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
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
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!
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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?
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.
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.
unsanitary and messy. It is. But it’s never been anything
other than difficult and messy.
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…
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.
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.
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”?
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
with the community’s prayers.