Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
All in. You or I might use this expression to indicate commitment or buy-in, whether to a personal relationship or to a larger cause. To convey there’s nothing halfway about it. I’m not just a little on board. I’m not waffling about how I feel. I’m all in. That’s the way the phrase is most often used, and I’ll be using it in that sense later on this morning.
But the same expression works well for us in another way on this World Communion Sunday too. Because this is a day for celebrating the reach of the gospel across every continent, every time zone, every skin tone. You just heard from the book of Revelation that in the last days “a great multitude …. from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand before the throne of God. (Revelation 7:9) In the gospels we hear Jesus speak of the kingdom of God as a banquet like none other, where those least likely to be included at any other party are welcomed with open arms (Matthew 22, Luke 14) and where “people will come from east and west, from north and south” and will “eat together in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) I like to think of World Communion Sunday as a rehearsal dinner for that amazing heavenly feast to come. And the feast is for all of us. All in.
We proclaim a holy mystery today: that a world at present so fiercely divided will one day be united like this. That people who’d normally have nothing to do with one another, people of every race, every language, every possible national allegiance and political affiliation will find themselves shoulder to shoulder around the throne of God, singing in exquisite harmony: “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.” (Revelation 7:12)
You don’t need to know much about the book of Revelation to know it offers in a passage like this one a vision of things to come, not a snapshot of things as they are. Even looking around our own congregation this morning reminds us we have a long way to go. Our families may have come to this country from different lands. Economically speaking and in terms of education and training and career paths and ages and viewpoints and even church backgrounds we’re a decently diverse group. But it’s not difficult to notice who’s not here, is it? The kinds of faces not represented when we gather? For of course our Magnolia Presbyterian tribe represents just a tiny slice of God’s enormously diverse kingdom.
We’re talking this fall about worship as spiritual formation and perhaps no single element of worship is as important to Christians as sharing bread and cup together. Jesus commanded us to do this in remembrance of him, and if you’ve been part of this church, or any church, for any length of time, you know how much it can mean to gather around the Lord’s Table, united in this common meal with brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re fed and strengthened each time we celebrate communion together. We’re nurtured and formed through the Lord’s Supper.
But how are we being formed? We regularly affirm that all people are created in the image of God, which means God’s image is carried in Black faces and Indigenous faces and Latinx faces and Asian faces as well as in white faces. We regularly affirm that Christ welcomes all who love him to share in the feast he’s prepared. But when we gather around the Lord’s Table together, who do we actually see? Do we perhaps hear a word of challenge from God as we look across our Zoom screens this morning?
Certainly, in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle there are limits to how fully a congregation like ours can represent the beautiful diversity of humanity. But sadly, those limits are not accidental. Some of us may have begun the summer wishing aloud we had more black neighbors, for instance, or wondering why our community was so predominately white. But thanks to the resources our Antiracism team has been providing us, we no longer have to wonder, do we? The overall whiteness of the Magnolia neighborhood, like so many Seattle neighborhoods, like so many American neighborhoods, was achieved deliberately through strategies like redlining and racially restrictive covenants and racist lending practices.
Forgive us, Lord, for not knowing or not remembering that shameful history. Forgive us for being so sheltered as not to even realize how we got here. Help us step bravely into a new future in which our Magnolia Presbyterian Church family – this wonderful, beloved, but largely uniform slice of God’s kingdom – would find ways not to be surrounded all the time by people who look like us. Challenge us, Lord, to listen to a wider range of voices, to hear a broader range of stories, to embrace more completely the beautiful variety and diversity of our fellow children of God.
As for that sticker of a black Jesus I shared with you this week? I’m finding that keeping that picture in front of me has been an important exercise in spiritual formation all its own. Because when I’ve heard Christ’s invitation to the Lord’s Table over the years, if I’m completely honest, I’ve imagined him looking a little more like me. Lighter skin, lighter hair, lighter eyes. I know better of course than to believe Jesus really had blue eyes. Palestine isn’t northern Europe. I know in my head, of course, that Jesus would have had a skin tone more typical of Middle Easterners, and dark eyes and dark hair. But in my mind’s eye I guess I’ve internalized, to a degree I hadn’t even realized, a whiter-than-he-probably-was image of Jesus.
To be fair, it’s not entirely my fault. I was formed to do so, through regular exposure to Sunday School pictures and children’s Bible illustrations and stained-glass windows and famous paintings. And I suppose on one level you could argue it was no less accurate for me as a little blonde girl to imagine Jesus with lighter coloring than it was for my husband Ken, as a little Korean American boy, to imagine him looking Korean. After all, Christ came to earth to become one of us, so perhaps it’s only natural for each of us to imagine him looking like a little we do.
But in a racially charged world, it’s critical we remember that white Jesus, like Korean Jesus, is an imaginative artistic construction, not the gospel truth. And in a year when violence against black bodies has increasingly been brought to our national attention, it’s critical to remember Jesus came to earth for us all. He didn’t pick and choose based on skin color who was worthy of his sacrificial love. He was all in. So I’m challenging myself to imagine with darker skin, darker hair, darker eyes the one who welcomes us – and everyone - to his Table.
Again, we proclaim a holy mystery today: that a world at present so broken, so torn will one day be united. That people who’d normally have nothing to do with one another will find themselves shoulder to shoulder around the throne of God singing hymns of praise.
This is a day for celebrating the reach and scope of the gospel – across every continent, every time zone, every skin tone. This is a day for highlighting the inclusion of every person on earth in God’s glorious plan. All of us, of every race and tribe and language, will one day praise God together and speak words of peace. In languages we happen to know and love already, and in languages so far off my radar screen or yours that it would never have occurred to us to include them in our celebration today.
Meanwhile right now today, however you picture him, hear Jesus saying to you: You Are Loved. And know that love is extended equally to those who imagine him with a Black face and those who imagine him with an Indigenous face and those who imagine him with a Latino face and those who imagine him with an Asian face.
All of us invited to the Table. All of us welcome to God’s kingdom feast. All of us. Without exception. All in. Amen.