It is World Communion Sunday, annually observed on the first Sunday in October to celebrate the unity of the world-wide Church. As a symbol of unity, of oneness, Christians from all over the world come together this day to confess “Jesus is Lord” and to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
In the 19th century, our Disciples of Christ forebears Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were great proponents of such unity. They believed that, in spite of our different nationalities, languages, cultures and creeds, this table, the bread and the cup, and the great confession of faith “Jesus is Lord,” unites us all.
So as a Christian minister, especially as a Disciples of Christ minister, I am supposed to stand behind this pulpit on this day and confidently announce that because we participated in the Lord’s Supper this morning, and because we confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we are united. We are in one accord, with Christians from all over the world who are sharing in the same supper and making the same confession.
It is seems to be great, sentimental thought, a gushy, romantic ideal. It sounds like the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. But, the truth be told, I am not so sure I am buying it.
Are we really in one accord with the racist Christians who belong to the German National Democratic Party that is seeking to revive Nazism?
Are we on the same page with Christians in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria who are supporting laws that are brutally repressive to gay people?
Do we really want to brag about being on common ground with Christians in Jordan, Iran and Syria who have murderous hatred for the nation of Israel?
And are we unified with Christians, here in our own country, who believe that it is not only okay to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race, but believe it is their duty to God to do so?
Are we really at one with the Christian TV evangelist with big hair, big dimples and several big mansions they bought with money donated by people he swindled, many of them poor?
And why on earth would we even want to be associated with the Christians of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas who hatefully protest the funerals of our fallen soldiers.
Sometimes I look at the actions of Christians around the world and even down the street and think that I may have more in common those who do not profess any faith at all.
Like us, these Christians confess “Jesus is Lord.” Like us, they partake in the Lord’s Supper. And like us, they may even be partaking today on this World Communion Sunday, this very hour. But they are nothing at all like us. When they eat the bread today, it appears to be from a much different loaf. When they drink the juice or wine today, it seems to be from a totally different cup.
I believe there are many people in this world who erroneously only confess to be Christian. In chapter seven of Matthew’s gospel we read Jesus’ words:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [I think we could add here: “Did we not take the Lord’s Supper together in your name?] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
So, I must confess that I am sometimes glad that I am not united with some who confess Jesus to be Lord and who share in the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes it seems like our unity with others should be based on something greater than this.
In John chapter 13, we read these words of Jesus:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
The John’s epistle we read:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
I believe God wants Christians around the world to unite today, not by just a table or a confession of faith, but also by the love we have for others. We are to love as God love us, selflessly, sacrificially, unreservedly and unconditionally. As the song goes, “What this world needs today more than anything else is love, sweet love.”
But here’s the problem with this all-we-need-is-love theology. It makes great, gushy music, but the love we have for others will never be enough to truly unite all Christians. For as much as we try to love one another, we most always fall short.
During a conversation with two members of our church in my office this past week, I shared how I recently had my feelings hurt when someone said something rather critical about the way that I pastor. One of our members said, “Aww, Jarrett, you’re feelings only hurt because you care so much; because you love others so much.” The other member, who may know be a little better, said with a smile, “No, your feelings only hurt because you have such a big ego.”
The truth hurts at times doesn’t it? The truth is that no matter how hard I try to love others, I always end up falling short. My ego, my pride, my sin is always getting in the way. Thus, as much as I believe Christians around the world need to come together and be united by a selfless love for others, if I am to be honest, I know that is not going to happen.
For example: it is nearly impossible for me to stand up here this morning and preach “love one another” and not have some hate in my heart for those Christians who do not love one another. Wasn’t the judgmental pride in my voice obvious a moment ago when I arrogantly suggested we were not united with, were better than, “other” Christians?
I sounded like the self-righteous Pharisee in one of Jesus’ parables who arrogantly boasted, thanking and praising God that he was not like the Tax Collector (Luke 18).
The truth is, when it comes to genuinely loving one another as God loves us, as hard as we might try, we all fall short.
So, what is it that truly unites us as Christians? Let’s look again at these words from 1 John:
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
It is not our love that unites us. It is God’s love that unites us. Christians all over the world are united by the truth that “for God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christians all over the world are united by the great truth that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is what unites us as Christians. God loves us in spite of our egotistical love and our judgmental love. God loves us in spite of our arrogance and self-righteousness, and God loves us in spite of our hate.
Thus, the truth is that we do indeed have something in common with racist, Neo-Nazi, German Christians, with homophobic Russian, Ugandan, and Nigerian Christians, with anti-Semitic Christians around the world, with misogynist American Christians, and with those oppressors-of-the-poor TV evangelists living their mansions. We even have something in common with the hateful zealots of Westboro Baptist Church who picket the funerals of our fallen soldiers.
And 200 years ago, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were exactly right. This table and our confession of faith “Jesus is Lord” unite us all.
We are united by this meal, representing the body and the blood of Christ, representing the very life of God lovingly broken and graciously poured out for all. Christians all over the world, with all of our sin and shortcomings share the same bread and the same cup and receive the same grace.
We are made one by the great confession that our Lord is Jesus, the one who was sent to save us not because of our love for God, or for others, but because of God’s love for us.
This not some great, sentimental thought or some gushy, romantic ideal, and this is not just the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. This is the gospel.