Sunday, October 7, 2012

Keep the Feast (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

Clean out the old yeast so you can be a new batch of dough, given that you’re supposed to be unleavened bread.  Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, so let’s celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of honesty and truth, not with old yeast or with the yeast of evil and wickedness.

This morning, I’d like to start out by doing something incredibly risky.  Each Sunday, I ask you to give your full attention to worship and the message because my hope and prayer is that God is speaking to the people gathered in this place.

And so today, I run the inherent risk of losing everyone’s attention right here at the beginning and never getting it back in what I’m about to ask you to do, but here goes: I want you to think about food. Dangerous thing to do late in the morning when our tummies are grumbling with the promise of lunch after worship!  But, go ahead.  Think about food.  Think about what you’re going to eat after worship.  Are you going home, to someone else’s home, or out to a restaurant?  Are you going to pick up something quick on your way to somewhere else?  What are you looking forward to having a second or third helping of, what one thing are you going to scrape the bowl and lick the spoon and then look up hopefully and ask, “Do we have any more?”

Mmmmmmm-mmmmmmm.  Think about food.  Is your stomach starting to grumble yet?  Too bad, because I want you to keep thinking about food.  Think about the last milestone you or your family celebrated - a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, a retirement.  Was food part of the celebration? Think about holidays.  Whether a family feast at Thanksgiving or a cookout in the backyard on the 4th of July, isn’t food always a central part of the party?  Think about the food that was at your last family reunion - you knew who had made what just by watching the cars pull in off the road, because whichever aunt had made that lemon meringue pie was holding it on her lap for the car ride, and you can watch the car slow down well in advance and make a slow gentle turn off the road so the meringue wouldn’t go sliding off the top of the pie.

How are we doing, is your mind completely focused on food yet?  Hang on, because we’re not done yet.  When we go to a wedding, there’s always food.  Ashley and I will celebrate our one-year anniversary tomorrow, and the top tier of our wedding cake is defrosting in our fridge right now so we can enjoy it together tomorrow, which breaks all the rules of the eating plan we’ve been on since May, but who cares - we’re going to celebrate!

How many of the great celebrations in life involve a feast of some sort or another?  And it seems the greater the cause for celebration, the greater the feast. In the life of a Christian, is there any greater a cause for celebration than redemption and new life experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  The greater the cause for celebration, the greater the feast, and I suggest that there are two key features that distinguish a feast from just a meal: celebration and company.  Let’s consider company first.

The Company
If you were to get in your car and start driving, simply being on the highway opens you up to interaction with others who are also on the road, and how well you cooperate and relate to each other will largely determine how successful each of you are in making your respective journeys.

The Christian journey is no different.  We make our spiritual journey in relationship with other people who are also on the journey, and how well we cooperate and relate to each other will largely determine how successful we are in making the Christian journey.  It’s not gonna be easy, either.  We live in a world where there’s a lot to argue about, and a lot of people who love to argue.

Take one argument I waded into unsuspectingly: the proper use of the term “barbeque.”  My guess is that some of you have strong feelings on the subject.  Up north, “barbeque” was a verb, such as, “Come over to our house on Saturday and we will barbeque in the back yard.”  By that we meant we were going to fire up the grill and eat hamburgers and hot dogs.  Then I moved South and found out that “barbeque” is a noun, referencing a particular kind of food.  No sooner had my mind adjusted to this reality when I found out there are different types of barbeque, and great debates as to which is the true and real stuff.  Now, I know there are people who get really fired up about this - whether it is pulled pork or chopped pork, whether your sauce should be vinegar-based or tomato-based or mustard-based or whether there should be any sauce at all.  The debate gets bigger when you bring Texas or Memphis or Kansas City into it, because now all of a sudden it can be beef instead of pork.  And then, what about ribs?  And if you allow ribs to count, are we talking pork ribs or beef ribs or both?

On and on it goes.  Personally, I identify with Bob Bumgarner, in my last church, who said, “There are only two kinds of barbeque - good and better.”  Sure, if you want, you can have an argument about what constitutes true barbeque and what doesn’t - or you can just enjoy the diverse bounty of delicious food all around that, though different in many ways, is still barbeque and is still delicious.

Likewise, Christians can have arguments about who is right and who is wrong, or we can enjoy each other’s fellowship, recognizing that we may not all think or act alike, but the same Holy Spirit nonetheless indwells all of us, and we are united in the cause of Christ in the world.

Holy Communion highlights the reality that we are in this together.  In fact, pull out your hymnals and take a look at page 14 - this familiar liturgy we use every time we come to the Lord’s table.  About 2/3 of the way down the page, right there in our liturgy we pray to God, “By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and on in ministry to all the world” for the next 20 minutes, right?  Not quite - “until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”  In other words, until the very end of the age, as long as humans have breath to breathe, we are praying for unity, and we are expecting unity to be experienced and made real at the Lord’s table.

As grain once scattered on the hillsides are gathered and transformed into one loaf, so too are we gathered and transformed into the one body of Christ. At Communion, we are made one with Christ, and one with each other, and that’s good company to keep.

The Celebration
As we’ve seen, good company is one part of transforming a meal into a feast.  The other part is an atmosphere and attitude of celebration.

Earlier we said that the greater the cause for celebration, the greater the feast.  Make no mistake - Communion is a celebration, for it makes us active participants in God’s redemption story, remembering all that God has done up to now, and anticipating all that God is yet to do.

There is nothing somber about celebrating the gracious goodness of God, the unconditional love of Jesus, and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it is something that should fill us with an indescribable and infectious joy, such that the light and love of God radiates out of us in every direction.

The Communion celebration fills us with joy, one of the reasons we refer to it as a means of grace.  There have been times when I have approached the Lord’s table feeling sad, or discouraged, or angry, or upset, or any number of feelings that were anything but joy.  But, in those times when I focused and opened my heart to God, inviting God to reach into me and touch me and transform me, sure enough I found all that negative stuff melting away and replaced by the love, and grace, and joy of Jesus.  I talk about Communion as one of the greatest gifts of God’s grace because I’ve experienced it as one of the greatest gifts of God’s grace, and my hope for all who gather at the table is that they might experience the same thing.  Those who have experienced the goodness of God in Communion will be easy to pick out; you’ll have to look no further than their faces to see the joy they’ve experienced in the presence of Christ.  They’ll be the ones celebrating.

So Communion is a feast - both because of the company we keep and the spirit of celebration that permeates it.  One last thing I want to say about this feast: it’s so beautifully ordinary.  There’s nothing fancy about it - just ordinary bread and ordinary wine.  Nothing all that special, except in the hands of Jesus, the ordinary is transformed into something extraordinary.

Here’s what I want you to consider this morning: where are the ordinary places in your life that need to be placed into the hands of Jesus to be transformed and given back to you as something extraordinary?  God is in the business of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary; it’s happened before, and it can surely happen with the ordinary things in your life.

In the hands of Jesus, an ordinary loaf and ordinary wine are given back to us as the bread of life and the cup of salvation.  Come, let us keep the feast!

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