In some broad way I started writing this sermon almost exactly sixteen years ago when I led my first worship service as the new Senior Minister of Wapping Community Church in October of 1998. The specific truth, however, is that I began writing this sermon in my head two Sundays ago.
Whether you were here in church for worship on Sunday, October 5th or not, the occasion was World Communion Sunday. In the 10am service, Chris and I invited children and a few youth to come forward and sit with us on the front stairs of the sanctuary in order to help us tell the story of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples. Together we talked about the bread and the cup. We talked about the meaning of World Communion Sunday and how Christians all over the world celebrate communion in different ways and in different languages.
And then right at the end, Chris and I asked whether any of the kids wanted to stay with us for the actual communion. The youth and most of the kids returned to their pews to share communion with their families. But Alex Rho and Quinn Worthington decided they would come with us and sit behind the communion table with the rest of the Deacons.
Once the congregation received the bread and the cup, Alex and Quinn helped us serve communion to the Deacons. They listened carefully to what we said and watched intently all that was going on. In the end, I suspect for Quinn and Alex, that communion experience of a couple of weeks ago will stay with them for a long time.
I know I will long remember the day. It’s one thing to say that everyone is welcome around the communion table. It’s another thing to say specifically that people of all ages are invited to eat the bread and drink from the cup. But I’m not sure there are many churches where you would see two children sitting behind the communion table and helping to lead the communion experience for an entire congregation.
Sharing communion with Quinn and Alex was one of my favorite communion experiences in ministry. And it’s actually where this sermon began to take shape. For me, it falls into the wonderful category represented by this morning’s sermon title…why I love this church…
Last Sunday, one week after World Communion Sunday, I walked into the sanctuary and sat down for worship. But not before making a couple of trips with Chris and Ken Johnson out to the Gathering Room to bring large plastic buckets filled with undergarments into the sanctuary. If you were here last week for what we affectionately term “Undie Sunday,” you saw the buckets in front of the communion table. And then on top of the smaller table in front of the communion table, you couldn’t help but notice packages of underwear and socks lined up from end to end.
It’s one thing to bear in mind the words of Jesus Christ when he called us to reach out to the least of our brothers and sisters by providing clothing to those who are without. It’s another thing to pray for people in need and to ask God to speed the day when all God’s people will have food to eat and shelter over their heads and clothing on their bodies. But I’m not sure there are many churches where you would see packages of underwear and socks stretched across the front facing of the communion table.
There are probably people in other congregations who would say it’s not appropriate to display underwear in the sanctuary. Or maybe you could do it somewhere in a corner of the sanctuary out of sight and out of mind, but not in front of the communion table where everyone can see it. Actually churches that care a lot about maintaining their image and keeping their sanctuary pristine would likely pass on the idea of Undie Sunday altogether.
But I looked over at the small table full of underwear last Sunday morning and one thought came to mind. “That is why I love Wapping Community Church…”
I suppose I have a unique perspective on Sunday mornings when I lead the prayers. People in this sanctuary literally make cross country trips from where they are sitting to greet someone in a faraway pew. And we get to laughing and talking. And there’s a lot of traffic in the aisles which sometimes makes it hard to get back to the pew where you started. I do love passing the peace in this church.
Yet the moment the prayer time starts, people quickly focus. Many close their eyes. And it feels like we pay close attention. Not only to the words of the prayer and the prayer requests named aloud. But also to the voice of God who sometimes speaks to us and sometimes speaks through us and sometimes speaks through the people sitting around us.
It’s one thing for everyone to get really quiet in prayer time and bow their heads and stop shifting in their pews. It’s another thing to feel a sense of calm reverence come over a congregation as we seek to make our joys and our sorrows and our challenges known to God. But not every church encourages people in the sanctuary to raise their hands and offer prayer requests aloud. Not every church is comfortable with someone besides the ordained pastor praying. On the other hand, some might think our prayer time takes too long and we could save some worship time if we streamlined the whole experience.
For me, however, the way in which we pray in worship in this congregation is symbolic of how seriously we take prayer. People listen intently to the prayers of others. People find ways to follow up with their brothers and sisters in the wake of prayer requests offered aloud during worship. In fact, sometimes that follow up happens as soon as the Sunday service is over. At Wapping Community Church we believe in prayer. We trust, as it states in the New Testament Letter of James, that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. And we are willing and committed to sharing the burdens and the joys of those sitting around us every Sunday morning.
The prayers of the people offered to God and in the company of the faithful here at Wapping during every worship service. It’s why I love this church…!
Have you ever had your mind wander during a worship service thinking about all the things you have to do when you get home or all the things facing you in the upcoming week? And all of a sudden the moment the choir started to sing your worries disappeared and the words and melody of the anthem took you to a peaceful, restful place?
Have you ever glanced around this sanctuary on a Sunday morning or stopped by the church on a Sunday afternoon or evening? Between worship and JPF and Confirmation and SPF, there are dozens of youth who come to this church to find and feel a sense of community, who want to be in a place where they feel welcomed by their peers and by adults and by God, and who come to youth activities because of all the other places they could be on a Sunday they choose to be here and hate to miss it.
Have you ever spent any social time with other people in this congregation? Going on a hike over at Gay City Park last Sunday afternoon with a group of nearly thirty people and a few four legged compaions to boot. Sitting on the very hottest bleacher seats at Rentschler Field with a church group a few weeks ago and fading in the heat even faster than the UConn football team…until a few other church friends invited us to trek across to the cool, shady side of the stadium where they are saving just enough seats for the whole group. There are all kinds of really fun people to hang out with in this church and if you haven’t done it yet, I hope you will make some time in the near future.
The beautiful church grounds covered with brightly colored flowers, alive and vibrant not only for all of us but for anyone who happens to be passing by on foot or in their car. Our willingness to embrace our church name by welcoming various groups from the town of South Windsor and offering space throughout this building. Good, dedicated, compassionate people who aren’t afraid to cry and laugh and hug and give thanks to God along the way.
There are so many reasons why I love this church! But it’s not just about me. Tell me why you love Wapping Community Church. What about this place stirs your soul and your spirit? Who in this congregation do you turn to when you need care and love and support? How does this church help to grow your faith and give you the inspiration and wisdom you need to journey through your daily life? Assuming you were writing and preaching this particular sermon, what would you say to someone who is here in worship for the very first time this morning? Or someone who has been here in worship for forty or fifty years?
If you haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it up till now, I hope you will spend some time over these next few weeks. Consider what it is that you really love about Wapping Community Church. But then don’t just keep it to yourself. Share what you think and feel with someone else and let your gratitude and your enthusiasm spill over and become infectious.
Maybe even refer back to the Bible and to Psalm 84. Despite the fact that it was written hundreds of years before the church ever existed, Psalm 84 sounds like a sermon written by someone who can’t say enough about how much they love being part of God’s church.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars…Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.” Amen.