NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*Scriptures this morning are included in the message and come from the Easy To Read version.
MESSAGE – Let Us Break Bread Together – A Message for World Communion Sunday
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Hymn number 2236 in The Faith We Sing goes like this – don’t worry, I won’t be singing it:
Here in this place new light is streaming,
Now is the darkness vanished away
See in this space our fears and our dreamings,
Brought here to you in the light of this day
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken,
Gather us in, the blind and the lame
Call to us now and we shall awaken,
We shall arise at the sound of our name
We are the young, our lives are a mystery,
We are the old who yearn for your face
We have been sung throughout all of history,
Called to be light to the whole human race
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty,
Gather us in, the proud and the strong
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
Give us the courage to enter the song
Here we will take the wine and the water,
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
Call us anew to be salt for the earth
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
Give us to eat the bread that is you
Nourish us well and teach us to fashion,
Lives that are holy and hearts that are true
Not in the dark of buildings confining,
Not in some heaven light years away
But here in this place the new light is shining,
Now is the kingdom, now is the day
Gather us in and hold us forever,
Gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together,
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones.
A beautiful and apt call to gather and break bread together on this World Communion Sunday. Except that … I am officially in isolation for another eleven days. I’ve avoided it for 3 years, but this past week was exposed to COVID. So far there are no symptoms, but all of us in this house are being watchful. We are grateful that we’d had all but the most recently released vaccination and are praying that will be enough.
Sitting here, though, stuck at home and even though I’m not alone – I’m here with my mother and my brother – the world seems far away, emptier somehow. An odd feeling to have on a day when much of the world is sharing communion.
Communion is an intimate connection. Many people enjoy hiking in the woods in order to have a sort of communion with nature.
When you connect in a meaningful way with something, or intimately share your feelings with someone, you experience a communion. The word implies a deep connection, particularly a spiritual one. A Communion, with a capital C and also called Holy Communion, is a Christian religious service involving consecrated bread and wine.
The Latin root of communion is communionem, meaning “fellowship, mutual participation, or sharing.” But, if you dig deeper into the etymology of the word communion, you learn that the oldest root of the word is most likely an old Proto-Indo-European root *mey– which has many meanings, e.g. strengthen, fortify, change). From these roots also come the words common, communal, commune, communicate, communication, communicator, communism, community, immune, and municipal.
All that information about the meanings behind and amassed into the word communion has me thinking about the state of the world or rather that state of the people of the world. On this day, October 1, 2023, we are globally about as far away from the meanings of the word communion and all its root origins as we are from the moon. We can see it out there … somewhere … a light in the darkness of the night sky … we can gaze at it, wonder about it, we can even find videos here and there from the six successful lunar landings and twelve men who’ve actually walked on its surface … but for you and me? It’s unlikely we’ll ever walk on it ourselves, so instead we continue to gaze at it and wonder.
Admittedly, I feel the same way about the state of humanity right now when it comes to “communion.” No matter which direction you look, which nation you’re talking about, what layer of society or government … there is no sense of community anywhere. These days, even individual households are often fractured with the only common ground being that two or more humans occupy the same physical space.
Communication has broken down everywhere: between governments and the people they purportedly serve, between employers and employees, between governments at all levels – nations, states, counties, municipalities, between political parties, between neighbors and neighborhoods, between parents and children, between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, between races, between sciences, between and even within denominations and religions.
Even communication itself – the words and materials we use to communicate with one another is loaded with hairpin triggers as more and more words become negative labels for someone with whom we cannot communicate. It’s like we’re all suffering the mass psychosis of a flashback to the Tower of Babel. We simply do not understand one another anymore, no matter how hard we try, and when we do? Our first reaction is to disagree with whatever was said or otherwise communicated.
Nothing seems to fortify our determination to work past all the miscommunication, to strengthen our bonds with one another, or to change our hearts and minds.
As Methodists, we maintain an “open table.” We don’t put any restrictions on who can come forward to receive Holy Communion. Saint or sinner, perfect or imperfect, accepted or outcast, we are equals at the Lord’s Table, and yet … even within our own denomination, we have experienced a breakdown in communication, in communion with one another that has led to a somewhat bitter “divorce” as churches disaffiliate. Indeed, “World Communion Sunday” kind of feels like a pipe dream at best.
But it shouldn’t. We should never feel that way about communion or about the idea that all around the world there are others sharing in the Lord’s Supper today. Afterall, that’s what faith is all about … believing in what we cannot see or necessarily understand. All religions, all faith traditions share that in common … that having faith in something that can’t be seen or easily understood, in some higher power than we mere mortals.
So how, in this horridly divided, fractured, messed up world we live in, do we begin to bridge the divides?
With love. Not the Valentines and chocolates kind of love, but with the kind of love meant when the New Testament authors used the word agape. Agape is God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for humankind. It’s people’s love for both God and others. It’s a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good. It’s the highest form of love, contrasted with eros, or erotic love, and philia, or brotherly love. It’s the kind of love that causes one to lay down their life for another. It’s the kind of love that God, Christ, and the Spirit have for us.
As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, “I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to help others, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing by doing all this if I don’t have love.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.
Love will never end. But all those gifts will come to an end—even the gift of prophecy, the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages, and the gift of knowledge. These will all end because this knowledge and these prophecies we have are not complete. But when perfection comes, the things that are not complete will end.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, and I made plans like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways. It is the same with us. Now we see God as if we are looking at a reflection in a mirror. But then, in the future, we will see him right before our eyes. Now I know only a part, but at that time I will know fully, as God has known me. So these three things continue: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.”
That’s a tall order to fill, to love that way, but it is a big part of the solution to what is going on in this world right now. And the thing is, we don’t always have to use words to communicate agape. “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words” works with the agape kind of love as well. How you treat others … things as small as a smile at that cranky neighbor, buying an extra meal at McDonalds and delivering it to the homeless man sitting on the curb outside … things that are a little harder like sticking up for the person someone else is bullying or body-shaming or calling derogatory names or racial slurs … and things that are harder yet like standing with marginalized communities that are being oppressed even if you’re not suffering the same oppression and working with those communities to dismantle the sources of their oppression even and especially if, in the process, we find out we are part of the source of that oppression. It’s defending the defenseless, lifting the voices of those others try to silence, and sometimes it’s putting yourself between the threatened and those who threaten them.
As we work to love with an agape kind of love, we need to do so with humility. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells them, “Think about what we have in Christ: the encouragement he has brought us, the comfort of his love, our sharing in his Spirit, and the mercy and kindness he has shown us. … Agree with each other and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think. In whatever you do, don’t let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. Don’t be interested only in your own life, but care about the lives of others too.
In your life together, think the way Christ Jesus thought.
He was like God in every way, but he did not think that his being equal with God was something to use for his own benefit.
Instead, he gave up everything, even his place with God. He accepted the role of a servant, appearing in human form. During his life as a man, he humbled himself by being fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross.”
Humility is also a tall order, but Paul was not naive. When he wrote that letter to the Philippians, he was a prisoner of the Roman Empire who had arrested him for proclaiming the gospel. Yet his appeal to the church at Philippi, where there had been conflict, was to “be of the same mind, having the same love.” Eighteen centuries later John Wesley echoed the same message: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. “
Authority is balanced by humility, with Jesus as the prototype for a sacrificial humility rooted in love. Authority wielded without humility and without love is too often the impetus for the oppression and exploitation of others.
We must remember that the One whose authority was equal with God did not exploit that authority for his own glory but loved us to our redemption. Self-emptying was possible because Jesus knew who he was and to whom he belonged. We belong to God as well and need to always keep that front and center in our hearts and minds.
We can begin to bridge the divides between us with agape-like love, with humility, and lastly … with faith. The author of Luke tells the following story in chapter 17: “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
In her Sunday Musings newsletter, Diana Butler Bass writes, “One of the most frequently asked questions at those events came from grandparents: “How do I get my grandchildren to write thank you notes?”
At first, I replied by offering tips on forming spiritual practices with children. That never seemed quite satisfactory. During one Q&A, a nice grandmother bemoaned that her grandchildren never said thank you for any of the gifts she sent them — and she was quite hurt by their lack of gratitude.
On a whim, I asked her a follow-up question, “If your grandchildren never sent you a thank you note, would you stop sending them gifts? Would you insist they return your presents?”
She laughed, “I’m tempted. . .” Her grandparent-peers laughed. “But of course I’d still send them gifts. And I certainly wouldn’t take them back!”
“So,” I replied, “you don’t send gifts to get notes? Why do you send gifts?”
“Because I love them,” she replied. “Thank you notes are nice, but gifts aren’t contingent on them.”
And that’s today’s lesson from Luke.
In this story, Jesus heals ten lepers. They are healed. All of them. But only one went back to Jesus and said thank you. He’s an outsider, a Samaritan, perhaps one not accustomed to being the recipient of a divine gift like healing, a spiritual blessing conferred in this instance by priests. For whatever reason, this one leper didn’t take the gift for granted and choose to return to Jesus to express his gratitude. In response, Jesus thanks him — and sends him on his way.
This is a rich story for what it says about Jesus and the Samaritan leper. And it is an intriguing one for what it doesn’t say about the nine lepers who didn’t return to say thank you.
There’s no indication that their lack of gratitude affected the gift.
Jesus didn’t take the gift back. He didn’t threaten or warn the nine. He didn’t send the disease to reinfect the ingrates. He didn’t direct the temple authorities to arrest them and return them to the leper colony.
Saying thank you — or not — had nothing to do with the gift.
Ultimately, this story is about the generosity of God. The gift of healing is free. Christian theology calls that grace — a gift with no strings attached, a gift that comes from the nature of God, a gift of love. God is the Ever-Gifting One. Extravagantly, endlessly, without condition or expectation of response. All of creation is a gift; every day we are surrounded by gifts. The gifts never stop, are never taken back, not in any way contingent on the recipient. The gifts just are.
Only sometimes do we notice. Only occasionally do we turn back, fall on our knees with gratitude, and say thank you.
However, gratefulness isn’t what heals us. At the end of the story, Jesus says it is faith —meaning TRUST (not “belief” or “doctrine,” but a disposition of “trust”) that makes us well.
In effect, gratitude is an expression of trust. Sometimes, we take gifts for granted because we trust that they will always come. Perhaps not sending a thank you note is an odd expression of that confidence — we trust the dependable, loving grandmother to never forget a holiday or birthday. But, sometimes, a gift is so enormous, so unexpected that we do notice. And that’s when we turn around and fall on our knees in wonder to offer thanks, finally understanding that gracious gifts surround us every day and have always attended our way.
That’s when gratitude can change everything — it transforms our ability to see the giftedness of our lives, to stop taking the great generosity of the Gifter for granted, and to freely respond with attentive trust.
You don’t ever have to say thank you. God’s love never ceases; the gifts never end. And yet, it is good to notice how extraordinary it truly is — this gracious love, this gifted life. Trusting that, being attentive to it, makes us whole.”
And in that writing there is another lesson … when we express agape-like love for our neighbors, for the foreigners residing among us, for the least among us, for those that find themselves outcast, and even for our enemies … humility requires that we do not expect a “thank you” in return. Nor, in the case of most marginalized groups, should we! For, in truth, we have played a part in what caused them to be marginalized, to be oppressed either explicitly through our own actions … even actions as seemingly innocuous as how we voted in past elections, or through the complicity of our silence.
Perhaps the best response when anyone tries to thank us would be, “Don’t thank me. Thank God. I’m just the delivery guy.”
Diana Butler Bass had a post-script to the message in her newsletter: “This story reminds us that is easy to overlook gifts, including the gifts of ground, water, and sky — the fruitfulness of the earth, the generosity of this gorgeous planet. Without these gifts, we would never even have existed. Neither God nor creation takes those gifts away — and never would they. The gifts that sustain us are always with us, even if ignored or abused to the point of crisis.
And we’ve done a lot of ignoring and abusing. It has been our choice to take the gifts for granted. We’re a lot like the nine who took the gift and moved on with life.
Yet, the full circle of gifting is not complete until we recognize the gift, turn around, and say thank you. In this text, Jesus’ final words were “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” The Greek word for “well” is sózó. That word doesn’t just mean to be cured from an illness. Rather, it means to be saved, rescued, or delivered — healed body and soul. The one man, who freely responded and returned with thanks, was truly transformed as Jesus himself affirmed: Your trust in this circle of gifts and gratitude has made you whole.
It is easy to get caught up in gloom and guilt when it comes to climate change. Indeed, many of this past month’s texts lent themselves to exploring the sins and injustices that threaten the world we inhabit. I confess that I felt a bit overwhelmed at times as I worked through the readings.
But today’s episode from Luke leans away from judgement toward hope. The Earth, all of creation, still gives her gifts. Healing continues even in our deeply wounded world. What would it be like, instead of going on our way, we turned around and said thank you? To God, to creation itself? Would we find ourselves growing in trust that we’ve not been deserted in this diseased place, in a spiral of apocalypse?
What if we completed the circle of gifts and gratitude by responding with thankfulness and praise? If gratefulness can save a Samaritan leper, then surely it can save us.
Perhaps a new-found trust in mutuality, reciprocity, and sharing, humbly recognizing that everything is a gift, will make us whole.”
Let me read that last line again: “Perhaps a new-found trust in mutuality, reciprocity, and sharing, humbly recognizing that everything is a gift, will make us whole.”
Mutuality means the sharing of a feeling, action, or relationship between two or more parties. It would seem then that mutuality requires communication, common ground, and community. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another. Another action that requires communication in order to arrive at an agreement that is beneficial to the involved communities. One of the definitions of sharing is to use, occupy, or enjoy (something) jointly with another or others. Community.
It always comes back to that Latin root of communionem, and the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Are we willing to love with the love of Christ at a level that achieves community, to be in communion together and to go forth into and share the love of Christ with the world?”
Brothers and Sisters, let us break bread together and try.
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