World Communion Sunday
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Matthew 21:23-32

Today in the liturgical calendar is what is called “World Communion Sunday”.  It’s always the first Sunday in October and always a day marked by unity of mind and purpose in which we break the bread and share the cup in celebration of our shared life in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and also our shared humanity with one another and people around the world.

It’s something we say a lot around here, but in the day to day it’s easy to not think about such things isn’t it?  How intentional are we about how this gets played out in our daily lives especially when we seem to have more than enough burdens of our own?  Some days, it might be easier to just turn off the television, to not read the newspapers or skip over certain articles – just taking in enough sound bites to know what’s going on but not enough to move us to action right now.

So, we have a day like today – not unlike other first Sundays – but a day that calls Christians together on every continent and in every country, in myriads of languages and expressions, to pay attention to one another a little differently; to come to the table with eyes wide open, brothers, my sisters, saints and sinners, and the difference it all makes.  All are welcome.  All are forgiven.  All are made whole.

We ask ourselves what I must do in order to be in Holy Communion with others.  What are the pressing issues in my time and generation that call to me?  We gather to gain strength because to live for Christ is to sometimes suffer, to be wounded, betrayed and denied; beat down, despised, and rejected.  We also gather to reclaim our good heart, a renewed mind, a peaceful spirit, and a greater determination.

We cannot rest on the laurels of the past.  We cannot say, “look at what our ancestors did – good or bad – as though that is enough forever.  We cannot blame them, or hide behind them, or stand on their efforts forever.  No, we are called to serve the present age; our calling to fulfill.  What does life and faith call me to right here, right now?

For we are the body of Christ; that’s what we are.  The body of Christ with our wills broken, our selfish desires and ambitions broken, our fears and anxieties broken.  We are broken but also resurrected, raised up, infused, set free, determined for the greater good.   We are the body of Christ called to be alive in this community on this corner.  In this city.

All too often, I am afraid that we love our church for today.  We love our church for ourselves.  We love our church for what Cathy, Mary, and Bob can get out of it (rarely what we can put into it) and I’m not suggesting that that’s altogether wrong – we should have some expectations for ourselves, I suppose.  But what we can get out of it for our own selves is a very narrow view.  It’s too limited for the overall mission and purposes of Christ.  On World Communion Sunday we expand our vision, look again and are reminded that we love our church also for those who are hungry and thirsty – physically and spiritually; those who are afraid, lost, and tired.  Those who live in the margins of life, those who are friendless.

One bread, one body, one Lord of all

One cup of blessing which we bless

And we, though many throughout the earth,

We are one body in this one Lord.[1]

Part of the reason we work so hard today is because we realize the need to try to eradicate the sins of our ancestors.  It can sometimes seem as though so many things are coming to bare when it fact they have been comfortably resting there all along.  I was particularly aware of this this past summer when there was all the talk about Robert E. Lee and other statutes coming down.

One morning this past August, I received a call from my sister:  “Curtis (her son) and I are downtown at the Y and we’ve just been told to evacuate immediately.  They are telling us to get out.  People are gathering downtown Durham and there’s going to be a protest!” she exclaimed very nervous.  Two seconds later my oldest son – who actually thinks that he’s my father – texted me:  “Ma, whatever you do, don’t go downtown Durham today!”

Some were saying this is our history; it represents our pride, our past and we don’t want to forget.  It’s not about commemorating slavery or celebrating racism; it’s about who we are as American citizens.  Why does it matter all of a sudden?   What harm can these statues and symbols do?  They did not realize that it has always mattered.

Others were saying in so many words, “Yes in fact that is American history but a part of history that we should no long accept; no longer reflects the values of a people.”

And of course, like everything that gets politicized, it makes it more and more difficult to have the hard conversations about things that really matter and why.

I’ll be heading back down to Durham this week for an advisory board meeting at Duke University Chapel; that beautiful gothic structure right in the heart of the campus.  I have never been more proud to be a Duke alum or former employee as when I received an email from the university president stating that the statue of Robert E. Lee had been taken down.  Can you imagine that statue side by side with John Wesley – the founder of Methodism; a staunch abolitionist, proponent of social justice and human rights – standing side by side in a house of worship representing a major university in the 21st century?   Can you imagine any greater contradiction?

Why is it important to work on these matters?  It’s right here in the Old Testament passage that Andie just read:  The children of Israel were trying to say, that they were being punished for the sins of the past; the sins of their forefathers but the prophet reminds them that we pay for our own sins.  For what we do or don’t do in our own time to make the world a better place.

The parents are eating sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge was a familiar proverb in Ezekiel’s time.  They were complaining because they wanted to shift the responsibility for their plight onto their fore parents.  We are here in this situation because of what they did or did not do.

But God sends word through the prophet:  As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.  Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine; it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Here is how The Message Bible records those first 4 verses:

What do you people mean by going around the country repeating the saying, ‘The parents ate green apples (doesn’t even call them grapes at all).  The children got stomachache as sure as I’m the living God, you’re not going to repeat this saying in Israel any longer.  Every soul – man, woman, child – belongs to me, parent and child alike.  You die for your own sin, not another’s.[2]

In these intervening verses the prophet provides defense about children inheriting the sins of the parents – in other words, casting blame and looking backward instead of forward.  But skip to verse 25.

The upshot is this, Israel:  I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live.  So turn around!  Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that sin won’t drag you down.  Clean house.  No more rebellions, please.  Get a new heart!  Get a new spirit.

We have our own good work.  No one to blame but ourselves.  What will we do in communion with others to change the world for good?


[1] Foley, John B. “One Bread, One Body.” United Methodist Hymnal, p. 620.

[2] Ezekiel 18:1-4