Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 10-1-23 “World Communion Sunday” 

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Exodus 17:1-7

Today, we and thousands of churches around the world celebrate World Communion Sunday. This Sunday is a gift from the Presbyterian Church to the whole body of Jesus. The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933. Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr was serving as pastor.

World Communion Sunday -according to an issue of the Presbyterian Outlook “was created as an attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected with one another.” End of quote. Therefore, we can say that the purpose of this Sunday is to remind us about the unity of the Body of Christ and how important the Church of Jesus Christ is. In other words, unity, and relevance of the Church of Jesus, that’s what World Communion Sunday is about. And to speak about unity and relevance, the Liturgical Calendar presents us this Sunday -among other two of the New Testament- with the scripture from the Old Testament, Exodus 17:1-7.  

            In our scripture the Israelites continue traveling in the desert “from place to place as the Lord commanded,” says verse 1. God took them to Rephidim where there was not water. I am sure Rephidim was not the only place in the desert where there was not water and God knew it when he took them there. However, God took them there because, beside knowing that it was not water, he also knew he could provide water for them. At the end of verse 7, we find a question that I am sure made God upset, is the Lord among us, or not?

The Israelites have a short memory problem, they kept forgetting about God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God made them free, but at the first sign of discomfort they wanted to go back to Egypt. They preferred the certainty of slavery to the uncertainty of an adventure of trusting God. Even with all the signs of God’s love and presence, they doubted God’s power to provide water. And despite their doubts, and quarrels, God provided exactly what they needed, food and water. Israel did not understand that this was not only a journey to the Promised Land; this was also a journey to change. God was trying to create change and Israel refused to accept it.  

For Israel was hard to accept that the road to freedom and change can be long, difficult, and sometimes discouraging. The Israelites found out that in many parts of their journey, it was hard to sustain their initial faith and hope; and in those moments was when they must learn to trust. If Israel wanted to reach the Promised Land, they had to change, and that change begins by trusting God. At this point, Israel had not still learned a crucial lesson: where God leads, God provides. God had already given them victory over the Egyptians, God enriched them with the wealth of Egypt, He made a way through the waters, and provided enough supplies on their journey through the desert. If there was something Israel should already know by now, that was: God provides in every situation.

            Now, how can we apply this event in Israel’s history in our celebration today? How can this event talk to us about unity and the relevance of the Church of Jesus in our society?

            First, verse 2 says, “They quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And verse 3, “They grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” I can see unity here. They were united in the quarreling and grumbling; they were united in the fear of dying of thirst; they were united in blaming Moses for their thirst. In chapter 32, they were united in the building of the Golden Calf. However, that was not the unity God wanted or expected.

            The unity God expected was the one they displayed in chapter 15 after they walked on dry land and Pharoh’s army was destroyed, Moses and the Israelites got together and sang to the Lord a song of victory: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both the horse and driver were hurled into the sea. “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. Exodus 15:1-4. Israel was united celebrating God’s amazing victory; they were united worshiping the Lord for his deliverance. They were united by God’s presence among them.

            The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians chapter 4 verses 3-6, has the same request of unity for us. He said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” According to Paul, the unity we must practice is “the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” And we can reach this unity remembering that we were called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The unity that the church must profess, must lead us to peace among brothers and sisters.

            Sometimes we believe that the unity God requires from us is to think alike. If that is the case, that unity would be the result of our thinking. Our unity instead is the result of Jesus living in our hearts, we are one because of him. John Wesley once said. “If your heart is like mine, take my hand.” Galatians 3:26-28 says, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This was a revolutionary theology in those times. However, that unity made the Early Church relevant for their times and context. People of all social extracts were attracted, and God’s name was exalted.       

            That takes us to the second purpose of World Communion Sunday: the relevance of God’s People. There is something clear in the Old Testament, God called Abraham to create a unique people, He wanted to make Israel relevant, an instrument of blessing. Genesis 12:2 says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” Deuteronomy 14:2 says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Israel was chosen to be an example for the other peoples. Israel was chosen to be agent of God’s will. To be a model of how God’s people live.

            God’s purpose still the same and we, the Church of Jesus Christ are now the chosen people. 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us that, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We are called to declare the praises of God. We are called to be the model, an example of how God’s people live. We are called to be relevant. Talking about being relevant, Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:13-17, As part of the Sermon on the Mountain, You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 

            According to Jesus to be salt and to be light means to be relevant, and we are relevant when we fulfill the law the same way Jesus did. By loving God and loving our neighbor, the same way Jesus did. When we learn to love as Jesus loved, those who feel rejected by God and the church -whoever they are-, will come, when we learn to love as Jesus loved, and to share and praise God as the Early Church did, we will enjoy the favor of all the people. And the Lord will add to our number those who will be saved as it is described in Acts 2:47.

            To fulfill our purpose as chosen people we need to love without prejudice as Jesus our paradigm, Jesus did. That is how we will be relevant. Oxford dictionary defines relevant as: “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.” Does this definition describe our church?

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