One in Mission, One in Call

 It’s a great irony: very little good can come of war, yet without the Second World War, I would not exist. My father was a six-year-old German boy when Hitler’s armies invaded Poland. His family’s journey during the next five years included one lost family farm and two resettlements. One older brother was killed in action by a sniper’s bullet at Stalingrad, and another captured by the Russians, and marched into Siberia as a P.O.W. My Grandfather had either the good sense or luck to move the rest of the family in a westerly direction, and experienced relatively good treatment from British and American authorities. After the war, Presbyterians and others launched the One Great Hour of Sharing offering to help the people of Europe. They were advocates for refugees, and due to their efforts President Harry Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which made it possible for my father to immigrate to this country in the fall of 1951. As the Hembruchs became part of their community, my father met my mother. After Dad’s service in the U.S. Army, they were married, and I am the result.

My experience is not entirely unique. Most of us don’t have to look far back in our family trees to find victims of war or refugees from persecution. For better and for worse, we are a people who have been shaped by war.

Shaped as we are by the tragedy of war, there is very deep within us a hope for peace. We listen attentively to stories like the one from the First World War, when on Christmas Eve 1914, German and British troops began to sing Christmas carols to one another across the lines, emerging from their trenches at dawn on Christmas Day to exchange gifts. Though that bit of history may seem sentimentally naïve in our time, when we watch news clips about conflict in the Middle East or Afghan police turning on their American trainers, something in us longs for a similar spontaneous show of peacemaking.

The year that saw my father’s birth also witnessed the birth of a new church celebration. It started at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and quickly spread.  In the context of the Great Depression and growing threats from Nazism and Fascism, World Wide Communion Sunday symbolized the Church’s united witness against powers determined to divide us.

Today, World Community Sunday is our annual reminder of Christian unity, a unity that is visible and invisible, actual in some places, and hoped for in others. Jesus prays for it at the beginning of the Christian story, saying it will be a sign of love, and a witness to Him (John 17:20-23). The Psalmist tells us what a blessing unity is for those who are experiencing it, and presumably for all who are served by those working together as a team (Psalm 133).

During the past year, I think we’ve seen that positive things can happen when the Christians in a community work together. When gambling interests brought pressure to bear upon the Edwardsville City Council, our mayor and our aldermen listened to the voices of Christians, including many of you, and approved an ordinance banning video gambling. In 2011, a local bike race closed the normal routes for church members to travel to Sunday worship. First we were told that changing the day of the race would negatively impact truck routes and local businesses, and that changing the day of the race would never happen. Again, many voices were heard, including some of you at your Rotary Club, or in the context of your involvement with the YMCA. This year, the race was held on Saturday, creating a win-win situation for all involved.

Though World Communion Sunday allows us to highlight the blessings of unity, it also provides the unpleasant opportunity to think about the harm caused by disunity.  On the world stage, we see instances like the regular brawls at Jesus’ birthplace between the three Christian denominations that jointly administer control.  In our country, we have the long-standing battle over homosexual ordination that divides Christians into special interest groups in several denominations, including our own. In our community, we’ve witnessed at least three major church splits in the past ten years among the Southern Baptists in the community churches, the Presbyterians in the Fundamentalist PCA churches, and among our United Church of Christ friends.  In some places, disunity rises to the level of public scandal, and in other places is characterized by silent lack of cooperation. Even in milder cases of disunity, the Church’s witness and effectiveness is diminished. When we call to mind cases of disunity, it’s clear that Jesus’ message is just as relevant here and now as it was in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Of course, unity in mission and witness isn’t easy; if it were, every Sunday would be World Communion Sunday in deed as well as word.  Sometimes, Christian unity happens spontaneously, like it did for the British and German soldiers on the battlefield that long-ago Christmas Eve. More often, we must intentionally focus upon the task of peacemaking: exercising respectful love, being gently patient with another, making an effort to come together at the same table to share the bread and the cup, as well as converse about our thoughts and our feelings, to minimize our differences, and maximize the common ground where we can live and serve and witness, and transform this broken and hurting world through the love of Christ.

Among songs with a theme of Christian unity, one of the most recent popular hymns is the one that follows this sermon, written in 1986 by Rusty Edwards from Dixon, Illinois. As we sing it, pay attention to the text of the final verse, and let it be our special prayer today. Edwards writes: Now let us be united, and let our song be heard. Now let us be a vessel for God’s redeeming word. We all are one in mission, We all are one in call, our varied gifts united, by Christ, the Lord of all.

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~ by JohnH1962 on October 7, 2012.

2 Responses to “One in Mission, One in Call”

  1. Once again a great one with much thought. *****

  2. As always, thanks for the good feedback!

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