World Communion Sunday 2018

I’m grateful for our friend Finau, who came to church this morning wearing his traditional Tongan style of dress to read the Genesis text in his native language. We asked Finau to do this today because this is World Communion Sunday, a day celebrated by Christians of all traditions. Today, Christians are gathered around a common table, not divided by denominations, languages, or tribe. It’s a when we catch a glimpse of God’s vision for the world’s people-- to be truly one.

It was this vision, and the totally different reality of the world, that drove Jesus to run through the Temple of Jerusalem shouting and turning over the tables of the money changers. Here’s the story, as it is remembered in the Gospel of Mark:

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
   But you have made it a den of robbers.’
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city (Mark 11:15-19).

Now most of the time when we read this story-- by the way, it’s one of only two stories that are recounted in all four gospel accounts-- we assume Jesus’ motivation for wrecking the place is that the money changers were defrauding people. But the text doesn’t actually say that, and the fact is: those money changers had to be in the Temple marketplace to exchange Roman coins for Jewish ones. And pilgrims, like Jesus’ own parents following his birth, needed a place to buy animals to offer as sacrifice. As we look closer at Jesus’ words and actions we see a picture forming that shines a light on his motivations.

He says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations,” referring to a vision of the prophet Isaiah, God’s Temple will be a place for all people to worship. But by the time of Jeremiah, a different prophet, religious practice had become too corrupt. People were openly worshipping idols and foreign gods in the Temple. So Jeremiah says, and Jesus repeats-- word for word: “But you have made it a den of robbers.” He is not upset at the money changers. He is upset at the tribalism of religious practice. Jesus didn’t like barriers. Those tables he turned over represented barriers, so he threw them out. He is wanting to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of every person, of every nation, would be welcome in the House of the Lord.

Finau read from Genesis 12, the first encounter between Abram and God. God calls Abram to leave behind his family and home and step out into a new future. Faithfully, and without much debate, Sara and Abram do as God asks. And here’s the thing: God goes with them. God constantly appears to Abram to reaffirm the covenant and the promise. Even as Abram and Sara cross borders and travel through foreign nations, God goes with them. God is not limited to a particular geography or region. The God who created the universe and all people, making them in the very image of God, is not restricted to a particular tribe.

Abram, later Abraham, is understood to be the father of three of the world’s great religions: Chrstianity, Judaism, and Islam. Paul, writing to the Galatians, thinks of Abraham’s faithfulness as the ultimate sign of the borderless-ness of God:

Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith
 (Galatians 3:6-14).

The Jews of the church of Galatia, who followed Jesus Christ, insisted the non-Jewish people who had come to faith in Jesus, must adopt traditional Jewish practices, like circumcision and dietary restrictions. NO, Paul said. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial life, all people, Jews and non-Jews, have access to God’s grace. Abraham was rendered righteous because he faithfully followed God’s plan; Jesus faithfully followed God even to the Cross. And because of Christ’s actions everyone can be made righteous by faith in Jesus.

LIke I said, Jesus didn’t like barriers. At the moment of his death, the curtain that hid the room in the Temple where the most important sacrifices were made, was torn. Jesus doesn’t like barriers. We all have access to God through faith.

The other day I was hanging out at the Richardson library. Richardson is a highly diverse city, and it was on display at the library:
Two Asian women talking on the parking lot
An African American mother and daughter riding the elevator
A child with Down’s syndrome watching YouTube videos
A woman wearing religious headgear walking her child to the car
A homeless man sleeping on a bench just inside the door, a respite from the hot afternoon sun
Men and women of all nations coming together into one place-- wait-- is the Richardson Library the new Temple??
World Communion Sunday was established by the Presbyterians in 1936. It was meant to be an ecumenical movement. The biggest boost to the practice was in the years following World War II. as one leader said, “It caught hold following the War because we were trying to hold the world together.” Trying to hold the world together. This is a day for Christian unity. A day to see our oneness in Christ through faith. It is not a day to ignore our differences-- but to celebrate them in a way that honors the individual practice as part of a larger whole.

Abram and Sara stepped out into the unknown by faith, and as they crossed borders into unfamiliar territory the God without borders traveled with them. Jesus turned over the tables and ripped the curtain at the center of Temple worship because barriers and tribalism do not honor God. Through his sacrifice, all of us, regardless of our past, have access to God’s grace and power in our lives. As we come to the table this morning, be mindful of those coming alongside you-- those here in the Celebration Center, but also those Christians gathered in every worship space around the world. One tribe. One table. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.