View print-optimized version | View pdf of bulletin
World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2016 | 8:00 a.m.
Judith L. Watt
Associate Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church
2 Timothy 1:1–14
And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
will be the feast.
Jan Richardson, from And The Table Will Be Wide
Most of you remember the wave, right? I am not talking about hair. And I’m not talking about the ocean. I’m thinking about the time period a few years ago when sitting in a college football stadium almost always included participating in the wave. Section by section fans would stand up and raise their arms and then bring them down and sit down as the next section would do the same. You would watch the wave travel around the stadium until it finally lost steam and died.
That’s kind of what today is like for Christians. Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. Already, more than six hours ago while most of us slept, Christians in every country of Africa gathered in villages and towns, in buildings and in thatched-roofed structures to sing praises to God and to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and to hear their pastors say, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you—the bread of life. . . . This is Christ’s blood shed for you—the cup of salvation.” Even before that, sixteen hours ago, in Australia the same words were heard, and bread and cup were received. Just a few hours from now, later today, other Americans will gather in Arizona and in California and Hawaii to receive bread and cup and to hear the same words. And it will continue, time zone after time zone, as Christians gather around tables like this one, in groups big and small, in skins of all colors, speaking languages of every kind. “This is my body, broken for you. My blood shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” It’s like one big wave of Christian celebration traveling around the globe. Can you kind of imagine it in your mind’s eye? Can you see how we are a part of it? The wave has made its way to us.
I think it’s good to think about this celebration going on today among Christians. It takes us out of our own world and stretches us. Imagining it, thinking about it, encourages us to think of ourselves as part of a movement so much greater than we are here in this sanctuary. It is encouragement. Encouragement that others, all over the world, are spreading the love and grace of God, too. Encouragement because we are reminded we are not alone.
This sacrament, no matter when we share it, is meant to be encouragement for us every Sunday. It is meant to remind us whose we are and to whom we belong. It is meant to feed us, regardless of our class or our ability, our level of wealth or status. It is meant as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and sustenance. And it is meant to be a celebration of the joy we share in having been given this gift, this inheritance of faith and acceptance. But today, on this World Communion Sunday, it is meant to remind us that we are part of something so much bigger than the confines of this sanctuary. We share a faith that goes beyond ethnic and national and denominational boundaries. We are part of a huge family. It is encouraging to think about all those others celebrating this sacrament, because when we do, we remember that we are not alone in this love-sharing effort.
The disciples were seeking encouragement when they made a request of Jesus in the words we just heard from the Gospel of Luke. They say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” They say this after having heard some instructions from Jesus about the demands of being disciples. The instructions they heard were overwhelming to them. It all sounded so hard. What Jesus tells them sounds so impossible. And so they clamor, “Increase our faith.” Maybe they can succeed if he would just increase their faith.
Just last week, in a Bible class I’m teaching on the Gospel of Luke, we finished reading the Sermon on the Plain, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, and one of the class members looked up in discouragement. She said, “It sounds so cut and dried.” We all were overwhelmed, because it was so obvious that we all fell far short of faithful and true discipleship.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ request to increase their faith is meant to be a corrective about how they are thinking about faith and also an encouragement. They want their faith to be increased, as though that would allow them to follow Jesus’ instructions better. And he says to them, “If you had faith the size—just the size—of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would obey you.” His response implies that faith is not something you quantify. More faith doesn’t equal bigger miracles. Faith, even just a little tiny glimpse of it, thimble full of it, seedlike size of it, can accomplish unbelievable things. It’s not about having more faith. It’s about understanding that faith—what little faith we might have—enables God to work in a person’s life in ways that defy ordinary human experience. Faith has the power to alter the essential nature of things. A tree, by nature, grows in the soil, but Jesus says just the tiniest bit of faith can so dramatically alter perceived reality that a tree can be planted and take root in the sea. Faith can alter life itself. It can change patterns of relationships. One person has a problem with honesty, another with trying to manipulate others, another no capacity to care, one lives with the wrong set of priorities. Jesus says to his disciples that even the tiniest bit of faith can accomplish amazing things. Faith the size of a mustard seed is enough. It is encouragement.
This all sounds oversimplified, doesn’t it? There are those of us who pray every day for the same thing in our lives or our kids’ lives or the world. We pray and pray and pray and still we see no change. I know that. But I’m not speaking of faith as a simplistic formula like “Believe in God, pray, and everything will be good.”
Instead, maybe faith is more like a certain stance or a certain positioning or a certain template through which we look at our lives and the world.
I’ve been listening to a podcast from Krista Tippett’s radio program called On Being. This particular podcast is called the “Inner Life of Rebellion.” It is an intergenerational conversation between Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin. Something Parker Palmer said during their conversation made me think of mustard-seed-sized faith and how we might think of it. He says—in response to something his conversation partner has just said—“I love your phrase . . . that it’s an act of rebellion to show up whole, to bring your entire self into the world.” He continues,
As someone who believes that there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world, and as somebody who wants to say that somehow part of that hidden wholeness is love, that part of that hidden wholeness is our feeling for each other, that part of that hidden wholeness is a desire to make this thing work, and to work it out together, to persist in those fundamental beliefs that something better is possible—I think this is courage—and I try to call myself to it every day. And I often fail.
So, Parker continues, “so rebellion can be that very small thing of swimming upstream against a tide of cynicism or against a tide of scarcity and trying to witness to that in your life day in and day out.”
“That very small thing of swimming upstream against a tide of cynicism or against a tide of scarcity and trying to witness to that in your life day in and day out.” Faith the size of a mustard seed. That’s what we each have inside of us, a kernel of that hidden wholeness beneath all of the brokenness of ourselves and the world—that is love. A little kernel, seed-sized, but still enough to share.
“Increase our faith,” the disciples clamor. And Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed . . .”
In 2 Timothy, Paul also shares words of encouragement about faith with Timothy, another pastor. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother, Lois, and your mother, Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you. Rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” Paul, changed by faith himself, encourages Timothy and reminds him of the seeds of faith planted in him by his grandmother and his mother. “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you,” Paul says.
So I guess encouragement is my intent today. I think it’s the intent of the scriptures this morning and the intent of this meal. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can accomplish things unimaginable. If we remember and nurture that hidden wholeness we each have within us, so many things are possible, great and small. It’s about treasuring and guarding the little faith we have, as a wonderful gift from God. To remember the faith that has been passed on to us, by parents or grandparents or other church members or whomever has been the one who has passed on this faith to you. However it has come, “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” Even if it is the size of a mustard seed, it is powerful.
All those people throughout the world who have already received the bread and the cup today and all those people who will come to the table later today—having heard the words “The bread of life. The cup of salvation”—all of them are our partners in this effort of sharing love in the world, and all of them, along with us, have faith enough. We have enough, if we just keep rekindling it and treasuring it as an amazing gift to be used and shared. So come to this table this morning, just as you are, bringing with you that mustard-seed-sized faith, and know that the intent of the meal we are about to share is to help us rekindle that faith, that hidden wholeness of love inside of each one of us. Amen.