A.J. Thomas serves as the pastor of Morehead United Methodist Church in Greensboro, NC and shares these sermons with you.
You can join the Morehead congregation for worship on Sundays at 9 am (informal/contemporary) or 10:55 am (traditional). We're located in Northwest Greensboro at 3214 Horse Pen Creek Road, 27410.
31 “Now when
the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit
on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in
front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd
separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on
his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
34 “Then the
king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things
from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world
began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was
thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I
was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me.
I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 “Then those
who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed
you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as
a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When
did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “Then the
king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of
the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
41 “Then he
will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible
things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his
angels. 42 I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I
was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. 43 I was
a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me
clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they
will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked
or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45
Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the
least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ 46 And they will
go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal
In Disney’s The Lion King, young
Simba dreams about what it will be like when he is king.Doing whatever he wants, everyone listening
to him, running the show, being in charge, giving orders.This is what life is like for the king, is it
My first grade class put on a play called The Trial of Mother Goose.Old King Cole, played by yours truly, brought Mother Goose up on charges
for spreading lies about the subjects in my kingdom in her latest, scandalous,
tabloid of “Fairy Tales” – Georgie Pordgie, Jack Spratt, Little Miss Muffett,
and the Old Woman who technically took residence in a boot, not a shoe.As King Cole, one of the stories I really
objected to was Humpty-Dumpty, as Mother Goose insinuated that all my horses
and all my men were incompetent and incapable of putting Humpty-Dumpty back
together again after the whole falling off the wall incident.I also took issue with her description of me
as “Old King Cole,” when I was only 39, and I was not a “merry old soul,” but
was, as it turned out, quite grumpy.
My costume consisted of a long purple robe with fur trim around the edges
and a Burger King crown, with tin foil strategically positioned over the logo
as if no one could figure out where it came from.I took to wearing that costume around the
house both before and after the play.When I put that costume on, I became the king, and let me tell you – it
was good to be king, as I gave orders to my parents and my older sisters, and
would bark things like “Off with their heads” when they failed to comply with
my fickle commands.I’ll let you guess
how well that went over with my family.
There is more to being the king than simply giving orders and getting one’s
one way all the time.Yes, the king is
in charge and has authority, but how they use their authority tells us what
sort of king they really are, what sort of kingdom they rule.Some kings use their authority selfishly –
amassing wealth and power and prestige for themselves, their families, and
their friends; others use their authority for the good and betterment of all.May we
Today is Christ the King Sunday, on which the Church remembers and
celebrates the all-inclusive authority of Christ as Lord over all that is, ever
has been, and ever shall be.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes from a very late section in Matthew’s Gospel –
final teachings from Jesus in the days leading up to his passion and crucifixion.The scene shows Christ in glory sitting upon
his heavenly throne, separating the multitudes into one of two categories –
sheep or goats.
Part of the message here is fairly clear and straightforward.Obviously, it is better to be counted among
the sheep in this passage than the goats.Better to be on the right than the left – that’s not a political
statement – better to be headed toward life than punishment, better to be a
sheep than a goat.
Yet, to get caught up in whether we are a sheep or a goat is to miss the
point entirely, as are speculations about the sheepishness or goatiness of
others, such as the man who spent every Communion service carefully watching
the people going forward, trying to determine for himself who were, in his
words, “the real Christians and the fakers.”
Friends, that job has already been filled.Christ is upon the throne, not us.The seat of judgment is not yours or mine.Jesus will sort it all out, which means we
don’t have to, and thank God, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want
That’s a hard job, one above my paygrade, partly because the world is not
so neatly divided between good and evil as we might prefer.It’s not as easy as we might think to
separate the good people from the bad people, for the reality is that forces of
good and forces of evil swirl around within each of us constantly.One of the puzzles of humanity is that we can
be quite noble, or we can be the deadliest and most destructive force on the
planet, and each of us are capable of both.
At the end of time, Jesus, not us, will separate the sheep from the goats,
but in the meantime?A quick Google
search on sheep and goats will show them living together as one herd, eating
the same grass, led by the same shepherd, subject to the same weather, giving
birth in the same peril, dying under the same conditions.
We’ve always known we live
together in a very mixed herd. Every Thanksgiving table holds what
Garrison Keillor calls the family who are unhappy to be there, the
rock-ribbed conservatives and the dedicated liberals, meat-eaters and vegans,
the elder brothers and the prodigals, the prosperous and the unemployed, the
ornery and the addled.
The sheep and goats live together, presented with the same opportunities,
challenges, and temptations.
Lest we still feel the need to rush to separate the sheep from the goats
ourselves, notice in the passage that both the sheep and the goats are
surprised to be counted where they are.The
sheep don’t know they’re sheep!The
goats don’t know they’re goats!The
sheep say, “Lord, when did we . . .?” and the goats say,
“Lord, when didn’t we . . .?”Both
capture surprise and, shock, even, when Jesus commends or condemns their
The kingdom of God is full of surprises.But what exactly are they
surprised by? That they acted either in a righteous way by feeding the hungry,
clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned or, on the
other hand, in an unrighteous way by neglecting to do the same? Interestingly, no. Neither group denies their
behavior. Rather, they are surprised by their failure to recognize Jesus. Or,
more to the point, they are surprised by where Jesus, the King, hangs out.
Neither the sheep nor the
goats expect to see Jesus in the faces of the poor, the outcast, the
marginalized.No one was looking for the
King of Kings to be among the weakest, most vulnerable, and needy in
society.Who looks for the Lord of Lords
among the least of these?
Surprising, except that’s
where Jesus has been showing up from the beginning.If we’ve been paying attention to the Jesus
story, that theme has been there all along.His willful choice to leave the splendor of heaven and enter into human
existence.His birth in the barn.His preference to eat with sinners.His humble entrance into Jerusalem.His message of love and service.His execution as a common criminal, his
burial in a borrowed tomb.It’s all
there, and I don’t know which is more surprising: that Jesus identifies with
the lowest of the low, or that we, who have read the story, are surprised when
we find him there, despite the fact that that’s where he’s been all along.
Sure, I would prefer Jesus
to espouse values of power, and privilege, and prestige, and prosperity,
because such a worldview would be much more conducive to my own comforts and
convenience.But friends, that’s not the
We live in a world that
sends us the constant message, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”The Gospel of Jesus invites us into a
different reality, where strength is made perfect in weakness, and where the
road to life is paved with self-sacrifice.Living under the Lordship of Christ challenges our preoccupation with being
the first, the best, or the most – such superlatives are the places we are least likely to find Jesus.No longer can we equate material prosperity
with evidence of God’s presence; this passage undermines our tendency to look
for God in places of power and prominence.
Those who have given
yourselves in Christian service, whether down at Greensboro Urban Ministry or
across the state or halfway around the world, can testify that Jesus is found
most fully in the places of greatest need.It is foolish for us to think when we go to serve that we are taking
Jesus somewhere – how typically ego-centric of us!I remember the first mission trip I went on,
arrogantly thinking that I was about to take Jesus somewhere, only to discover
that Jesus was already alive and well before long before I got there, and that
the people I thought I was going to serve seemed to know Jesus far better than
When we love and serve our
neighbor, whether that neighbor lives around the corner or around the world, we
are not trying to be Jesus; we are trying to see Jesus.
If we want to experience
God’s presence fully, deeply, and truly, then let us go to the places of
greatest need, including our own.Because Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who
is enthroned above, in whom all things on earth receive their frame, who is the
Alpha and Omega, the one who has all, and is all: Jesus has chosen to humble
himself among the lowest of the low.
Yes, it is true that Jesus
is all-powerful, all-just, all-wise, all-knowing and all that.It is easy and tempting to get lost in the vast cosmos of
those descriptions and lift Christ to so lofty and distant a throne that we
fail to remember God’s kingdom is realized in the smallest and practically
imperceptible acts of kindness and compassion.
Someone much wiser than I said that a society’s greatness can be measured
by how it treats its weakest members.Whatsoever we do unto the least of these, we do unto Christ.
That might surprise you, but Jesus has been in the habit lately of
surprising us and showing up where we weren’t expecting him, just like the
sheep who said, “Lord, when did we see you in need and help you?”
They had no idea that
their good deeds meant that they were inheriting the Kingdom prepared for them.
They weren’t trying to earn God’s favor.The sheep weren’t fending for themselves, desperately trying to avoid
punishment and earn eternal rewards for themselves.
This is what loving our neighbor
as ourselves is about.We might try to
have it both ways, looking out for ourselves and loving our neighbor at the
same time.Many of us can identify with the
little boy who was given two dollar bills, one to buy candy and one to put in
the church's offering plate. He ran down the street and in his enthusiasm he
lost a dollar down the storm drain. Standing there, he was heard to say,
"Well Lord, there goes your dollar." It is rarely the convenient or
easy thing to help the least, the last, and the lost.It will cost us in time, money, and worry,
and so be it.Discipleship is
costly.Such will be the cost of following our King, serving and loving him as
we serve and love our neighbor.
The sheep just saw people
in need, and they served them. They were just living their lives of faith the
way that they always did. They were living their lives focused on God and the
needs of others instead on themselves and their own needs.
Our King – the creator of
the cosmos and the author of life – invites us to meet and be met by God, not
in places of power, but among the lowest we can find.Our King takes us by surprise, upsets our
expectations, and disrupts our plans.
Following King Jesus
invites us into a life that isn’t motivated out of the fear of Hell or the hope
of heaven.Our King is calling us to a
life driven by an authentic, selfless, sacrificial love.
The life of compassion
inherits the kingdom, and the kingdom isn’t as far away as we so often think.It’s as close as the face of the next person
16 Now the
eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When
they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus
came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on
earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.
Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
10 The Human
One came to seek and save the lost.
Opinions are like belly-buttons:
Everybody has one.
Nowhere is that truer than in the church.Everybody has an opinion about a great number of things.My email inbox testifies to the reality that
you all have opinions.Come to a
committee or Church Council meeting, and you will see with your own eyes that
people have opinions.Opinions about a
great many things, from issues large to issues small, we can be an opinionated
Many of those opinions are quite good and worthy of serious consideration –
not all of them, but I won’t name names – but really, many of the opinions
expressed are good.The tricky thing is
to discern among those many good opinions which opinion gets the most serious
Growing up, we had a neighbor who had opinion about everyone else’s house
on the block.“I think you should paint
your house or your trim this color.”“I
think you should re-do your front porch in this way.”“Your yard would look so much better if you
planted this and trimmed it like that.”He had all sorts of opinions about what everyone’s house should look
like and what everyone should do, but there was one big problem.His neighbors owned those houses, not him.
What about the church?Who owns the
church?To whom does the church
belong?That’s a question with only one
right answer.It belongs to Jesus.He is its owner.He is its Lord.The church belongs to Jesus.
The church doesn’t belong to the pastor.Even if the pastor is the founding pastor or has been around for
decades, the church doesn’t belong to the pastor.
The church doesn’t belong to any group within the church: not even the
trustees or the Church Council or the leadership team.
The church doesn’t belong to the denomination, even though they own the
building, even though we are proud of our theological heritage, the church
doesn’t belong to the denomination.
And lastly, the church does not belong to the members, not even the founding
members.That doesn’t change the fact that
members sometimes act like they own
the church, such as the lady who said to me one time, “I was here before you,
and I’ll be here after you,” which was apparently her reasoning for why we
should do what she wanted to do, and I replied, “That’s true, but there is
someone who was here before you, and he’ll be here after you, and his name is
Every church has only one owner – Jesus.And unless we’re clear on that, we’ll always struggle about what we’re
supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it.You see, our opinions and desires need to be informed by Jesus – his desires, his wishes, his will for
Ultimately, the church belongs to Jesus.He is its owner.He is its Lord.We don’t own the church, but it’s been
entrusted to us by its owner – we are here to do what Jesus wants us to do.
And what does Jesus want?Look at
the Scriptures we’ve read today.He
wants the church to make disciples.Why
do we exist?To make disciples.What is our purpose in being?To make disciples.Do you have a different opinion?That’s nice, but this church belongs to
Jesus, so we are going to do what Jesus wants – which is to make disciples.
The Scripture from Matthew 28 we read is called, “The Great Commission” –
it’s where Jesus gives marching orders to the fledgling church about what their
mission will be after he returns to Heaven.
Sometimes we get this idealized picture of the early church – a golden age
of the perfect group of Jesus followers who were super-spiritual and effective
at their mission, but they were deeply-flawed and prone to bickering and
confusion – like us.That realization
gives me some hope that if they could do it, maybe we can, too.Just look at the text:
Eleven disciples, worshiping and doubting
It starts out by saying “The eleven disciples went to Galilee.”Not the 12 Jesus called.Not the 12, that number of perfect, symbolic
harmony and completion.Nope, 11 – not
altogether with it, not perfect, flawed.11 – a reminder of thebetrayal
of Judas against Jesus that took place within their midst.
Some worshiped, and some doubted.Clearly, they weren’t all on the same page, they weren’t in agreement
about who Jesus was and what their next steps were, some were all-in and ready
to move ahead, others were still questioning everything and holding back –
sounds familiar, doesn’t it?The church
then wasn’t that different than the church today.Jesus didn’t wait for them to all come
around, rather, he gave them their marching orders, their reason for existing,
which was – to make disciples.Jesus
trusted his life’s work and mission of seeking and saving that which was lost
to this flawed, imperfect group of believers and doubters.Sometimes, not everyone is going to come
along or get on board with where the church is trying to go, but again, our
opinions, enthusiasm, or lack thereof doesn’t change the mission.We don’t change the mission based on opinion
polls or surveys or to suit the needs of skeptics and doubters.Jesus commissioned his flawed and imperfect
church to make disciples, and that’s what they did, and what we’re still doing,
Go, and Make Disciples
Jesus told them to, “Go, and make disciples.”He didn’t say, “Sit inside a building, make
sure the doors are unlocked, and if any happen to wander inside on their own,
make sure they learn about me.”No, he
said, “Go.”Get up, get moving, take the
initiative.Build relationships with
people who are not part of any church and invite them here.Tell them about your faith.Tell them the
difference Jesus makes in your life.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Everyone I know goes to church!” In fact, the
longer you’ve been a Christian and part of a church, the more likely it is that
most of your relationships also go to church. If that’s you, then it’s time to
meet some folks who don’t.Join a
bowling or golf league.Join a garden or
hiking club.Get involved in some sort
of community-based organization.Get to
know your neighbors.There are all sorts
of people all around us who don’t have a church to call home; we just need to
get to know them.
We also need to let go of the idea that “everyone” goes to church, because
“everyone” doesn’t.Across North
Carolina, right here in the buckle of the Bible belt where many counties report
having more Baptists than people, any given weekend only 22% of the population
is in church.
78% of the people around us are not regularly engaged or connected with a
faith family. Some folks see that as a travesty, but I see an opportunity, not
one that’s rocket science, either.Churches who reach those people in their communities have three major
things in common.
First, they are crystal-clear that Jesus is in charge of
the church, and Jesus wants the church to make disciples, and they stay on
target with that, no matter what.
Second, they discover something
about who they already are that lends itself to making disciples.
Third, they create a culture of
invitation among their members.
Friends, I believe with every fiber of my being that Morehead Church has
the potential to be one such church.We
have the potential and the ability, if we are also willing.
First, from this day forward, let us be resolute in the conviction that the
church belongs to Jesus, and is here to do what Jesus wants.Regardless of our personal opinions, let us
be firm in the knowledge that Jesus wants us to make disciples.From this day forward, let there be no
argument that this church belongs to Jesus, and we exist for the purpose of
Second, what do we have to offer?We
have a reputation for being a warm, welcoming, inclusive church.We have a reputation for being like family in
the best sense of the word.We are the
family of God!78% of the people around
us are not regularly connected to a church family – that means we have the
opportunity to be their church family, if we are willing to do the third part:
create a culture of invitation.
This is one we need to work on.All
of us.We have a culture of welcome down
pretty good.When folks show up, they feel
the love.What we need to do is move
from being welcoming, which is good, to also being invitational.Morehead Church is one of the best-kept
secrets in town, and friends, it doesn’t need to be kept a secret any longer.Every person here is part of getting the word
out, as each of us invites people to be part of this family of faith.
We’re not trying to be obnoxious or pushy, we’re not trying to shove
religion down people’s throats, but hopefully our experience as being part of
this family of faith is beneficial to us, and we want other people to
experience the joy and meaning we have found.News of new life in Christ, and the acceptance we find in this church is
too good to keep to ourselves.News like
that is meant to get out as we love people into the family.
In fact, if all those pieces come
together, that’s a good description of what we can, should, and will be as a
neighbors into God’s family.
Friends, that is what I believe we are called to do.It’s a vision that brings together Jesus’
desire that we make disciples, and the best of who we already are as a church:
a faith family.The only thing that’s
really missing is that culture of invitation, but here are some tools to help
you out in that regard.
The Morehead bumper sticker – I want to see one of these on every car in
the parking lot.It’s a simple way you
can let people know you are proud to be part of this church.It raises awareness and visibility of the
church every where you go, and you never know the conversations it might open
up.I have also found I am less rude as
a driver with that thing back there – it’s hard to cut someone off in traffic,
with the name of our church staring back at them as I do.
These “join us” cards.We’ve got
stacks of these lying around all over the church.I find it can be easier to invite someone to
church if you have something in your hand when you do, and these little cards
give you that.Give them to a neighbor,
people you work with, wherever.Sylvia
LeClair uses these in the drive-thru: she hands this card to the cashier as she
pays for the order of the car behind her, and says, “Give this card to the
people behind me and let them know that the people of Morehead Church love
them.”If you see Sylvia pulling in the
drive-thru lane, it’s a good idea to get in line behind her.
From time to time, we put together postcards advertising a special event or
sermon series, such as these advertising our upcoming Advent series.These can also be handed out to invite people
– it gives you something tangible to offer them, and something they can hold
onto if they’re interested.Again, we
have stacks of these all over the church – pick a few up and give them away.
Never under-estimate social media, either.Don’t be afraid to post things that are happening at church, invite
people to them, or share what you appreciate about this church family.I’ve seen great conversations open up that
resulted in an invitation to church, all because you put up something about what
you appreciate about this church.
Be prepared that not everyone is going to accept every invitation.You may have to invite 7-10 or even more
people before one accepts your invitation.You may also have to invite the same person 7-10 or even more times
before they accept your invitation.Again, don’t be rude or pushy about it, and at the same time, don’t be
disappointed when they aren’t ready yet.Every no you receive is just getting you one step closer to a yes.
Above all, be genuine and heartfelt in your approach.You’re not trying to “sell” anybody
anything.You’re simply speaking from
your own experience – considering what you value and appreciate about being
part of this church family, and the difference this church makes in your life.As part of this part of God’s family, that
should come easy.
You and I may have opinions about what the church should be doing.Opinions, after all, are like belly buttons –
everybody has one.So let’s put our
opinions to the side, because Jesus, the one to whom the church really belongs,
has asked us to make disciples by capitalizing on the best of who we are – a
family of faith.
Why are we here?What are we doing?
What’s our purpose?We’re loving
neighbors into God’s family.
After this I
looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number.They were from every nation, tribe, people,
and language.They were standing before
the throne and before the Lamb.They
wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands.They cried out with a loud voice: “Victory
belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.”All the angles stood in a circle around the
throne, and around the elders and the four living creatures.They fell facedown before the throne and
worshiped God, saying, “Amen!Blessing
and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our
God forever and always. Amen.”
Then one of
the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did
they come from?”I said to him, “Sir,
you know.”Then he said to me, “These
people have come out of the great hardship.They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s
blood.This is the reason they are
before God’s throne.They worship him
day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter
them.They won’t hunger or thirst
anymore.No sun or scorching heat will
beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will
shepherd them.He will lead them to the
springs of life-giving water and God will wipe away every tear from their
It is no coincidence that
a hallmark of Christian worship is music.We sing our theology.Whether
thumbing through the hymnal for time-honored expressions of our faith, or
utilizing newer songs that continue to express the timeless message of our
faith for new generations, our songs of worship are a treasure trove of
On this All Saints’
Sunday, when we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this life
into the church triumphant, as we rejoice in lives that, in God’s love, do not
end, I think of the verse from that great hymn, The Church’s One Foundation:
“Yet we on earth have
union with God the three-in-one,”
“And mystic sweet
communion with those whose rest is won.”
I can’t sing that verse anymore without
getting choked up.It recalls to mind
all the saints in my life who have entered into their heavenly home and now
rest in the nearer presence of God.I
think of the saints whose lives I have celebrated in funeral and memorial
services.Though death is hard, the
tears that well up at those times are tempered with the knowledge that they
have been graciously received and embraced by God in the life to come.
The scripture we have just
read from the Bible’s last book, Revelation, gives us a glimpse of that life –
a place of perpetual worship, un-ending fellowship, where the trials and
difficulties of this life have melted like frost in the sun.The promise from God is that there will be no
crying, no weeping, no hurt or pain, no sickness, no suffering, and that God
himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.
What’s more – a reunion
awaits all of us in the not-too-distant future.And, that reunion is closer than we realize.We don’t have to wait until we die; the
reunion can take place sooner than that.
Central to our faith,
confessed in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, is a belief in the communion of
saints.Friends on earth are connected
to our friends above.Think about the
intimacy of friendships and relationships that we experience as families and as
a church family – friends, those bonds of love do not end at death.
Ashley and I got back on
Friday evening from 9 days of vacation, driving ourselves around the desert
Southwest, some in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, but the bulk of our time was
in Arizona.We didn’t see everything,
but 1300 miles in 9 days, we certainly tried!
Arizona, you may know, is
a beautiful tapestry of Anglo, Native American, and Spanish influence all
melding together.With the build-up to
All Saints Day, everywhere we went, we saw signs that people were gearing up
for their celebrations of Dia de Los
Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
The origins of the day are
for people to remember those in their lives who have gone on ahead of them into
death and celebrate their lives – sounds an awful lot like what we do on All
Saints,’ doesn’t it?
The tradition in places
where Dia de Los Muertos is
celebrated are for families to spend the day in the cemeteries where their
loved ones are buried.They play games,
they sing songs, they pray prayers, they decorate the grave, and they share a
meal together, often bringing and leaving some portion of the meal – not as an
offering to the dead, as is commonly misunderstood – but as a way to include
their departed love in the celebration, acknowledging that though they have
died, they are still a part of the family, and when the family gathers together
to do what is central to families –sharing a meal – even those who have already
passed through the veil between this life and the life to come are still
granted a place at the table, and still included in the family’s meal.
I don’t know what you think about that, but it
sounds like communion of the saints, to me.I can’t help but think that perhaps they have a more robust
understanding and experience of the communion of the saints than we do.
But, you don’t have to
come from a Spanish-speaking culture to understand and experience the communion
of the saints.It may not be in the
cemetery, but we have a meal, too, you know.
Every time we celebrate
Holy Communion, The Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the love and grace served in
even greater abundance than the large pieces of bread I give you serve to draw
us closer to God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit AND to everyone
else who gathers at the table.Communion
connects us to Christ, it makes us part of his body in a way that is as
tangible as the bread in our hands.And
all those who are connected to Christ are connected to each other.Those who have gone on to the Church
Triumphant are still connected to Christ, and therefore, still connected to us
and we to them.Nothing than divide
those who are connected to each other through Christ, not even the seeming
finality of death.
If you read a little
further in Revelation, you’ll see another description of heaven as a great
banquet, a wedding feast, a dinner party.A good meal is a sign of the kingdom of God!A good meal is a foretaste of heaven!As a pastor, I’ve been to more covered-dish
suppers and funeral meals than I can remember.I’ve seen things combined in casseroles that don’t belong together, and
things suspended in gelatin that should never be suspended in gelatin.
On more than one occasion,
someone will say, “Well, we don’t know what else to do, so we brought food,”
but can I tell you, making and sharing a meal is exactly what we should do!It’s a way we show concern and care, and it’s a way we stay connected
with each other, even beyond death.
Imagine the Lord’s table
as standing in that mysterious place between this life and the life to
come.Picture two chairs at the table –
one on the front side and one on the back side.That front chair is for us – it’s where we take our place at the
table.That chair is easy to see and
accessible.But what about that chair on
the back side?It’s a bit harder to see,
but it’s there.It’s for those saints
who have gone ahead of us into the fuller presence of God.Our communion liturgy witnesses to the
reality that we worship and fellowship among “God’s people on earth and all the
company of heaven.”And so, we in this
life take our seat on this side, and our friends who have gone on into the life
to come take their seat on the other, with Christ, the host of the meal, at the
We are at the same meal,
reunited with loved ones as we all connected in Christ, and yet we know that
their reality is different from our own.Our life still contains its fair share of suffering and difficulty,
tragedy and tears.But our friends
seated in that other seat – their life no longer includes pain and suffering
and tears.It doesn’t lessen that
reality for us, or make our grief any less real.You’ve heard the saying, “Time heals all
wounds,” but there are some wounds time will never heal completely.Those of you who have lived longer than I
have carry wounds that time has not healed. Lessened, perhaps, but not completely
healed.The fact is time doesn’t heal
wounds – God does – and some wounds will only receive complete healing in the
life to come.If you want to know what
Heaven looks like, it looks like healing.It looks like mighty and powerful God intimately wiping away every tear
from every eye.That doesn’t take away
our pain, but perhaps it gives us some hope about what our loved ones on the
other side of the table now know and experience.
As we prepare to come to
the Lord’s table today, let us think of those who are in that seat on the other
side of the table.Joining us as we
feast and dine with Christ, filled and sustained with his love and grace, are
James Knight, Chic Aydelette, and Bobby Stanley.Today we break bread again with Minnie
Mitchell, Susie Wall, and Dalton Davis.Today we share the cup with Calvin McGuire, Mable Jones, and Jean
Thornton.Not only today, but every time
we come to the Lord’s table.
Not only each of these,
but all the saints who have gone on to the Church Triumphant.In that banquet in heaven, I imagine it much
more like a covered-dish meal than a catered affair.The body of Christ is a place where each
member brings their best to the table, that’s true whether in heaven or on
This year, I think of
Ashley’s Papa Buddy, and his famous biscuits and coconut cake hitting the
table.I always think of my
grandparents, and Ashley’s grandparents, and my Mom.I know they’re joining us from the other side
of the table, and are already experiencing the fullness of that banquet from
that place where God has wiped every tear from their eyes
As we prepare to come to
the Lord’s table today, who is it you have pictured sitting at the table from
the other side, and what are they bringing?Not even so much the food, but their characteristics and traits?Think of the impression they left upon us,
what of them still lives and grows beyond death, because it lives and grows in
each of us.Think of how the world today
is a little better reflection of the kingdom of God because they walked among
Today, as we light candles
and see their light and feel their warmth, may we sense the presence of those
represented by each one.Today we dine
with Christ, one another, and even those who have gone on before us.Today, a bit of heaven has come to us, and
it’s as real as the bread in our hands.