Wednesday, October 07, 2009

West-Flowing Praise

This is a piece of my sermon for World Communion Sunday. If you would like a full copy, leave me an email address in the comments and I will forward it to you.

Already this day, in all times zones east, Christians have gathered in humble thanks, in genuine praise for the grace that is ours as evidenced in this meal.

Even now, right this very moment, all around us in Shelby and Cleveland County, in the Gastonia District and the Western North Carolina Conference, in the North Carolina Conference and the Southeast Jurisidiction—and that’s just United Methodists—all sorts of churches, all up and down the entire Eastern Seaboard, from the Atlantic to the Appalachians; in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec; in the Caribbean and South America, in Brazil—in Rio de Janeiro, too: happy as they are about the coming Olympics, there is greater, more lasting praise yet, for the wonder of God’s grace as evidenced, as experienced and expressed, in bread and cup on this World Communion Sunday.

Soon, now, we will hand off the unending hymn to those west of us, and they to those west of them, and again and again till it comes back round to us again, where in monasteries and convents, in closets and in school rooms, in hospital rooms and funeral homes, in traffic jams and every other place imaginable people will pray. People will worship.

Indeed, there is a worldwide communion of faith and worship and prayer every day—but tell the truth: some days our own world seems so small. If we are honest we will confess that our sphere of concerns is so insular, our awareness so narrow, and we can imagine that we believe or pray alone, that it’s “me and Jesus,” you know?

Thank God for a day like today when we gather around the Table and purpose to remember that it’s “we and Jesus,” that we are joined with and joined to Christians the world over. That together we offer one unbroken, unending hymn of praise, in different rhythms and keys, in various verses and chorus, in stanzas and descants—praise for creation, for recreation, for Christ, for the grace and unity we know most and best here at this Table.

Have you watched any of Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan’s new documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea?

In one of the episodes there is a quote from a Robert Frost poem, entitled West-Running Brook:

'What does it think it’s doing running west
When all the other country brooks flow east
To reach the ocean? It must be the brook
Can trust itself to go by contraries…'

What a great line: 'it must trust itself to go by contraries…'

The Communion Table is a contrary: it disagrees with the unsettled world. It disagrees with the enmity and division by which we often organize our living and thinking. It runs against the currents of hatred and exclusion, of class and color. It flows opposite our narrow concerns and in that way carries us into the great wide ocean of God’s mercy and grace. Like our praise it runs west, cutting a path through ancient sediments of animosity, crystalline deposits of indifference.

Frost’s poem continues:

'It must be that the brook can trust itself to go by contraries,
The way I can with you -- and you with me --
Because we're -- we're -- I don't know what we are.
What are we?'
Young or new?'
We must be something.'

Indeed we are something—and what we are is the church. Here at the Table we ourselves, you and I, like Frost’s West Running Brook, trust ourselves to go by contraries… and thereby find unity in the Table.

Unity in the Body of Christ. A table set for us in the wilderness, till al the wilderness shall become the Promised Land at last.


Anne L.B. said...

The unity we celebrate at the Lord's Table must be lived out away from it. We cannot see ourselves as independent of one another.

Tom Steagald said...

could not agree more...