II Corinthians 1:1-7
The words of anguish from the book of Lamentations continue to speak for many today: “The thought of my affliction…is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.”
Our congregation spent September considering the state and the fate of this planet—the wonder of creation and the threat that we creatures pose to it. Our souls are bowed down when we think of the affliction of this planet.
October arrives with its own concerns and troubles.
Last week the government in Egypt effectively silenced all protest, orchestrating, as Amnesty International put it, a “crackdown to crush the slightest sign of dissent and silence every government critic.”
As China marked 70 years of communist rule, the government continued its attempts to stifle the protests in Hong Kong.
Those fleeing danger in South America, in Syria, and Myanmar, arriving at our borders hoping for safety and refuge are met by our own government’s increasingly harsh and exclusionary policies.
And the chaos in this nation continues to grow.
Our souls are bowed down when we think of the affliction of the people of this planet.
We walk through the doors of our sanctuary bringing with us family problems, trouble at work, worry from school, concerns about illness and death, trepidation about the direction of our nation and our world. If you feel some of that this morning, please know that you are not alone. If that does not describe you this morning, there is a good chance that your neighbor is worshipping with a weary heart, a burdened spirit.
Our souls are bowed down with the thought of our own affliction, with the thought of the affliction of the planet and its people.
With souls bowed down, we walk through the doors of this sanctuary this morning and once again find a table set for a meal.
World Communion Sunday has been observed by most mainline churches for over eighty years. I don’t know how long we have marked the occasion here, but I’m sure it has been for decades. This celebration began with the great hope that Christians around the world would gather around their various and varied tables on this first Sunday in October, showing our unity in our diversity. It began with the great and still unrealized hope that the people of the world might live in peace with one another.
This day reminds us of the importance of the Lord’s Supper for our life together.
This day reminds us of our connections with people of other denominations and traditions.
And because we can so easily forget, this day also reminds us of our connections with people of different races and nations.
We live in one world. All people are our “companions”—that is, those with whom we eat bread. And this year perhaps we begin to sense that we are joined in communion not just with the people of this planet but with this planet itself—that it is truly a world communion that we mark. Through bread and wine we are untied with the wheat and grapes and ultimately with the soil and water and air that give life to all things.
God’s gifts of grapes and grain are, by human actions turned into wine for gladness and bread for strength. When we eat and drink we are connected with those who prepared the food, those who processed the food, those who grew the food, and the earth that produced the food.
When we eat and drink we remember that the Creator God made known in Jesus is our friend, the one who desires our well-being and delight—and not ours alone, but the well-being and delight of all people and indeed of all creation. Whenever we eat and drink, we can see ourselves as belonging to the earth as a part of the earth.
We find in this place a table that in a small and particular way holds all of the gifts of God.
We find in this place a meal that in a small and particular way ends our separation from God and one another and also reconnects us with all creation.
We find in this place food and drink that in a small and particular way offer the nourishment and joy needed that we might once again love our neighbors as ourselves and love this great and fruitful planet that we have so threatened.
This food and drink and meal and table connect tell a particular story of the way in which God is bringing about a new creation through death and resurrection. And when we tell this story in this way, we are brought back into relationship with all people who gather to eat at all tables and with all living things that are fed by the care of God.
This meal, in which bread is broken and wine is poured, in which we remember God’s mighty acts in Jesus, this meal nurtures our faith and our life together. It prepares us for the work that is still ours to do in these days of unraveling—weaving a new fabric of peace so that we might be a part of the realm of heaven that God is creating among all people.
World Communion Sunday, then, turns out to be far more important than we might ever have realized.
This table is where we begin the work of bringing peace into the world. This table is where we return again and again to be nurtured in that work, work that we are incapable of doing on our own strength.
The Book of Lamentations does not take us quickly from times of anguish and sorrow. Survival is process. Hope comes and goes.
In the face of all that would cause despair, the one lamenting pauses to reconsider and says: “But this I call to mind…”
In the midst of horror and desolation a memory arises: The steadfast love of God never ceases, God’s mercies never end; they are new every morning.
Remembering the mercy of God, even in the worst situations, we dare to move forward out of a sense that our lives, however brief or long, however filled with sadness or happiness, however wealthy or impoverished, our lives are lived in the presence of God who breathes the breath of life into each of us and all of us.
This is to say, we dare to hope.
So on Friday, many members of our congregation joined with thousands of others to listen as Greta Thunberg spoke words of both judgment and hope to Iowa City: “"We teenagers and children shouldn't have to take the responsibility but right now the world leaders keep acting like children and someone needs to be the adult in the room," Thunberg said. "The world is waking up. We are the change and change is coming whether they like it or not."
In faith we affirm that God is with us in our suffering and leading us to the hope of the resurrection.
So Paul is able to write of God as “the One who comforts us in our affliction.” In mercy God does much more than help us to feel good again and get on with our lives as they always have been. God comforts us—that is, God gives us strength in adversity—so that we in turn might bring strength and consolation to others as God’s people in this weary world.
The mercy of God is an empowering force that calls us forward into God’s new creation. This mercy forgives us for the wrong that we have done. This mercy forgives us for the good that we have failed to do up to this point. And even more, it then lifts us up and turns us toward the new day that is dawning, so that we might wait for the salvation of the Lord, the wholeness and well-being that God gives.
We wait by working for the very things that we await. We work for peace. We work for the day when the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered. We work for the welcome of the refugee and the outcast. We work for interracial understanding and cooperation. We work for the renewal of all creation.
God desires not only our good but also the good of all creation. And listen to that the other way. God desires the good of all creation—and God desires your good, even your own good. There are signs of this often enough that we can dare to live in hope, we can choose to live in hope.
We can choose to wait and work in hope for the good of all creation in communion with the world.