Sunday’s service: World Communion Sunday

World Communion Sunday

Since yesterday was World Communion Sunday, we did things a little bit differently for the sermon. So here we go! 🙂

History of World Communion Sunday[1]

  • First celebrated as “World Wide Communion Sunday” at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA in 1933
    • Started as a way to “celebrate our oneness in Christ with all our brothers and sisters around the world”
  • Spread to other Presbyterian churches → denomination-wide practice by 1936
  • Promoted by the Dept. of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor of the National Council of Churches) in 1940 → went from being a “Presbyterian thing” to a multi-denominational thing
  • “Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.”
    • Reason special offering taken today is being used for issues of social justice → sharing our God-given goods in a world in need

Still share in those God-given goods today

  • God-given goods of simple elements of human society & culture – bread and wine
  • God-given goods of community – shared meal
  • God-given goods of grace of a Savior who continues to offer us refreshment in body, mind, and soul when we gather around this table

Explore these God-given goods …

BREAD

Scripture – John 6:47-51: “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread – living Bread! – who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live – and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”

Universality of bread

  • Crosses all the lines that we try to draw between ourselves and “the other”
    • Race
    • Language
    • Gender identification
    • Socio-economic class
    • Education level
    • Even religion.
  • Bread is a critical element in every culture around the world. It can travel easily. It can adapt to a wide variety of circumstances. A simple piece of bread can mean different thing to different people, even within the same cultural context.
    • Differences between pizza crust, cornmeal bread, unleavened matzo bread, and Wonder Bread

Story of hearing about Grass Roots: The Universe of Home by Paul Gruchow → read short passage about bread[2]

  • Jesus tells us, “I am the Bread of Life. … Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. … The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
  • Question: Are we looking for “Wonder Bread” version of Jesus or “homemade bread” version of Jesus?
    • Wonder Bread version: stripped down, bland, easy to swallow
      • Jesus that doesn’t make waves
      • Jesus that doesn’t challenge us
      • Jesus that doesn’t make us squirm
    • Homemade bread version: rough around the edges, has depth, full of surprises
      • Recent blog post in Huffington Post’s religious section: I’m all for love and a personal relationship with God, but I choose to follow the man who teaches that political actionis worship, that social justice is  What I and people my age are looking for is a church that preaches not just transcendental love, but that prophetic fire that makes Jesus so appealing.[3]
    • The Jesus that scares us with all of his incendiary comments and outbursts and cryptic parables is also the Jesus who most inspires us – who touches and stirs something deep within our souls – who awakens within us a burning desire to do something and be something more.
      • Jesus: I came that they may have life and have it [4]
      • Gruchow: The wholesome mystery of bread, the sacrament of it, I know now, was never in the ingredients but in the labor, and in the laborers who transfigured them into bread.[5] Ingredients vary. The particulars of our lives vary. But through his sacred and extraordinary labor – through his healing and teaching, his living and his dying and his rising again – Jesus continues to transfigure our lives into something nourishing, something strengthening, something sustaining. And when we eat this bread – whether it’s homemade or store-bought, wafers or gluten-free or even [garlic bread/graham crackers] … When we eat this bread and participate in this universal and holy mystery, we enter into that labor, too. We go out into the world satiated and yet hungry to be the body of Christ in the world.

Hymn: Let Us Break Bread Together, verse 1

WINE

Scripture – John 15:1-8: “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is – when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

Interesting thing about wine in relation to bread – wine is a temperamental thing

  • Temperamental naturel of grapes
    • Not easy to get plants started
    • Not easy to grow/maintain
    • Not easy to harvest
    • Hear echoes of this nature in beginning of our Scripture reading – Jesus speaks of farmer pruning and caring for and nurturing grapes on the vine
  • Temperamental nature of wine itself
    • Must be aged properly
    • Must be stored properly
    • For enthusiasts, must be served with the proper dishes
    • Not so terribly different from us people
      • Always in need of something
      • Always wanting something different
      • Always looking for the next best thing
      • Half the time, we don’t even know what we want, and yet we expect others – our friends, our family, our coworkers, sometimes even strangers on the street or in the grocery store – we expect them to intuitively understand what we want and what we need (or what we think we need) right in that moment. We are constantly changing, constantly in motion and in flux.
        • Kerlin Richter quote (from last week): Christianity is a messy and embodied religion, and I am a messy and embodied person.

And yet, there is utter joy amidst the messiness

  • Tradition of grape stomping: Feet have been used to crush wine for thousands of years. Ancient Romans drank wine, and it is believed that they stomped their grapes back in 200 BC to extract the juice. It makes sense to use the weight of the body to press down on grapes – it is certainly less tiring than pressing down with hands, or turning a press. Plus, stomping can easily be a group activity, and a celebratory one at that; and the creation of wine is nothing if not cause for celebration. In the United States, stomping grapes for the production of wine has been banned since the end of the twentieth century. … The practice of stomping grapes is still used by some small wineries in Portugal and Spain, but it is a rare practice, indeed. Still, stomping grapes is fun. … Grape-stomping festivals have sprung up around the country during harvest time, to satisfy the unquenchable desire to crush grapes with feet.[6]
    • Pop culture examples:
      • The hilarity of the infamous “I Love Lucy” episode in which Lucy and a rather enthusiastic Italian woman are stomping wine together[7]
      • The playfulness and romance of the scene from the movie “A Walk in the Clouds” in which the main characters are all participating in an annual wine stomping celebration on their Spanish vineyard[8]
    • Even in the midst of our fussiest, most stressful, high-maintenance moments, there are glimpses of the joy and purposefulness of God all around us.
      • Particularly visible this time of year as the leaves on the trees begin to change colors
      • Witness it in the amazing colors of sunrise/sunset (real beauties lately)
      • Hear it in delightful laugh of children
      • Feel it when you wrap cold hands around a warm mug of coffee/tea
      • Experience it in the love of family and friends

Takes a seemingly brutal and destructive act like stomping grapes to make beautiful wine → similar to another brutal and destructive but necessary act: Christ’s crucifixion

  • The darkness had to come before the light
  • Jesus knew that this was coming. He knew all about the torment and the humiliation and the pain that was to come, and yet he taught and healed and prayed and lived each day with his disciples, holding the joy and the bitterness together until the moment was right.
    • Used something as fickle and yet as vibrant and life-giving as a grape vine to describe relational nature of faith: I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. … This is how my Father shows who he is – when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

Hymn: Let Us Break Bread Together, verse 2

THE SACRED CELEBRATION

Scripture – Luke 22:7-20: The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.” They said, “Where do you want us to do this?” He said, “Keep your eyes open as you enter the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then speak with the owner of the house: The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.” They left, found everything just as he told them, and prepared the Passover meal. When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.” Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.”


Friends, in this blessed meal, in this sacred celebration in which we are about to participate, Jesus took common elements – humble bread and ordinary wine – and imbued them with a meaning and a holy weightiness that is universal. We all need the grace offered to us in this bread, this body of Christ. We all need the forgiveness granted to us in this cup, this blood of Christ. We all participate in this life of faith together just as the disciples participated with Christ in that first Last meal centuries ago.

  • Still seek Christ’s presence among us … just as they did
  • Still ask for Christ’s guidance and direction … just as they did
  • Still inspire by Christ in thought, word, and deed … just as they were

When we come to this table, we celebrate the love of Christ. We celebrate the sacrifice of Christ. We celebrate the gritty humanity and true divinity of Christ. We celebrate the radical revolutionary of Christ – the one who sat with the people he wasn’t supposed to sit with, taught to the people who weren’t supposed to learn, kissed the people who weren’t supposed to be touched, and loved the people that everyone else forgot. All of that realness, all of that love and messiness and joy and pain, all of that faith and hope and desperation are here at this table, in the brokenness of the bread, in the bittersweetness of the cup. Here we worship. Here we pray. Here we praise. Here we are nourished and blessed, not so that we may stay here and genuflect before the elements themselves but so that we may take the blessing we receive here out into a hungry and hurting world. Amen.

Hymn: Let Us Break Bread Together, verse 3

[1] “World Communion Sunday” from https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/world-communion-sunday/. Accessed 3 Oct. 2015.

[2] Paul Gruchow. Grass Roots: The Universe of Home. (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 1995), 45-47.

[3] Christian Chiakulas. “Churches Could Fill Their Pews With Millennials If They Just Did This” on Huffington Post: Religion, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-chiakulas/churches-millennials-if-they-just-did-this_b_8215846.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051. Posted 30 Sept. 2015, accessed 3 Oct. 2015.

[4] Jn 10:10 (emphasis added).

[5] Gruchow, 47.

[6] “A Brief History of Stomping Wine” from Von Stiehl Winery, http://vonstiehl.com/a-brief-history-of-stomping-wine/. Written 4 Aug. 2009, accessed 4 Oct. 2015.

[7] “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” season 5, episode 23 of I Love Lucy. Original air date: 16 Apr. 1956, http://www.tv.com/shows/i-love-lucy/lucys-italian-movie-17248/.

[8] A Walk in the Clouds, produced by Zucker Brothers Productions, released 11 Aug. 1995.

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