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Community Cup

Sermon - 7/15/12
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon


Ephesians 3: 14-19

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of God’s glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.


Last week we dove into the many images we have of God and pondered how, with about 160 in unique people in worship, and likely that many images of God, how could God be all of them?  How could God be using the myriad to build unity?

I wanted us to rest in diversity as an experience of God.  See and experience the beauty of NOT knowing.  We did so very well and I’m grateful for those who used their own unique voices to add to the sermon last week. 

Today I start with Ephesians 3, which is the writer’s prayer for the community in Ephesus – he’s been teaching them that their diversity is the key to their unity.  The hard work of living beyond our differences and the walls that divide them is accomplished through love.  Love.  The idealist in my says Yes and the realist’s  head begins to spin, brain explodes as I pick any number of real world issues and simply try to apply love.  I believe Dan preached on this recently too. 

So let’s not consider the global community right now, let’s keep it a little more local – this worship service and the people in it.    A community. 

We paid close attention last week to how we view God differently, but that’s not all that makes unique.  More of an intellectual activity.  The emotional component of community is what I’m getting at this week. 

Some here are extroverts, jazzed by the encounters we have with others; some are introverts whose desire for connection is equally strong but achieved in different ways than the boldness of a mixer or coffee hour.  Some are introverts who have been trained to be extroverts and so they don’t know what they really want.  Most of those are clergy, ask around! 

Each person brings a unique understanding of family, carries into this sanctuary past pains and experiences of mistrust in relationships’ perhaps experiences of discrimination and ridicule from inside the church; and relationships of great love and great trust.  So many individuals and the hope of being a part of one kingdom of God.

Read a great book recently, by Barbara Brown Taylor (a great preacher and writer) Called the Altar in the World.   She outlines 12 spiritual practices for living in the world including “the practice of encountering others,” where through her storytelling she invites the reader to get out of the self and into the community. 

And she talks about finding “the flow”, which is really just a groovy synonym for “the Way”.  But seriously, artists and athletes speak of something called “flow.” (second wind, etc.)  When they are deeply involved in what they are doing, time ceases to exist.  So does their sense of themselves as separate from what they are doing.  For artists they become one with the paint, chalk, the clay.  For athletes, they become one with the team, the ball, the court, the track, the air, the others.  The body moves by instinct instead of thought.  Have you watched the Tour de France?  It’s like hive mind.  Awareness blooms, as the individual self escapes its confines to become part of something bigger than the self.  Lots of people can relate to this – not just artists and athletes. 

In the Christian mystical tradition, one name of this is divine union.  It can happen all alone with God but it can also happen with other people and sometimes even with trees.  At its most simplistic form what she means is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But go a little deeper and this spiritual practice is really about coming face to face with another human being – seeing the Spirit alive in this other person.  Escaping the self long enough to glimpse a wholeness more real than the most real brokenness.  When the walls and distractions of this world disappear and you become a part of something bigger.  Two words, mission trip.  It can happen at the grocery store or post office.   It is a beautiful thing – so hard to hold onto – but fully memorable.

This is what she means by the flow of community, the Spiritual practice of Encountering Others.  I think more than a few of us here would admit that’s why we are here in this community– to live longer in that divine union.  

In my Junior high social studies class they were still teaching the metaphor of American culture as a melting pot.  We’re just all a part of one big stew, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, representing the diversity of culture and race, all melting together in one lovely soup bowl.  I know criticism of this metaphor began earlier than the 90’s but that’s what I heard first.  But soon enough I was introduced to the metaphor of the salad bowl, where each party maintains their identity and we still make something delicious together. 

(Steven Colbert, the satire king, introduced a new metaphor by calling American culture the “lunchable” each truly maintaining its identity and carefully segregated by plastic walls so to uphold their individuality and not play together.)

The church also has it’s own symbol of unity -  – it has been carried through the generations, it is such a valuable part of our identity, representing our common focus, common purpose – who knows the symbol?

Yes.  The communion cup.  The chalice.   When I read Ephesians 3 this week a giant chalice came to my mind.  In order to grasp how “wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ” is (from v. 18), maybe picture the vastness of the ocean, held together so beautifully by the shores on either side.  Constantly moving, thousands of species co-habitating.

Or An enormous pool big enough for all of us to swim in – or drown in- but hopefully, being “rooted and established in love” (v. 17) we learn to float together, to ride the tides, to surf those waves, to find the flow of the Great Spirit and work together, not against one another and not against the Spirit.  All of us swimming in some great big communion chalice… is perhaps NOT the image you’d like to rest in your mind when we actually have communion later today. 

Feels somehow unsanitary and messy.  It is.  But it’s never been anything other than difficult and messy.

As Disciples of Christ we ritualize the sharing of the bread and cup every time we are together.  And each Sunday that I’m at the table you hear me repeat one of a few themes…

Communion represents access to God – everyone has access to God and therefore the table is open for all.  The word "communion" comes from King James Bible translation of the Greek word for "sharing" and the Latin for participation by all.  The same root word is used for the words common, community, and communicate.  We are all welcome.

Holy Communion is about Thanksgiving – also known as Eucharist.  Not a biblical term but connected to the phrase we know so well, :  "Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it."  We give thanks for all that God has accomplished in our lives as well. 

Remembrance = anamnesis.  Remembrance that everyone is a part of one body.  We have the one loaf that everyone takes a piece from, and the one cup we all dip into. (or in the case of the second service one cup we symbolically pour into and then pass around the trays…)

But the Greek word anamnesis is more than remembering a past event or a shared understanding.  It is a living event – remembering the past but bringing it forward to the present.  Christ lives in our communal Spirit as we ritualize the biblical story. 

I like this word, anamnesis.  Because I think we need to remember more than just the Gospel account of Jesus with the Disciples (The Last Supper).   We would be wise to consider how many other people have found disunity in the “common cup”? 

And the answer is a lot of communities.   This is not a new story at all – they were having trouble in Corinth, that’s one of Paul’s main points.  We haven’t learned much since then. 

Three men:  Thomas Campbell in Pennsylvania,  Alexander Campbell in Scotland, and Barton Stone in Kentucky. 

They had an “awareness blooming” moment at the communion table that led eventually led them to depart from the Presbyterian church, and to create together a new brotherhood  (sisters included too) where Christ leads, not creeds.  Their theme was "unity in freedom rather than a unity in conformity; in other words “unity in diversity." 

Clergy had kind of taken over communion in their day.  And if you wanted communion, it took like 5 days to get through the ritual…sometimes.  An “examination” was required, and if you passed, you got a token.  Like your keycard to communion. 

So Stone is hosting a revival and the high attendance estimate is like 10,000 people over the course of 5 days, non stop, and about 700 were given permission/granted authority/passed examination to actually finish the ritual and have your piece of bread and drink of the cup.  That was his moment of really seeing others.  Thomas Campbell was leading a service in Pittsburg, where 2 different churches were worshipping together.  When he got to the table he simply invited everyone to participate.  And that was the last time they ever heard from Thomas Campbell.  No, seriously it didn’t go well. He had to leave the church.   But my favorite is Alexander Campbell’s story.  The family is trying to get from Ireland to America, to be with family patriarch Thomas.  They get as far as Scotland and Alexander goes to college.  He’s used to the ritual of examination, but on this one day he sees on his way to the table the people he has to step over in the street, the people who didn’t pass examination and didn’t receive forgiveness, didn’t get to feel that communion with God and fellow man.   And he’s thinking about this on the way up to the table, turns in his keycard, and turns around and walks out. 

These three men formed a new community of “Christians” who celebrated the sharing of the bread and cup as often as they would meet together.  Sharing with all.  Recognizing the diversity of relationships with God and circumstances in life and relying upon the individual to “make right with God” and “come on down.”  These are our creation stories as a denomination.  Didn’t really keep people from arguing and dividing and not in any sort of divine union. Mostly over things like wine v. grape juice, individual cups v. common cup, divorcees v. non-divorcees, bread breakers v. bread pinchers.  I’m not even kidding churches have split over keeping the loaf intact and pinching the pieces off one at a time or breaking the bread in half and feeding everyone from 2 stations.   

But now look at our communion table:  one loaf, one cup, with gluten free crackers, the choice of individual cups, or toasted croutons.  We clearly value the diversity of our community.  Fool me once…

But what about the divine union?  Have you ever noticed whether you choose to make eye contact or avoid it when you wait in line for communion?  Have you ever tried to hold both trays at the same time and get your own bread and cup – somehow forgetting how simple it would be to just ask your neighbor for help?

For we are seeking spiritual oneness; the emotional connection/ a belonging to from the language of Ephesians.  The encounter of another human, is maybe the closest to God we may ever get.  

There are a number of ways to experience this divine union.  Two words, remember them?  Mission Trips.  Sunday breakfast.  Silent Meditation in worship.  Co-ed, Recreational, D League Softball on Wednesday nights.   Prayer pods.  Special Olympics.  Church Camp.  The Communion Table.    To be served and serve someone else – to be seen, looked at in the eye and not just self contained– that’s you tapping into the flow- there is something sacred in the sharing of this meal.  You can eat at home by yourself anytime – Think about it. 

I hope that each week you will take an opportunity to have a person to person encounter, and eye to eye encounter IN your hour of worship – the hour where we are focused on God so hard sometimes we don’t even look each other in the eye or get too nervous to meet someone new.  Yes we need God but God knows we also need each other.  Try to have at least 1 a week outside of this community – in the wider world. 

And don’t worry about the learning curve we will all experience as we practice the flow of community.  Remember all those who have struggled before us, be thankful that we gain wisdom from their experience. 

And pray that we, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Leading out with the community’s prayers. 

And into silence.


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