Seeing Deeply

Mark 10: 13-16            Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2: 5-12             October 7, 2018

“God… in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

Prayer:  Holy God, may your word through scripture and through our consciences reveal deeper truths to us today.  Amen.

 Eighty-five years ago, in 1933, Rev. Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA had the idea of World Communion Sunday.  It was Dr. Kerr and the Shadyside congregation’s attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—one in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information—about how each person is in a relationship with God, how each person carries the image of God within, and to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is globally, how each congregation is interconnected, one with another.  In 1936, the whole US Presbyterian Church adopted the practice of celebrating World Communion,  and in 1940, the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches) endorsed World Communion Sunday as the 1st Sunday in October and began to promote it to Christian churches worldwide (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Communion_Sunday, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadyside_Presbyterian_Church, retrieved October 5, 2018).

 Sounds like those purposes for World Communion Sunday could be applied to  Jesus’s ministry, don’t you think?  Jesus wanted to have every person know and cherish  a personal relationship with God.  He recognized how each person carried the image of God within.  And, he wanted the people of his faith community to know how interconnected they were—interconnected by a fierce, holy and divine love that God had for every one of them.  Jesus knew God loves each person, the way a child is loved by a parent.   And, he would suffer and die to make that point real, and save us from ourselves and from having a life without God’s grace in it.

 So, as he ministered to the people of his day, Jesus stood up for those whom his society tended to disregard, those who were disempowered.  He reached out to them, touched them, healed them, ate with them.  Because these were people whom society did not affirm.  They were not treated as children made in God’s image, or made a little lower than the angels.  These were people whom society did not care to be interconnected with because they were not among the powerful, the privileged, not among the widely accepted. But Jesus knew they were divinely accepted and loved by God.

 Take children, for example.  In Jesus’ day, children had limited rights and no voice.  They were property.  Take women, for another example.   Women had limited rights and limited voice compared to most adult men.  The passage immediately prior to this one is about divorce—in Jesus’ day, divorced women could simply be cast aside by the men as they would a discard piece of property.  The women were often left on their own, without resources and were outcasts.

 Jesus also reached to other marginalized people—prostitutes, tax collectors, those mentally ill and physically disabled or inured.  All of these people were not interconnected with the mainstream, their humanity unseen, to say nothing of God’s image seen in them.  But, they were all children of God.

 Now, more than two thousand years later, we are in a cultural crisis that challenges whether or not the beliefs of world Communion Sunday and Jesus’ ministry can continue and be sustained.

 It’s good we worship God in Christ affirming the belief that all people are made in God’s image.  It’s good to honor that all people are children of God interconnected, one with another, by a holy, divine love of God, and, yes, it is important that we share Christ’s meal today with this in mind.

 And yet, these beliefs are challenged because in our day, children still are being separated from their parents at the southern border of our nation.  In our day, in cities and towns, people are shot each and every day.  In our day, those on society’s periphery are told by the powerful to be quiet.   In our day, people of the #MeToo movement are told to bury the abuse and mistreatment, and just go along.  If a person claiming abuse does speak up, there is disbelief, mocking, or they’re told to grow up.  In our day, people of the “Black Lives Matter” movement are told that “all lives matter,” which is true, but “all lives matter” has not been practiced for centuries, nor is it practiced now.

 I suggest that while today’s recognition of Christians around the world is good, and our affirmation that all are made in God’s image is wonderful, and we are interconnected with each other is powerful—I suggest that  the strength of our words today pales in comparison with the strength of those whose suffering has spurred them into action.  Those who are fighting in the trenches for equality and for justice.  Those vulnerable to the ridicule and non-acceptance—these are the ones whose efforts magnify our beliefs.  They are the ones who put actions on the words of faith.  Their suffering in the hard work of seeking justice mirrors the One who suffered through his hard work of perfecting salvation, the One whom God made as the Savior for all God’s children, the pioneer of our salvation, whose suffering made perfect the plan of God that all the children of God are to be in the center of God’s realm both here on earth and in the world to come.

I think it is for us then to take from those who suffer, indeed from Christ himself, a new and dedicated resolve to stop practicing customs and traditions that oppress and disempower, and start living the truth in love and faithful living, so that this faith and these beliefs shown in the foundations of Jesus’ ministry and in the origins of World Communion Sunday would never end.  May God help us. Amen.