October 2, 2005

20th Sunday after Pentecost

World Communion Sunday

"One Lord, One Table"

(Exodus 20:1-4, 12-20)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


Growing up, there was a family who lived across the street from us by the name of Wallace. There were six kids, one girl and five boys. Their yard was the cut through yard to get to the rest of our friends houses.

Mr. Wallace loved to grow things. He always had a garden and grew tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. But his favorite was peaches. The Wallaces had a double lot and he must have had three dozen peach trees. He sold many of the peaches to a local grocery store.

But Mr. Wallace also had red and purple grape vines, plum trees, four kinds of apple trees, two kinds of pear trees and one big cooking apple tree. For us kids, it was our own private fruit stand. We could eat any of the fruit we wanted as long as we didn't waste it and as long as we didn't eat from Mrs. Wallace's cooking apple tree. Oh, every now and then you could ask and she might relent and let you have one of those yellow cooking apples. But you better not get caught taking one of those cooking apples. You could lose your fruit privileges for weeks at a time. One tree, one law. Pretty easy to follow.

Wrong. I'll never forget the day I got caught. The Wallace's swing set was right next to the tree. We were all playing and having fun. Mrs. Wallace wasn't anywhere to be seen. You could see into the house and you couldn't see her. I know, I looked. The boys didn't even see me take it and they were standing right next to me. But no sooner had I picked that apple then Mrs. Wallace was at the door hollering for me to come show her what I had done.

I was dead meat. I was ordered off the property and told I couldn't even cut through to the other kid's homes, for two weeks. Not only that, but I had to relinquish the apple. I didn't even get to eat it. And then she called my Mom and told her what I'd done. One tree, one law. Pretty easy to follow. Wrong.

Once upon a time there were two people who lived in the perfect place. It was designed by the perfect designer. Everything in it was a designer original. It was a place filled with everything they could ever need. It was absolutely beautiful. It was the most beautiful estate ever created. And it had been created especially for this couple. At the very center was a gorgeous fruit tree. But just like the Wallaces, there was only one rule, honor the gardener, the designer by not eating from his special tree. One tree. One law. Pretty easy to follow, right?

Wrong. Just like me and Mrs. Wallace's tree, it was hard. Adam and Eve couldn't resist the forbidden fruit. They had to have it. And when they did. The gates to the perfect place, the garden created just for them, were closed to them forever. They couldn't even cut through to get to the other side. It was off limits. One tree. One law. Pretty easy to follow. Wrong.

Time passed and God developed a relationship with a group of people. Descendants of Adam and Noah and Abraham, the Israelites. From Adam on, the one rule changed to two. Two simple rules. Love God and love your neighbor. That's all it took. Two basic rules for living and living together.

But because not everyone in the world loved God, the Israelites found themselves in trouble. And they found themselves enslaved in Egypt. God set them free from their bondage in Egypt. But because they had lived as slaves in a foreign culture for so long; and because the garden was no longer available, They needed more than one rule. They needed more than the two rules. So, God interpreted the two rules into Ten. And that's our passage for this morning.

Exodus 20:1-4, 12-20 (NRSV)

[1] Then God spoke all these words:

[2] I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

[3] you shall have no other gods before me.

[4] You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

[12] Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

[13] You shall not murder.

[14] You shall not commit adultery.

[15] You shall not steal.

[16] You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

[17] You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

[18] When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,

[19] and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die."

[20] Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."

One God. Ten Laws. Pretty easy to follow, right? Wrong.

The story continues because, even with ten well thought out simple to understand rules we couldn't follow them. And our disobedience permeated everything we did. Those of us who used to be one family were now a squabbling bunch of school children.

Once there was a family that was a real mess. They finally decided to go to a family counselor. During their very first session they interrupted each other. They competed for the attention of the counselor, and they argued continuously. "The trouble is, no one takes responsibility for anything and they dump it all on me," said the mother. "No, the trouble is that no one listens to me. I might as well be the man in the moon when it comes to my family," said the father. "Everybody shouts too much," said the daughter who was ten. And the teenage boy didn't say a word. He sat as far away from everybody as he could with his arms folded.

After listening for a long time, the counselor stopped them and said: "All right, this is what I want you to do. I want you all to sit down at the dinner table together every night and eat together. And I want you to start by holding hands around the table and saying grace."

The objections starting coming fast and furious. "We're too busy." "We'd have to change all our schedules." "I hate cooking dinner." "We're not even religious. We don't even know a grace. This is ridiculous."

The counselor held her ground. "You wanted my help. This is my prescription. And here's a grace you can all memorize: 'God is great, God is great, now we thank him for our food. Amen.'"

"That's all the advice you have to give us?" the family asked. "All the money we're paying you to counsel us, and that's all you've got to say?"

"That's right," she said. "That's it. Now do it."

On the way home, they argued about it in the car. But the ten-year old girl persuaded them. "We never see each other all together," she said. "At least this way we'd be together fifteen minutes a day."

So they tried it. And when they came back to the counselor a couple of weeks later, she asked, "How did it work?" And to everybody's surprise, the teenage son spoke up and said, "That's the best thing we've ever done. Now at least I know I can see my dad once a day."

That family found that, over time, they were able to become a real family that was able to show that they cared for each other. (1)

The story of that family is our story. The Church's story. The squabbling even permeates the Church. The squabbling over interpretation and practice of our faith has gone on for centuries. And because of the many different interpretations of Scripture, because of different cultural ways of doing things, we no longer even sit at the same table for this most sacred and delicious of all meals we share, known as Holy Communion or the Eucharist or simply the Sacrament.

That's not what Jesus wanted on that night so long ago when he sat at the table with the disciples, hours before His arrest. He made it clear, in the celebration of that first Communion meal that He expected unity for His church. He said do it remembrance of me. Remind yourselves of the sacrifice I'm making to give you new life through forgiveness, so you can be one family. Break the bread, drink the wine, say grace at the table as a family. Do this and I'll be present and bring healing and wholeness.

But again, one rule, one loaf, One Lord, One Table. Easy to follow, right. But we couldn't.

So, today, knowing full well our own culpability in the disunity of the church universal, we celebrate One Lord and One Table through World Communion Sunday. Other denominations celebrate World Communion Sunday with us. And we do so, remembering what is common among us:

God the creator of Heaven and Earth.

The Ten Commandments given to us by God to guide our lives and our faith.

Our faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God who gave His life on the cross for our sin so that we could have new life, free from sin. And who was raised from the dead to give us eternal life.

The Holy Spirit, who empowers and guides our lives every day. The embodiment of Christ with us.

And the efficacy of the Bread and the Wine of this Table. We may not be able to gather together and share this meal as a single united family, yet. But we can do the next best thing, celebrate the Sacrament with a common understanding and a vision of unity for the future.

And one day the unity Christ prayed for will become a reality. There won't be any Roman Catholic or Episcopal or Baptist or Presbyterian or Disciples or Seventh Day Adventist or Methodist tables. Instead it will be One Faith, One Lord, One Table.

And together we will join hands and pray. "God is great. God is good. Now we thank Him for our food. Amen."

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Therapy for the Human Family by Bill Fulton, Grace and Trinity Episcopal Churches, Winfield and Arkansas City, Kansas. Adapted.




Other References Consulted

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