Sermon Title “All For One” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is good to be back with you, even though I had a lovely week away last month. Today, as you have already heard, is World Communion Sunday or World Wide Communion Sunday. This is a fairly recent observance in Christianity. It was begun by a Presbyterian minister in 1933 as an invitation for Christians around the world to celebrate the communion of the body of Christ on the same Sunday. This means this day has been celebrated as such for only 90 years, which is pretty young in liturgical time. Many Protestant groups, especially free church folks like the Church of the Brethren, have participated in this ecumenical day. Some denominations, such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches have never incorporated World Communion into their worship or liturgy. I think it is a great opportunity for many Christian traditions to celebrate communion in their own way, and to celebrate the communion of faith which binds us to Christians around the world — in nearly every country we can think of, and on every continent except Antarctica. It may even be a chance to remind ourselves, when national conversations seem polarized, denominations are fracturing, and people in congregations may not be speaking to one another, what it is which brings us together and gives us common purpose. Here’s a spoiler alert in case you weren’t paying attention when Karen read from Galatians chapter 3: what brings us together is not discipline around a set of rules; what brings us together is Jesus Christ. Even though you didn’t say it, I’m sure you were thinking AMEN! Because this is very good news.
The title of this sermon is All for One. Astute listeners will know that this phrase doesn’t come from the Bible, it comes from a novel — and it isn’t the entire phrase. Bonus points for anyone who is willing to say the entire phrase (All for one and one for all) and what novel it comes from (The Three Musketeers 1844 Alexander Dumas). Actually, the first written record of this phrase is William Shakespeare (if in doubt, Shakespeare is always a safe bet). But I think All for One captures the sense of our text today.
It may be helpful to remind ourselves of a bit of context for Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. First of all, although Paul begins with a pro forma opening, “Grace and peace to you, etc. etc.” by chapter 1 verse 6, he gets to his point, “I can’t believe you have already turned away from my teaching of the grace of Christ and are following another ‘gospel.’ There is only one gospel.” Not only is Paul upset about these churches following after false teachers, it is a reminder that there have been divisions in the church for almost as long as the church has existed.
Paul spends some time scolding that Galatians, including at the beginning of chapter 3 when he writes “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” and by verse 29, he is winding down on berating them, and is getting to the solution to them having gotten off track. You might think, because Paul started these churches and wants them back in the fold of right belief and right behavior that he is going to lay down the law for them. This is actually the opposite of what Paul does. He tells the Galatians that before Christ came, they were imprisoned and guarded by the law; the law was the rule of discipline. It was discipline — staying in line with belief and behavior — which justified them. Christ added another dimension to believing and behaving: belonging. Through Christ we are children of God; we belong to the family of God. It’s a big, rambunctious family. If you belong to a human family with some variety, diversity, and differences of opinion, you know what I’m talking about. Children of God are men or women, children and older adults, Jews, Greeks, Independents, Democrat, Republican, Nigerian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, poor, wealthy, middle class, and all the different combinations of all of these things. Paul’s list is Jew and Greek, free and slave, and men and women: those were the hot-button categories in the 1st century, but I believe his intent was to set up these human divisions so that he could knock them down with this statement: For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise.
That is the All for One part of the statement. If we have been baptized and clothed in Christ — that is, if we believe in Christ and behaving as followers of Christ — than we belong to Christ. All of those other markers do not go away — I do not cease to be a female, an American citizen, a member of the Church of the Brethren. I don’t lose my distinctive identity and the unique gifts and perspective I bring, but it all comes under the greater gift of being a child of God through Jesus Christ. I could never, through my own limited understanding and experience, claim to be one with a community of people which stretches around the world. It is only through Christ, as a child of God, that I am a sister to people whom I will never meet or know. They are sisters and brothers to me, as well. We are all for One.
There is still a second half to that phrase — its inversion, One for All. I hope there is no question who that One is, and what he did for All: for you and for me, and for people around the world who have not yet heard the name or the story of Jesus Christ. Paul gets to this in Galatians 4 verse 4 when he writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son , born of a woman, born under the law in order to redeem those who were born under the law so that we might receive adoption as children.” Every time we share in the bread and cup of communion, we celebrate that in Christ we are one family; but we also remember the cost. Our belonging and salvation did not cost Christ a couple years of his professional life, or clean record as a Jew in the Roman Empire. It didn’t cost him his pride or his family or his economic opportunities — at least, not only those things. Salvation is what One man;–the one and only man who was God in flesh–did for All, and it cost him his life. We remember the physical emblems of bread and wine which Jesus shared with his closest friends and followers — his earthly family — to remind them of the sacrifice of his body and blood which was to come. Even at their last supper with Jesus, when his followers didn’t understand the significance of what he was doing and were in denial about what lay ahead for him, Jesus was making a way for them to remember and celebrate how they could be One.This is the service of communion in which you will be invited to participate today. In the Church of the Brethren we do not believe that my prayer changes the bread and juice into the literal body and blood of Christ, but this remembrance is both reverent and joyful. It is a time to remember the One who gave his life for All, and that in Jesus Christ, we are All One family.