What an exciting week for us at the Kirk.
This is true even if you’re not a Chiefs fan,
coming off a thrilling Monday Night Football victory.
In one of his more relevant sermons,
Rob Bell once preached about going to a Green Bay Packers game
one Sunday afternoon—a different sort of church, he called it
with its own rituals and hymns,
its own barbeque shared,
its own ways of making meaning.
Indeed, I’ve heard sports radio spots for a local pub
in a converted church in South Overland Park
calling its Sunday hours of operation “Sunday church”
where you can prepare yourself for the weekly game.
Its an exciting week even if you’re not a Royals fan,
though, if you are, then like me you’ve not slept much this week
after the thrilling victory-out-of-the-clutches-of-defeat
Tuesday night at the Wild-Card game
and then, of course, taking the first two games of the divisional playoff
against the team with the best record, in their own stadium,
all three games going well past their typical nine innings.
If I look tired, you might be able to guess why.
I was lucky enough to be at that wild card game,
where forty thousand fans
(forty thousand five hundred and two if you’re counting)
roared and hollered and almost willed the Royals to victory.
I didn’t know Kauffman could be that loud. My ears are still ringing.
And while I think they’re stretching the definition of the word
I’ve seen more than one person on facebook and twitter
calling that game a sacred, religious experience.
But you can sort of see what they’re trying to say:
when you gather that many people together
and they all share the same emotional journey
the highs, and the lows
in some sense they share something of family, of community.
Its not as deep, or as lasting,
as the sort of holding-in-our-heart we have been discussing
the fellowship of Christian love that marks life in Christ
and that Paul is trying to outline in this letter to the Philippians
but it is deeply moving nonetheless.
But its more than the sports scene.
Its been an exciting week, at least for me,
as I’ve been reflecting on the honor it has been to be your pastor.
One year ago I preached my first official sermon as your pastor,
and I’ve been pondering how a year of ministry
can feel like it goes by in a blink of an eye:
meetings and funerals and weddings and worship services,
tears and hugs and sometimes firm ‘nos’ and sometimes compromises
experiments, and reaffirmation of important historic principles
learning from you and growing with you
all the things that go into being a community, together.
So permit me the somewhat personal moment of saying that its humbling
and an honor to walk this journey with you in this way.
Would be enough to make it an exciting week in its own right.
But then add to it two important other things, too:
World Communion Sunday, and the Dedication of our Newly-Re-Designed
outdoor space, the Kirk Peace Park.
You might imagine it is hard to wrap it all together in a neat little sermon
particularly when I promised to preach short today.
But let me try:
There is no more sweeping theological expression of the diverse family of Christ
than World Communion Sunday.
True, this is a uniquely Presbyterian celebration, in one sense
at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh before being adopted
by the United Presbyterian Church in the USA
and soon thereafter by the Federated Council of Churches
and then by Christians all over the place.
But even as we note its Presbyterian roots
we can say that the celebration hopes to erode any concern
for creedal differences among believers in Christ.
For today we in particular celebrate how people of every hue and tongue
men and women on every continent, and our continent
Pentecostal and Structured
Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant
Republican and Democrat
Liberal and Conservative
Mizzou Tiger and Jayhawk and Wildcat
(ooh, dangerous territory now)
Emergent and Stuck-in-the-Fifties
Gay, Straight, and everything in-between
living on a dollar a day,
and living in a ward-parkway mansion
today we celebrate how ALL people are made ONE at this table.
World Communion Sunday: the radical invitation of God
the radical love of God poured out for you and for you and for you, and for me.
There is no small amount of irony
that a religion as fractious and as divisive as ours
stops and celebrates our unity of any sort.
Some have said that you get three Christians in a room
and you’ll get four different denominations out of it.
But I believe, in my heart, that most of us mourn this human tendency,
and I think its no small part of what turns people off.
But its not a Christian tendency, not if we’re being faithful to the Gospel.
And we need to say so.
It was Jesus that called those who were being excluded,
those who were being outcast and sent to the margins
to participate in the faith community.
It was Paul who reminded us that
there is no longer Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male and Female
And while we Presbyterians aren’t immune, certainly,
from this us-vs-them tendency,
but as A faithful church, one part of several parts
that make up the one body of Christ.
Indeed, it is particularly because we are Christians
that we should mourn this tendency of ours
to break apart, to judge one another, to assume MY way is THE way
and your way is most certainly not,
thank you very much.
And this is because we look to Jesus Christ himself
and see what Christ has done
and who he has loved
and HOW he has loved
and are AMAZED that WE, too, are invited, called, welcomed.
Christ doesn’t look to which jersey we wear
(how’s that for a corny sports analogy, but its true)
Christ doesn’t look to which church we belong to
or what position on transubstantiation we believe in
or even whether our heart is loving enough, faithful enough,
Christ welcomes us anyway.
Christ welcomes THEM anyway…
to this table, the table of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That’s world communion Sunday in a nutshell:
our UNITY in Christ despite our worldly differences.
Paul is talking about this too, of course,
in our reading today from Philippians.
He has just offered for us the beautiful Kenotic hymn of Christ
where Christ doesn’t take his equality with God
as an expression of DOMINATING power
but as an opportunity for self-giving love.
Today we see the natural ramifications of a theology and a life
thoroughly informed by what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
If CHRIST would not count equality with God as something to be exploited,
how dare WE count our own credentials, positions, posture
as something to judge one another?
If CHRIST emptied himself for the sake of love,
what right have we to do anything but the same?
Listen again to Paul’s words from Philippians, as translated by Eugene Peterson:
“You know my pedigree:
a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day;
an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin;
a strict and devout adherent to God’s law;
a fiery defender of the purity of my religion,
even to the point of persecuting Christians;
a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
“The very credentials these people
are waving around as something special,
I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash —
along with everything else I used to take credit for.
And why? Because of Christ.
Yes, all the things I once thought were so important
are gone from my life.
Compared to the high privilege
of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand,
everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant.
I’ve dumped it all in the trash
so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.
I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness
that comes from keeping a list of rules
when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ —
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally….”
It truly is amazing, the vision of life in Christ that Paul is outlining for us.
To be so DEDICATED to Christ that we welcome ALL people.
To be so DEDICATED to God that we Love as God Loves.
To be so DEDICATED to the Spirit that we refrain from thinking we know it all
and follow instead where the Spirit leads us.
Everything else is rubbish, pretty harsh words there Paul,
but perhaps true:
all that matters is the love we have to offer one another in Christ;
all that matters is that we seek to serve our neighbor as Christ served us.
That would be enough for us to get excited about.
But then there’s the Kirk Peace Park.
This space we’re about to re-dedicate,
this physical space that this building sits on but that also is
a home for scores of little kids during the week
and a center for planning mission work at food kitchens
and neighborhood schools
the place where people gather for meditation and prayer
and where many many friends and family
have been laid as their final resting place
this space is God’s space. It doesn’t belong to us.
We have a lot to be proud about, our Kirk and its grounds.
It’s a beautiful building. Many hands have gone into crafting and shaping it.
Its beautiful land, inviting and cared for by loving hands.
But like our credentials, like our positions,
our building and our grounds serve not their own ends,
but serve God’s purposes.
Space is holy, and good, because it is part of God’s good creation.
And this space, where we call home, is where we’ve learned about God
and are inspired by God.
It is home.
What makes this space sacred isn’t this history of ours
or anything we’ve done here or will ever do here.
What makes this space sacred is that God is here
empowering people to turn to Jesus and then to the world in Love.
Because of this, I think the name that we’ve come up with,
the Kirk Peace Park, fits us really, really well.
Our grounds continue to be a memorial for friends and family
that have led the way for us.
We love them.
We remember them.
We thank God for them, each one.
They have made us who we are.
And our grounds invite the community around us as well,
member and non-member
Catholic and Protestant and IHOP goer and Jew and Muslim and Athiest
ANYONE to come and experience peace and welcome
ANYONE to come and, regardless of what THEY believe
to perhaps feel that God loves them
and that the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ, is followed here.
Today we DEDICATE our grounds to God in Christ Jesus
a memorial to our loved ones
an oasis for our community
a place of peace for all
there could be nothing better.
And so today, as we celebrate all this excitement
and join with Christians around the world
and with the faithful of our Kirk in the past and into the future,
let us remember God’s love that calls us to this table
to feast and to revel in God’s goodness
to welcome ALL in Jesus’ name
to love and to serve as HE did
that all might have a home of their own in Him.
May it be so.
[i] Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993, 1994, 1995. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.