Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 10-16
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
This past week I went away for two days of retreat. I headed to Highland Retreat Center and spent time walking around the woods and listening to the creek gurgling by. Beyond sitting in silence and reading, this kind of retreat is good for me to pause and take a good long look at my life, my relationships and my faith.
As we continue our move back into the church we want to think about a bit of a health check on ourselves. Throughout the Bible God is continually calling us back to right relationships. The theme of the series we start this week is celebrating and cultivating different kinds of relationships or as I call it – we are thinking about how we are together in our world. Relating to others is messy and sticky, but also beautiful and a wonder. This morning we want to think about the range of these right relationships and that fact that being together does not mean we are the same.
Today on World Communion Sunday we are using communion as our lens to help us focus on God’s work to restore right relationships in 4 different ways – what I’m calling In, Up, Out, Around. God wants to restore right relationships between us and ourselves, between us and God, between us and others, and between us and all of creation.
We start here. Looking at ourselves. Not as a self-centered exercise but as a self-diagnostic. Throughout our Mennonite heritage and tradition coming to the communion table was a time of accountability and taking stock. Communion has invited people throughout the years to reflect on the state of their soul and if they were in right relationship with their brothers and sisters.
Are there any relationships that you need to reconcile before you come and take communion? While we no longer hold this strict accountability of needing to go before an elder and say if we were able to come to the table unimpeded by brokenness and conflict; can communion be a time where we do look at ourselves and our relationships, asking what needs work and what needs to be made right. What within us may be breaking even our relationship with ourselves?
Now we look UP. I know that God is not up but all around us and in us. So this morning think of this up as “I lift my eye up to the hills from where comes my help…”
Our looking up this morning is remembering who God is. The Deuteronomy text helps us go back to our communal story and name a few things. God has loved us. God has tested us. God has made a covenant with us and gave us commandments of how to live
This passage talks about us being made humble through our hunger and then God feeding in a way that the people were totally unacquainted with. And why did God do this? So that we understand that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes for the mouth of God.
We come to this table to eat our fill. At the first church I worked at the youth used to joke that we were having a love “feast” but only a teeny tiny one because they couldn’t imagine a feast with such little pieces of bread. We do have a church picnic later today where we will share a meal together and be filled up. But we come to the communion table with a spiritual hunger and to be met in a different way. We come to this table to bless the Lord who has given us this gift. There are many ways to approach communion and today we do it with thanksgiving.
This text of remembering comes with the caution – Don’t forget the Lord and all God’s commands. When things are going well, when you sit in all that you have been given, all of your wealth – Do not exalt yourself and forget God! We come to this table remembering what God has done and the trust in God that that leads us to.
Maybe most important on World Communion Sunday is thinking about OUT, restoring right relationships with others, as we think about our relationship with the international church. This seems difficult in these days when it feels hard to even be in right relationship with Christians in our own country with whom we disagree.
In Paul’s writing to the Ephesians he is reminding us of what we are called to: humility, gentleness, patience, baring with each other in love, unity in Spirit, and a bond of peace.
I grew up with my Dad having music or the radio on almost all the time. Often when biblical texts are read aloud I find myself singing along and this text is like this. Dad would play music as we were going to bed and so I learned to fall asleep to the words of scripture coming from the mouth of John Michael Talbout with tunes that lulled me to sleep. So much so that once our family went to one of his concerts and my Mum and my brothers and I all fell asleep in the front row. So when I hear this text read I hear…”there is one faith…”
Yet here on this World Communion Sunday I confess that I struggle to take that seriously all the time. When I worship with other denominations, traditions or cultures the worship sometimes makes me uncomfortable. But I need to not put on my theological superiority hat and hold myself in that moment knowing that they are worshiping the same God that I do – they are seeking to follow the same Christ more closely.
We are all part of this one faith, one hope and one baptism. They are just as beloved to God as I am. Even when I can pick holes in their theology (as they could do with my theology, I’m sure) I have to ask: What can I learn from them? What is the truth they can speak to me in love? How do I love them first so that my truth is grounded in God’s love, not in my need to be right.
One of my friends while I was in seminary was studying at a Lutheran seminary to become a priest. We had numerous debates about what the communion table meant. For him, grounded in his tradition, communion was about the grace of God extended to all who received it. Even though I didn’t always agree with him I received this understanding with gratitude and hold that now along with my belief of being accountable before I come to the table.
We need to not hide from our differences and instead work toward our common faith. To help me do this I have a practice of cultivating friendship with someone who is more conservative than me and someone who is more liberal than me. I need to know these people, care about them, understand their viewpoints and allow them to challenge my beliefs and view points. I realize a place where I still need to work at this in our US context is to cultivate a close friendship across race and socio-economic class not just along the political/theological spectrum. I still have much work to do in me.
Just as we know that we need to exercise our bodies and do weight training to build up strength for the health of our bodies. We have to think about how are we working together, exercising, to build up the body of Christ. An image I have been sitting with this week is how was the church knit together in the womb of God, fearfully and wonderfully made and what is our part in adding to the health of this global church body.
Our oneness in Christ is a gift that comes to us from God – this gift becomes the foundation of our life together. One faith, one hope, one baptism – given freely to all.
As we look AROUND we see that our need and calling are not just for right relationship with other people but with all of creation. Walking around the Relief Sale yesterday I was reflecting that it is brokenness in our ecological and political systems that makes something like MCC and the Relief Sale necessary. How can I be at peace when the world is in turmoil? How can I rest easy when brothers and sisters all over the world are forced from their homes by disasters and violence? My shalom wholeness is linked to yours and tied to all of creation.
This Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving and I have been hearing from a number of my Canadian friends who are traveling to be with family. In Australia we don’t celebrate the North American holiday of Thanksgiving but I decided that it was important for me to keep the tradition while I was living there. I started small with just 4 friends but over the years I lived there as an adult, our meal grew to me cooking for over 25 people. My Aussie friends appreciated a holiday and a meal linked with thankfulness and being together.
This is how we come to this table today. A table wrapped in tradition and ritual maybe like your Thanksgiving meal. The word Eucharist, which comes from the Greek, means thanksgiving. We come with humbleness, grateful for what God is offering to us. Grateful that we as a church united in Christ can approach this act with all the meaning that it holds. When we take communion we are reminded of all the ways that God is working to make things right, in and through us. In taking communion this morning we are transfigured and transformed with the invitation to reorder our thoughts, emotions, intentions and relationships. This kind of transformation and cultivation of right relationships takes a lot of work. But God goes before us and with us and it is the kind of work that makes life meaningful.
As we prepare ourselves to come to the celebration of communion today I invite you to reflect on your life and relationships. Ask with me:
As I come to this table – am I in right relationship with myself (in), God (up), others (out) and all of creation (around)? Do I know myself as beloved and actually treat myself that way?
Am I in right relationship with God – have I had an honest conversation with God recently about our relationship?
Am I in right relationship with others? Am I being hurt or are others hurting me? Do I need to confront or be confronted?
How am I with all of creation? Do my actions stand true with my faith? Am I loving my international brother or sister through my use of resources and political views?
What is the invitation to you to be in right relationship right now?
This past week I took a two day retreat where I could ask myself some of these questions. I got away from my office and my house and went to the woods. I left my screens behind me and slowed down enough to actually take stock of my life. How can we look at ourselves honestly and realistically?
As people come to take communion take the time to self reflect:
Who am I in God’s eyes? How am I true to who God has called me to be in the world? How do I keep making space to know this God and be known by God so that my life is continually reoriented to both my beloved-ness and my call.