.A few years ago, I attended a Steven Ministry leadership convention in Pittsburgh with two of our church members, Tim Schwartz and Paul Burdick. And at that convention, there were more than 300 people from more than 80 different Christian denominations. I didn't even know there were that many Christian denominations, did you? And even though all of us at the convention were Christian, we were all so very different.
Some came from very conservative Christian denominations. Others were from denominations that were more progressive. Some Christians and denominations take the Bible literally. Other Christian denominations understand the Bible symbolically. Some Christian denominations ordain women. Other Christian denominations teach that women should be subservient to men. Some Christian denominations welcome and celebrate the LGBTQ community. Other Christian denominations tell gay people that they are going to Hell. Some Christian denominations stand in solidarity with the poor. Other Christian denominations teach the prosperity gospel, and they hobnob with the rich and the powerful.
So my question for you today is, which Christian denomination is right? I mean, they can't all be right, can they? Well, the one thing that we all have in common is Jesus. So what was Jesus like? Well, we know that Jesus reserved his greatest criticisms for the scribes and the Pharisees, the scripture scholars and the religious authorities of his day. Jesus called them hypocrites to their faces. And he said that they were more about following the letter of the law than the Spirit in which it was written. And we know that Jesus welcomed women into leadership positions and his ministry. And he rejected the idea that women were inferior to men.
And we know that Jesus embraced people who were considered by society to be outcasts. They were rejected because of their differences. Jesus didn't reject them. In fact, he hung out with them. And he celebrated their differences. And we know that Jesus always stood in solidarity with the poor. In fact, he said, The kingdom of heaven is theirs. And he said, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven. That's who Jesus was.
And if we are to truly call ourselves Christians, then we must be people who follow in his steps, and in his way of life. Jesus's message was one of inclusion. And yet so many Christian churches today in America are about exclusion, about keeping certain people from coming up to the table to receive.
I've shared with you before the story of my aunt, who is a very devout Catholic woman. But after her divorce, she was told by the church, that she could no longer come to the table to receive Communion. And so each Sunday, she was forced to sit in the pew as the people around her got up to receive Communion. And I, myself just a few years ago, attended a funeral at another church here in our town, for a neighbor of mine who had died. And right before communion, the pastor of the church got up and announced that only people who were members of his church could come up and receive Communion. I went up to receive anyway. Can you imagine Jesus, a man who included everyone, rejecting anyone or refusing anyone from coming to the table to receive in our Christian churches, and in our country today?
We have people who design the table, people who build the table, people who clean the table, and people who set the table. And yet, these very same people are not afforded a seat at the table. One of the favorite quotes that I have seen on social media in recent years says, "Instead of building a wall, how about we build a bigger table?"
Our denomination, the United Church of Christ has been doing that since its inception. In our rich history of many firsts, we are the first mainline Protestant denomination to ordain an African American minister. The first to ordain a woman minister, the first to ordain an openly gay minister. And we are also the first denomination to openly sanction same-sex unions in our church. That's why we are known as the Church of the extravagant welcome.
And we as Christians are called to extend that extravagant welcome to all people, especially the least of these in our midst. For all people are one, all people are holy and perfect in God's sight. The words on our UCC logo come from Jesus's final discourse to his disciples, where he shared his wish for all of them, that they may all be one. My friends, on this World Communion Sunday in that spirit of oneness, let us be people who go forth and builds a bigger table, so that we can invite and include more and more people to it. For all our worthy and all are one.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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