An atheist is telling a Christian how there is no God or life after death, and the Christian says, “Well, let me ask you this. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff—grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose this is?” The atheist thinks about it and says, “Hmmm, I have no idea.” The Christian says, “How can you talk about God when you don’t know poop?”
On World Communion Sunday, Christians will gather in huge cathedrals, suburban sanctuaries, country churches, urban storefronts, open air rooms across the world, celebrating Communion as they always do but with greater appreciation today for the diversity and unity to all of Christianity, and, let us hope, all of humanity.
There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers. What a huge range. The most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese with over 1.2 billion speakers.
My dad taught for years at a Chicago high school where over 160 languages were spoken. Next to 6,500 languages worldwide that doesn’t seem like a lot but if you think of your own high school, you get the idea of what a hugely diverse area of Chicago his high school encompassed.
I live in a neighborhood where we have people and families originally from East India, Haiti, the Philippines, Cuba, China, Sweden, as well as New York, Alabama, and Illinois. South Florida has this great range of humanity, something I thoroughly enjoy. After all, I see the opposite when we drive up to northern Wisconsin each summer and just about everybody looks and talks the same. That’s just not how God’s creation is—only sections of it.
I remember when the dad of one of Elise’s soccer friends said they were moving out of South Florida to the Florida panhandle. They were doing this so that they could be around basically only Christians and people who agree with them on social and political matters. I usually let self-disclosure go without responding but this seemed like such a challenge as to whether this is what Christians are supposed to think and do that I told him that wasn’t my idea of Christianity or of humanity, for that matter. Christianity doesn’t require a ghettoizing of our world. We mustn’t corner ourselves into “us only” cul-de-sacs. This defeatism diminishes God’s gift of diverse creation and humanity.
It may not be easy, but this is God’s world—and it’s good. So, we need to find the good wherever we are, and believe in the good no matter how little is there, and remember the good especially when others aren’t, and lift up the good when others raise up what’s bad, and struggle for the good when it needs a voice to declare it and strength to protect it, so God’s will be done.
When Psalm19 says the heavens and earth proclaim the glory of God and the marvel of the Lord’s works, we can imagine the psalmist looking up into the night sky and seeing uncountable stars and the brilliance of the moon; we can picture the psalmist wondering at the variety of animals and plants around him or her, from the tiniest creatures to the mightiest of trees.
Yet we also cannot help but marvel at the shapes, the sizes, the colors, and talents and attributes that the full range of humanity entails. Yes, the heavens and the firmament proclaim God’s handiwork, but on World Communion Sunday, God’s people of every race and expression, language and culture, location and tradition, are the ultimate proclamation of God’s handiwork! Ultimately, and most importantly, this includes Christians and non-Christians.
World Communion Sunday began in 1933 with the Rev. Hugh Thomson Kerr of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. It was his and the stewardship committee’s attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity, stressing our connections rather than divisions. The US Presbyterian Church adopted it in 1936, and it quickly spread to other denominations. In 1940, as World War Two raged and the world was splitting apart, causing the deaths of over 100 million people in the next five years, the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches), endorsed World Communion Sunday and began to promote it to Christian churches worldwide.
It would be easy to believe this day commemorates Christian unity alone. But that would miss seeing World Communion Sunday in all its reach. We rightly understand this day’s impact when we recognize that the impetus behind it was the recognition that if Christians cannot and will not find unity in the midst of their diversity, how then can such a diverse and too frequently antagonistic humanity come to find its way to peace and shared prosperity. What we would preach to others, we must first practice ourselves.
The vision of this day includes the vision of all humanity living in unity while affirming our diversity. Just so you know, from this sincere hope for
Christianity and world unity the United Church of Christ, to which Church on the Hill belongs, was born and grew.
Our scripture reading is the second half of the famous Pentecost story. The Church’s birth has two elements to it: The Holy Spirit and the Church’s universal reach. God is no longer the God of the Hebrews alone. The creator of the universe and humanity no longer resides in a Temple in Jerusalem, Israel. God reaches out to all people through the power of the Holy Spirit. All the world can understand God’s new message of the gospel of Jesus Christ because all the world is the Lord’s, because all people are God’s, as Isaiah 45:12 says, “I made the earth and all the people living on it.”
God is in each one of us. Each person is God’s child. Each child of God is part of God. This must be the first and most important fact on which we stand when we look at anyone else and all humankind. It is an identity that comes from God and cannot be revoked. Nobody is more God’s child than another. Nobody is less than fully God’s than somebody else. It’s totally irrelevant what and how we divide ourselves up by or into. These lines and boundaries contain no truth in God’s sight.
The beauty of other humans as well as their differentness, or even strangeness, are easily ignored and denied. How much we fear those who differ, how quickly we resist a challenge to our settled assumptions, how little we celebrate God’s creation, how small we remain when we refuse to breathe in the Holy Spirit and give God the glory for never ending diversity.
Test yourself. Watch and listen to your reactions to others. Notice when you close yourself off to someone. It’s time to expand our image of who God is. God isn’t the creator of only small, select portion but of all. God doesn’t reside among only the few but among all. The Holy Spirit speaks all languages and touches all people.
I don’t know if you’ve caught this, so I’m just going to spit it out. I’m saying two opposite things at the same time. It’s the reason why possibly this is a little confusing. On the one hand, I’m saying everyone is the same. We’re all God’s and of equal value and mustn’t be divided up. On the other hand, I’m saying we’re all different and diverse, and we need to celebrate this difference and thank God for it.
Which one is it? It’s obviously both. It takes spiritual growth to be able to keep both truths alive and well in us. There are differences, but they aren’t the full story. There are samenesses, but they shouldn’t be mandated to be valued.
We want to grow in our spirit so that we see and know that a child to one is a child to all. An elderly in one world is like an elderly in another. Those who are in jail or kept in cages here are just like those who are in jail and kept in cages there. Those who hunger or are homeless there feel and think just like the homeless and hungry here.
There are no lesser human beings in God’s eyes and heart. There are no greater. We are equal around the Lord’s table. We are beloved in God’s sight.
Christ loved all, healed all, died for all—and that’s because all are God’s, and all are beloved by God.
Can the church say Amen?