Posts Tagged ‘communion’

All Saints Sunday

Thanks be to God for all those who inspire us and encourage us in the faith. What follows is the sermon from All Saints’ Sunday.

“Hearing Voices”

Ephesians 3: 14 -18

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

October 31st, 2010 – All Saints’ Sunday

Do you hear voices?  Sometimes I hear voices.

I hear the voice of BK giving me advice on how to raise multiple babies while insisting I take a jar of her strawberry jelly home to share.

I hear the voice of MV laughing and telling me ‘I told you so’ after her puppy, that I had insisted on holding, piddled on my lap.

I hear the voice of FM as she, in great detail, tells me how I might go about de-hairing a hog.

I hear the voice of DW as she tells me about the square dancing class where she and Mack first met.

I hear the voice of AS as she calls to me from across the sanctuary so she can get a chance to see and hold little baby Isaac.

I hear the voice of my childhood pastor advising me to stay real, to not get overly pious, and to not let the pulpit go to my head.

I hear the voices of authors and musicians whose words and whose music have inspired me over the years and made my heart sing.

I hear your voices as you have shared words of pain and heartache, words of challenge, words of love, and words of joy with me over these past five years together.

I hear the voices of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, of Paul, of Mary, and of Jesus when I read and contemplate our story and our covenant with God.

I hear voices.  I hear voices whenever I stop to remember and reflect on the fact that I am not alone, that I am a part of something much bigger than myself, that I have a community of faith.  The voices I hear are the voices of my saints; my community of past, present, and future; people in my life who have guided me, and shaped me, and made me who I am today.  These are my great cloud of witnesses who cheer me on as I persevere in this race of faith.

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used as a title for all Christians. Saints are not just those revered few who have achieved uncommonly holy feats, but Christians young and old, living and departed, and even those who are still yet to be born.  Some churches make this saintly distinction clear in their opening call and response.  The preacher begins worship by saying, “Praise the Lord, saints!”  And you all would respond, “Hallelujah, praise the Lord!”  So we are all saints.  We are all followers of Christ and in this place we are reminded of our communion with each other.

In many churches, on either November 1st or the Sunday closest to November 1st, All Saints Day is celebrated.  Some churches celebrate by naming the members of the congregation who have died in the previous year.  Other churches, like ours, will light candles in honor or in memory of those who have inspired us and encouraged us in the faith.  To be clear, we are not worshipping our ancestors today, but instead we are proclaiming the good news that we are a part of a people, that we are a part of a community, and not individuals unto ourselves.  Our liturgical act of remembering a saint by lighting a candle helps us remember that the Christian life is not a solo endeavor, but one lived out in community—in a community that extends and exists even beyond our earthly realm.  We are a part of the people of God in life and in death.[1]

This past Wednesday I attended a memorial service for MWP at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church.  MW was the wife of GP, the pastor of Brownson Memorial.  She died at age 58 after a 10 year battle with ovarian cancer.  So, needless to say, the sanctuary was packed.  I arrived for the service 45 minutes early and had to take a seat in the back row of the balcony.  And while I was sitting, before the service even began (which was a beautiful service, by the way), I found myself feeling moved…I was moved by all the people gathered together in that space.  This is not a unique feeling for me.  I am always moved whenever a sanctuary is packed full.  I am always moved whenever I experience so many saints gathered together to remember, to worship, to celebrate, to commune.  It reminds me how expansive the community of faith, the communion of saints, really is.  And it helps me comprehend, as our passage from Ephesians says, the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  This is our inheritance, according to Ephesians.  The fullness of God and God’s love for us is represented well by a sanctuary full of people, and by the communion of saints past, present, and future.

The movie Dead Poet’s Society, starring Robin Williams, is one of my favorite movies because it is chock full of sermon illustrations.  I thought of one scene in particular this week that I wanted to share with you.  The story of this movie is set in New England at an elite, private high school for boys called Welton Academy.  Robin Williams plays a new and creative English teacher at the school named Mr. Keating.

On Mr. Keating’s first day of class he asks all of the boys to get up and follow him outside into the hall.  There they gather around a couple of glass cases full of tarnished trophies, school antiques, and yellowing old photographs of boys who years ago roamed the halls of Welton.

After he had gathered his class in front of these cases, Mr. Keating asked them to open their textbooks to a poem by 16th century poet Robert Herrick.  One of the boys read the poem out loud, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  “Carpe Diem,” Mr. Keating explained, it’s the Latin equivalent of, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  “Carpe Diem” Mr. Keating continued, or “Sieze the Day!” in English.

Then he asked all of the boys to gather up close to the glass so they could get a good look at the old photographs in the cases.  “Take a good look,” Mr. Keating said.  “Look at their faces.  You’ve walked by them many times, but you’ve probably never really looked at them.”  As the boys leaned in to look, Mr. Keating added, “They’re not that different from you are they?  And if you listen….if you listen real close…you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.  Go on, lean in,” Mr. Keating encouraged.  “Listen….do you hear it?”

Then from behind them he began to whisper…. “Carpe”…. “Carpe Diem”…. “Sieze the day boys.  Make your lives extraordinary!”

Today we gather around our communion table with saints of our past, present, and future.  We gather today to lean in and listen to those who have gone before us.  They have a message for us.  They are here to remind us of our inheritance, to call our attention to the treasures of life, and to represent the fullness of God and God’s love for us. Do you hear voices?  Sometimes I hear voices.  Thanks be to God for the communion of saints, for our great cloud of witnesses, gathered here among us today.

Now to the God who has led us all to this place, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] Jenny Williams, “A Christian Memorial Day”, The Ekklesia Project, found on http://www.textweek.com

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World Communion Sunday

My congregation went high-tech yesterday for World Communion Sunday as we viewed a video of street musicians from all over the world performing the song “Stand By Me.”  Visit www.playingforchange.com to learn more about the folks who produced this video and watch it again here. .

Special thanks to my friend Elizabeth Michael for writing me a beautiful email from South Africa this week that became a major illustration in my sermon. It’s good to have preacher friends from whom you can “borrow.”  What follows is the sermon from World Communion Sunday.

“Serving and Being Served”

Acts 2: 43-47

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

October 3rd, 2010 – World Communion Sunday

You have always been so kind to oblige my creative and sometimes crazy ideas here in worship.  A few World Communion Sundays ago, I decided to change things up a bit and have you serve each other in the pews by passing baskets full of broken bread and little pottery cups of juice in which you would dip your bread.  I thought the idea was a liturgical masterpiece.  One of you described it as a disaster waiting to happen.  Which, I will admit, it was.  When I first thought of the idea, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to hold, and pass, and dip and serve, without spilling bread and juice all over the sanctuary carpet.  But you were patient and willing and careful and so it worked.  It remains my most favorite World Communion Sunday memory because it beautifully symbolized what Holy Communion and community are all about….serving and being served.

In our scripture passage for today we are reminded of the ideal to which all Christian communities strive.  Acts 2 describes a community of faith in which all things were held in common.  They shared everything.  No one would go without because whenever someone was in need someone was quickly there with a loaf of bread, or a cup of juice, or a little extra cash, or an offer to care for the children so some much-needed work could get done.  It was a community that sought the goodwill of all people by serving and being served.  It was Holy Communion that saved people each and every day.

Today, our understanding of Christian community has grown.  No longer are we a small group of apostles with a handful of followers gathering in a single home.  Now we are a global community that stretches from one end of the earth to the other.  In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north.  In today’s global community, these words ring true and remind us of the power of God’s love to find us and know us no matter where in the world we might go.

Many of you know and remember my pastor friend, Elizabeth Michael, who has been here a couple of times to preach.  Recently Elizabeth was offered a wonderful honor to be the guest preacher for the General Assembly of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.  A few years ago, before Elizabeth graduated from seminary, she spent a summer internship serving a Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, South Africa and apparently Elizabeth made a good impression, because when the pastor of that church was elected the new moderator of their South African denomination, he invited Elizabeth to be their preacher for their week-long assembly.

Over the past year or so Elizabeth and I have been talking about this series of sermons she would preach.  As you might imagine, the whole thing made her incredibly anxious as she struggled to discern what to preach, how to preach, and how she might speak a relevant and inspiring word to brothers and sisters in the faith, yes, but brothers and sisters who live in a completely different culture, with different issues and different desires.

Well, Elizabeth just returned from this fantastic trip and while she was there she managed to send me an email describing her experience.  I want to share with you a little of what she wrote.  Elizabeth writes, “I am here as a guest of my friend George Marchinkowski, who on Saturday was installed as the moderator of the General Assembly.  I feel like a White House intern who has stumbled into the Oval Office and been invited to stay for a week!  The moderator is a highly esteemed position here, complete with fancy robes, a huge ring, and plenty of pomp and circumstance—there are actually a few people who bow or curtsy each time he enters the assembly hall!  Like the president at the State of the Union, the moderator is announced before entering the hall for each session, and people stand and wait for him and his party to process in.  You would all laugh (I laugh myself!) to see me processing in with the five most prestigious people of this denomination.  (Don’t worry…so far no one is bowing or curtsying when I enter a room!)

“Today was the third day of the assembly,” Elizabeth continues, “but only the first of the five mornings that I will preach.  I think the sermon went ok today…but I still have great anxiety about the task.  One of the greatest gifts of my time here [though] has been getting to know one particular minister and former moderator of the assembly.  His name is Rod Botsis, and he is a wise and kind pastor from Cape Town.  He is serving as the moderator’s chaplain for the next two years, which means he is there to assist George in whatever he needs.  Thankfully, one of his responsibilities is also to care for me!  He has assisted me in planning the worship services (prays the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard) and has waited on me hand and foot, bringing me tea in the mornings and leaving small presents at my dinner place along with notes of great encouragement.  I am so humbled to watch a person of such power and influence [in this country] behave as such a humble servant.  Rod is just one of many examples of the way I have been met with overwhelming hospitality and graciousness.  This whole experience has reminded me of the verse from Ephesians, where the author prays that the recipients might ‘have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, just how high and wide and deep and long’ the love of God is.”

In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north.  Our understanding of Christian community has grown.  We are a global community, extending God’s love from one end of the earth to the other.  We are a global community that gathers Sunday in and Sunday out in order to serve and be served.

I mentioned earlier that the World Communion Sunday when I asked you to pass and hold and dip in such treacherous fashion was one of my most favorite communion memories.  I won’t do it to you again, I promise, but it did work because it forced all of us to slow down, to take care in passing the elements, and to help each other out.  We lived out our calling to serve and be served in that one single meal together.

I distinctly remember sitting and watching you all passing the bread and the little, slippery cups of juice, and (I’m going to pick on BP here) for some reason poor Brandon got both the basket of bread and the cup of juice at the same time.  With both hands full it wasn’t possible for Brandon to dip and eat.  So what does Brandon do?  He looks up, and just loud enough for the people around him to hear, he says, “Help!”

And within an instant helping hands arrived, hands of grace, hands of love, hands of humble servants ready to help Brandon eat and drink.  The communion service continued (without a hitch) and we were all reminded of our Christian calling to serve and be served in a place and a community where the risen Christ is close enough to taste.

World Communion Sunday is a wonderful occasion reminding all of us how far God’s love stretches.  World Communion Sunday is also a wonderful reminder of our Christian call to service and our Christian call to community where we will be served by a living Christ embodied in hands that offer us love and hope in the form of bread and juice.

Now to the God who unites all of us in this fellowship of love, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

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