Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thankful for throwing bread

When one hears about food being thrown around, we often think back to elementary or middle school food fights. You would probably agree that food fights are wasteful, messy and ridiculous.

This is not the kind of food throwing that I refer to.

Several years ago, I read a story about two communities of Christians that were separated by to very high wall. The wall was too high to see over, but one day a person walked by the wall and heard a familiar hymn being sung. The music lofted over the wall and the person realized that even though there was a wall between the groups that they had something in common - their faith in Jesus Christ.

The person was so excited about hearing the people on the other side of the wall singing and worshiping, that he gathered some friends from his church and went to listen for sounds of their worship. As they had hoped, they heard the singing and joined in singing with them. Even with the wall between them, the two groups of Christians were united in song.

Over time the two groups continued to worship together and even figured out a way to share communion together. After the bread and wine had been blessed, the people on one side of the wall would shout, "The body of Christ, given for you!" and would throw the bread over the wall to share it with their friends. In return, the wine was placed in a plastic jug and tossed over the wall to be shared with the words, "The blood of Christ, shed for you!".

In spite of the wall and limitations for these two communities of faith to work together, through communion, they were united as one.

Image from First Lutheran Albany, NY

The impact of this story becomes greater when we learn what their location was. One group was in the state of Texas and the other was in Mexico. While these two groups spoke different languages, lived in different countries, and were separated by a wall lined with barbed wire and attended by border patrols - these two groups were made one in and through Christ.

Making these kinds of connections with others different from the group we are comfortable with is challenging, but when hearing how two communities with so many challenges to become united succeeded, makes our challenges seem easier to overcome.

Isaiah 50:4 reads as follows:
"The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,[a]
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught."

The prophet Isaiah was called by God to speak up for the widows and orphans and to call Israel back into relationship with God. The successful delivery of this message required that the prophet's and people's eyes, ears, and mouths (tongue) be receptive. Just as the people of Israel needed open ears and eyes to speak the message of God's promises; we also need God's help the see, hear and speak too.

This kind of transformation is not something we "do" on our own. We need God to give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and mouths to speak the good news of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. Our first efforts in sharing this good news, might not look graceful or beautiful. The beginning efforts to share with others may look more like a middle school cafeteria food fight. Ministry can be messy work, but God promises to walk with us in it.

This is why I'm thankful for stories like the Mexican church and the American Church that became united in worship - in spite of the wall that divided them. With Christ's help, walls become a new way of living out the call to worship and mission. With Christ's help, our ears hear songs that connect us with people who are different and we learn in Christ those differences are a gift. In this season of Advent leading to Christmas, we long for hope, peace, joy and love. With God's help - hope, peace, joy and love can be heard, seen and shared and the walls that divide us, can and will be removed.

Walk in the light this Advent asking for God's help to see, hear and speak hope, peace, joy and love to your neighbor and the neighbor you are yet to meet.

Note: Original story of the churches with a wall between them was told by Shane Claiborne from The Simple Way community in Philadelphia, PA.

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