rabbi, where did I go wrong?” pleaded Menachim.
“Funny you should come to me, Menachim,” commented Rabbi Goldberg. “Like you I, too, brought my boy up in the faith, put him through University that cost me a fortune, then one day he, too, tells me he has decided to become a Christian.” “What did you do?” inquired Menachim. “I turned to God for the answer,” replied the Rabbi. “And what did God say?” pressed Menachim.
“God said, ‘Funny you should come to me……….’”
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, the African Church of the Holy Spirit begins their 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 Yoido Full Gospel Church packs six different worship services each week with roughly 25,000 people in each service. As men and women leave worship they are greeted by elders from the church who bow as a way of thanking them for coming.
In eastern Syria, the worship of the Syrian Orthodox cathedral in Hassake includes ancient liturgy and the practice of the sacraments. Many of the Christians living there can trace their roots back to the time of Jesus, and some of them even still speak Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus’ day. In the midst of violence and war, they draw together to witness to the love of Jesus.
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. Their Christian mission is to provide “a safe environment to build relationships, experience hope and love, and explore faith.”
On World Communion Sunday, as on other Sundays, Christians will gather in huge cathedrals, in open-country churches, in mud-thatched sheds to celebrate together with others from around the world. Some will gather in secret because as a Christian is a violation, punishable by imprisonment or even death. Yet the Christ invites to his table all who claim his promises of life abundant and life everlasting and all who serve him as his disciples, proclaiming his Gospel to a hurting world.
World Communion Sunday began in the 1930’s by the Presbyterian Church as a testament to the times. As Nazi power grew in Europe and that continent was embroiled in the birth of another war that would eventually engulf the whole world, Christian denominations came together to provide an alternative vision for the world. During the 40’s, World Communion Sunday was adopted by our churches and other denominations involved in the Ecumenical movement as a symbol of solidarity amid the division in the world. Gathering around the table as Christians, instead of as this church or that church, symbolized a hope for the future.
However with the Ecumenical movement on a budgetary respirator of sorts, and with its influence waning in favor of more divisive Christian voices, World Communion Sunday is perhaps even more important in some ways?
How many other churches in Boca Raton are observing World Communion Sunday? Do you know? I don’t. The fact is Boca Raton no longer has an interfaith organization. That died out ironically and sadly soon after 9/11. I was the last vice president of the Boca Raton Interfaith Organization. Churches, priests and pastors, especially Protestant pastors, are certainly in a different mindset than what might have been envisioned by the pioneers of the World Communion Sunday movement.
The point of World Communion Sunday is to express the underlying unity of Christians throughout the world. And yet, it is more than that. Today is about more than Christians saying that even though in many ways we are different, we are still united in Christ. Because if that is all this day is, then the greater truth undercuts this first truth. The greater truth of World Communion Sunday must be found in giving witness to the underlying unity of all of humanity.
The expression of unity within the wide diversity of the Church universal stands as symbol and example of the hoped for unity within the still wider diversity of humanity. The Christian Church is a microcosm of humanity.
It makes no sense for the body of Christ to proclaim a safe harbor of unity against the too often tumultuous sea of difference in its own life if it then doesn’t continue this proclamation when it looks at the entirety of human life on earth. If it doesn’t maintain this message against the larger and even more important backdrop—that though we all are different, we are still one—then its first witness of unity within the Universal church must be empty.
Our Christian faith must be alive today, and the first fact of life today is that we know the world is one, that we all belong here, and we are all part of one interacting, interdependent, earth-bound life. The possibility to stay blind to the fact that all people belong to the same family, to the same earth, to the same destiny in many ways, can no longer be maintained with any credibility, though it is often attempted.
Christian faith must be lived in the indisputable context today of our global and common humanity, the first and most essential truth of living in the 21st century.
I want to show you a clip of a video of street musicians from all over the world performing the song “Stand by Me.” It’s a wonderful gift to anyone who watches it.
In the second passage of our reading, John reports that the disciples saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and so they told him to stop because he wasn’t one of them.” Nothing more is known about this solitary exorcist. It may even be that the name “Jesus” was nothing more to him than a magical formula that worked miracles. But even so, it doesn’t seem to have been this to which the disciples objected. The problem was simply that he wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t part of their group. They were jealous for their rights and privileges.
You can imagine John had told this to Jesus expecting to be praised for stopping this unknown man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. That’s like stealing, isn’t it? But Jesus didn’t see it that way. He tells they’ve got it wrong. In fact, he makes it clear: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” “Oh, well, alright. I can see that. Thanks for clearing that up, Jesus….” And away John walks with his head hanging a bit.
Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t reprimand John here, as he will do at other times when a disciple has really lost course. But still Jesus tells John he didn’t do it right.
Boy, at times, it must have been a little tough to hang in there with Christ. You think you do something right and well, and you bring it up, hoping for a compliment, a pat on the head, a smile, but you don’t get it.
The disciples felt off balance a lot. Their perception of the right order and the correct action was so often being turned over, pushed to the side, revealed for its selfishness or lack of comprehension, that they often didn’t know what was going to happen next. They were in the school of the kingdom of God and each day was a new lesson, a mind-numbing exercise, a soul-turning alternate view.
After 2,000 years of Christians following Christ, some things have changed. But put Christ in the middle of this room—in the middle of any churchy—and I can guarantee you after fifteen minutes with him we would all feel a little disoriented, out of our comfort zone, and very challenged. Take on his call to the first disciples to leave everything and everyone behind for a year to follow him and some major transformations would take place in your thinking and acting, or you simply wouldn’t last that long.
The truth is John and the boys weren’t really with Jesus. They were looking out for themselves. When Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” he might just as well have asked John if he was really with him. Or was there something he valued more than loyalty to him? In other words, was John more concerned for the group to which he wanted to belong and act as gate keeper or more concerned for Christ and his name?
It’s human nature to want to belong to a group. But the group is often wrong. They start to care more about their position and whether someone else is staying in the circle. They watch over to make sure outsiders stay outside. As we know too well, group mentality can be a dangerous fact of human nature. Christ isn’t always concerned about human nature however. The Lord is always concerned about what’s right.
This reminds me of how Abraham Lincoln responded when asked whether or not God was on the Union’s side. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
Get on God’s side. Forego any group and every group that requires you to lose your values, lose your calling in Christ, lose your conscience, lose your
way. Stand up for those whom your group disparages. Any group that won’t continue to live up to good values either needs your guidance or needs to be left behind.
Christ has called you to himself, to grow in him, and to proclaim him as the foundation of the church’s life and your life.
Can the church say Amen?