The title for this sermon comes from the last phrase of one of St. Francis’ benedictions: May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done. Making peace is one of those seemingly impossible things.
Today is World Communion Sunday. It is not an old tradition. It was established in 1933 at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in an effort to build ecumenical cooperation. It was designed to remind Christians that we are all invited to the same table, of which Jesus Christ is host, not our particular ideas, not our particular traditions, practices, languages, skin color, or doctrines. The love of God invites us all to the table. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8 – “nothing is able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39) – not even our differences. If nothing can separate us from God, then we can have that same communion with each other.
Unfortunately, the truth is that where God sees no separation, we humans have persisted in separating ourselves from each other. Hear comedian, Emo Philips:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
In the history of Christianity, we have spent much wasted breath on the fine points of the Communion service which we received from Jesus. We have divided from each other over our definitions of communion. This is beyond ironic! Communion is a beautiful word! Put simply, communion is an intimate connection. When you connect in a meaningful way with something, or intimately share your feelings with someone, you experience a communion. The word implies a deep connection, particularly a spiritual one. So the fact that we divide from each other over the things we share, is tragic!
The point of World Communion Sunday is to bring us back to the connection we have with each other because we are all equally loved by God. That is why the focus of this Sunday has come to be peacemaking. We are not just given the status of peace – peace with God, peace in our souls when we rest in God. There is more. Peace is also something we do, something we make. Peace is our calling.
Our Scripture readings today remind us of the value our faith places on peacemaking. In Matthew 5, Jesus says that if, when we have come to church for worship, we remember that someone has something against us, we must go to them and be reconciled, then come back for worship. Paul says that we have been given the same ministry of reconciliation which Jesus had.
We build this kind of peacemaking into our worship nearly every Sunday morning. At the beginning of our services we confess the brokenness of our relationships with God and each other. We do it together in words. We do it together in the silence of our hearts. Then we are reminded of God’s grace by which we are forgiven. This is all good, but it is the next step which is the work of reconciliation. We turn to each other and bless them with the grace and peace of Christ. We tried at first to limit this to this blessing just to the person to our right and left. But that was not enough for this congregation! Passing the peace is a spontaneous moment of chaos. We try to greet every single person in our gathering. Is it a social time? A distraction? I used to think so, but I have been changed too much by this act of connection. What I notice is that with each handshake or hug, there is also a meeting of the eyes, the windows to the soul. We have a “communion” with each other. We connect, we act out the reconciliation which has been offered us. The connections we make with each other are real. This moment of the service is energizing. It is sometimes hard to get you to settle down again. This act of communion, feeds us, makes us whole. We have gone to each other to be reconciled, then we return to our worship. It may be a small thing, but it may make all the difference!
We cannot have peace without justice, though. And justice requires mercy, even when that mercy is hard. Remember how Joseph forgave his brothers? Was that easy? No! He wrestled with himself, plotted his revenge by planting stolen items in his brothers’ caravan, putting them in jail, holding a hostage. But finally, his heart was broken and he wept tears of mercy and he embraced his brothers, bringing them back into right relationship with him. Was mercy required of Joseph, the victim of his brothers’ deeds? Yes. That is what makes mercy so hard, at least when we are talking about peacemaking. Mercy comes when the victim is able to give up revenge and seek the well-being and reconciliation from the offender. And mercy comes when the offender is broken by their own wrong and turns around to go the other way. Mercy is the action of both parties in a broken relationship.
I don’t need to tell you that this has been a rough week – for the world and for Oregonians. In the swirl of war and the massive displacement of civilians from Syria, we are stunned by yet another mass shooting on a school campus on Thursday! It is too much! How can we even take this in? Angry, numb, broken – we feel powerless to stop this senseless murder. How do we move forward? How do we move at all?
The only way forward is to make peace. I am reminded of a school shooting in 2006 at a small school house in Lancaster County. 10 Amish girls were shot, five were killed. But the story was not like many of the other school shootings we have witnessed. Already on the day of the shooting we knew it was different as a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.” A neighbor commented, “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and …to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.” Amish community members visited and comforted the shooter’s widow, parents, and parents-in-law. The Amish set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended his funeral. The wife of the shooter wrote a letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
The Amish are deeply committed to what seems crazy in our culture – forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation. Many criticized their quick forgiveness. But what they did was to “do what others claim cannot be done,” in the words of St. Francis. They did not undo the tragedy, but their actions were a first step toward a future that is more hopeful. That is the work of peacemaking! And it is hard work!
On World Communion Sunday we are challenged to make peace boldly. “World communion” is both the reason we make peace and the outcome of peacemaking. We make peace because God made peace with us. And when we make peace, we build such powerful connections with our neighbors that we call it communion.
I have been teaching about forgiveness in the divorce recovery group for almost 10 years now. In that group, we talk about forgiveness as being something which we do for ourselves, regardless of the repentance of the offender. We do it to be able to let go of the anger, resentment and vengefulness which fills us when we are so deeply betrayed.
But today, the Bible calls us to take the next step. To do the thing which seems impossible. To engage in the ministry of reconciliation. Not just to let go of anger and resentment, but to seek positive relationship out of the brokenness. The call is to do what others claim cannot be done. Jesus did it from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Amish did it in forgiving the one who took the lives of their children. If you look between the cracks of the media stories, I think you will see that some are finding a way to forgive and to bring healing to the community of Roseburg as well. May it be so.
There is a world-wide hunger for communion, for reconciliation, for forgiveness. If we only seek to bring communion with those who seek it – well, maybe that would just be enough to change the world!
The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in the last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.”
The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 “Pacos” showed up looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
Such yearning for communion abounds. In the end, communion, that intimate connection with God and each other, is the only way to carry the pain of life, to make peace.
Today, on the feast day of St. Francis, I leave you with his benediction:
- May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
- May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
- May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
- And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
 Wikiquote https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Emo_Philips
 Vocabulary.com www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/communion
 Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Nickel_Mines_School_shooting; see also a short film on the incident, Amish Grace www.youtube.com/watch?v=3381MHT03mU