Written by Ana and Tod Gobledale
Liturgy and message for World Communion Sunday
WHY WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY? In 1936, during a time of fear and growing tension, the first Sunday in October, for the first time, was celebrated as World Wide Communion Sunday in Presbyterian churches in the United States and overseas. From the beginning, other denominations were invited to participate, and over the decades the idea has spread.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things. --Mary Oliver
CALL TO WORSHIP
We gather today as the people of God, as a community of Christ's followers.
We gather to share Word and sacrament, to discern the ways of faithful service.
Where in the world shall we serve our God?
At home and school and business place – in this community and throughout every land.
How in the world shall we serve our God?
By working toward justice where there is oppression, by offering comfort where there is pain, by sharing love where there is hatred.
Why in the world shall we serve our God?
Because the Spirit beckons us, because Jesus calls us to enact our faith. Let us now worship the one who calls us!
FIRST READING - Luke 4:16-21
Sing kids out...
SECOND READING & MISSION STORY – John 9:3
Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's glory might be revealed in him,'
Breaking the Silence
This letter comes from the Reverend Scott Couper in South Africa: Rev. Couper works with the kwaZulu Natal HIV and AIDS Desk of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa in Durban, South Africa.
Nomvula (pronounced nom-voo'-lah) Shale is HIV positive, but that doesn't stop her from speaking out! Nomvula travels from church to church in South Africa, defying taboos and the stigma of disease in order to provide words of comfort and assurance to those who are drowning in silence. Yesterday she was at Highway Hospice; tomorrow she will be at King Edward Hospital. Today, she counseled two in the parking lot who were too scared to seek help. What for many would be the harbinger of hopelessness is for Nomvula the key that enables her to communicate and be trusted by all who come to her. Why is she HIV positive? She says: "The Scriptures tell us 'So the glory of God might be revealed!'"
Nomvula communicates her message to the church, to the government, to the schools, and to the people. She hosts a talk radio show and writes weekly in the newspaper. She leads the HIV and AIDS Desk of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, which enables local churches to strengthen their own outreach to their communities.
With the aid of Global Ministries, Nomvula and the HIV and AIDS Desk work together to fight the goliath of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, through such things as grants to purchase life saving medications, funds for a home-based care project, a new house at the Cebelihle (seh-bah-lee'-lay) Children's Home and new accommodation for the Siyabathanda (see-yah-bah-tan'-dah), literally "We are loving them" ministry in Noodsberg.
The silence about HIV/AIDS needs to be broken - Nomvula shatters it. In a world in need of hope and direction, Nomvula lives her life the way that God wills the church to be.
PRESENTATION OF BREAD
We lift up the people of Africa, many of whom hunger for bread and justice.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION (South Africa)
For our failure to feel the sufferings of others, and our tendency to live comfortably with injustice,
God forgive us.
For the self-righteousness which denies guilt, and the self-interest which strangles compassion,
God forgive us.
For our failings in community, and our lack of understanding,
We ask your mercy.
For the times when we are too eager to be better than others, when we are too rushed to care, when we are too tired to bother, when we do not really listen, when we are too quick to act from motives other than love,
God forgive us and shower your mercy upon us.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE (Bangladesh)
THIRD READING – Matthew 25:40
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.
The Least of These
This letter comes from the Reverend John Campbell-Nelson in Indonesia and East Timor. John Campbell-Nelson is a UCC missionary serving with the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor. East Timor is a nation that achieved its independence from Indonesia in 1999.
Much has changed in Indonesia over the last 25 years, and many people's lives have improved. But the shift from a traditional to a "modern" way of life is a constant source of social conflict. The hidden constant in this conflict is the role of personal relationships and social status: you are who you know, and who knows you. If you don't know anybody, you are nobody.
That realization has been haunting me lately, in the form of a dead baby. Her name was Rita Norlina Selan. Her mother died when Rita was a few weeks old. Her father is a farm laborer who had no money. Unable to buy milk, he fed her rice water and sugared tea. Rita starved to death.
This sort of thing happens in the hills of Timor all too often. But in Rita's case, it happened less than a mile from our house. The milk she needed was sitting on a shelf in our pantry. The car that could have taken her to the hospital (or her mother before her) was parked in our garage. So why didn't she get the help she needed? Because her father didn't know us, and we didn't know him. When asked why he didn't come to us for help, he said he was malu (translate that as a combination of shy, ashamed, and afraid). He knew who we were and where we lived, but he did not feel socially important enough to make requests of the "Big White People."
Rita reminds me that social analyses of the causes of poverty and training on nutrition and public health, while important, are secondary. What is of primary importance is building the kind of community where no one is nobody. That's the kind of community that Jesus worked to create, and it's the kind of community we have yet to become.
PRESENTATION OF BREAD
We lift up the people of Asia, many of whom hunger for freedom and peace. We especially pray for the people struggling to survive today after the severe rains in the Phillipines and Vietnam.
PRAYER OF COMMITMENT (East Timor)
O God, you promise a world where those who now weep shall laugh; those who are hungry shall feast; those you are poor now, and excluded, shall live in your kingdom. We want this promised world, too. We renounce despair. We will act for change. We choose to be included in your great feast of life. Amen.
FOURTH READING – Matthew 25:36
I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
This letter comes from Tim Rose, one of our missionaries in France. Tim Rose is a UCC missionary with the Reformed Church of France, working primarily with African refugees in the resettlement process.
As a prison chaplain, I met Thomas when he served time for drug trafficking. During our visits we talked about the Christian faith, morals, family and plans for the future. When he was released from prison he asked to be baptized, and he now holds a steady job and has a wonderful fiancée. This is the confession of faith that Thomas wrote:
Confession of Faith
My life is similar to many of your own lives,
When I came into this world I started to cry, and it wasn't for the last time,
Then my mother put me to her breast and I smiled, and it wasn't for the last time,
My life has had its share of ups and downs, moments of joy and moments of sorrow, of good and bad surprises.
After all these years of happiness and sadness I can assert that I was never alone; someone in the silence, in those secret places, was with me.
Many times I could feel his presence, sometimes comforting, other times inspiring, and sometimes calming. That outstretched hand, those open arms, that warmth in the cold night, that voice in the desert...it is Him, my Savior, it is Our Lord.
Yes, I believe in God, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.
I believe that he is the origin of all things,
I believe that he is just and that he loves all of us equally,
I believe in his word and in that of Jesus, his son, who he sent to help us find peace, love and eternal life.
Even though he was only a humble carpenter, I believe that he had the strength and the courage to offer us his life and to die on the cross for us. And, despite my rational side, I believe that he is resurrected and that he accompanies each of our steps.
I believe in forgiveness, which is so precious to Him.
I believe in His love,
But above all, I believe that he is alive and that he is with us today.
And these are the reasons that inspire me today to witness to my faith and my love for Him before you all.
PRESENTATION OF BREAD
We lift up the people of Europe and North America, many of whom hunger for meaning and wholeness.
CONFESSION OF FAITH (written by Thomas, an African refugee in France—adapted)
Yes, I believe in God, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.
I believe that God is the origin of all things,
I believe that God is just and loves all of us equally,
I believe in God's word and in that of Jesus, sent to help us find peace, love and eternal life.
FIFTH READING – Matthew 26:26
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."
Nima (Nee'-ma)had been coming to church for weeks, and you'd think she had always been a Christian. She knew all the songs, raised her hands and prayed out loud like everybody else, and read the scriptures half a syllable ahead of the others. But when communion Saturday came along, just before the elements were served, Nima, like all the other non-baptized worshippers, would quietly get up and go outside. In Nepal, communion is offered to all who have publicly declared their faith in Christ and who have been baptized. The pastor makes it very clear that everyone else is welcome to the church service, but must step outside at communion time.
I would watch Nima go and I silently prayed that she would not feel rejected. I hoped that this seeming lack of inclusiveness on the part of the church would not dampen her interest in Christ.
"Are you kidding?" she answered, when I finally got up the courage to ask her. "The church is the only place in this country where I, a woman, am truly welcome. Where I, rejected by my family for marrying out of my caste, am accepted. This is the only group of people who welcome me in, despite the fact that I have been treated for mental illness. Even untouchables and lepers are allowed in! Here I find rich and poor—educated and illiterate—sitting together, singing together, sharing a Bible or a hymnbook."
"Yes, but…communion…," I started to say. She had already walked off, arm-in-arm with a lady deacon of the church.
Several months had passed and one Saturday I missed church for some reason. Later that day a Christian friend phoned to say that I should have been there – Nima had stayed for communion! I found out that Nima and her husband had been baptized earlier in the week, and I had missed her first meal at the "welcome table"! I had known she was attending a class for new believers, and I knew she was growing in her faith, but I did not know that she had been baptized. When I met Nima at her tiny rented room the next day she beamed at me. "I am a baptized Christian. And now I stay in church for the whole time! What a great privilege!" she exclaimed. Nima was delighted. I was delighted too.
But the thought did cross my mind how some Saturdays, after sitting through two hours of church—my legs half-asleep from sitting cross-legged on the floor and my brain exhausted from following the sermon in Nepali (neh-pah'-lee)—I chose to exit with those who had no choice but to leave before communion was served. I so easily passed up what Nima considered a prize. I am constantly amazed at how God has taught me and humbled me over the many years I have spent in Nepal, through people like Nima. She rekindled in me that day the passion to be present at the table, because, like she said, it is truly a great privilege.
PRESENTATION OF BREAD
We lift up the people of Central and South America, many of whom hunger for equity and protection for their natural resources.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
OUR LORD'S PRAYER
CELEBRATING THE LORD'S SUPPER
Let us prepare our hearts.
We prepare them for the Lord.
Let us open our minds.
We open them for the Word.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
We give thanks for the goodness of creation.
Creator God, in the beginning you put life into the emptiness, light into the darkness and saw that it was good.
We are created in your image to see good in the light.
You created people to live on the earth, to love and be loved, to care for this creation and be fruitful. And you saw it was good, very good.
We are created in your image to see good in each other.
And when we failed to praise you for a harvest of plenty, to obey your commands and care for the world that you put in our hands, you sent us Jesus to show us the way.
We are created in Christ's image to see good in the dark.
May this meal nourish us, strengthening us to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.
Thank you, God, for inviting us to share in your mission to bring peace and abundant life to your creation. Amen.
WORDS OF INSTITUTION
SHARING OF THE MEAL
Christ is the giver of this feast, and all are welcome, whoever you are and wherever you are on life's journey. Please come forward to take a piece of bread (rice crackers are gluten-free) and dip it in the juice (non-alcoholic). If you have difficulty coming forward, please signal and we will bring the feast to you.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
We thank you O God, for refreshing us at your holy table. We thank you for our brothers and sisters in this community and around the world. May we always be reminded to see the world through Christ's eyes, and to work for a time when all may share together at Your table. Amen.
RESPONDING TO GOD'S WORD & LOVE
SHARING OUR GIFTS AND OFFERINGS
Today during our offering, we are accepting gifts for Neighbors in Need. The Neighbors in Need offering supports the UCC's ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States, and helps make another world possible. Please give generously.
DOXOLOGY (note alternate lyrics)
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise God the source of all our gifts.
Praise Jesus Christ whose power uplifts. Amen.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Praise be to God who calls us to imagine and believe that another world is possible.
We praise the One who calls us into covenant with one another.
God of all times and all places, remind us of the world as you intend it: free from hunger, poverty, violence, and oppression.
Deliver these our gifts to the work of bringing hope and wholeness to all our neighbors. Amen
COMMISSIONING & BENEDICTION (from the Christian Council of Asia)
Go to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.
God go with you in all that is gentle. Christ go with you in all that is brave. And the spirit go with you in all that is free.
We go in peace, to love and serve our God. Amen.
This "World Communion Sunday Service with Missionary Letters" was written by Ana and Tod Gobledale for Global Ministries.