One Table

Dr. David L. Van Arsdale July 2, 2017
South Church, U.C.C., Andover MA
One Table
Prayer: Lord, help us to love you with all of our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Help us to love you, not only with our lips, but also with our lives. Help us to move from declarations of love for you in church today to open deeds of love for you tomorrow in the world. Amen.
Since I have this opportunity to stand before the members of this congregation, on behalf of Ellen and myself, I wish to thank you for being such a strong and meaningful fellowship. We have come to truly love the ministry, members, and leadership of this congregation. I would love to take this opportunity to share all the thoughts I have had regarding the events happening in Washington … and how and where the Christian Gospel might speak to what is happening,
but I have chosen not to do that. So, I have chosen to go with the theme of Communion. I am going to share a long story and therefore a very different sermon. You have to imagine a setting in 1986 in a suburban town of Belhar, outside of Cape Town in South Africa. The apartheid government was in full force with all its brutality. In March, 1960, the Sharpesville insurrection had been put down with many deaths and large numbers of imprisonment. In 1964 Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were arrested and sentenced to life at
the prison on Robin Island. In June 1976, in the shanty town of Soweto, a massive uprising occurred. Students refused to write papers in the language of the Apartheid government and a quarter million children were suspended. Estimates of more than 500 people, including children, were killed in recent weeks. The United Nations Security Council condemned the South African
apartheid government with an arms embargo. This led to increasing international pressure with boycotts by sports teams and businesses.
In October, 1978, the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, with Allan Boesak in the leadership, concluded that racism was a structural and institutional sin. In 1982, in Ottawa, Canada, Boesak was elected the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). At that time WARC represented some 200 denominations and 75 million Christians
with roots in the reformation with the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church as members. The World Alliance declared apartheid a heresy and this international body suspended from membership, the white, South African Dutch Reformed Church. The 1.2 million members
of this white church were stunned by this exclusion. Within a short time, the D. R. C. composed the first draft of what was to become known as the Belhar Confession. I tell you this story today because I am at the South Church communion table as a Presbyterian pastor and a member of this U.C.C. congregation. But even more, I want to share a personal testimony from my friend David.
David was a retired Professor of Church History from South Africa, born, educated, raised a family and lived in South Africa as an ordained pastor and theologian. In 2012, our congregation in Sun City studied the Belhar Confession and asked David to lead the first session and help us to understand the context of the historic faith statement.

Life in the Black and White communities had become unbearably stressful, frightening, and terrifying. He told us about friends in the Black community, good church people, who had been killed or disappeared. Children had been beaten in the streets and witnessed by his own children. The boycott had taken its toll on the economy and people’s lives. Everything seemed to be
moving to a breaking point. David was not a member of the D. R. C., but had been invited to be in the audience on September 26, 1986 at the Belhar gathering. The debate had become heated and the anger levels
had been elevated to almost being out of control. At this point, David’s voice became very soft and quivering with emotion as he described a tall, stately man, known by all. Dr. Beyers Naudé had followed Bishop Tutu as the President of the Council of Church of South Africa. He was a professor and pastor of great prestige in the D. R. C. Dr. Naudé began describing the events of intense struggle in previous weeks and months and the suffering impacting every resident. He described the impact such painful events were making on the lives of Christians, both White and Black. Naudé went on with more forceful language saying that the time had come for the major church organizations of South Africa to declare there would no longer be many tables when it came to the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but ONE TABLE. In Jesus Christ, there was one faith, one church and one table. Naudé went on to quote from the Confession “We believe … that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another; that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation
for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain; that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted. … Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ. Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel. Jesus is Lord. To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.”
That day the Belhar Confession was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Church and another significant step in dismantling of apartheid was taken.
There is ONE TABLE! When our culture or political systems falsely declare, there are reasons for separation … there is ONE TABLE! When our culture distorts reality suggesting there should be churches for rich people and churches for poor people … there is ONE TABLE. When our culture asserts, there are churches for one ethnic or racial tradition and there are churches for all others … there is ONE TABLE. When our culture demands, there are churches
for straight people and other churches for gay people … there is ONE TABLE. When our culture declares, there are churches for Catholics and other churches for Protestants … there is ONE TABLE. The list of cultural divisions is almost endless. There is one faith, one church, and ONE TABLE.

To read from the Confession “We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another; that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality
which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain.” Today, we share in the Sacrament of Communion. We come to know Christ in the breaking of bread and sharing in the cup of blessing. We come to share one with the other the gifts of our
faith, the oneness in Christ, and the forgiveness of our God. We come to know that all that Christ has done for us comes to our lives in the knowledge that we are forgiven and loved. As our Gospel reading says, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.” May we all “Increase our Faith!”
Text: Luke 17:5-10