GOD IS CALLING
CONNECTING US TOGETHER AS ONE
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
October 7, 2018 – World Communion Sunday
TEXT: Ephesians 4:1-6
It’s October again! Can you believe it? We are now officially in autumn – and it is evident by the cooler weather, the harvest and all the beautiful leaves on the trees. I know I just love seeing the reds and yellows of the trees coming out right now in the leaves.
Many of you have heard me talk about how, when we lived in northeastern Colorado, years ago, we always loved going to see the aspens in Estes Park every Fall. Has anyone ever done that? The aspens are just glorious around that time of year – and they only last for a couple of weeks – and then their leaves are gone. I must admit that is one thing I really miss about living in Colorado – seeing the bright yellow colors of the aspens and the mountains.
A few years ago, I ran across a devotional from Ron Hutchcraft that described how he once saw some beautiful aspens in Wyoming. His Native American guide told him that “Aspens actually have a single root system. In other words, (the) stand of trees all came from the same root, just branching out a lot of different directions!”1
It is really so amazing. All the trees are really clones of one another, growing off of the same root. Aspens grow in higher elevations all throughout Canada and the United States. Fishlake National Forest in Utah has the largest living tree and it is called Pando, or sometimes called the Trembling Giant. Pando is a mega-colony of aspens, covering 106 acres – and having over 40,000 trees – and they are all from one root! They all share the same huge root system, which came from one seed! Some scientists believe it is the most massive known living thing on earth; saying that it could be close to a million years old!2
Many, many trees and just one root! Amazing isn’t it? In a sense, that is a good analogy for the church, isn’t it? Many, many churches but one Lord who is the foundation of the church – the cornerstone! As Hutchcraft says, “The church of Jesus Christ …is the largest single living organism in the world with all our roots going back to an old rugged cross, an empty tomb and a single Savior.”
Today we are celebrating that unity we have in Jesus Christ. World Communion Sunday is a great reminder of that unity – a time to reflect on the ties we have with Christians all over the world by sharing the Lord’s Supper. Christians all around the world will be partaking of the bread and the cup, just as we do every Sunday – and will lift up the good news that we are connected in one family – much like those aspens! Many, many churches around the world but one root which is Jesus.
Today is the 78th anniversary of World Communion Sunday, started by a Disciples of Christ minister named Jesse Bader. Back in the war years, right in the midst of nations fighting against nation, Jesse Bader was bold enough to dream of a day when people of all nations, all races, all political backgrounds could come together to celebrate our oneness in Christ. In a world that was divided – he had a vision of unity of all Christians of all nations gathered around the one table of our Lord. He said, “When hate is on the march and war is rampant in the world, Christians everywhere must maintain an unbroken fellowship which will stand out in contrast to our broken and disorganized world. On World-Wide Communion Sunday, the Table of the Lord will reach around the globe. Those who gather about His table will do so in remembrance of Him. Those of every nation will be there. Every race and color will be there. The service will be conducted in many languages. And yet there will be a oneness of fellowship in Christ across all barriers of geography, race and color, that the world knows not of. In a world of discord, here is harmony. In a time of war, here is peace – a peace that passeth all understanding.3
Oh, how badly we need a vision of unity like this today! We are such a divided country and yes – we often see that division reflected even among churches. We can see divisions of liberals vs. conservatives, rich vs. poor, democrats vs. republicans – and yes, even white vs. black. And then sadly, many times we see ourselves in competition with other churches rather than partners in ministry. All these divisions and tearing one another down does nothing to help our witness to a hurting world.
Pastor Steve Bond shares: “…The greatest cause of unbelief in the world is the poor testimony of those who profess to be Christ-followers. Far too often we who preach love in reality practice hate…..All the while the world looks on. People are amazed at what we believe and then they’re scandalized by the way we act. Bertrand Russell, the great atheist philosopher, once said that if Christians practiced what they believed they would change the world. Ghandi said he would love to become a Christian. He was just waiting to meet someone who sincerely lived out what Jesus taught.”4
That truly is our challenge isn’t it? To sincerely live out what Jesus taught! Can you imagine the power and the witness we would have to the watching world if we as Christians really lived like Jesus – and worked together as one body, the way God created us to be?
The Apostle Paul yearned for this kind of unity in the churches. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, he calls the church to be unified in Christ. In fact, he mentions the unity of the church 18 times in Ephesians! Unity is vital for the health and growth of the church.
1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
Christ has called us to be His representatives – His ambassadors in the world. So, we need to live in such a way that we are true to our calling – with humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with each other in love. That’s living out what Jesus taught.
And then notice verse 3. It says: “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” In Greek, that phrase “make every effort” is spoudazo. It is an active verb reflecting urgency and passion. We are to eagerly seek to guard the oneness of the body. We have to determine that we will do everything we can, with God’s help, to build bridges with other people rather than creating walls between us. And, as Ron Hutchcraft says, “If the churches in our community are operating as if they have separate roots, begin to pull together to pray and work together…. Put a lot of effort into keeping the unity that God expects from His children.”5
The Apostle Paul says in our text that there are seven essential ingredients to keep in mind when we are seeking Christian unity. Look at verses 4-6. Paul says there is one body and one Spirit, one glorious hope for the future, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father over us all. We have to keep this unity in mind when we are working with other Christians - to focus on God and not ourselves. We can’t let our differences or our jealousies – or the enemy divide us. We are connected one to the other through Christ. We have to have Christ living in our hearts and make Him the central focus of our lives, to be a strong, united church.
One great way I see the churches working together today is through Church World Service. Church World Service is a ministry of 37 denominations that work together for disaster relief and refugee help and resettlement. The mission and vision of Church World Service is to eradicate hunger and poverty and promote peace and justice, here in the United States and around the world.6 Our denomination has partnered with Church World Service through Week of Compassion ever since 1948. We join hands to make a difference by reaching out to people in need…people like those who were affected by Hurricane Florence or the Indonesian Tsunami! We can do more together and show the world God’s love and hope.
Another way we have joined ministries is in our ecumenical relationship with the United Church of Christ. In 1989, our two denominations formed a common ministry through Global Ministries. Together we are in ministry, witnessing and serving and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ all throughout the world.
In particular, we celebrate today, the common bond we have with our sister church: New City Church in Mbandaka, Congo. We have officially been in relationship with New City Church for 10 years! What a blessing it has been to learn more about their church and be inspired by their passion and love of God – as seen in their worship and ministry to others. And we have joined hands with them in so many different projects with them, including things like getting bicycles and sewing machines to getting a new roof for the church’s parsonage.
And last year, our adopted school, King Elementary, joined hands with us by participating in a Read-a-thon and giving the money that was raised to help the New City Church. 23 students voluntarily read books and brought in donations totaling $815. And that money was used to help with new school supplies and fabric for uniforms for the school children in Mbandaka.
This past month was the 2nd annual read-a-thon at King School and children brought in donations – and once again those funds are earmarked for school supplies for the children in Mbandaka. Principal Amy Nielsen challenged the kids if they raised $1,000, that she would let them pie her in the face! The final total will be revealed in school on Friday! But Misty says right now they are at $1,089!!! Wow! What a joy it is to join together – uniting our efforts to help our brothers and sisters in the Congo.
This year, as a church, we are hoping to help the congregation raise the roof of the church. We pray that our money will help cover those broken places in the roof – and that they are covered by our love and prayers as well.
Several years ago, Oscar Pekombe, our liaison with the New City Church, came to our church for a visit. At that time, he gave Pastor Greg and I this carving of a canoe from the Congo. And he said he wanted it to be a reminder to us that we are in the same boat together – rowing together to the glory of Jesus Christ.
May we always continue in that vision – with New City – and others who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, here in Galesburg and around the world; eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
1Ron Hutchcraft, “The Largest Single Living Thing”, April 18, 2008 https://hutchcraft.com/a-word-with-you/your-hindrances/the-largest-single-living-thing-5550
2Shea Gunther, “9 of the world's most amazing trees”, June 26, 2018
Erin Albery, “Utah’s Pando aspen grove is the most massive living thing known on Earth. It may die soon.” November 14, 2017
3Jesse Bader, “World Wide Communion Sunday” in the September 17, 1942 issue of the Christian Evangelist.
4Steve Bond, “A Transformed Life Preserves Unity” sermon on Sermoncentral.com.
5Hutchcraft, “The Largest Single Living Thing.”