Sun. Sept. 2, 2018 Bread of Life Sermon Series Finale
If you've been following along with our last couple Sundays, you'll know that we've been talking about a vital piece of every Christian's diet: Communion. Today is the last Sunday in this 4-week series.
We've talked about “why we commune so often?” The short answer is our souls, just like our bodies, need regular nourishment. From there we discussed “how can simply sharing bread and wine make a difference?” Again, the short answer was its not just bread and wine that make the difference but God's promises and our faith in those promises of God. We talked about communion is the spiritual equivalent of "taking out the garbage" and actually letting go of our sins and letting God handle them.
This week I've actually taken the liberty of changing the assigned lessons, so we can answer one final commonly asked question: "Who can come to the table?" We're going to start with the Gospel and work our way backwards to the Old Testament lesson so you might want to keep the readings in your bulletin handy.
First of all, there is a common misconception that especially good people have earned the right to receive communion. Sometimes I think this originated from the last supper "When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve." The twelve have come to symbolize all that is good in following Christ. These are the folks that dropped their nets and followed, went forth with his commission and converted the world. These are the hallowed, holy, the few, the proud, the wholesome, and pure. So obviously only the best are invited to dine with Christ.
If we think this is the obvious conclusion we are fools. We fool ourselves and we ignore the biblical witness. Just look at the next line if you want to know what these guys were really made of: "Truly I tell you one of you will betray me." These guys abandoned Christ, denied him, and even betrayed him. Jesus knew these character flaws when he invited them to establish this new covenant. Jesus knew he was inviting a bunch of losers. In three of the four gospels there is no mention of Judas leaving the table before receiving our Lord's new covenant. Jesus offered the gifts of the kingdom even to the one who was at the very moment planning his death.
When you look at this crowd who among us is less worthy then they were?! I mean really? To be worse than that collection of misfits we’d have to do something worse than betray and abandon our best friend, plot his murder, deny ever having known them, and possibly bury the one and only hope the world ever had of getting better. Sometimes Jesus knowing what these guys were capable of it would have made sense if Jesus made it their “Last Supper” not his.
Yet, Jesus offered them this gift of forgiveness and renewed life because he knew he could turn it around. Jesus knew he was more of a savior for our fallen world than Baker Mayfield will ever be for the woeful Browns. Jesus was so confident of this fact that he told them "I won't drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Three agonizing torturous days later he was in an upper room again with these folks breaking bread and bringing in the kingdom of God.
You may be thinking, so are you telling me anyone is welcome at the table? That's not what I was taught, don't you have to discern, believe, and understand the sacrament to receive it? You're right, that is a biblical teaching and it comes from our second lesson Paul's letter to the Corinthians. But it's a sound bite not a sound biblical principle. A sound biblical principle is something that shows up in more than one verse and stands up to that viewpoint when it’s taken in its larger context.
Look at verse 29- "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves." You might want to cross judgment out and put in the original Greek: "damnation." If you go to the table of forgiveness in the wrong way you can receive judgment rather than salvation. How does this happen?
There is also something else you might want to add in insert the word "Christ's" in front of the word body. Paul is referring to Christ's body. Now in ten other passages (Roman's 7:4; 12:5, 1 Corinthians 6:15-15; 10:14, 12:12-13, 12:27, Ephesians 1:23, 3:6, 4:12, 5:23) where he refers to Christ's body, Paul only once means the physical-ness of Christ. All nine other times he is referring to Christ's body as a way to express that we, the followers of Christ, make up Christ's body here on earth. We the church are the body of Christ.
What difference does this make? Well scholars spent years trying to figure out how to "discern" the body of Christ, so a person doesn't end up in hell. A lot of different theories came up and once the theory was thought up- whether it was transubstantiation, memorial, or "in with and under" you basically had to "think right" to be worthy to receive communion. Or more directly a person needed to think like those serving communion in order to receive it. If you couldn't prove that you "thought right" the servers would protect you from hell by skipping you. How many of you have ever experienced that? Being skipped over or not welcomed at the table because you didn't “think right.”
Well even though the servers were doing it to “save you” how did it feel? Remember that feeling and let’s go back to the text. The whole text starts with "I do not commend you, there are factions and when you eat some of you are hungry and others are drunk!" What's this have to do with communion? Research has shown that early worship services were evening affairs. People got off work and gathered for a "hot dish" and worship service. The rich could arrive early but the slaves would arrive last.
Have you ever been the last in line for a pot luck? You have to convince yourself that the dregs of the dishes are really good for ya. Those crunchy things clinging to the corners are really the delicacies! Basically, the rich showed up with more than enough for themselves, didn't share, got fat and drunk and then joined in worship while the slaves starved and went to worship. Paul was livid how can you do that to a fellow believer and then compliment yourself for being so pious. You are not discerning your fellow believer; you do not understand what it means to be the body of Christ. You are not worshipping a loving God; you're being a self-centered servant of Satan!
"Discerning Christ" isn't about how Christ gets squeezed into bread and wine. "Discerning Christ" at the table is caring for your sister and brother in Christ, not leaving them out, not judging them but rather doing everything you can to welcome them into God's presence. If you come to this table wanting other followers to stay away you're eating judgment not forgiveness. If you come to this table believing it’s about you and Jesus and nobody else, are you really "discerning the real body of Christ?"
Remember that feeling when you were left out of communion?
How old do you have to be to realize that feeling? Not too old huh. That's why we offer communion at a young age. Kids are part of the baptized children of God. It's not a matter of thinking right but believing in God's promises.
Finally, our Old Testament gives us instruction in how to approach our God for life and salvation. It is not be listing our good deeds or great contribution or even good thoughts. Rather it is as David says in Psalm 51:17 "the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will not despise." Today’s Old Testament lesson from Micah phrases it this way: "He has told you O mortal what is good and what the Lord requires of you... do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."
Come to the table all who are humble of heart and he will give you rest for your souls. Come for soon all things will be ready and we will share the gifts of God for the people of God where the gifts of God are (FREE!) Amen.