Sun. June 21, 2020 3rd Sun aft Pentecost/Father’s Day

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our risen savior Jesus the Christ. Last week I said the scriptures assigned to the Sunday “Preached themselves.”  And that was a rare occasion, so I took advantage of it.  Guess what?  This week situation normal…they don’t preach themselves, ☹ so I want to preach about something more topical and pertinent to what’s happening today:  Father’s Day and First Communion.

First off “Congrats dads!”  One thing you might have noticed about this Father’s Day is well…I want to say it’s “different.”  Father’s aren’t known for being the most observant kind of guys, often missing subtle hints and blatant physical clues but I think they’ve noticed this year’s different.

It’s like the story on Facebook of the Father who said “With the cancelation of hockey and basketball and the delay of baseball, I’ve recently noticed a woman at the other end of my couch, she says she’s my wife she seems nice!?”

That father is obviously not the most observant.  Hopefully, your dad is so much better than that right!? Today is a day set aside to observe and celebrate fathers.  To not only notice but acknowledge and say thanks for all they give and do for us.

Today our congregation also is observing First Communion for a few of our younger members and like Father’s Day things are different.  It’s not hard to notice how different when you’re handed a communion kit as you drive in.  But as different as it is it is nonetheless important. 

Today want to talk about God’s family meal.  First off family meals are important.  Youth are 80% less involved risk-taking behaviors when families have 3 meals together each week. There is some good news about the coronavirus, families are having meals together again. The importance of running a thousand miles an hour every evening to games, practices, rehearsals, clubs has fallen by the wayside and families are rediscovering it’s okay to be together, to be family, to eat together.

What’s so important about the family meal?  It’s where youth learn the family rules, learn the family history, get a sense of identity that is resistant to the world’s constant barrage of “you’ve gotta be this,” “you’ve gotta have that” to be somebody.  You’re special and loved just cause you’re part of this family; we will always have a place at the table for you.  That’s the message of the family meal and its the message of God’s family meal:  communion

Its God’s family meal- you are special you are loved.

Lets be honest family meals are usually pretty mundane.  You are not necessarily gonna look at a typical setting of a family meal and go WOW I see why this I so important.  Now sometimes they get hyped up a bit- when you look forward to aunt Janet’s peach pie, or uncle Jim’s BBQ ribs- things that have some special ingredients that just can’t be duplicated and are so good.

God’s family meal is like that – the special ingredient isn’t the food- its God’s word- when God’s word is added to water in baptism it becomes amazing. It’s a covenant of love for a lifetime and beyond.  When God’s word touched the void of nothingness, light burst forth- God says and things happen!!

In this meal God says “I know you’re not perfect- I know you’ve sinned and wandered away but every sin you bring to me I will forgive, wash away and I’ll nourish you, restore your soul so you can go out, sally forth, and live once more unburdened by that sin.”  That’s a special ingredient that is in this meal that can be life changing.  It may not happen every time- just like every family meal may not be a “fantastic feast!” But at the least its nourishment to give your body sustenance to get on with your life. 

Other nondenominational churches have boiled communion down to this communion kit- which for me is a “1 out of 10 experience, with 1 being the worst rating not the best.”  It still has God’s word with it, so it still can be life changing! Its life changing whether it has the pomp and circumstance of fancy four-hour worship service or if it’s just a fifteen minute devotional at a church campfire. If I allow God’s word to crack open my heart during this meal… the setting and the system and the means of sustenance aren’t so important. 

We often make too much of the setting, the system, and the sustenance that it overshadows God’s all-powerful word.  We fight over whether God’s family meal should only have a certain setting, or a certain system or a certain sustenance.  It only works if we’re in a certain setting like a sanctuary not in cars or a campground, hospital room, or prison cell… but don’t we know better than that family?  Isn’t God’s word bigger than that? 

There are two special ingredients and that’s what matters- God’s word and our hearts. God’s word, the special ingredient of God’s family meal.  Our hearts are the second ingredient.  Yet we are like most families- while we love each other, we still like to squabble over the small stuff.  We like to argue and yell about how God’s family meal has to have not just the right setting but the right system.  Folks need to line up on this side, come up this way, return that way.  We need to kneel and place our hands like this, then the pastor comes first and then the assistant and then the acolyte. 

Folks, yes, a system is helpful but it’s never gonna be the be all/end all.  When you have a lot of folks over for the family meal of graduation, or anniversary or you need to have a spot for everybody and a way to get them all fed- but if the system doesn’t work the important thing is you still have the food and you still have the family.

We like to argue over the sustenance- should communion bread be risen bread or flat bread, wafers or loaves?  Should communion be wine or grape juice?  Should the wine be red and the grape juice clear or the grape juice red and the wine clear?  Folks the ingredient that changes a flat loaf into a risen loaf is yeast, the ingredient that changes grape juice from juice into wine is yeast.  God’s meal is more about acknowledging God’s word of grace and forgiveness than arguing over yeast or not yeast.

I think we all have our favorite way of celebrating God’s family meal- I enjoy it in a church sanctuary with music in the background, people singing, children joining in, homemade bread and good wine, with the ability to bow a knee at the altar for a moment.  Yet I’ve been moved and spiritually touched by God’s family meal celebrated in a dimly lit basement of a work project home with stale crackers and too sweet grape juice. I’ve been moved to tears by God’s family meal shared at a campfire in the mountains while out of tune guitars and untrained squeaky pre-teen voices sang badly worded praise songs. 

Too often we get upset as though God’s word can’t sustain us in his meal unless it is “dine in” instead of “take out.”  If you don’t come to the altar rail and kneel its not really God’s family meal (standing, sitting, kneeling).  I don’t know about you, but the family meal warms my heart more when there’s more to it.

I’m not talking it has to be thanksgiving with all the trimmings, but at least the Sunday meal where we slow down long enough to see each other and talk to each other and the food took more thought and preparation than the directions on the microwave box.  I appreciate the family meal when the generations come around the table.  Now I want to take a moment to discuss what it means to have the generations around God’s family table.

We invite youth to the table today- not because they are worthy… none of us come to this table because we are worthy.  If you think you do, you better examine your heart again and listen to God’s word more closely.  If you think you’ve been good enough to earn God’s grace, why do you need God’s grace? Apparently, you can do it all by yourself?! 

This meal is a meal for sinners.  When Jesus first invited people to this table we tell ourselves, it was for the disciples- those hallowed holy pious folks that made the grade.  Yes, they were faithful followers, but they were also complete screwups!  They argued about who was going to be the greatest, when Jesus had just told them about carrying their cross.  Jesus knew these followers weren’t perfect, he knew Judas was going to betray him, he knew Peter was going to deny him, He knew the other 10 were going to run out on him and abandon him and he invited them anyway!!!

So, if you ask yourself; “what have I done to earn a place at God’s family table?” before you commune you’ve got to answer that with a big fat ZERO!  So, don’t be judging kids for coming to the table as unworthy when you yourself are in no place to judge.  Beside listen to Jesus’ words “Let the children come to me… Unless you receive the kingdom as a child, you can not enter the kingdom..”  God’s word of grace and love and forgiveness is for kids too. 

We’ve got to get out of our heads and into our hearts when it comes to this family meal. If you go to 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul outlines the way in which believers should celebrate God’s family meal he says something that had scholars and churches fighting for years. He says “those who eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner eat and drink damnation.” For so many years scholars tried to figure out what was the right way to “discern” the body of Christ.  How do you get your head right to receive Christ’s supper so you don’t end up in hell?!

The problem was when Paul talks about the body of Christ every where else in his letters he’s not talking about a piece of bread he’s talking about us- the family of God. We are the body of Christ!! We are his hands and feet on earth. The Corinthians were celebrating communion in a way that fed the rich folks and starved the poor folks and Paul said, “you are not discerning the body of Christ.”  He wasn’t criticizing them for not thinking about the bread properly. He was criticizing them for not having their heart in the right place.  They were excluding members of the family of God from the table of God because they thought they had a heavenly pecking order.

That’s why we practice open communion- “y’all come!”  God will determine if your heart is in the right place not me, the pastor, or altar guild or council, or what have you.  Its why we invite young children to God’s family meal.  They know when they are left out and they probably have a more intuitive, less cumbersome relationship with God then most adults do. If one of the two special ingredients that makes communion is God’s Word and one’s heart then I argue children by in large have a more open heart to accepting God’s Word, God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s love than almost any adult I know. 

That’s why we commune at a young age- they are not left out and they are encouraged to open their hearts to God’s love and grace… just like the older kids among us are encouraged to do too.

Our heavenly father prepares a family meal for us regularly.  Sometimes it’s got all the fancy trimmings… the table setting is fancy, the background music is just the right ambience, the wine is fine, the bread is fantastic… other times it’s like a fast food greasy spoon where you roll up and roll out and get back out on the road.  But it always has for the believing heart the nutrition of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and salvation. 

We come as one fat big ZERO.  We can dress up in finest clothes and compared to God’s clothing of the heavens we’re a ZERO.  WE can come trying to prove we’ve been good but God who sees all sins and expects perfection and weighs the scale of our sins knows… we’re a ZERO. 

But here is the thing about his meal…God has a special ingredient with those that come- not with their head on right= but their heart set right.  For those who have their heart set on God’s grace through Jesus Christ God changes that ZERO into something utterly amazing.  You know what he does he makes it a ZERO!!  We’ll that doesn’t sound amazing until you understand that God takes all that sin that makes us a stinking, smelly ZERO and he forgives each and every one of those sins.  He takes them to the cross of Christ, pays for them, then buries them with Christ and then sets us free, just as Christ broke free from death’s doors.

Our ZERO becomes God’s ZERO- zero sins in God’s eyes.  If you have no sins in God’s eyes you are perfect in God’s eyes.  If you’re perfect in God’s eyes you can live with him in harmony.  If you’re perfect in God’s eye’s your set right with him and set forth to serve him. If you’re perfect in God’s eyes you can join God in that perfect place called heaven.  That’s a big ZERO.

God’s family meal, its not a zero any time God’s special ingredient of God’s word of grace and forgiveness is received by a believing heart.  Family meals, especially God’s family meal, comes in all shapes and sizes, ways and means but our heavenly Father invites you through all those various ways and means to open your heart to his special ingredient of love and forgiveness- to nourish you, sustain you and yes even change you from lost to found, from enemy to family, from sinner to saint. 

So, the ingredients are here, and supper is just about ready to be served, so wash up your hands, and search those hearts and let’s get ready to eat some godly grub.  Amen.