Today is a special day in the life of
the church. It's World Communion Sunday, a day when Christians
unite; a day when we become a true universal church, putting
aside all labels we use describe our faith traditions,
focusing instead on the one Lord, the one Savior, the one
World Communion Sunday was first
observed by the Presbyterians in 1936, in 1940 the Methodist
Church and Evangelical United Brethren Churches adopted the
first Sunday of October as World Communion Sunday, and now in
2004 most Christians throughout the world recognize World
Communion Sunday as a day of unity and celebration.
God wants his people, regardless of
race, denomination, social status, or any other label we use
to describe ourselves, to be unified in the purpose of serving
God and fulfilling the Great Commission. And in response to
this call one author has written, "Don't allow barriers to
separate you from your fellow Christians - you'll be
worshiping the Lord with them in heaven some day."
The Apostle Paul really lays out for
the Ephesians, and for us, in the first six verses of the
scripture read this morning what World Communion Sunday is
meant to convey. Here Paul's words again: "As a prisoner for
the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the
calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be
patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort
to keep unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace - just
as you were called to one hope when you were called - one
Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who
is over all, and through all and in all."
In this pericope Paul in a nutshell is
sharing with us what it means to be a Christian. You see God
has chosen us to be Christ's representatives on earth. So in
light of this truth Paul challenges us to live lives worthy of
the calling we have received. What an awesome privilege it is
to be called by God, and to be set apart to do God's work. And
part of this responsibility requires us to be humble, gentle,
patient, understanding, and peaceful.
People are watching us and how we
live. Can they see Christ in us? How well are we doing as
Paul says, "There is one body," and we
are to be united as Christians in this truth. But you know
unity just doesn't happen; we have to work at it. I'm very
proud of this congregation and this community because of the
effort both place in being an ecumenical place of ministry. We
work for unity in and among us to do the work of the Lord.
Often differences among people and
churches can lead to division. This is one reason we have so
many denominations and independent churches. But Paul is
telling us, in our day and age, this division, these
differences should not divide the church. Unfortunately many
perpetuate division by spending the majority of their time
focused on differences and how they divide us rather then
spending their time focused on those things that can unite us,
allowing us to develop more into the image of the family of
We do need to discuss our differences
openly and honestly, with respect, and with a desire to
understand one another. But we also must lift up and unite
around those things that are common to all Christians: " There
is One body, the fellowship of believers, the church, we are
all part of the one body with Christ as the head " There is
One spirit, the Holy Spirit, who activates, energizes and
inspires the church to action " There is One hope, the
glorious future to which we are all called, a future of
eternal joy and peace " There is One Lord, the Christ, to whom
we all belong and all follow. Jesus is our ultimate leader "
There is One faith, our singular commitment to Christ
understanding that Jesus is the one way, one truth, one life "
There is One baptism, the sign of entry into the church, a
means of grace offered to us without price " There is One God,
who is our creator, and the author of eternity Now to foster
unity we need to remember no one is perfect and no one faith
tradition necessarily embodies the complete truth, so we must
accept and love other Christians in spite of their faults, and
in spite of ours.
Is there a fellow Christian who just
gets under you skin and seems to annoy the heck out of you? I
think most of us would answer yes to this question.
Well rather than dwelling on that
person's weaknesses or looking for faults, we need to spend
time with the other person and see if we can learn to
understand them and even like them.
You know often times we're quick to
judge others by a first impression, or by some snippet of
information we hear. Yet how many times has our judgment
changed when we've taken the time to get to know the person?
And this concept is not only true on an individual level, but
also at a church and denomination level as well.
Now to build unity, a genuine unity
within the body of Christ, we must allow ourselves to be led
by the Holy Spirit. And we do that by focusing on God, God's
will, and God's Word, not on ourselves.
A way we remain focused on God is by
keeping the two greatest commandments at the forefront of our
thoughts and actions; loving and serving God, and others,
understanding, that how we live out these two commandments in
our faith traditions might be different, and that's ok as long
as our mission remains that of God's; making disciples,
worshiping God, and nurturing others in the faith.
The truth is all believers in Christ
belong to one body; all are united under one head, Christ
himself. And each believer, or group of believers have
God-given abilities that can strengthen the whole body. Our
special ability or gift may be small or large, but it's ours
to use in God's service. The key is identifying the gift and
then using it to bring glory to God.
When I think of our town and consider
a vision for how all the churches in our community can work
together in service to God, I envision each church using its
collection of gifts and abilities to serve this community in a
unique way. And that all the churches don't duplicate ministry
but rather develop complimentary ministry so that the result
is the community is served more completely and effectively in
the name of Jesus.
I see the church universal in
Emmitsburg evolving to the "one body" with shared vision,
shared leadership, and shared ministry. This does not mean we
seek to close churches and become one congregation. It means
developing a more collaborative relationship between all the
churches, focused on using the gifts of each church to ensure
the needs of the community are met. And I see Trinity
continuing to take a lead role in this endeavor.
I believe with all my heart that
within the pews of all the churches here in town we have the
means to meet the needs of the community. The challenge is
discovering what those gifts are and then defining how the
gifts ought to be used.
Now this will mean, for example, we
may have to say to someone that comes to Trinity, we don't
have the ministry you need, but so and so church down the
street does. And all the churches of our community would have
to covenant to do likewise. This will mean we all have to step
out of our individual local church needs to serve the greater
need of the body of Christ.
I remain convinced if we will unite
around the important tenants of our Christian faith that I
mentioned earlier; one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith,
baptism, and God; and if we focus on loving and serving God
and others, all the other stuff will take care of itself.
I know it works, it's worked here, and
it has worked at every other church I've looked at that's
growing spiritually and numerically. God will provide, when we
obey, step out in faith, and respond with a hopeful and loving
To remain vital a church must be
grounded in Christ, focused on relevant ministry, and must be
willing to present the gospel message in a persuasive and
compelling way. God has given his church an enormous
responsibility, to make disciples in every nation. This
involves preaching, teaching, healing, nurturing, giving,
administering, building, and many, many more tasks. If we had
to fulfill this command as individuals, or even as individual
local churches, we might as well give up without trying, it
would be impossible.
But God doesn't ask us to do that.
God's intent all along has been that we work together as one
body, not as individual parts. And when we work together we
can more fully obey God, and we can better express the
fullness of Christ.
As individuals, or even as individual
churches, we do not have it all together, but together we do
have it all.
So when you gather around the Lord's
Table in just a few minutes I implore you to pray for unity,
pray for oneness, and pray that the living God might transform
all of creation so that we might live together as the family,
God always intended. Amen