On this World Communion Sunday, in a time of great disunity between various factions,
we celebrate the unity of the Church across the world.
In a time when many have stopped listening to one another, but keep talking past one another,
from east and west and north and south, we gather at one table.
In a time when many speak and few seem to understand, when few seem to have any desire for unity,
in Jesus Christ, the promise is that all divisions will come to an end. As the Scripture claims, In Christ,
“there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in him.”
The unity of people in Christ, before God, is not to be taken for granted.
It is both a gift to be treasured and a task to be constantly worked.
On this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that the doors of the Church
are always to remain open, open to those who are not yet of this fold,
open to those who may be different from the ones who are already here.

Hear the Word of the Lord from the gospel of John. John 10:11-18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

Friends, there are other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
The doors of the “fold” are to remain open, open to those whom Jesus will bring,
those who will listen to his voice.
The Lord’s great intention is for there to be “one flock, one shepherd.”

John 3:16-17: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

In Jesus Christ, the world is not to be condemned…but saved…
So why are we humans, even the Church at times, so quick to judge, so quick to condemn?
Have we forgotten his instruction: Judge not lest ye be judged?
We tend to be so quick to put people in boxes based on their appearance, or where they’re from,
or their political affiliations, you name it…
We are quick to label, to assume things about other people, to identify them as “other”…
The gospel text is not “For God so loved the people of Israel…”
The gospel is not “for God so loved my particular group”, but “God so loved the world”,
ton cosmos in the Greek, all of it, all plants and animals, all peoples and nations,
even those who are very different from us,
even those who look very different or act very different from us.
God loves other nations of the world, just as God loves us!

In Holy Scripture, three primal stories of salvation anchor the entire narrative –
the Exodus, the return from Exile, and the Easter story, the Resurrection.
These three E’s – Exodus, Exile, and Easter – are the primal biblical stories of faith,
the lens through which all other stories of faith are viewed.
These are our stories – the biblical stories that communicate that God is with us and for people of faith,
that God has before and will again overthrow any government that enslaves or oppresses “our people”.
Over the years, people of Christian faith have entered worldly conflicts with great confidence
that God is on “our” side, that as we face our enemies, God will be there for “us”.
We are the people of the Book, those who have been delivered by the hand of God.
Our forefathers and mothers in faith were oppressed slaves who cried out to God for deliverance.
God heard their cries and responded with a mighty act of deliverance.
So, we are eternally grateful to this God of Exodus and bound by covenant to serve God all our days.

I wonder if there is a disconnect in the Church today…
If our story is not that “our people” were slaves who were delivered by the hand of God,
then something is missing.
If we are not those who live out of constant gratitude for being saved from the bondage to sin
by the cross of Jesus Christ, then what is our basis for our faith?

But did you know that our forefathers and mothers in faith were not the only ones
delivered by the hand of God?
Did you know that there are three exoduses mentioned in the Bible?
Today’s Old Testament reading hails from an obscure text in Amos 9:7.
Walter Brueggemann would enjoy surprising his Old Testament theology classes
with obscure biblical texts that shed new light and understanding on long held assumptions.

Hear the Word of God from the prophet Amos:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord.
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,
AND the Philistines from Caphtor AND the Arameans from Kir?
The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
and I will destroy it from the face of the earth
—except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the Lord.

The Hebrews of the Old Testament were not the only “people of God” delivered from captivity.
This text implodes any narrow mindset about who God’s privileged people are
and reminds us that God is the God of the whole world, not just of particular countries or peoples.
God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, AND the Philistines (the Palestinians!) from Caphtor,
AND the Syrians from Kir! Why is this so important?
God’s love for the world has everything to do with our love for the world.
We are to love the world because God loves the world.
We are to seek the good of the world because God seeks the good of the world.
We are to open our doors to the world because God has first opened doors to us.

According to biblical faith, devotion to God must always be expressed through love of neighbor…
When Amos speaks of proper devotion to God, that devotion must always show itself
in seeking the rights of the poor and powerless.
As one biblical scholar claimed, “any religious revival which fails to generate new zeal for social justice
has nothing to do with biblical faith.” (James Ward, Amos – Hosea, p.22)
The poor and the powerless are always among us, and it is easy to become hardened to their plight.
But we have seen over the past weeks how a social or economic crises,
or a natural disaster like a flood in Houston or hurricane in Puerto Rico,
can “startle a people out of complacency and self interest
and lead them to redirect their energies toward the common good…”

One of my favorite stories that has come out of the recent tragedies is the action of rookie quarterback
Deshaun Watson. Deshaun grew up in a Habitat house in South Carolina.
While he was a student at Clemson, he would lead the football team in an annual Habitat day.
In response to the tragic flooding in his new home of Houston,
Deshaun took his first paycheck he received, $27,000 of base salary,
and split it between three cafeteria ladies who serve meals at the stadium,
each of whom had suffered losses from the storm.
One of my least favorite stories was that of the mega church pastor, Joel Osteen,
who is a prophet of the prosperity gospel, who seems to believe that faith is what saves people
from being poor or saves people from having to deal with the poor,
rather than faith being the catalyst that demands that one advocate for and serve those in need.

When the Lord delivered Israel out of the hand of the Egyptians, and gave them a land of their own,
that did not confer on them the privilege of doing as they pleased.
Instead, their intimate knowledge of God’s deliverance and their entering into a covenant with God
put them in a unique position of obedience and service. (Jacob Myers, Hosea – Jonah, p. 148)
When the good Lord delivered into North America the oppressed of all the nations,
and formed a new nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,
that did not give the United States some special privilege to do as we please.
Rather, that deliverance from religious and economic oppression,
along with knowledge of God’s will through Holy Scripture,
has instead given our nation a unique calling to obedience and service.
For any who are tempted to limit their compassion and take care of only one’s own family or own nation,
the universal force to the prophecy of Amos should not be missed.
Amos’ words claim the good intentions of a God who will judge any nation which neglects the poor,
who will offer tough love to any “haves” who are not working to bring hope to the “have nots”.

Instead of being specially privileged and always protected, regardless of her deeds, Amos claims that
Israel would be shaken and sieved like grain, just like other nations, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
At heart, though this is a word of judgment upon Israel, this is wonderfully good news.
God loves “the world” and God sent the Son in order that “the world” might be saved.
God loves the dreamers…and those whose dreams have already been met.
God loves those who kneel…and God loves those who stand.
God loves those on the left side of the aisle as well as those on the right side of the aisle.
God loves the poor and the rich, the black and the white, the gay and the straight,
the Christian and the Muslim, the citizen and the refugee, the…fill in the blank.
And…God will judge all of us according to our reverence for God and our loving care for neighbor.

On this World communion Sunday,
we unite as a Church around the Table of our Lord Jesus Christ.
From east and west, north and south, we gather before the good shepherd –
to remember, to give thanks, to receive grace, and then to be sent forth in mission.
Perhaps the first task of our mission in the world today is to listen, to listen as God listens,
to hear the cries of the oppressed, to hear the voices of those long silenced.
Do you remember how the Exodus began?
This grand story of deliverance began with God listening.
In Exodus 3, God tells Moses in the wilderness that God has heard the cries of the oppressed.
Moses was out tending his flock, minding his own business.
He was married to a desert princess, had a few children, had begun to settle down,
then God showed up and told him that God had heard those who are crying out to be rescued.
“Go Moses…”, God said. “Go back to Egypt…”

In our day and time, who is crying out for deliverance?
Which sheep of the world, of another fold perhaps, are crying out to be rescued?
The Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, and we have been blessed by his grace
in order to be a blessing to the world.
God sent the Son not to condemn the world, but to open the doors which would help the world be saved.
Let us listen carefully to the people of the world, and seek to hear, as God has heard our cries for help.


Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
October 1, 2017