Posted by secondchurch on October - 19 - 2018

How Can a Nation Confess?

Psalm 33

October 7, 2018 – World Communion Sunday

Second Church Newton

Carla J. Bailey


This past Wednesday, approximately 75% of all cell phones in the United States received a “Presidential Alert”, which said, in part, “No action is needed”.  I could not disagree more with that sentiment.  Action is most definitely needed, though not of the kind anticipated by a presidential alert.

Today is World Communion Sunday, a day when Christian churches are invited to focus their attention on the disposition of the Christian church around the world.  World Communion Sunday originated in the Presbyterian Church in 1936, to lift up the need for a more global approach to our common Christianity.  The Federal Council of Churches, which later became the National Council of Churches, caught on to the idea and sought to expand the practice of World Communion Sunday in 1940, during World War II, to recognize that those of us who share a devotion to Jesus Christ might be inspired to be peace-makers.  The German church, deeply divided over the place of Nazism within its sanctuaries, was not inclined toward peace-making and Christianity in Japan was a small and largely invisible association.  American Christians did not especially catch on to the idea of communion as a means to peace so, though the intent was certainly noble, it never really caught on.  As World War II ended, the National Council of Churches tried to re-imagine World Communion Sunday away from peace-making toward an expression of our unity within Christianity.  To my eye, Christianity – at least American Christianity – is as far from united as it ever could be, so in that purpose, I would say World Communion Sunday has been pretty ineffectual.

Over the years, I have tended to preach on this day in something of a half-hearted way, making some appropriate noises about ecumenism within Christianity.  But, the longer I’m in ministry, the more difficult Christian unity is for me to imagine, let alone support.  The compromises I would have to make for the sake of unity with some of the Christians I have met would be more than I could bear.     

So, if not for the sake of Christian unity, why bother observing World Communion Sunday?  Why not just ignore the World part of the title and celebrate this day as we do the first Sunday of every month – a normal, run-of-the-mill service of communion?  Well, that would probably be fine, except for this one, niggling little tweak of conscience.  In spite of the rhetoric gaining ground these days, we are not alone in the world, we Americans.  Just hear again the words from the 33rd Psalm addressed to God: You look down from heaven; you see all humankind.  From where you sit enthroned you watch all the inhabitants of the earth — you who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.

Our Scriptures, including the Psalms, have their origin in Israel, and Israel is both a secular state and the Holy Land.  It is the cradle of the three Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and it is a simmering kettle of violence and hatred. So we must always take care when we yield to the temptation to speak of America, as many have, as the new Jerusalem, the City on the Hill, God’s crowning glory, using the many images and references throughout our Scriptures of God’s special relationship to this, our nation state. Such caution is not mine alone.  The 33rd Psalm is full of the conflicted nature of the relationship between God and the nation.  “You bring the counsel of the nations to nothing; you frustrate the plans of the peoples, but your counsel stands forever.”  Or this: “A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.  The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”  Frequently, frequently in the Old Testament and the Gospels, prophets, psalmists, and Jesus himself addressed the failings of Israel — its kings and faith leaders — in their faithfulness to the saving God. While Israel may have understood itself as chosen and especially blessed by God, it came with the need for frequent course corrections – some of which are still desperately needed.

While it is fraught with problems, the interrelationship between God and our nation would be helped, it seems to me, if we were to look not to the language of being chosen for God’s special favor, but rather, to the images of confession, contrition, and course correction ourselves — a deep longing for God to forgive us our many grievous sins, committed under the arrogant flag of Eurocentric superiority.  In other words, perhaps we should look at how we, those of us who are immigrant descendants of white, European nations, are in desperate need of God’s mercy, God’s guidance, God’s forgiveness, especially when we are so sure we have done nothing wrong.  “Truly, your eye is on those who fear you, on those who hope in your steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” 

Which takes me back to the Presidential Alert of this past Wednesday – the one that said “No action is needed.”   Here’s the needed action – we who are inclined to connect our nation’s identity to our relationship to God – we need to confess that we have really done damage – life-robbing, soul-killing injury to millions of human beings, those very inhabitants of the earth mentioned in the 33rd Psalm—whose hearts God also fashioned. 

Here’s one small way we can begin our confession.  In our worship this morning, we have included music – both hymns and anthems – that bring to our awareness some of those hearts fashioned by God but harmed by our nation’s sinfulness.  Our opening hymn was written by a Japanese Christian minister.  Do you remember the 110,000 – 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, the overwhelming majority of whom were U.S. citizens, interned to concentration-type camps in the U.S. in 1942?  We sang these words: “Here, O God, your servants gather”.  There is music of Mexico, through which we can ponder the damage being done to the more than 1,600 migrant children who, just five days ago, were moved to a tent city in west Texas.  Our anthem is the hymn written by Queen Liliuukalani while she was in prison. In the 1880’s, American sugar and pineapple company executives, most notably Sanford Dole, assisted by the U.S. government, staged a coup.  American militia came to the island, threatening battle, and Liliuokalani surrendered. After the coup succeeded, Sanford Dole was named president of the Republic of Hawaii. Our closing hymn comes from South Africa.  I scarcely need to remind any of us of our nation’s monumental horror of slavery.  And our original sin? Would that not be what we did, systematically, relentlessly, and voraciously to the native people who inhabited this land – all of what we now call the United States?  Is that original sin not the one we should remember tomorrow as Indigenous People’s Day, rather than Columbus Day? 

We are called to the table over which Jesus prayed, not to seek unity with other Christians.  No, rather let us pray with the Psalmist, “God, our soul waits for you, for You are our help and shield.”  Amen.


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