Sunday, October 7, 2018

You love US?

Psalm 8 Common English Bible (CEB) 

Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!
    You made your glory higher than heaven!
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?
You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!


Today is World Communion Sunday, and here, at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Selma, California, we think that’s kind of a big deal.  So today we are doing things a little differently than usual.  We had a processional, carrying in the bread and cup and Bible, to remind ourselves of the importance of Word and the Table.  We are singing songs from all around the world, even in languages we don’t know, to show our relationship with the church where ever it exists.    We have declared today Bring a Friend Sunday, and invited friends and relatives, neighbors and co-workers, to join us for worship.  Today we are celebrating God’s love for humanity.  

What are human beings that you think about them?  
What are human beings that you pay attention to them?  

The Psalmist has a point.  I mean, really?  What are we to the creator of everything?    When we look at the sky, at the planets and stars, at the snow covered mountains, at the immensity of the seas, at the perfection of the tiny atom, when we look at all of the strange and beautiful creatures that God created, we have to wonder why we should even matter?   

We matter because God made us in God’s own image.  Every one of us, every human, is a reflection of God, a child of God.  In the eyes of God, no one, no person, is more important or more beloved than any other.  We may have trouble with that concept because of the way the world sees things, but in God’s eyes, we are all beloved.   In the human realm it is easy to see that some believe themselves to be more important than others.   It is easy to see that some are held to be of greater or lesser worth than others.  But that’s the human world, not God’s world.  In God’s world there are no races or classes or genders - no Gentile or Jew, no slave or free, no man or woman - but only human beings, frail and fallible, but oh so dearly loved.    God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to teach us how to be reconciled with God, how to return God’s love for us, and how to share that love with all of our brothers and sisters.   And because the human world fears and hates that which it does not understand, Jesus died at the hands of men who feared the loss of their own power.    Because Jesus was human like us, his suffering and death on the cross, his sacrifice, became the foundation upon which his Church was built.  

But before he died, he instituted a practice - a sacrament, if you will - sharing a meal with his beloved disciples, and said, “as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me”.   In the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we take those instructions from Jesus very seriously and we share this meal every time we come together for worship.  And we share it with everyone present, just as Jesus did on that last night.  Even with the one who would betray him, who might have been considered unworthy.   Because you see, we don’t believe anyone is unworthy of God’s love. 

Our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was founded around the belief that the Lord’s Table should be open to all who come to share this meal of love.    In about 1808, Thomas Campbell, a Presbyterian minister, was carrying the Good News into small communities on the Western frontier of the US (Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky) where there were no established churches.  He came into these settlements to preach and marry folks and perform baptisms for the children of the folks he had just married (There were no churches on the frontier, remember? Often it had been years since they last saw a preacher.)  But one thing he could not do was offer communion to those who were not Presbyterian in good standing, and could prove their belief in and understanding of the Apostles Creed.   If you were in that frontier community but you were a Baptist or a Methodist or some other sort of Christian, you were not allowed to come to the Table.  That upset him, and so, even though it was against the rules, he began to serve everyone who came.   When the Presbytery who had sent him into the frontier heard this, of course, they kicked him out - suspended his credentials.  Which didn’t stop him, of course.  He started a church where the Table was open, and no creed was required as a test of faith.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, his son Alexander had completed seminary and, with his mother and siblings, was preparing to join his father in the US, when Communion Sunday came around.  Alexander was easily able to prove his belief in and understanding of the Creed and he was given the token that would allow him to receive Communion in the Presbyterian Church.  But there was a man there, who was not able to prove he deserved the privilege of coming to the Table, and Alexander had a problem with that.  So he gave the man his token.  Arriving in the US, he discovered that he and his father had come to similar conclusions about the Table and creeds, and together they founded a movement, a church, in which no one is required to prove they believed the right stuff in order to come to the Lord’s Table.  “No creed but Christ,” they said, and we still hold to that.   Today we proclaim that, “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.  All are welcome, and all means ALL. 

Another difference between Disciples and many other traditions is that no ordained minister is required to preside at the table.   Ordained ministers in the early days of our church were usually itinerant, and might not be there every Sunday.  But we do share Communion every Sunday, whether or not an ordained person is present, so the elders of congregations regularly presided at the table.  That practice varies from congregation to congregation - in some the Elders preside, in others it’s the pastor.   Each congregation does this in the way they prefer.  It is, therefore, well known that you might be a Disciple if whenever you visit a different Disciples congregation you learn a new way to do communion.  In this congregation most weeks the Elders preside and the Deacons serve, although this week things will be a little different.   Today, because we have three stations, where the bread and cup will be available, each representing another part of the world, I will do the words of institution and prayer and serve the bread and cup at the front Table, and the Elders will serve at the other two stations.   The Deacons will help direct you to one station or another, to Africa or Mexico or China, depending on where you sitting.  You will take a piece of the bread that is offered, dip it in the cup, and then eat.  If you cannot come forward, someone will bring it to you, so don’t worry.  No one will be left out of the Lord’s Supper.   Because everyone deserves to participate in this remembrance of God’s love for us.  

Just as we welcome everyone to the Table every Sunday, so too we welcome everyone to worship whom God has made in God’s image, which is all of us.   In some congregations and traditions there are rules about who can participate in various aspects of the life of the church.  But that’s not the case here.  No matter who you are, you are welcome here.  You are worthy.  You are loved.

There are those who say that coming to this Table weekly is too often, that it becomes routine and loses importance.  But really, how often is too often to experience God’s love?   This Table is a way that we remember, every single time that we come together, that we are loved.  This Table is a way that we remember humanity is so important to God that he sent his son to show us the way to him.  This Table is a symbol of God’s “I love you,” just as wedding and engagement and promise rings are symbols of human love for one another.    

The Psalmist asks “who are we, that you should care?”  And God says, you are my children, my beloved, whom I love so much that I sent you my son.   And here, at this Table, we remember that, every week.  Every week, we experience God’s love through the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

My brothers and sisters, please stand and join in singing the words the Psalmist gave us, “How Majestic is your Name!” 

Hymn How Majestic is Your Name Hymnal 63

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