Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Welcome All: “God Welcomes All”
Genesis 1-2 (selected verses)
World Communion Sunday, October 1, 2021
Today is World Communion Sunday, the Sunday on which we intentionally recognize the unity of humanity at this Table. Today, persons from throughout the world will gather at this same Table with bread and wine. Today, we remember that the corners of this table spread to every corner of the globe, from high cathedrals to straw huts, from outdoor amphitheaters to indoor living rooms. Though the languages will be as varied as the types of bread on our Table today, the words will be the same: This, my body, broken for you. This, my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sin. In the Presbyterian church, we believe that this happens not as “a retreat” from the world, not “over against” the world, not to “rise above” the world, but we gather – here – for the sake of the world.
Today, we, as part of our yearlong Follow Me curriculum, we begin a new monthly theme. Our theme for October is “Welcome All”, and today’s focus will be the call to welcome others as God has welcomed us.
Our text for this World Communion Sunday is the creation story in Genesis 1, the first of the two creation stories in Genesis. This ancient narrative, which sought to explain the who and the why of creation, and not so much the how, reminds us of the goodness of this earth and the goodness of all the plants and the creatures and yes, the people, than inhabit it.
Hear the Word of God from Genesis 1:1-2:4
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let there be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights— the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so.
God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us focus in a bit on strange aspect of God’s good creation – mushrooms. Wikipedia claims that “A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground, on soil, or on its food source. The standard for the name “mushroom” is the cultivated white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus; …most often applied to those fungi that have a stem, a cap, and gills on the underside of the cap. Forms deviating from the standard morphology usually have more specific names, such as “bolete”, “puffball”, or “stinkhorn”.” (Wikipedia.org)
Earlier this week, I looked out my window into the backyard and wondered in the world what was on the ground in the middle of the yard. Upon closer inspection, I discovered this beauty. This particular mushroom does not have the typical shape, but is of a more leafy variety.
Earlier this year, when we were hiking in North Georgia, we kept noticing different varieties of mushrooms along the path. Perhaps it was due to the amount of rain we had received along with cooler temperatures, but I had never seen so many mushrooms during one of our walks in the woods. We happened upon at least a dozen or more varieties of mushrooms on a five mile hike – some were white with the classic mushroom shape; others were black and gray growing along the base of a tree trunk. Some were bright orange or red, and potentially poisonous. We even happened that day upon a gentleman who was out with his dog hunting chanterelles.
The experience reminded me a sermon illustration that I heard many years ago. A preacher had been hiking in the Appalachian mountains and found herself astounded by the wide variety of mushrooms found on the side of one mountain. I believe it was 30 different varieties of mushrooms that she and her companion had identified on a single hike through the southern woods. The preacher later wrote that God’s creation is like mushrooms.
God’s creation is full of wondrous diversity, worthy of our fascination and awe. Some mushrooms are cute and short and stout; others are thin and dainty. Some are quite common in their appearance and can be found in almost any grocery store; others are quite rare. Did you know that men in the Italian countryside will take their dogs and go “mushrooming” for days on end? Some mushrooms are quite harmless, a regular addition to a salad or casserole; others mushrooms are quite toxic, a few even carnivorous, and should be avoided altogether. One of the toxic varietals is named “Death Cap”.
Some mushrooms are rather dull and uninteresting in flavor. Others, I have heard, can make a person quite loopy and are sold at an alarming cost. Some are slow growers; others, after a heavy rainfall, will balloon to full-size in a matter of hours. Somewhere near 14,000 species of mushrooms, of all different shapes and sizes and colors, have been identified and described. And God saw everything that had been created, and indeed, it was good, it was very good.
Friends, look around this room. People are like mushrooms. Each one of us in a unique creation of God; each one of us is worthy of fascination and wonder. We are of different shapes and sizes; we are of different ages and backgrounds, we have different levels of melanin in our skin, we have vastly different life experiences, The diversity of humanity can be enthralling.
Studying the differences even between even family members can be fascinating. The effects of the interplay between genetics and environment can be intriguing. Even so, did you know that, though we can be so different from one another, we are 99.9% identical in our genetic makeup? Our genes are the same, except for very minor differences. The biblical claim is that, even though we are all different, we have all been created in the image of God.
The biblical claim is that we are all brothers and sisters; we are all children of God. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Just as there are two creation stories in Genesis, there are two narratives related to humanity that run through the Old Testament.
In the theology of the Old Testament exists a tension in the many narratives of “chosenness”. Are the Israelites chosen instead of others? Are they chosen because they are the most favored of God? Or are they chosen for the sake of others? Were the Hebrews delivered from slavery in Egypt and given the Promised Land in order to be free from the rest of the world and free to dominate their enemies? Or were the Hebrews chosen, elected, given favor so that they may become light to the world, so that, through their story, all of the earth may come to know God’s salvation? Christian churches have tended to lean one way or the other with these narratives. Some churches seem to believe that their members have been called instead of the rest of the world, that their goal is to circle their wagons around their communion tables and keep the heathens at bay.
Other churches believe that they have been called for the sake of the world, that the goal is to gather at this table to be fed once again to go back out there and share this grace, grace that is meant for all people.
What we believe about God’s creation and the value of diversity will determine how we will live in relation to other human beings. What we believe about the human beings who do not look like me or believe like me or my kin will determine how we will organize our churches and our communities and our national governments. Does what we believe about God really make a difference in how our world is organized? Just ask the Palestinians and Israelis!
We are all part of God’s good creation. We are all children of God. We are all welcome at this, God’s Table. This Table is not a retreat from the world or some favor only given to some.
This Table belongs to God, and thus belongs to all of God’s children. As we prepare to come to the Table, we give thanks. We are thankful that we have been welcomed at this Table.
We probably would not be here today if someone, somewhere had not been the hands and feet of Jesus by making you and I feel like we belonged. As we prepare to come to the Table, we remember.
We remember that not everyone has always been welcomed. We remember that a gracious welcome to others, especially those seen as outsiders, has not always been appreciated. We remember that Jesus died on the cross in order to extend God’s welcome to all.
As we prepare to come to the Table, we celebrate. We celebrate that God delivered Hebrew slaves from Egypt, that God brought home exiles from Babylon, that God in Jerusalem defeated the last enemy when Jesus was set free from death. We celebrate our spiritual freedom from all that would enslave us.
As we prepare to come to the Table, we anticipate. We look forward in hope. We hope for the time when all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. We anticipate a time when the oppressed will discover opportunity, when the exiles will be welcomed home, when the refugees will find shelter, when the homeless will find a place to call home, and when all peoples live in peace and harmony.
Friends, come to the Table of grace. Come to the Table of grace. This is God’s Table; it’s not yours or mine. Come to the Table of grace. And welcome all who would be willing to join us at this Table.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church