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The World Is Our Neighborhood: Loving God and Loving Neighbor

October 3, 2020

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. Here is a brief background on the origins of this worldwide observance from an article shared on the PCUSA Presbyterian Mission website: 

World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor… Davitt S. Bell (the late Clerk of Session and church historian at Shadyside) recalled that Dr. Kerr first conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly (1930)… “The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936.  Churches in other denominations were invited to celebrate with us from the beginning, but it wasn’t until 1940 when the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches) promoted extending the celebration to a number of churches around the world that the practice became widespread.  Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.

As I reflect on the readings for World Communion Sunday, I see a troubling parallel between the Gospel reading and the closing sentence in the article. Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed. (Emphasis added)

What were the motivations of the tenants of the vineyard who killed the servants and the son of the landowner? There are some ways that can be explored. Obviously, Jesus was using this teaching moment to show the chief priests and the Pharisees what they were doing to the people of God whom they were supposed to lead and care for. The system they supported by either silent complicity or direct, public complicity didn’t care about the people of Israel. It was a system built to make the ruling elite and the Romans richer at the expense of the people whose rights had been erased. What was essentially happening in Jesus’ day was corporate amnesia on the part of the religious elite. They had forgotten the essence of the message to love God and love neighbor which is found in in the Law, specifically in Leviticus 19:17-18 — You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Additionally, when you study the Ten Commandments you will find two themes. Commandments one through three are all about how to love and honor God. If you love God, you won’t worship other gods or make idols. You also won’t take God’s name in vain and this means a lot more than cursing! Using God’s name for self-promoting purposes (using the fish symbol on business cards for instance) is taking God’s name in vain. The fourth commandment, sometimes called the bridge commandment, is about loving God and loving your neighbor which includes the servants and the aliens residing in the land. The Sabbath was for everyone and this commandment even gave the servants and aliens a day off! And in today’s setting, the Sabbath is more than an hour in church on Sunday morning. The first three reveal the ways to love God. They help a person to keep their focus on God and not on idols of their own making. Number four shows us the way to loving God and loving neighbor.

The second part of the Commandments concern how to love your neighbor. Even though they are negative proscriptions (Thou Shalt Not), the result of not murdering (this includes physically taking a life and slandering someone’s name) is loving your neighbor. If you love your neighbor you don’t commit adultery or steal; you don’t bear false witness (lie) or covet that which belongs to your neighbor.

So, loving God and loving your neighbor is what living a life of faith is all about. You can’t love God unless you also love your neighbor and you can’t love your neighbor without loving God. Jesus both simplified the Law and the Prophets (love God and love neighbor, yes even love your enemies) and made it a whole lot more complex. Jesus was talking about more than just rules. He was talking about a significant/major change in the way we live our lives and live out our faith. The warning in his parable about the vineyard shows what can and will happen if we refuse to love God and love our neighbors (even our enemies). The initial target of Jesus’ parable was the high priests and the Pharisees. They weren’t loving God or neighbor even if they said that they were by keeping the rules and regulations. They were so busy parsing the letter of the Law that they completely missed the point, the spirit of the Law, which is to love. 

This brings me back to World Communion Sunday. On this day we can reconnect with the greater family of God. In addition to the Christian family, I would say we need to reconnect with the larger human family, each of whom was created in the image of God (Imago Dei). The world is our neighborhood, perhaps instead of destroying it, we should show some love.

  1. pynkoski2 permalink

    “God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger…In the New Testament the Spirit himself is Law, and he is everywhere…but if we cannot see him in the stranger and the alien, we will not understand him even in the Church. We must find him in our enemy, or we may lose him even in our friend.”
    A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants.

    • Such a powerful letter!! Thanks for sharing it with us, Paul!!

      • pynkoski2 permalink

        Should have added that it was Thomas Merton (though I figured you would know). P. 384, 385 of Collected Poems

      • Makes sense. I figured it was him. Thanks!

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