Sunday, October 6, 2013

Running on Empty? It's OK to Eat in the Car (1 Corinthians 11:23-34)

23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.  27 This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. 28 Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. 29 Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment. 30 Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. 31 But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. 32 However, we are disciplined by the Lord when we are judged so that we won’t be judged and condemned along with the whole world. 33 For these reasons, my brothers and sisters, when you get together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If some of you are hungry, they should eat at home so that getting together doesn’t lead to judgment. I will give directions about the other things when I come.
The life of faith is a spiritual journey.  In our messages over the last several weeks, the human spirit is like a car that needs regular maintenance; each week I’ve offered a maintenance tip of something you can do to fill up with God’s grace in order to keep from feeling like you’re running on empty.

The first thing was to use the right fuel, and we said that worship is our fuel.  Worship simply means that we ascribe value to something, particularly through our time and resources – and when we give them to God, we are filled with grace.  Then it was checking our fluids, and we said that God gives us grace by water and the Holy Spirit in baptism, and we were encouraged to remember and renew the grace in our baptism often.  Last week, it was OnStar, and we said that prayer is like our OnStar button with God – it is an immediate, direct line to God.  Prayer is the language of our relationship with God, involving more listening to God than speaking to God, and when we nurture the relationship through prayer, we receive grace there, as well.

Today’s maintenance tip moves from what we do for the vehicle toward what we do for the passengers on the journey, and on our spiritual journey, I want you to know that it’s okay to eat in the car.  Not only is it okay, I even encourage it.

Today, I want you to think about food.  Yes, your minds may wander off thinking about food and never wander back, but I’m willing to run that risk.  So, go ahead.  Think about food.  Think about what you’re going to eat after worship.  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.  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?  How are we doing, is your mind completely focused on food yet?  Tummies grumbling?  Mouths watering?

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.

Growing up, my grandparents on my dad’s side lived in DC and we lived in New York, so we didn’t get to see them all the time.  On top of that, my dad is an only child, so we were the only grandchildren they had, so you had better believe that we got spoiled rotten - filthy, stinkin’ rotten at Grandma’s house.  Grandma Thomas showed you she loved you by feeding you.  It was not uncommon to have a big breakfast at 8, homemade cookies at 10, lunch at noon, homemade fudge at 3, dinner at 6, and ice cream sundaes before bed.  Grandma showed her love by stuffing you silly, and you showed your love in return by scarfing down whatever was put in front of you.

It sounded like Grandma was saying “Come and get it,” but she was actually saying, “I love you.”  Sharing food is a universal way of expressing love.  The family table is a place where love is as real as the food on the table.

If you can understand that, then you can understand the significance of what happens in Holy Communion – Holy Communion is God’s family table, where God’s love and grace are as real as the food on the table.

The best cultural associations we make with family meals - caring and sharing, nurture and support, building relationships and showing love - all of that happens at God’s family table.  God’s love and grace are served in heaping helpings at this table, which is one of the reasons I always tear off great big chunks of bread when I serve you, because I want you to have a significant reminder of the abundance of God’s grace and generosity, and just how much God loves you.  The table may be set with bread and wine, but what’s actually being served is love and grace.

Now, I’ve heard concern from Christians who are worried either about “unworthy” people being at the Lord’s table, or people receiving in an “unworthy manner.”  “You can’t just let anyone receive Communion!  Oh, woe is me, what will become of us if we let anyone and everyone have Communion?”  This concern comes from the passage we read from 1 Corinthians, and is rooted in a lot of really bad theology that has served only to associate guilt with Communion rather than grace.

Think of “unworthy” – as in, “without worth” or “worthless.”  But it’s not about our own worth (or lack thereof, it’s about our recognition of the worth of others.  Receiving in an “unworthy manner” is failing to recognize the sacred worth and value of all others at the table.

We have to understand that in that time, celebrations of Holy Communion were not limited to a liturgical meal of bread and wine that took place during a designated time of worship, they were a big, festive meal that was shared among the whole family of faith – Methodists didn’t invent potluck suppers – they’ve been around for a long time!  Yet, at the church in Corinth, instead of a potluck where everybody shared equally in the bounty together, those who were rich brought a great feast for themselves, and those who were poor had a meager meal or even nothing at all.

And here’s the problem: certain members were not valuing the worth of other members.  Throughout Scripture, there is a strong connection between the feeding of bodies and the feeding of souls, which is why this is a spiritual issue.  Those with resources saw themselves as more blessed or favored than those who were poor, and their pigging out was a way of displaying what they perceived to be their own spiritual superiority.  In so doing, they completely missed the point of Holy Communion, and faith itself, for that matter.

The Lord’s table is a place where divisions are meant to disappear, not be highlighted and reinforced.  Anyone who wants to keep others from the feast of grace at the Lord’s table is in far more danger of “receiving in an unworthy manner” than whatever person they are trying to keep away.

Receiving in a worthy manner is simply a matter of celebrating the dignity and worth of all of our brothers and sisters who gather at the table with us.  Our place at God’s family table as well as our access to the abundance of grace served there, is not secured through our own means or merit.  God’s family table is not a place where the saints congratulate either for being oh-so-holy; rather, it’s where sinners receive grace and are strengthened for their journey.

As stewards of the feast, let us never be caught up in guarding the table, let us instead graciously invite sinners – you know, people like you and me – to feast on God’s grace.

The family table is a place of belonging.  I don’t know how it worked in your family, but we always room at the table for someone else.  Somehow, there was always more than enough to go around, and everyone left the table satisfied, closer to each other, and graciously received by the host.  The same is true at God’s family table.  It is a place where everyone is welcome.

Think of it this way.  In your family, do you feed the children or do you just let them starve?  My hope is that you feed them.  Now, do children have to earn a spot at the table?  Maybe to move up from the kids’ table to the adults’ table they do, but again, I would hope that they get fed one way or the other.  Why do we feed our children when they haven’t worked for their food, earned their food, paid for the food, contributed anything toward growing or purchasing or preparing their food - why on earth do we keep on feeding them?

Because we love them.  It’s the same reason we will feed anyone the bread and wine at Communion - because we love them.  More importantly, God loves them, and the table belongs not to us, but to Christ, the gracious host.  We are stewards of the mystery, entrusted to care for the meal and the people as Christ would, inviting them to experience grace.

God’s grace is for all, and so all are welcome at the feast of grace.  John Wesley went as far as to call communion a “converting ordinance.”  By this he meant that some might, in the very partaking of the sacrament, come to full knowledge and experience of the saving grace of God.  The gracious invitation to come to the table and partake of the mysteries of God may be the very thing that stirs up faith in the human heart, such that even the vilest offender realizes that God even has a place in his family for them.  Talk about receiving grace!

The early Methodists were encouraged to practice “constant Communion,” partaking of the bread and wine at every available opportunity, precisely because God’s grace comes to us when we do. Sometimes people don’t want to have Communion too much, because “it won’t be as special,” which is like saying, “I don’t want to eat lunch every day because then it wouldn’t be as special,” or “I don’t want to tell my children I love them every day because then it wouldn’t be as special” or “I don’t want to deposit my paycheck every month because then it wouldn’t be as special.”  Communion is as essential to our spiritual well-being as these other things are to our physical and emotional well-being.  It should be a regular staple in our spiritual diet.  Friends, we need grace!

It’s one of the reasons we’ve started offering Communion on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 – 6:00.  As a pastor, I am committed to offering you the bread of life and the cup of redemption often, because I believe so firmly in the grace that’s made available at the Lord’s table.  Every time you have an opportunity to receive that grace – Sunday morning, Wednesday night, wherever, whenever – do it!  Otherwise, you’re literally leaving grace on the table.

One last thing about this “unworthy” business.  I sometimes hear from people who don’t want to receive Communion because they feel or have been told they are unworthy.  First, I’m sorry people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about have made you feel that way.  More importantly, if you hear nothing else today, hear this: Two thousand years ago, Jesus ate with sinners. He still does.

Jesus is used to eating with sinners.  It’s what he did his whole life.  It’s what he continues to do today.  Thank God Jesus eats with sinners – it means he’s willing to eat with you and with me.

Friends, we are on a spiritual journey, and it’s OK to eat in the car.  It’s not only OK, it’s essential.  We need the bread of life and the cup of redemption.  On the menu today, the meal looks like bread and wine, but Christ has actually prepared a feast of love and grace for all of us.  Come and get it.

Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored.  Thy creatures bless and grant that we may feast in paradise with thee.  Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, the bread and wine to us be blessed. Grant us thy grace and make us new, we’ll keep the feast always with you.  Amen.

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