Monday, October 3, 2011

"Welcome" (Romans 15:5-7)

For World Communion Sunday, worship was bilingual, with the sermon translated into Khmer.  Thus it was a shorter sermon than normal.  Imagine hearing the translation after each paragraph...

200 years ago, many Protestant churches celebrated communion only once or twice a year. Even today, some only celebrate it once a month or even once a quarter.

We in the Disciples of Christ celebrate it every Sunday. There’s a reason for this….

200 years ago, most churches were very particular about who was allowed to receive communion. Even today, there are some churches that will limit the distribution of communion to those who are members of a particular branch or denomination of Christianity.

We in the Disciples of Christ welcome all people, regardless of denominational background, to the Lord’s Table. There is a reason for this….

I’m going to share a story that I’ve shared before, because some stories from our history deserve to be heard on a regular basis.

Alexander Campbell was a young man in Ireland. Within a year he would become an immigrant, joining his father, Thomas Campbell, in America.

Alexander Campbell was a Presbyterian. In anticipation of the communion service, the pastor and the elders of his church spent many weeks visiting the church members. During these visits, they would evaluate each member. If it was determined that the member was worthy to receive communion, he or she was given a token.

On the day of the communion service, the token had to be presented in order to receive the elements.

This was a big deal. Imagine if someone threw a big party, the one party that everyone wanted to be at. An invitation to the party would be very valuable.

People treasured their tokens. Some even asked to be buried with their most recent token. Perhaps they thought St. Peter would ask for the token before opening the heavenly gates.

Alexander Campbell had friends and mentors from whom he learned quite a lot. These friends and mentors did not belong to the same church he belonged to. Obviously, they did not receive a token; they were not invited to the big communion celebration.

On communion Sunday, the church was packed. The preacher went on and on, first telling the congregation how evil and horrible it would be for someone who is not worthy to come forward for communion, and then telling them how evil and horrible it would be for someone who was found to be worthy to not come forward.

Then it was time to come forward. Everyone came forward in groups. It took a long time. First, each person had to present his or her token. Then they were allowed to receive the bread and the wine.

As group after group went forward, Alexander Campbell sat in his pew, his mind in turmoil. This is not how communion is supposed to be, he thought. Communion is not closed or exclusive.

Thinking of his friends who were not allowed in, he knew that communion should not be divisive. All should be welcome.

Alexander went up with the last group. When the plate for the collection of tokens was passed, Alexander threw his token into the plate. The sound of its ringing echoed through the church.

Then Alexander walked out, without receiving or accepting the bread or the wine.

We are Disciples of Christ. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table, as God has welcomed us.

We extend hospitality to all, just as Jesus did.

We celebrate communion every Sunday. The party with Jesus is non-stop!

We know that Christ exists in every person, whether they are rich or poor, native or immigrant, proud or humble.

It doesn’t matter what language one speaks, what country one lives in, or what branch of Christianity one belongs to.

Christ sets the table. Christ invites everyone to join him, to dine with him, to experience life in the kingdom of God.

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