“Compassion in Remembrance of Him”
We know the needs in our lives, our homes, and our backyards. World Communion Sunday calls us to have compassion for the needs of the world as well. As Christians, but also as members of a fractured, but still beautiful, world which God loves. Full of people of every race and religion, all made in God’s image. Let us pray. Loving God, you showed your compassion for us in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Help us reflect that compassion for the world. Amen.
How many of you here have played the video game Pokémon Go? What about your kids or grandkids? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I didn’t either when Matthew came back from study leave this summer and asked me about it.
Rabbi Sunny here likes to play Pokémon. Lots of people do globally. It is video game sensation. 500 million people have downloaded the Japanese phone app. It can be distracting. One man was playing while driving and ran into a police car. In California two people were playing while hiking and both fell off a cliff.
I played a lot of video games as a kid and in them we usually just lost ourselves in a world other than our own. In Space Invaders you are in outer space. In Pacman you run around a maze. In Mario Brothers you run through a computer world.
But Pokémon is played in the real world. Pokémon stands for pocket monster. People walk around with their smart phone and see something on the computer in the real world that the rest of us can’t see. We see the monsters and we can’t see them without the phone. It’s called augmented reality.
The manufacturer has placed computerized monsters throughout the world, including here. Near our woods we have what is called a “poke-stop” and lots of Pokémon can be captured and activated there. I have seen some of you in the BHPC parking lot looking for them. In Pokémon we see the real word in a different way.
That is the promise of World Communion Sunday. Our looking at the real world with all its faults and violence, mistakes and monsters in a new way.
That is also the promise of our lessons today.
Though Genesis 1 had been passed down as oral tradition for generations, Genesis 1 or Isaiah 53 were likely written down around the same time, during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century, when the Israelites, having been violently removed from their homes, needed to stay connected with their history and its oral traditions were recorded. It was a time when the world seemed harsh and difficult. The Israelites were separated and divided from their homes, were outcasts and made to feel inferior in a foreign land.
People questioned whether to still have hope or faith in God and themselves.
Genesis 1 gave them reassurance that the God who created all the world watched over them. Isaiah 53 gave them reassurance that sacrifices made would not be in vain.
Clarence McCartney called the author of Isaiah 53 the “greatest Christian in the Old Testament.”[i] He said that is because he is the prophet who most directly predicted the Savior of the World. Isaiah has also been called the “evangelist prophet,” for he projects the glory and redeeming grace of Christ.
Isaiah is the Old Testament writer most often quoted in the New Testament. John the Baptist quotes from Isaiah in calling on Israel to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Jesus begins his ministry reading from Isaiah 61. The final time Jesus quotes from the Old Testament as recorded in the New, is just after the Last Supper. Jesus quotes from our scripture in Isaiah 53, “He was numbered with the transgressors,” making reference that this scripture was fulfilled in him. His identifying with us.
Many scholars believe Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus.[ii] A man who was “wounded for our transgression” and “Crushed for our iniquities.”
“He bore the sin of many.” It sounds like Good Friday.
“Upon him was the punishment that made us whole.”
In the communion we celebrate today, we proclaim Christ’s body broken for us. A new covenant of grace, sealed in his blood. Communion is a chance to connect with Christ as one who sacrificed for us. We have compassion for the world because Jesus, the suffering servant, did.
Yet there are other historians who believe the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is Israel itself. Taken unjustly from their home. Made to suffer. Yet ultimately redeemed by the same God who created them.
Both interpretations call on us to see the world as it is, with all its faults, but also to see God’s presence among the divisions and pain, and to believe in God’s redemption. God in Christ has not turned God’s back on us, but is numbered for our transgressions.
That is a message that is needed desperately in our age. Reading Facebook messages around the presidential debate last Monday you could feel the division. Watching the debate one could feel the anger and frustration the candidates channeled. One could sense the channeled axiety of those who feel treated unfairly by racial discrimination and by the criminal justice system. One could feel the channeled pain of those left behind economically by globalization and by increasing diversity in the population. One could sense the anxiety of those who are doing fine economically and applaud the diversity, but are anxious about inequality, accountability, sustainability or security. I had a church conversation cancelled this week because a someone carjacked our neighbor at gunpoint Tuesday afternoon and drove the car from our street in Bethesda while the police pursued until they crashed it into a house near one of our lay ministry chairs in Potomac, putting her neighborhood in lockdown, and canceling our meeting.
Much like those Isaiah was talking about, today nations from Syrian refugees to Palestinians to displaced peoples in Africa to victims of trafficking in Asia and in our own hemisphere, are hurting. It is enough to feel quite separated and divided.
Our scriptures challenge us to affirm that we are all made in God’s image and that there is forgiveness from God.
Last month I talked about one reason I begin our prayer of confession here with an adoration. It’s a prayer of adoration and confession because I believe our theology suggests we first affirm God’s forgiveness, and from that point of confidence we open our hearts to confess our sins. A second reason, which we affirmed this morning, is that we adore God for creating us in God’s image. We feel close to God as we are made in God’s likeness.
Yet not just we in this room but all are made in God’s image. We each have dignity and value and promise. The gifts of God are given for all.
So before we declare our sinfulness and need for forgiveness, we give our thanks and adoration to a God who makes us in God’s image.
The same messages that were written down in the 6th century b.c. to a community that felt excluded and in exile are relevant today.
There is good news from the Old Testament. There are no second class citizens in God’s eyes. Those who feel discriminated against because of their skin color, those who feel they are on the outside looking in because of their gender, those who feel persecuted because of their religious beliefs, those who feel excluded by their orientation, their education or their political beliefs, those who feel oppressed in an economy that doesn’t work for them, for them and for us there is a message “You were created in God’s image.” God identifies with you, even in your transgressions. There is no one to whom God says, “you don’t have a voice or a future or that you don’t matter.” We have value because we are made in the image of God and the spirit of God is in us.
It should not be lost on us that God has hopes and plans for us. Genesis tells us God gave us dominion over much of creation. That means responsibility. God is placing trust in you and in me to care for the world.
This begins with how you live your life. How you view yourself and how you take responsibility for your corner of the world.
But it doesn’t end there. Its extends to how you treat the rest of society, your nation and world. It goes out to how you view others and how you witness to God’s love in the world.
The message of World Communion Sunday is that we are all in communion with Christ and with each other. World Communion Sunday began in 1933 at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh as a way to strengthen the unity of the church in a depressed economy and an increasingly fractured world. The idea really took off during World War 2 as the world, Christian and non-Christian, needed to feel a closer connection.
At the end of next month Advent begins, and we will begin our journey to the Christmas celebration of the incarnation. That God became human in Christ. Reaffirming as we do in communion, as Jesus quoted from Isaiah 53 around the Last Supper, that Jesus would be counted among the transgressors. That means us. God creates in God’s image, identifies with and redeems the world that God so loves that he gave his only son. So we have compassion for that world in remembrance of Him.
When we look at world we may see it as frightening. We worry about what the world is coming to. Many wonder about people who aren’t like or don’t think like us.
We may turn out back on people who have a different religion, race, political affiliation economic status, or experience than we do. When we do, it’s because we too often we think God is just like us. Rather than realize we all are made in God’s image.
When we are in contact with, relationship with, connection with, the world, it pulls us out of our safe world and helps us understand the world. For we soon learn that God is out there in the world. God is in the midst of them. God has love for and confidence in you, but also the world. Until we realize that God is in the world, that God loves the world we won’t have real compassion for the world.
Last week our session approved our congregation and BJC jointly supporting a refugee family. We anticipate one coming here in the next few months. It’s going to be an exciting and challenging opportunity for us which will stretch to meet a need in the world. Many of you have asked how you can help. One way is funding. A member of our church has issued a $10,000 challenge that if we can raise $10,000, this person will match it. Another way is contributing furniture, clothes and other items. And another is time. You will be hearing more in the next week or so about how you can play a role.
It turns out that Nintendo, the maker of Pokémon, really likes Covenant Hall. They have mapped out our building, as they have much of the world, for Pokémon, and they have assigned a lot of value to the stain glassed window there they call the Moses window. I’m not sure we intended this to be Moses per se, but that is what Nintendo calls it in Pokémon.
I teach a class each year on communion for 3rd graders between the services on World Communion Sunday in Covenant Hall. This week I was explaining the class and communion and the window to a 3rd grader who said he was really excited to come to church on World Communion Sunday because with the international breads, we have “really good snacks in worship and now we have Pokémon Go!” Hey, if it gets ‘em to church, right?……In his own way, the boy was assigning a lot of value to our communion here.
We come to World Communion Sunday recognizing to celebrate that we are one. One body of Christ, connected to the vine. All called to treat each other with compassion in remembrance of Him.
One global community. Made in God’s image. All special in God’s eyes. All with dignity and value. All loved by a gracious Lord creator, redeemer, sustainer. All God’s children.
Let us pray. Loving God, connect us, stretch us, challenge us, as Christians and as members of a global community, to see your face and your spirit in all. Amen.