World Communion Sunday! Sermon – Esparto, CA – October 6, 2012
Title: A Diverse Cloud of Witness – Text: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 / Mark 10:13-16
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,
1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 2:6 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 2:7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 2:8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 2:9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,
2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
BEGINNING – Brothers and sisters, may the peace of Christ be with you. I am honored to be here with you this morning. I want to thank Rev. Pamela Anderson for the invitation, it is a blessing and a joy to be here.
Today we are celebrating World Communion Day. A powerful day for us and hopefully for the world. Unfortunately, we don’t call every communion day a world communion day. If it is very important to celebrate it once a year so we are reminded that our communion is nothing less than global, when we return to our table next time and not call it world communion day, does it mean that we are not global anymore? I wish we could call our communion all the time World Communion Day!
Here’s a little bit of the history…
“Established in 1936, when the world was deeply fragmented by the conflict that would be later known as World War II, World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) has been an observance to help Christians all over the world affirm their unity in Jesus Christ as it is expressed so beautifully at the Lord’s Table. Originating in the Presbyterian Church in 1936, the idea of World Communion Sunday was embraced and promoted by the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches) in 1940. Other denominations, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), began to join in this annual witness to Christian unity, which takes place on the first Sunday in October. At the Lord’s Table, Christians in all nations, of many ethnicities and languages, could remember their kinship in Christ and be encouraged to live more fully as brothers and sisters in God’s family. “
A beautiful history, a witness of unity against the divisions of the world, a sign of grace and healing against the brokenness of our world. So, the question for us is how do we make sense of this day based on our biblical readings and the situation of the world?
Our text from Hebrews starts powerfully: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets.” What a powerful statement! Yes, long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. I love the idea of the ancestors here and let us stick with it for a while. We do not talk much about those who came before us. I love when churches celebrate all saints day, the ancient saints and the ones who are much closer to us. Perhaps we don’t talk much about those who have died because we are afraid of talking to or about the dead. This is not part of our faith right? Whatever the reason, it is indeed difficult to consider those who came before us as part of our journey now. And If that is the case in our thinking, we might do well to rethink it.
For the Jewish people, one cannot think about their present without honoring and calling upon those who came before them. Every Jewish celebration is a way of rescuing the work and faith of their ancestors. Elijah is always present. Esther is present, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are present. Moses is present, the people from the Egypt are present… There is no faith for the Jews if not in deep and alive relation to those who came before them. The reading of the Torah, the prophets, the Psalms and etc are ways of turning the faith a past-present-future event without clear distinctions.
The past is alive, it feeds the present, the future is a consequence of how we embrace the past and construct the present and the present is a constant re-reading of the past and an unending creation of the future. In that mode of being, with the present, past and future so alive, the place of our ancestors gain a much more important weight for our faith.
But if we consider many of the African people, the idea of the ancestry is fundamental to their living. Not only the ancestors provided a path for people to walk today but they continue to walk this path along with them now, giving them strength and guidance. More than talking to the dead, to live with our ancestors is to live amidst a cloud of witness that was and still is a part of their journey.
Continuing with what the writer of Hebrews said, where are the prophets of our own ancestry? We know the ones from Israel and we must go back to them time and time again. But what happened to the generations of people that came before us? What and where were and are the voices of our mothers and grandmothers and great grand mothers? What were and are the ways in which our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers prepared the way for us to be where we are now? We are not here alone brothers and sisters! We stand on our ancestors shoulders!
I never stop wonder what would I be without the work of my grandparents whom I didn’t meet?
Who would I be if not for the presence of the people in my local church in Sao Paulo who came before me and loved me, told me stories, cared deeply for me, provided what I needed, made sure I was getting a good education and conditions to live well. Going further back, who would I be if it was not for Jonathan Ashbel Simonton, a Presbyterian minister who went to Brazil in 1859 to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ? Because of him, my family met Jesus and here I am, a result of a chain of actions by a cloud of witness guided by the Holy Spirit. What are we doing brothers and sisters to continue this chain of events of this cloud of witness that continues to spread the love and care of Jesus Christ to the world today?
The saying: “it takes a village to raise a child” was so true to my upbringing and I am sure certainly true to your own formation as well. It was not only the work of my mother and father and brother and sisters that made me who I am. It was the work of Miss Maria, Eny, Claudete, Ivone, Heloisa, Mister Lauro, Carlos, José, Éber, Silas and many others who were God’s voice to me. Their presence clouded my sky with joy and protection. This cloud of witness made me who I am now.
At age 8, I was a shoe shinning boy in the dirty streets of São Paulo. Where would I be today if not by the love and trust of this village, men and women who raised me and helped me be who and where I am now? I cannot take them for granted! I must name their names because they are part of my ancestry. They are still painting my sky and inhabiting my world.
But also, long before that, the people from Africa who came to Brazil and prepared the ways for me. Their struggle and resilience still lives in me! Or the Europeans who were cast away from Europe and came to Brazil preparing the way for me. Or the precious indigenous people who were already there in Terra Brazilis and prepared the way for me. They live in me, they speak in and through me, in what I know and what I don’t know. They are here now with me, helping me to raise my hands and speaking the word of God to you. I claim, I name, I honor and I thank them.
Thus, I am, as we all are, a result of a very diverse cloud of witness. We belong to them as they belong to us. So I must fight for them as well. The imperative of our gospel is to love and to love in all of the tenses of the verb: past, present and future! And even here now. Look at us here! I came all the way to be with you this morning. You welcomed me with joy and hospitality. Pretty soon you will feed me at this table. You have become part of my cloud of witness. Now, I must carry you! Now I am responsible for you as you are responsible for me. We are each other’s keepers, brothers and sisters. This is what the gospel and this table does to us, to turn strangers into family, unrelated people to become family, a local table into a world communion feast. The world communion is right here, as it spells over the world offering love and shelter, hospitality and food to all to come.
Thus, the pains of the world are still breathing here. The disasters of the world and the hunger of many kids are present here.
This sense of community we have here must help us see that we are not the measure of all things. Our text says that God gave everything to be under the authority of humankind but continues saying that Jesus is above everything. Because to have us as the measure of all things is very dangerous! See what we are doing to the world? When can rule everything such as the animals, the land, natural resources and even other fellow humans we turn them as means to our desires. We see our society made of few owning most of our resources and the poor living in growing hardships.
The notion of the common good has been lost in our discourses and in our practices because we think that we are the measure of everything and everybody must adjust to our own sense of right and wrong and to our most pressing needs. We are saying that it is ok to have few people owning what is supposed to be our common resources. We cannot let this happen brothers and sisters! We must be under the authority of Jesus Christ who is the measure of all. Under Christ’s rule of loving we can become good stewards of God’s creation, living in harmony and respect with each other and proclaiming that life and dignity and justice is for all of God’s creatures and creation!
For I carry a faith that is not only mine but is also common to other people. I don’t live in a bubble that I can do whatever I want. My faith is not above all but a faith lived WITH other people, a faith committed to my brothers and sisters, here and afar, that does not let me off of the hook of my social responsibilities. I cannot be ashamed of those who are poor and disenfranchised and excluded from our social live.
Because Jesus is not ashamed to call them and us all his brothers and sisters. Like Jesus I will look upon those who are cast out from our societies and say: “I will proclaim their names to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Our center is God and not ourselves! This cloud of witness keep growing! And it will be in the midst of strangers and the poor, in the midst of a diverse cloud of witness that we are called to praise God and honor each other.
Our love for those who came before us must be sustained brothers and sisters. They are part of this diverse cloud of witness. They are signs of what we should be doing now, committing ourselves to each other, helping those who need us. Thus together, we can make a better future for those who are coming. We live in a very diverse world and our witness must be diverse too. Whoa re here with us today? Who are not? Why? Who belong to this cloud of witness? How diverse is it? Who is part of your ancestry that forms our diverse cloud of witness here today?
I could stop here but there is more brothers and sisters. Our text from the gospel of Mark tells us that we need to expand our understanding of this diverse circle of witness. In this text, we see Jesus telling the disciples not to interfere in the movement of the children towards him. The children are carriers of the kingdom of God to us and we must pay attention to them. Unfortunately, we have created a general sense that children cannot understand things and children and children’s noises are unwelcomed in our midst.
In worship for instance, we see our children as distracting us from the message, easily turning them into stumbling blocks to OUR worship. We learned quickly that we cannot and should not worship with them. We than decide to create special programs for them but I wonder if that is not also a reason for them to be away from us…
How can we accept Jesus’ altar call to us asking us to make an intentional effort to learn to live with our kids while we the service goes on? How can we learn to listen to the children and see them as precious gifts of God, as the closest we can get to the kingdom of God? They are a fundamental part of this cloud of witness. Since today is world communion day, what are we to do with the children around this table?
I believe that any world communion will be compromised if children cannot be aprt of this celebration, if they cannot be here at this table with us. Our world communion will not be worldly if we don’t remember the children of our own and all of the children around the world. Our world communion will be a very sad celebration if we cannot feed our children, if they cannot be in our arms, and around us, jumping up and down and being part of this great cloud of witness.
This communion table has a space to be indignant as Jesus was when he saw the disciples blocking their way to him. At this table we need to continue to say: “Let the little children come to Jesus; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
Again, the measure of our faith is not we the adults but rather our kids. Isn’t this gospel we follow absolutely crazy? The ones who hold the keys to the Kingdom of God are not us, adults, who know everything about God but rather, the kids of this church! For If this table is to be about the Kin-dom of God and God’s mercy, and love and transformation, we must repeat Jesus words every Sunday: “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
But if I am to push you a little further, and I have no idea how you see children participation at Communion Sundays, I’d ask: The reason for kids not to be at the table is because we are worried about the fact that our children will not understand the proper meaning and respect of this table? Is that the reason we don’t share the rbead and the wine with them? If that is the case, my question to you is: But who does? Who does understand this mystery and respect this table enough? Who can grasp this unspeakable offering of love to all of us? Who can figure out how this table can help us remember and be grateful for God’s presence in our midst? Who can make sense of this table where God offers food and drink to all so no one goes hungry? Who can be bold enough to understand that this mysterium is a proposal for social equality, grace abundant and Christ presence to the world?
When we approach this table we do it in awe and wonder, in joy and deep gratitude. Let the children come first to show us the way! Let them bless us. Let them eat with us and light our path towards the Kingdom of God. They are a key part of this cloud of witness so preciously diverse. By having communion with them, we are being faithful to our past, we are creating a new present, and preparing a future where our kids will lead the way.
My this world communion table be filled with children past, present and future, may this table be crowded with our ancestors, may this table issue an unending invitation to those who are excluded to come and join us, may this table be worldly, may this table be a diverse cloud of witness as diverse is the kingdom of God around the world.
May we feast on this table and never be same again!