"A Global Gospel"
Preached by Anne R. Ledbetter
Scripture - Colossians 1:1-8
October 7, 2012 - World Communion Sunday
Part of our Presbyterian DNA is that we are a connectional church - connected to others through presbytery, synod and general assembly. Of course, in Christ our connections extend to other denominations, other countries, religions, indeed, all people throughout the world. So maybe it's no surprise that in 1936, Presbyterians initiated a World Communion Sunday, when all churches around the globe would be mindful of celebrating the Lord's Supper together.
I remember as a teenager thinking how cool it was to eat my tiny cracker and thimbleful of grape juice knowing that Christians in Africa, Korea, Europe and South America were gathering around Christ's table too. I felt amazed that so many people all around the world were joining in a common act - an act of faith begun by Christ. Over forty years later, this annual observance still beckons us to ponder what it means to be part of a worldwide body of Christ.
Did you know that Westminster has two mission or outreach committees? Together they meet monthly as the Joint Mission Committee, and then break apart into the Urban, or local mission, and Church in the World Committee. Whoever named the latter understood the global nature of the gospel like the apostle Paul, who addresses the church in Colossae saying, "the gospel 6that has come to you... is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world." Paul himself played a remarkable role in spreading the gospel throughout the known world- sailing across the Mediterranean at least three times to preach and establish churches in Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, to name a few. These early Christian communities stayed in touch through traveling evangelists bearing letters of encouragement and correction, some of which are preserved in the scriptures.
What does this global gospel mean to us today? It means we have a stake in what happens to sisters and brothers elsewhere - those who suffer tragic loss in hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, those who must flee their countries because of war or famine or political oppression. To be part of the Church in the world, means to be ambassadors or agents of Christ: healing, teaching, serving. It includes nurturing connections with people of faith in other parts of the globe. To this end, Westminster has developed relationships with Christians in Congo and in Guatemala. Members have traveled to these regions - learning about the cultures of the people and their living conditions, experiencing their hospitality, and witnessing their faith. And just this summer six church members traveled to Mozambique to help build a church with fellow Presbyterians.
Many think of mission work as going to all corners of the world to proselytize and save souls. However, Presbyterian mission meets people where they are, addressing chronic needs in health and education, building hospitals and schools, and training doctors, nurses and teachers. Unfortunately, at times we have undertaken our mission with a rather patronizing or benevolent attitude. But God continues to show us that mission is about partnership and reciprocity, and that the gospel bears abundant fruit even in places which to us may appear barren, desolate, or godforsaken.
Our world has shrunk significantly since I was a child. Network and internet news inform us within minutes of a devastating disaster in Asia or South America. Moreover, a jumbo jet can deliver us to the other side of the world in less than a day. Through the web we can instant message, email, and skype with friends, family and strangers across the globe. But in cases such as Mozambique, where few have internet, smart phones, or computers, a letter may still be the best vehicle for communication.
Today's passage from Colossians shows us an example and the formula for writing such a letter to faithful folk far away. And so, with Colossians as inspiration, I share with you now, an epistle intended for new friends in the southern hemisphere.
Anne, a pastor called by the Holy Spirit, and other devoted friends from Delaware,
To the saints and faithful sisters and brothers in Mozambique:
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Jesus Christ.
In our prayers we give thanks to God for you, and the steadfast faith you embody in your daily lives. We praise God for nudging each of us to visit you and join in building your new church in Macia, for in our six weeks in Africa we readily discerned the gospel bearing fruit in you.
The apostle Paul lists the fruits of God's Spirit as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How we witnessed every one of these in you! We will always remember the gentleness and love pouring forth in your prayers as we gathered together each morning before setting to work. You quietly led us into an attitude of thankfulness and awe before God.
Each of us can tell of a time when we were pushing a wheelbarrow, lifting a truss, painting a door, sweeping the steps, moving a piece of scaffolding, and suddenly one of you - man, woman or child - stood right beside us, taking over the wheelbarrow, reaching for the paintbrush or broom, carrying the scaffolding for us. Your eagerness to help, to ease our burden, to do your part and then some, humbled us and moved us deeply.
We confess that at times we would get frustrated with ourselves, with you, with mis-communications, but you remained calm, and patient, knowing that things would get worked out. Some days the heat was oppressive, or our bodies ached and our spirits flagged, and our hope drained. Then Arleta and Louisa and all your women would suddenly break into song and dance, renewing our energy and reviving our souls.
Please give Pastor Vilanculo, our beloved fellow servant, warm regards, and thank him and his wife for their generous hospitality, hosting us for a lavish dinner the last night of our work. Our women were touched by the capellanas they presented us, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church of Mozambique. We will ever remember Pastor V's bright blue boots, vibrant spirit, daily visits to the work site and unceasing encouragement. Indeed, we would not have finished the roof had he not rallied the troops and used his bamboo pole to help hoist up each heavy sheet of aluminum. We have also amazed our friends with the story of worshipping at his church in Maputo our first Sunday when the service ran four hours, and his sermon was only 10 minutes! This reminds me of one of your most powerful testimonies to us - your joyful generosity. In that worship service members came forward in groups, joyfully bringing their special offering to God. We were simply astounded by the eager participation of every person, their clear excitement over giving, the spirited dancing and stirring songs they sang in praise and thanksgiving to God. You see, here in the states, we have to prompt and prod, urge and invite, push and plead with people to give to the church. But at the services we attended, in both Maputo and Macia, we witnessed the people's enthusiastic offering as a joyful response to God's love and grace. We felt somewhat ashamed - that we who have ample resources tend to be so reticent to give, when you Mozambiqueans who live with high unemployment amidst dire conditions, jump at the chance to share what little you have.
Faithful friends, we admit that we feared failure daily. As our time dwindled down, we felt there was no way the church would be ready. With less than a week left, trusses still needed to be raised and set, entry steps built, a roof put on, the chancel concrete poured, and windows and doors installed. We wonder whether you shared our doubts. Regardless, God blessed us with a miracle, and undergirded us with the powerful Spirit of Christ. What joy to worship together and give God the glory on September 9, as people came from Maputo and Xai Xai, from Manzer and Magul, from South Africa and Macia to celebrate God's sovereign love and offer prayers for your ongoing witness.
Dearly beloved, it was so hard to say goodbye. We could not express ourselves with language, and maybe there are not words to communicate our affection and admiration, nonetheless, we felt your love and gratitude. We knew Christ was in our midst, and we did not want to let go of that moment.
Penny and John, who labored with you the entire six weeks greet you warmly and encourage you to be careful with the walls as you install wiring, and with the windows as you plaster and paint over the bricks. Denison, who had an animated way of communicating with the women as we lifted the trusses, sends particular greetings to the children who hauled the scaffolding, worked with the clamps, stored the windows, and sat with him during worship. He misses them. He also extends renewed gratitude to Alberto, the night watchman, who crafted the beautiful baskets some of us bought. Denison's wife Wendy cherishes hers. My husband Keith expresses again his indebtedness to Frujencio and Jacinto whose daily work on the rafters and roof allowed him to remain mostly terra firma. He regrets not getting to watch Jacinto teach his high school math class.
None of us misses the roosters crowing at all hours of the night, nor the dust covering our clothes, caking our skin and blowing into our eyes and nostrils, but we long to see you and hear of your progress on the building and your faith as you face ongoing challenges as a church.
We send blessings to Orlando, Jaime, Celestina, Estrela, Anna, Rosa, Rudy and her sister, and all fellow servants in the Lord. Know that we hold you in our prayers, giving thanks to God for your tireless devotion, joyful generosity, and loving kindness, which have inspired and instructed us as disciples of Christ. Though our paths may not cross again in this life, we look forward to that day we will be reunited around the feasting table in God's eternal realm.
Grace and peace be with you now and always.
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