Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Blessed Sunday (Dialogue Column 10.7.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

This past Sunday was a blessed one in the life of First Christian Church. We celebrated World Communion Sunday, enjoyed the music and dancing of our Sudanese brothers and sisters, and welcomed two new members. We have much to be thankful for.

It‘s not out of the ordinary for us to celebrate communion; we do so every service. Communion represents the inclusive and welcoming nature of Christ’s love, and our weekly ritual reminds us that we are to welcome all who come in our doors as Christ welcomed all people to his table. This act of communion is not only central to our identity as a church, but it is also central to the identity of our denomination, The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. It originated out of a desire to set aside all barriers—doctrinal and otherwise—between an individual and Christ’s community as embodied in the sharing of bread and cup.

Even though it is not unusual for our church to celebrate communion, for many churches of various traditions, communion happens only once a month, once a quarter or less. For instance, I grew up having “the Lord’s Supper,” as Baptists call it, only four times a year. Although there was an emphasis upon community, “the Lord’s Supper,” as I experienced it, had more to do with concerns about salvation and Jesus’ atoning death for our sins.

Even though Communion may occur at different times, have greater or lesser significance and reflect various theological viewpoints, it nonetheless remains a potent symbol of what all Christians share in terms of a common experience of God’s love revealed to us in Jesus Christ. World Communion Sunday is as an attempt to help Christians of all traditions and geographic locations live out their common faith, and on this date every year, Christians around the world celebrate communion with this purpose in mind. I’m proud to say that the Disciples of Christ played a significant role in establishing this effort of Christian unity. It was great Sunday to reflect upon our connection with Christians around the world.

That spiritual connection between all Christians was lived out Sunday when members of the Sudanese worshipping community here in St. Joseph joined us for worship. Their dancing, singing, drumming and shouts of praise filled our sanctuary. I was proud once again to tell the story of the young Sudanese men who were present with us. The ones with us Sunday and all of the other young men from South Sudan who are in St. Joseph and throughout the United States are refugees of that nation’s long and brutal civil war.

They were called “Lost Boys,” because their families were wiped out by government troops in a program of ethnic cleansing. The younger boys in the villages of Southern Sudan are assigned the job of tending flocks in the countryside, so they escaped the fate of their families back in their villages. Thus began the amazing journey or thousands of young boys who fled hundreds of miles to refugee camps in other countries where they were raised without families. Many of them came to the United States under a special refugee status where they work at places like Triumph Foods, Sara Lee, etc. to support not only themselves but also other surviving family members who remain in camps in Kenya and Uganda. As a church, we were blessed by their presence and their stories. It was a living reminder of what we who do not know such tragedy have to be thankful for and how our love for our neighbors needs to extend around the world.
Just when I thought Sunday’s service could not get any better, at its conclusion, two people came forward to become new members. One found First Christian, because she moved here to be close to her sister, a long-time member. The second found First Christian by looking around on the internet for a church that suited her own beliefs and experience of God. Each of them found us in their own way, but together they represent an encouraging word to us as a congregation. We must be doing something right, if people like these two are choosing to join our church.

Let us continue to celebrate God’s blessings here at First Christian Church!

Grace and Peace,


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