Sermon: October 29, 2017 – Some Things Never Change

Some Things Never Change

Reformation Sunday
Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany

Text: 2 Peter 2: 1-3

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Language is a funny thing. There are words in our language today that did not exist just a few years ago. Words like “selfie” or “Google” or I-pad, I-phone, and I-pod are recent examples of new words that we have become accustomed to hearing.

There are also words that are used today as verbs, which were not originally intended to be used that way. Close to 100 years ago as radio communication was just beginning to become a reality here in the United States, we might have heard the word “microwave” as a description of a particular type of radio signal. The word has been around for a while now. But only recently has the word started to be used as a verb, for example, “my coffee was cold so I had to microwave it.” Of course this also happens sometimes with new words as well, the word mentioned earlier “Google” is both a noun and a verb; “I didn’t know what it was, so I had to Google it to find out.”

Then there are combinations of words that when used together mean something entirely new or different than they originally meant. One set of words that are now used together are the two words face and book; when used in combination as Facebook, it has a whole new meaning. There are other examples, the two words smart and phone when used separately mean one thing, but when combined into a single word, “smartphone” has a whole new meaning. This can all be very confusing. Particularly when all these new words are used in combination. For example, one might say something like: “I saw a new microwave on Facebook and didn’t know how it worked so I Googled it on my smartphone to find out.” “It was so cool that I bought one on-line and when it arrived I took a selfie with my I-Pad and posted it on Instagram and had to tweet about it as well!” Yikes! How are we supposed to keep up?

There is another set of two words that we are just beginning to become accustomed to and has been in the media lately and those two words are fake and news. When used together they have started to mean something entirely new. It seems we are now living in an era of “fake news”.

But with the example of “fake news” I would like us to consider the possibility that only the label is new, the existence of “fake news” has been with us for millennia. Not only has it been with us for thousands of years, I think the motivation for most of the fake news that is out there has remained unchanged for thousands of years as well.

I want to take another look at the scripture I read a few minutes ago. This text in Second Peter is talking about fake news in the form of teaching or “destructive opinions” that may be present in what the author considered to be the last days. We now know that the last days may never arrive, but the false teachings and the false prophets, the fake news, have been with us the whole time. What I really want to point out today is found in verse 3 where the text reads: “And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.”

Today we are recognizing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was 500 years ago, almost to the day, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany and that act is considered to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther had a number of issues with the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome, but the one thing that pushed him over the edge was the selling of indulgences.

The situation was that the church in Rome wanted to construct a new basilica, or a new cathedral, that would be the grandest of all cathedrals. To build such a monumental structure, which they eventually did, requires a great deal of money. As they began the project, it wasn’t long before the funds dried up and there was legitimate concern that the project would never be finished if a new source of funds could not be found. So the creative and somewhat deceitful heads of the Roman Catholic Church got together and hatched a scheme. They would sell indulgences.

For clarity, let me describe to you what an indulgence actually is. The idea was that for a small contribution the Pope in Rome would have a brief conversation with God and ask God to release a particular person from Purgatory. If this sounds like nonsense to you, I think you are on the right track, but it actually gets worse.

Purgatory, in the Catholic tradition, is a holding place for the deceased until the final day of judgement. Even though it is not a permanent sentence, the understanding was that purgatory was still full of punishment and suffering. If you were not up to standard at the time of your death (and very few were considered to be up to standard) then you went to purgatory to await final judgement. Only the very elect few went directly to heaven upon their death. Everyone else got to hang out in purgatory with the flames and suffering of hell until such time the final judgement either sentenced you to eternal suffering in hell or granted you passage to heaven.

An indulgence meant that the Pope could arrange for special treatment of a deceased love one, but the Pope would only do so with an appropriate contribution to the new cathedral being constructed in Rome. Thus, the selling of indulgences to raise funds for the new cathedral.

Remember verse 3 that I pointed out a minute ago? “And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words” It was really awful. There are excerpts of various sermons and speeches that were given to the common people in the villages all around Rome. This included places as far away as Germany where Martin Luther happened to hear about what was going on. Listen to what was being told these people about their departed loved ones.

Listen now, God and St. Peter call you. Consider the salvation of your souls and those of your loved ones departed. You priest, you noble, you merchant, you virgin, you matron, you youth, you old man, enter now into your church, which is the Church of St. Peter. Visit the most holy cross erected before you and ever imploring you. Have you considered that you are lashed in a furious tempest amid the temptations and dangers of the world, and that you do not know whether you can reach the haven, not of your mortal body, but of your immortal soul? Consider that all who are contrite and have confessed and made contribution will receive complete remission of all their sins. Listen to the voices of your dear dead relatives and friends, beseeching you and saying, “Pity us, pity us. We are in dire torment from which you can redeem us for a pittance.” Do you not wish to? Open your ears. Hear the father saying to his son, the mother to her daughter, “We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel and hard that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? will you delay our promised glory? 

Remember that you are able to release them, for

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
The soul from purgatory springs.
Will you not then for a quarter of a florin receive these letters of indulgence through which you are able to lead a divine and immortal soul into the fatherland of paradise? 

It was at this point that Martin Luther declared “Fake News”! And he nailed his opinions and justifications to the wooden church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and thus began the Protestant Reformation.

Unfortunately, the 95 Theses did not deter the fake news. It continued, indulgences were still sold and the Basilica in Rome was constructed. It still stands today. And fake news also continues to this day.

One important question comes to mind. How are we to determine for ourselves what is fake news and what is not?

Again, I want to reference verse 3 in the text which I read at the very beginning. According to the text, greed and fake news almost always go hand in hand. When fake news is evident, there is almost always a corporation, an institution or an individual that stands to gain financially or otherwise from the distribution and acceptance of fake news. If you ask yourself the question “who stands to benefit the most” before you accept anything as truth, I think you will have great success in deciding for yourselves what is fake news and what is not.

If that question had been asked by the villagers, it’s possible no one would have purchased a single indulgence and the church in Rome would have looked foolish. Remember the fake news campaign during the 1950’s and 60’s that tried to convince us that smoking was healthy and perhaps even good for you? If the question would have been asked who benefits from the acceptance of this fake news, no one would have believed these reports or studies.

You see, Martin Luther had nothing to gain and everything to lose by declaring the information from Rome fake news. When you witness that same thing today, chances are good that those who are risking everything are telling the truth. And that truth still stands even after 500 years. Thanks, Martin.

And that is food for thought. Amen.

 

Sermon: October 22, 2017 – When Disaster Strikes

When Disaster Strikes

Text: John 9: 1-7

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The text I read a couple of minutes ago is interesting on several levels, but what I want to focus on today is what this text reveals to us about first century thinking and what that means for us today. If you are like me, over the last few months you might have started to wonder what is happening to our planet. There have been hurricanes and earthquakes and wildfires and all sorts of natural disasters that have left millions of people impacted by the devastation. In Puerto Rico alone, there are still millions that are without power and struggling to find food and fresh water on a daily basis.

These are the kinds of events that we find attributed to God in the Old Testament. If we were living 3,000 years ago, the hurricane that battered Puerto Rico would almost certainly have a story tied to it before very long. It might be a story about how the people had strayed from God, or why God was angry with them. There might be a prophet worked into the story who warned the people to repent or the disaster would descend upon them. Of course the people did not listen or heed the advice of the prophet and so the hurricane arrived with all its fury, and the devastation followed.

Insurance companies still call events like these we have experienced over the past few months “acts of God” as if God had anything to do with it. But that is the language, still after all this time, they are still called “acts of God.”

Maybe you have been wondering about the responsible theological position to take when we consider the disasters of the world and the suffering of the persons involved. Maybe you have been wondering “where is God” in the midst of a hurricane or wild fires that destroy homes and families. Maybe you have been wondering how God could allow such things to happen or take place. Maybe these disasters have actually challenged your faith, because in some way, you thought God was in control. If God is in control, then God allowed these events to take place.

You see, we paint ourselves into a corner rather quickly when we begin to make God responsible for everything that takes place. We end up with severe doubt in our faith, or we end up with a blind and mindless allegiance to a faith we cannot understand. Let me show you how this works.

You have seen decision charts in the past where you follow a certain path based on your answers, I’m sure. In this case we could begin with the question “Is God in control of everything?” If the answer is “yes”, then that leads to the conclusion that God allowed the disaster to take place-and that is a not very comfortable position. If the answer is “no”, then that leads us down the path of questioning is God really God. How can a God have limited power and authority? So the bottom line becomes that either God chooses natural disasters, or God is unable to stop natural disasters. Those seem to be the options and neither position is particularly appealing. That is why it is easier for us to blame the victims of a disaster than it is for us to wrestle with the theological implications of a disaster. It is easier for us to say the people of Puerto Rico were obviously sinful and God was angry, than it is for us to actually deal with the question.

But this isn’t 3,000 years ago and we are supposed to have become a little more astute over the years. We are supposed to have learned something. But that doesn’t make the theological wrestling match any less difficult. We still have to engage our minds and our imaginations and begin to think about God perhaps in new ways.

In the text I read a few minutes ago, Jesus is trying to point us in a new direction. Jesus is trying to tell us that our thinking is a little out of date. The disciples that were with Jesus that day were still stuck in the blame the victim and God controls everything mode. When they came across this blind man who had been blind since birth, the natural assumption was there had to be a reason for the blindness; either the man himself had sinned and was being punished, our perhaps his parents had sinned and he was being punished. It seemed obvious to the disciples that it had to be one or the other, but they were not sure which, so they asked Jesus; “Who sinned that this man was born blind?”

I think we need to pay close attention to how Jesus responded to this question. Jesus tells the disciples that no one sinned. That is lesson one. God is not punishing anyone. There is no judgement, there is no reciprocity here, the blind man did nothing nor did his parents. If the story had allowed for Jesus to elaborate a bit more, I could see Jesus telling the disciples that this man’s blindness simply is; it is not punishment and further it is neither good nor bad. It simply is the way things are.

Then Jesus goes on. He says the man was born blind that the works of God might be revealed in him. This sounds like God caused the blindness for another reason. But I don’t think that is what Jesus is trying to say. I think Jesus is pointing out that in all situations we have the opportunity to bring the presence of God into the life of people we encounter. All people, whether they are blind or otherwise. Our experience here on earth is to bring about the works of God through our interaction with other people. What happens here is a shift of responsibility.

The disciples want to make God responsible for the blindness; they assume it is a punishment of some sort. Jesus says no, it is not a punishment and God is not responsible. The responsibility actually lies with you, the disciples, because you are to bring out the works of God and let them be revealed to all the world. Then Jesus says, let me show you what I mean, and he heals the man of his blindness.

So let’s fast forward a few thousand years. We have hurricanes, we have earthquakes, we have wild fires; who sinned that these disasters are crashing in on certain parts of our planet? No one sinned and no one is being punished. These situations simply are. God is neutral in the disaster; God neither causes nor prevents the disasters, they simply are. But with the presence of the disaster comes the opportunity and the responsibility to reveal the presence of God in the midst of the disaster. And haven’t we all scene this revelation? Haven’t we all seen neighbor helping neighbor and stranger helping stranger? Hasn’t the world responded and groups like the Red Cross or our own UMCOR come to the aid of those impacted? Yes, they have, and we have seen the examples of the works of God being revealed in numerous ways.

Does that mean God caused the disasters so that others could help? Not a chance. There is something else here we need to recognize and try to begin to understand. The gospel writers have tried to give us a glimpse of this theological truth, but it is all too easy to not fully comprehend. What I’m talking about is a shift of understanding about the nature of God. This shift of understanding began with Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus, but I think many of us are still stuck in the old way of thinking about God. We are still stuck back with the disciples asking Jesus who sinned.

What began with Jesus is a shift from God as a being that had human-like qualities to a God that was a spirit and flowed in and around all things. Our Christian doctrine of the Trinity with the Holy Spirit is an attempt to understand this image of God, but we continue to hang onto the human-like qualities of God as father and son even as we acknowledge the Holy Spirit.

In all three of the synoptic Gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, the passion narrative about the execution and death of Jesus all include a reference to something that I consider to be very symbolic. All three narratives include the tearing of the curtain in the temple from top to bottom. This is an important element for us to understand.

In the temple in Jerusalem there was a specific area that was considered to be the dwelling place of God. This area was called the Holy of Holies and was separated from the rest of the temple by a thick curtain. This curtain was probably 60 feet tall according to historians and was 4-6 inches thick. It was woven with a variety of material designed to make it strong and sturdy.

The idea behind this curtain was that the dwelling place of God could not be looked upon by any human being. If you did, you would die. Only the chief priest, or the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies, and even then the chief priest could only enter the area once a year on the Day of Atonement. On that day, the chief priest would enter the Holy of Holies and place the purified sacrifice of the temple on the altar. This was to appease the God that dwelled in the area. If God was not pleased, it was believed that the chief priest would be struck dead as he entered the space or as he offered the sacrifice. The curtain in the temple kept everyone else safe from this experience. The curtain was a symbol of separation of God from the people.

With Jesus, all three gospels include a reference to this curtain, this separation being torn in two, from top to bottom. This is very symbolic of a shift in understanding about the nature of God. God is no longer a being that hangs out in a particular place in the temple. Rather, God is a spirit that envelopes all places and all things – there is no curtain of separation; God is among us and God is with us.

The reason I think this is so significant is that this shift of understanding should also shift our realization regarding the influence of God when it comes to natural disasters. You see when God is no longer apart and separate from humanity like God was in the temple, but rather God is now in us and among us and integral to each of us, to believe that God causes disaster is to believe that God inflicts the disaster upon God’s self. A natural disaster would be a self-inflicted wound.

This is the shift in understanding that Jesus was telling the disciples that day and it is the shift in understanding that is represented by the curtain in the temple being torn in two from top to bottom. God is no longer a separate being. God is here, God is now and God is present with us. In the midst of disaster we might have a greater opportunity to experience that presence more than any other time.

And that is food for thought.  Amen.

           

Sermon: October 8, 2017 – “A Good Work to Completion”

“A Good Work to Completion”

Text: Philippians 1: 3-6

I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

In order for us to recognize the full significance of this text for today it is important for us to have a little background information regarding the story behind the text. This is a portion of a letter written by Paul to the church at Philippi. This particular church was one where Paul had a strong relationship and Paul had many friends and people he cared for who were a part of this church. The feeling was mutual as well, as the church in Philippi had been supporting Paul and his ministry in a lot of ways for many years. The church was a major financial supporter of the work that Paul was doing.

Many Bible scholars are a little surprised that we have only one letter in our New Testament from Paul to the Philippians. It is likely that Paul had lots of correspondence with this church and visited them in person quite often. The city of Philippi was centrally located, on many trade routes and was on the way to almost anywhere. When Paul traveled, which he did extensively, it is believed that he visited the church in Philippi quite often.

Many Bible scholars also believe that the letter we do have from Paul to the Philippians is probably what they call a redaction. This means that what we read in our New Testament today is probably fragments of at least three, if not more, different letters that Paul wrote over time to the church in Philippi. Someone, and probably not Paul, combined the letters into the form which eventually became part of our New Testament.

Armed with a bit of background information, I wanted to take another look at this text and fill in a few blanks. The opening sentence where Paul says that he thanks God every time he remembers them is an indication of their long term relationship. Other translations say it a little differently, and it is written that Paul gives thanks for every remembrance of you; I like that language because a remembrance is like a memory, and the indication is that there are a lot of memories for Paul to recall. The church and Paul have done many things together and he enjoys thinking back and reminiscing a little bit.

The opening sentence in our text also talks about the church in Philippi “sharing in the Gospel” from the first day until now. This also indicates the long term relationship, but I really like the concept of “sharing in the Gospel”. The scholarship around this text is that Paul is thanking the church for the financial support he has received over the years. But instead of just saying thanks for donations, Paul identifies the donations as sharing in the Gospel. This language communicates that while the church may have given money to Paul, the money didn’t stop with Paul. The money passed through Paul and was used in ways to impact other people and spread the Good News. In this way, the church in Philippi was sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now.

You might say that Paul had a few successful stories behind him and he was letting the church in Philippi know that they had played a major role in those successes. In a word, Paul was celebrating those successful ventures and wanted the church to share in the celebration.

That is what we are doing today. Like the church in Philippi, we too have a few successful stories behind us. We have lots to celebrate and lots to be thankful for. Today we are taking a look back at the last few years and celebrating what has been accomplished on behalf of this church. But as we look back and celebrate a success or two, I also think it’s appropriate for us to consider these successes as part of our sharing in the Gospel. We didn’t do all of these things just to keep ourselves busy. We have accomplished all that has been accomplished to create a stronger ministry and a stronger outreach to the LC Valley. We have accomplished what we have in order to make us more effective as a church. Everything we have done has been done for one reason; that one reason is to create a more effective ministry as we seek to share the Good News with this community. So, like the church in Philippi, with each and every project we have been sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now.

And I am here to say thank you for doing that. Without you, nothing happens. It is the church and the people of this church which has made our success thus far possible. You have much to be proud of and much to be thankful for.

But the text goes on. Paul tells the church that he is confident that the good work which has been started will be completed. A modern day translation might have Paul saying to the church; “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”. In other words, there are still plans to accomplish even more, there are still plans to bring the good work which has been successfully started to completion. There is more yet to do.

We also still have much work yet to do. While we celebrate today, it is important for us to remember that we are celebrating the successful completion of phase one of our revitalization plan. There is more to do and more to accomplish. And, like Paul, I am also confident that the good work which has been started will come to completion one day in the not too distant future. Success has a way of building momentum and that forward motion will help us to accomplish even more in the days ahead. I believe we can look forward to more celebration Sundays in the years to come.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to share a little bit on a personal level and offer some personal observations. First of all, let me say it is an honor and a privilege to be your pastor. I am constantly reminding myself of how grateful I am to be here and leading you in this way. Just like Paul, I am also thanking God for every remembrance of our time together thus far.

I also know that for many of you the Methodist tradition of itinerancy has not always been a positive experience. There is a nagging suspicion that as soon as we really get going I’m going to move on to some place new and leave the work that has been started uncompleted. I’ve said this before, but I think it is worth repeating, as far as it is up to me, my plans are to remain here with you.  Heidi and I are putting down significant roots here in the valley and we will be around for as long as we remain effective in this ministry. So like Paul, I’m here for the long haul and look forward to our long term relationship.

But I want to make another related point. I may be the pastor here and I may even be the one out front leading the parade, but I’m not the parade. Our revitalization efforts thus far have been a collective success. This is not Chuck’s plan or Chuck’s project or Chuck’s revitalization; this is our plan, this is our project and this is our revitalization. One person can certainly make a difference, but this isn’t about one person or one idea. This is about all of us; and all of us are sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now. From this day forward we all share in the confidence that the good work which has begun among us will continue to completion and we will celebrate again together one day in the future.

Our good work is just beginning. We have gained a little bit of momentum and are moving forward. There is much to be thankful for and much has been accomplished; there is also much left to do. I invite you to active participation in what I see as a vibrant and exciting future in the years ahead. Today we celebrate, but tomorrow it is back to work.

Our celebration dinner awaits. I often close with a remark about food for thought. Today I will close by saying we will now have food with thought as we join together in Fellowship Hall and celebrate our collective sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now; to quote our recently published cookbook; “Amen. Let’s Eat!”

Sermon: October 1, 2017 – Connective Energy

Connective Energy

Text: Luke 19: 37-40

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,  saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I find this text offers a very provocative thing to think about; what if Jesus was actually serious when he said the stones would shout out. What was he trying to tell us? Why would Jesus say something like this? Like I said, I think it is a very provocative thing to think about.

I also find this text in Luke to be unique in that only the Luke version of this story includes the comment about the stones shouting. So why would Luke include this in his Gospel? Is the idea of the stones sounding off just something that Luke thought of on his own, or is there a deeper thread of thinking that could be uncovered if we dig a little?

The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is in all four Gospels and there are many similarities among the stories. People shouting and singing, Jesus on a colt or a donkey, people spreading their cloaks on the ground all of these things are in the majority of the stories. What we identify as an event that defines Palm Sunday, interestingly the mention of palm branches in only in one of the four stories.

But only Luke mentions the stones shouting out. I would like to explore this idea a little bit. If it is metaphor, what does it mean, or if Luke thought it could actually happen, what does that mean? It has to be one or the other.

Another point that I find interesting is this rather obscure text caught the interest of lyricist Tim Rice as he was creating the musical opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Weber provided the musical score and together you have a very memorable recreation of what we consider to be Palm Sunday, but Luke’s comment about the stones is included. Let’s have a listen.

When I listen to this text as it was incorporated into Jesus Christ Superstar, it really comes alive for me. I think the concept of the “rocks and stones themselves would start to sing” is something worthwhile to explore and think about.

That being said, I’m not looking for a literal interpretation of this text. I don’t think the rocks are actually going to start singing or shouting. But the rock and stones in the written text and in the song we heard are symbolic of something else. What is the author of Luke trying to suggest to us?

I believe there is a hint about the spiritual understanding that Luke had about the Divine, or God if that works better for you, in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. I believe that understanding of the spirit of God was far more universal and far more accessible than was common in that era. I think Luke believed that the Spirit of God was everywhere and in all things and in all people all the time. I think Luke had a very universal understanding of the Spirit of God – and his reference to the stones actually shouting or singing is a reflection of how he understood the Spirit of God.

So, why do I believe this to be true of Luke and maybe not some of the other gospel authors?

The answer to that question is something I found in the opening chapter of Luke. In Chapter one, verse 15, Luke is writing about the birth of John the Baptist. In that verse 15, Luke says that even before his birth, John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Now wait a minute. John the Baptist preceded Jesus. The Holy Spirit arrived after the life and execution and resurrection of Jesus while the disciples were gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost. This event is recorded in the second chapter of Acts, which was also written by Luke, so it’s not like he didn’t know the story.

This is evidence to me, that Luke had a very open and pervasive view of the Spirit of God – because he declared John the Baptist to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, which was many years prior to the official arrival of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts. For most Jews and many other believers and by ancient tradition God resided only in the temple. Perhaps the spirit of God might be found in the Tora, but the actual dwelling place of God was called the Holy of Holies, and you could not enter the space or even look at it, unless protected by God.

For Luke to declare that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit prior to his birth is a fairly radical departure from the common understanding of the day. It is much more aligned with our modern day understanding of the universality of the Spirit of God. I think this also helps explain why he might have Jesus make a comment about the rocks bursting into song as well.

All of this background information about Luke’s spiritual understanding of the nature of God may be interesting, but there is a reason I wanted to call your attention to it. The reason is that this Sunday is World Communion Sunday – and today we celebrate the universality of the Spirit of God and all Christians everywhere come together through the common experience of communion. It is today that we recognize that we have a common bond, a common energy that encircles the entire planet.

While this may seem like an obvious thing for us to celebrate, it is an important step in our spiritual development and it’s worth remembering that it has not always been the case. Far too often and for far too long, different religions, even different Christian religions have been at odds with each other, not celebrating what we have in common. World Communion Sunday was originally started by the Presbyterians I believe in the 1940’s – so in the big picture, this is kind of a new thought.

I also find the idea of World Communion Sunday important to be recognized as a stepping stone to the day that I look forward to when we learn to honor all faith traditions and communicate that we have Divine connections that break the bonds of any singular faith tradition. I do know that Luke was of the opinion that Jews and Gentiles both were welcome and encouraged into the Christian communities. The universality of the Spirit of God that would cause even the stones to shout and sing is a goal for all of us to strive to attain. If the Spirit of God is present even in the stones, how much more present is the Divine Creator in the human lives of all God’s children in all places and in all faith traditions. World Communion Sunday is one small step that we celebrate that moves us ever closer to full inclusion of all people of all faiths everywhere.

With that connective energy we recognize that we are a part of something that circles the entire planet. Allow that connective energy, that Spirit of God, to rest upon you and soak into your very being as we celebrate the sacrament of communion this day. For today we recognize that we are connected to all people everywhere.

Amen.