A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
15 Then the
Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They
sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,”
they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it
really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you
don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does
the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 Knowing their
evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show
me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose
image and inscription is this?” he asked.
said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to
God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and
It’s said you can bring up the topics of religion or
politics once at a fancy dinner party, but do it twice, and you won’t be
The Bible, however, is no
slave to social norms, and our passage today is a complex web of politics,
religion, and money – three things my grandmother taught me never to talk about
in polite, public company.The only
thing missing from this conversation is sex – add that one to the mix, and
we’ll have people running for the doors, or perhaps we’d have them running in,
I’m not sure.
Why are these topics off
limits?Perhaps, they are too personal
and private to be discussed among polite people.Perhaps they are too inflammatory – opinions
on such matters run deep – and we avoid these topics in the interest of “just
Politics, religion, and
money get center stage in today’s passage from the 22nd Chapter of
St. Matthew’s Gospel.Here’s the
backstory: An occupying army of Roman soldiers had invaded the country with
much bloodshed and cultural upheaval.Then taxes were collected, and used to fund the same occupying army.The tax wasn’t popular, but refusing to pay
meant imprisonment or death.Taxes were
not paid to demonstrate good citizenship so much as to stay alive.Benjamin Franklin famously said “There is
nothing certain in this life except death and taxes,” but for the people of 1st
Century Judea, it was a matter of taxes or death.
Two groups who ordinarily
have nothing to do with each other have joined forces in their quest to defeat
Jesus.The Herodians were those loyal to
King Herod, who was seen within his own country of Israel as a sellout to the
occupying Roman government – a puppet king whose loyalties lie in Rome, not to
his own people.The Pharisees – devout,
religious, purists – detested Rome and anyone sympathetic to Rome.It was insulting enough to pay the tax, but
to have to use Roman currency to do it – engraved with an image of Caesar and
proclaiming the divinity of Caesar – required them to regularly violate the
first two of the ten commandments.
The Herodians have the
lock on government power, the Pharisees the lock on religious power.Along comes Jesus, an unlikely third party
candidate, but lately he’s been gaining in the polls.The Pharisees see him eroding their religious
traditions and heritage, the Herodians see his popularity as a potential
political threat and the seeds for an uprising.Politically, the only thing the Herodians and the Pharisees had in
common was their hatred of Jesus.Indeed, politics do make strange bedfellows, as now they caucus together
in a united front against Jesus, asking whether it is lawful to pay taxes to
Even Admiral Ackbar could see from a mile away that it’s a
trap.If Jesus answers, “yes,” he risks
losing the support of his adoring public.If he plays to public opinion and answers, “no,” then he can be arrested
for advocating lawlessness and possible insurrection.It’s a trick question with no right
answer.Jesus recognizes the inherent
flaw in the question is that he is being asked to pick a side.
Jesus doesn’t take the
bait, but reframes the question. “Does
anyone have the coin used to pay the tax?”Someone in the crowd produces a Roman
denarius, like this one, and presents it to Jesus.Go ahead and pass this around, although, I
would like it back, so whoever ends up with it, please bring it back to me!
As he casually holds the
coin in his hand, Jesus asks, “Whose image and inscription are on this coin?”
and he knows full well, as his opponents will answer, that the face of Caesar,
as well as words ascribing glory and power and even divinity are on that
coin.The coin that’s being passed
around is badly worn, but you can just barely make out the face in the middle,
and evidence of some sort of writing around the edges.
And so, Jesus says, give
to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.
He hasn’t technically
answered the question.He hasn’t helped
us make heads or tails about the question of paying taxes, but has introduced a
new, more fascinating and utterly more important wrinkle to the fabric: namely,
what – and who – belongs to God.
Before I tackle that question, let me ask one of my
own: why is it, actually, that we’re not supposed to talk about money,
politics, and religion in the first place?Yes, these matters are personal and potentially divisive.People feel very strongly about these
matters, which is just why we should talk about them in the community of faith
– not to tell people what to do but to help them see these issues from the
vantage point of their faith. When you ask what church folks look for in a good
sermon, one common theme is that the sermon will connect to and inform their
daily life; how the biblical story, in other words, connected with their life story.
What is more daily, more
directly related to our decisions and priorities than our politics and how we
spend money?Does not our faith and who
we believe and experience Jesus to be not have some influence on both?Do we not have at least some idea of what the
kingdom of God is like, some picture of what that might look like, and are we
not called to work to bring God’s coming kingdom to fruition?Are we not called to bear a little more light
to an often dark world, to bring a little bit of heaven to earth, and really
mean it when we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in
Give to God what is God’s
– we don’t have to scratch down too far to realize that it all belongs to
God.Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the
Lord’s, and all within it; the world, and all who live in it.”But that doesn’t really solve the dilemma –
if God already owns everything, how can we give God what God already has?
Think about that coin for
a minute.That coin stamped out by human
hands for human purposes, and the image of Caesar imprinted on it - it’s hard
to ignore the connection to those words from the beginning of Genesis about the
first time God stamped out a human being: “Let us make humankind in our image”
An unspoken question hangs
in the air as the eyes of Jesus meet ours. “And you, my friend: Whose image do you bear?”
Give to Caesar the things
with Caesar’s image, but give to God what bears the image of God – yourself,
your whole self, nothing less than yourself.We belong to the one whose image we bear.We belong to God.
Whatever we render unto
Caesar, or to the retirement fund, or to the offering at church, we can never
afford to forget this: we belong entirely to God. We may divide our budget, but
we must never divide our allegiance.Our
first citizenship is in God’s kingdom, the church exists as an outpost of that
kingdom, the embassy of a people who gather not under the flag of any one
nation, but under the shadow of the cross of Christ.
That’s what we’re supposed
to be anyway. Yet, I find that too often our other allegiances are allowed
higher priority than God.We too often
modify and qualify our identity in God, describing ourselves as conservative
Christians or liberal Christians; young Christians or old Christians; traditionalist
Christians or contemporary Christians.Every modifier and qualifier divides our loyalties and muddies our
identity.Our lives are influenced more
by forces that are economic, cultural, and geographic than they are shaped by
the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Friends, God comes first.Before anything else.Our ultimate, absolute, and final allegiance
is pledged to God and God alone.
While we may feel strongly
about our loyalties, before we are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we are
Christian.Before we are liberal or
conservative, we are Christian.Before
we are American, we are Christian.No
matter what else, our identity is in God.
Why does that matter so
Think about that coin that’s going around, and think
about the image on that coin.That coin
is 2000 years old.The image has faded
and is barely recognizable.The emperor
died long ago.His empire has
collapsed.Everyone who pledged their
allegiance and loyalty and identity in that earthly empire now have nothing to
show for it.The image on that coin is
faded, and everything that image represents is now gone.
Eventually, all kings and
kingdoms shall fade into oblivion.Rulers and realms will be relegated to the ages.Powers and principalities will pass away.Every nation that rises will eventually
fall.But the name of the Lord endures
The image of God, unlike
the image on that coin and all it represents, doesn’t fade.It is marked indelibly on each of us, it will
last for all time and for the time that is beyond time.
Our value, worth, and
identity is not found in that coin.Not
in the accumulation of those coins and the things they buy, not in the image on
that coin and all it represents.We are valued, every one of us, with
sacred and inestimable worth, because we bear God’s image.Recognize that value on yourself, and
recognize it on all others who bear that image, and you’re on the right track
toward giving God the things that belong to God.
So sure, give to Caesar
the things that belong to Caesar.Some
trinkets?A coin?Sure, why not!That will all fade away, anyway.But give to God the things that belong to God
– starting with yourself.Give yourself
to God, and those other issues about what to do with your energy and time and
money will come along, as well.
But, just to give you an
opportunity to practice, at both ends of each row, you’ll find a permanent
marker.What I want you to do is to
reach in your wallet and pull out a credit card or your debit card, or a dollar
bill if you don’t have any cards.I want
you to mark the sign of the cross on that card or bill, and then put it back in
your wallet.From now on, when you pull
that out of your wallet, the first thing I want you to do is remember that you
are made in God’s image, and nothing you or anyone else does can change that,
especially not the amount of money in the account tied to that particular
card.Once you’ve done that, ask
yourself if the purchase you’re about to make is consistent with the values of
God’s kingdom, and your identity as one who bears God’s image.Use that as an opportunity give yourself to
God again, and ask God to shape your priorities and identity to be more like
It’s been said “Who you
are is God’s gift to you.What you do
with yourself is your gift to God.”Give
God your self.Your whole self.Your very best self, and nothing less.
Let us pray.
O God, all that we are and
all that we have is a gift from you.Out
of your great love, you formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath
of life.When our love failed and we
turned away, your love remained steadfast.
Forgive us for those times
when we live with divided loyalties.Forgive us when look past you for our identity.Bear with us as we learn to give you the
highest place and our first and primary allegiance.
We thank you for the value
and sacred worth you have placed upon us, the honor you give us simply by
forming us in your image.As those who
bear your image, help us to live like that actually makes a difference in our
lives.May we worship you not with lip
service only, but with our whole lives.In Jesus’ name, Amen.
4 Be glad in
the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! 5 Let your gentleness
show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t
be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your
prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the
peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds
safe in Christ Jesus.
8 From now on,
brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable,
focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all
that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of
praise. 9 Practice these things: whatever you learned,
received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.
10 I was very
glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of
course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m
not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content
in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need
and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in
any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or
being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power
of the one who gives me strength.
Be glad in the Lord,
always.Don’t be anxious about
anything.I must admit that at the
beginning of the week, when I opened my Bible and read the first lines of our
passage for today, I wondered if we were being punked.Be glad always?Don’t be anxious about anything?Nice try, God, but do you have any idea what
we’ve been through lately?Do you know
how much death and tragedy we have faced as a congregation in the last six
weeks?Do you know how many are facing
difficulties – medically, in their families, in their relationships, their
jobs, their finances?Islamic State,
Ebola, the economy, the election.Our
church – our relationships, our mission, our budget, our resources, our future
– friends, there is plenty to be worried and anxious about!
And yet the Scripture
says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” I used to regard that as good advice, maybe
even a command: sort of self-improvement slogan; a personal, spiritual pep-rally. I would
read it and try to psyche myself up. "Let's do this! No anxiety! Who needs
it? I am a competent adult. I just need to breathe deeper, summon more faith,
and I can achieve this anxiety-free life Paul talks about. Let's do this!"
There are a lot of things we can do ourselves. Home Depot, Lowe's, and
other companies specialize in selling products to people who want to do their
projects themselves. Their slogans seek to inspire confidence in people that
they can do it themselves!
Lowe's was "Let's Build Something Together," which gave way in
2012 to "Never Stop Improving." Home Depot, until recently, was "You can
do it, we can help."
We are a society built on self-improvement, do-it-yourself, can-do-ability.We believe that the ability for each of us to
do and be whatever we want is somewhere inside of us, and the key to success is
to look and dig deep enough to find it.
And, truth be told, there’s an awful lot of good that we can accomplish
ourselves.There is satisfaction in
tackling a difficult project and completing it.Small children delight in being able to master some new skill without
any help and proudly announcing to the world, “I do it myself!”Goals of independence and self-sufficiency
are common both to our growing children and our aging parents.
All the self-help gurus will tell you that the keys to peace and
contentment and joy are found within ourselves, as well, but I’ve got news for
them – I’ve looked, and it’s not there.That need that we have for deep peace and joy and contentment is a real
need.We go looking for it where we’re
told to look for everything else that gives us meaning – within ourselves.And true enough, that need is inside of us,
but the solution isn’t.
So, if it’s not within us, it must be around us.Maybe we find joy in our circumstances, our
surroundings, our jobs, our wealth, our status, our possessions.
Over the winter, I had been hinting for months that I wanted a new
television.My birthday rolled around in
April, and low and behold, I came home from a trip to Kansas City and there in
my family room was a new flat-screen television more than twice as big as the
clunky old TV we had been watching.
The old TV worked just fine – it was just, old.I am grateful to my wife for getting it.Season Five of The Walking Dead begins tonight, and I’m glad to have a nice, big,
clear screen to watch it on.But, after
a few weeks, the excitement of having it wore off because I was used to
it.And then, they started advertising
for those new curved-screen TVs, and I was thinking, “Oh man, here I am
watching this outdated flat-screen; we should have waited and gotten the
Or, you buy a car, new or used, and you’re excited to get it because it’s
so much nicer or newer or more reliable or whatever than your old car, and you
show it off to all your friends, but then after a few weeks, you’re used to it.
You see how quickly that excitement and euphoria of a new thing can wear
off? Often the build-up and anticipation
of having those things brings more actual pleasure than the thing itself.So, no, true peace and joy and contentment
aren’t found outside of ourselves, either.
So if not inside of ourselves, and not outside of ourselves, where do we
find it? Well, for one thing, maybe each of us needs to take our “self” out of
the picture.If I may, we are far too
impressed with ourselves, and far too obsessed with ourselves.If you bought a Coke over the summer, be
honest, did you dig through the cooler on more than one occasion seeing if they
had a bottle with your name on it?I
know I did!Why was that campaign so
successful?Because it capitalized on
our unhealthy obsession with ourselves.
I can psyche myself up in other areas of life. So why do I struggle with
actualizing peace of mind in my own soul?Well, when it comes to finding lasting and peace and contentment and
joy, we are not clever enough, creative enough, smart enough, good enough,
spiritual enough, deep enough.
Peace and contentment and joy are not found in us, they are not found
around us, because they’re not about us.They’re found in God, because it’s about God.
The need for them is inside of us, but the solution isn’t.True joy comes from God.
It may be stating the
obvious, but the joy Paul has in mind is not superficial; there is a difference
between something funny or happy and deep joy, which has a lasting effect and
the power to change us.
Specifically, this joy is
not the same as “happy,” and following Jesus is certainly not always “happy.”
The Apostle Paul, who wrote these words to “be glad and be joyful, always” is
the same Apostle Paul who was persecuted, beaten, and imprisoned. In the end,
his faith cost him his life, as it did for many who believed in Jesus. The
faith is not always happy.
At the same time, it need
not be overly somber, either.Sometimes
we are our own greatest barrier to knowing God’s joy and peace.Sometimes we Christians just take ourselves
too seriously.We can get so focused on
duty and obligation, and rules and regulations that we miss the invitation to
walk with Christ in newness of life.Steve
Brown says, "Religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited
us to a dance...and we've turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking
to see if we're doing it right and are in step and in line with the other
soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through
hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching."
Sometimes we focus on the negative rather than the positive, or the
shortcomings, failures, and annoyances of others, caught up in meaningless
disagreements and petty arguments.I’ve
seen more church folks lose sight of the big picture because everyone was more
concerned with the color of the carpet, the music selections, the “right” way
to make the hot dogs and the setting of the thermostat than they were with
being a community of praise and prayer that sought God’s will over each of
their own.I’ve seen more church folks
major in the minors, thereby destroying rather than building any semblance of
We are too often focused
on sin instead of celebrating that we are forgiven. We complain too often about
the lack of righteousness instead of remembering we are beloved children of
God. We are too often frustrated by feelings of weakness instead of being
delighted about the strength of the Holy Spirit working in us. Yes, we too,
probably need a periodic reminder to “rejoice in the Lord.”
You may know that John
Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a missionary from England to the colony
of Georgia for about 18 months in the 1730s.Despite what the folks in Savannah tell you, his time in America was a
One famous story from that
time was on the ship to Georgia.A
violent storm came up that had most of the passengers screaming for their
lives, except for a group of Moravian Christians – the same Moravians in Winston-Salem
– who calmly prayed, read Psalms, and sang hymns.That incident left an impression on Wesley –
the maturity of their faith, and by comparison, the lack of maturity of his
What Wesley saw was truly
“the peace of God that passes all human understanding.”They found a joy and contentment that was not
within themselves, not circumstantial, but from God.
Now, in theory, we all
know this.We all know that God’s will
is ever-directed to his children’s good, that God is the Lord and giver of life
who came that we would have life and have it abundantly, and whatever forces
are at work in our world to steal and kill and destroy, those things are that
are robbing us of abundant life and taking away our joy are clearly not from
God, in theory, we all know that in our heads, but it’s easy to let the
troublesome circumstances of life cloud out that reality.
Yes, we too, need
instruction to focus our thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is
holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is
worthy of praise.The life of praise and
prayer is the path to peace and joy.If
you are looking for that in your life, commit to being a person of praise and
prayer; you’ll find a joy and a peace that transcends all human understanding.
This joy does not overlook
or diminish the real pain and difficulty we go through in life, but it keeps
the long view in mind that our struggles and grief are both temporary and
counter to God’s will for us.
Where that gets muddled,
our passage from Philippians is like hiring a personal trainer who isn’t going
to drop any new knowledge on us, but just tell us and remind us and encourage
us in what we already know:that we, as
the people of God, are called to a life of joy and contentment and peace in
God, even when the storms of life rage within us and around us.
So what is there to
rejoice? Real and lasting joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what
happens, we are inseparably connected to God and saved – saved from sin, and
saved for abundant life. It has to do with where the focus of one’s life is or,
to employ a famous phrase by Paul Tillich, with one’s “ultimate concern.”True joy is seated in an unwavering faith that
no matter what comes, God will win in the end.Good will triumph over evil, hope will prevail over fear, love will
always win over hate.
When anxiety and stress
and fear and pain and worry and grief are weighing us down, we are invited to
rejoice, because ultimately our identity is found in God, not in our
circumstances.We rejoice, not because
we are holding it all together, but because God is holding us, not because we
are having fun but because God is faithful, not because we are happy but
because God is holy.
We rejoice, not because life is good or we are
good but because God is good.
evening he took his place at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As
they were eating he said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me.”
saddened, each one said to him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”
23 He replied,
“The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this
bowl. 24 The Human One goes to his death just as it is written
about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It
would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
25 Now Judas,
who would betray him, replied, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You said it.”
26 While they
were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the
disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” 27 He took
a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. 28
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their
sins may be forgiven. 29 I tell you, I won’t drink wine again
until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 Then,
after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus
said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is
because it is written, I will hit the
shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions. 32
But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you to Galilee.”
replied, “If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.”
34 Jesus said
to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me
35 Peter said,
“Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” All the disciples said
the same thing.
The children were gathered
together in an interfaith learning group, to learn more about each other’s
religious heritage.For the first
session, they were each asked to bring something from home that symbolized something
important about their faith.They went
around the room; “I’m Catholic, and this is a rosary.”“I’m Jewish, and this is a star of
David.”“I’m Buddhist, and this is a
Lotus flower.”“I’m Methodist, and this
is a casserole dish.”
We joke, and yet the
reality is that when the people of God share a meal together, we draw closer to
God as we draw closer to one another.Sharing food together is as much a part of our faith as attending
worship or reading the Bible or tithing or acts of service and mission.Whether we are out to eat, in someone’s home,
in the fellowship hall, or having a cup of coffee together between services,
when we eat together, we are drawn together.At the table, something wonderful always happens, and nowhere is that
truer than around the table of our Lord.May we pray.
Think of the times your
own family has gathered around the table.No doubt you will think of holidays and birthdays and anniversaries and
special occasions.I always think of Thanksgiving
Dinner at my Grandma’s house – with my aunts and uncles and cousins – half in
the dining room at the adult table, half in the kitchen at the kid table.I think of the joy and celebration – everyone
excited to see each other and catch up, telling stories, cracking jokes, all
talking at the same time such that I learned quickly that to take a breath in
the middle of a story was to be left out of the conversation for the next 20
I think about the mashed
potatoes being passed to my Uncle John, and when he was finished, and my
Grandma looking over and saying, “John, pass your plate” because there were
more on his plate than left in the bowl.
I think about the dinners
we’ve hosted in our home, how some of the traditions are the same as I remember
from growing up, and yet some are different.Every family has their own traditions and ways of celebrating around the
table.The details may vary from place
to place, but other things are universal: togetherness, celebration, and love.
That can be true around God’s
family table, as well.The traditions
and details of Holy Communion (the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) can vary from
place to place.The meal is often
approached with questions and confusion – Who can receive Communion? How
old should someone be to receive Communion? What if I feel unworthy?
What if I don’t understand it? What if a non-believer receives
it? How often should we have it? What’s the best method to receive
it? Wine or juice? Standing or kneeling? Common cup or shot
glasses? Wafers or bread? Leavened or unleavened bread?
It’s easy to get lost in
the details, and lose sight of the main thing: Holy Communion is a place where
God promises to meet us and give us grace, to draw us closer to Christ and one
another, to give us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It’s God’s
Family Table – where we share in God’s love and grace in a real and tangible
In the United Methodist
tradition, our practice is to have an open table – because this is a place to
experience God’s love and grace, and we don’t want to deny anyone that
opportunity.God’s presence and grace
are so real and tangible in the bread and wine that John Wesley, Methodism’s
founder, went so far as to call Communion “a converting ordinance,” meaning
that even an unbeliever could be brought to faith in Christ through the
powerful grace of Communion.
For that reason, everyone
is welcome at God’s family table.Children, members of other churches and denominations, people who are
not part of any church, those who are sitting in a church for the first time in
their lives today, saints and sinners – all are welcome!
The table is not ours,
it’s God’s!We are not the host of the
meal; Jesus is!Jesus came for all, his
grace is for all, and his grace is available at this table, which is why all
are welcome at this table.
That makes some folks
uncomfortable.I’ve been asked by very
well-meaning folks, “Pastor, what if unworthy people receive Communion?”
Well, how did Jesus handle
it?The scripture we read a few moments
ago is Matthew’s account of what we commonly refer to as “The Last
Supper.”It is Jesus’ final meal with
his closest followers and friends, a Passover celebration on the eve of his
execution.As you look around the table
of those first disciples, realize that none of them was worthy of their place
at the table with Jesus.Judas, of
course, is the one we single out.Judas,
the betrayer, the one who sold Jesus out for a few measly coins, Judas, the bad
apple in an otherwise good bunch.
But friends, there was plenty
of sin to go around the table that night.The disciples had argued about who would get the most important,
honorable place.They had all refused to
serve each other.They had false
expectations about him, even at that late hour.They would fall asleep when Jesus told them to pray.Peter would deny ever knowing him.The others would abandon him and run for
their own lives.None of the disciples
is any prize.Not just Judas, but there
is enough sin to go all the way around the table.
If the places at God’s
family table were awarded based on who is worthy, then Jesus would have eaten
that meal alone.Jesus took his place at
the table among those who would betray, deny, and desert him.Even those closest to Jesus would let him
down and disappoint him, and yet he expressed how much he wanted to eat that
meal with them.
remarkable considering that in Middle Eastern culture, both in Jesus’ day and
in ours, eating together is considered one of the most intimate thing you can
do with someone else.It is a way of
signifying solidarity, unity, connection with another person.To invite someone to your table and to share
a meal with them is to bestow upon them a great honor.With the peace talks that are on and off
between Israel and Palestine, I can guarantee you that any time food is served,
the Palestinians and Israelis will not eat together.Eating together says, “We’re on the same
page, we respect you, we honor you.”
That’s some real food for
thought.The saying goes, “You’re known
by the company you keep.”In the
Scriptures, you’ll find Jesus keeping company, eating with tax collectors and
prostitutes and every manner of sinner, every outcast, every social misfit,
every disreputable character you could imagine.Jesus doesn’t end up sitting with them by accident; he invites them to
his table, he invites himself to their tables, even up to the last, he desires
to eat a meal with people who would let him down in the biggest ways
What if unworthy people
receive Communion?Who cares?So what if they do?It would be no different than that night
Jesus was betrayed and gave himself for us.Forgive my simple mind, but unworthy people at God’s family table –
wouldn’t that be exactly what Jesus wanted?
Across the world and
regardless of cultural context, the family table is a place where relationships
are strengthened as bodies are fed.It’s
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 - where God’s love and grace are as real as the food on the table.
We come to this table
because we need God’s grace, not because we already have it figured out.Wherever we are on our spiritual journey –
just starting out, well along the path, not sure – we all need food for the
journey, which is why we all need to come to this table.Grace is the main course served here – it
looks and tastes like bread and wine, but it’s the gracious and loving presence
of Christ that’s being served in abundance at this table.
I don’t know about you,
but I need all the grace I can get.I am
hungry for the presence of Christ in my life.That’s why I make sure to receive Communion every opportunity I
have.Every time this meal is available,
we, as the people of God are invited to receive it in faith that Christ is
really present, and that grace is being served.
Sometimes I hear people
say they don’t want to have Communion too often because “then it won’t be as
special.”Let me ask you this: how much
of God’s grace is too much of God’s grace?John Wesley encouraged the early Methodists to celebrate “constant
communion,” meaning, if it’s available, you go and receive – in order to
receive the grace available.Wesley was
known to receive Communion several times a week.Methodist laypeople were known to travel many
miles in awful weather to get to a Communion service, anymore, we have trouble
getting you to come out if it starts to drizzle a bit!
If you’re a lifelong
Methodist, you may remember “quarterly Communion,” basically celebrating
Communion about four times a year.That
tradition dates back to the frontier days, when Methodist preachers were
clergy were few and far between, and so they covered a great deal of
territory.The preacher, the circuit
rider, would come through about once a quarter, and would celebrate Communion
on that visit.Once a quarter doesn’t
seem very often, but it was as often as the laypeople had access to an ordained
person who could celebrate Communion – they were having Communion as frequently
Now that most United
Methodist congregations are led by an ordained clergyperson, many congregations
are taking seriously the command to have Communion as often as possible, moving
toward more frequent celebrations of Communion – monthly, in most cases, and
even weekly in some places.Some are
asking, “Isn’t that too much?” and again I answer, “How much of God’s grace is
Friends, Communion is not
special because it only comes around every once in awhile.It was never intended to be a rare treat;
it’s supposed to be daily bread.What
makes it special is the presence of Christ and the gift of grace.Communion is celebrated weekly in our
sanctuary on Wednesdays at 5:30.If
you’re hungry and thirsty for more of God’s presence, then be here.
God’s grace is abundant
and there’s always plenty to go around.No doubt you notice what big pieces of bread I break off for you when
you come to receive Communion.Some of
you think “it’s too much,” but again I ask, “How much of God’s grace is too
much?”Friends, I give you those big
pieces intentionally.This is a feast of
grace, not a meager meal.God gives
grace in abundance; who are we to be stingy with what God has given abundantly?
That big piece of bread is
a significant reminder of the abundance of God’s grace, even if you have to
chew on it for more than one bite, I want you to take that time chewing to
think about just how good and generous God is, and knowing that in the economy
of God’s kingdom, there is always plenty to go around.When someone complains about the bread being
too big, too much, you just look them right in the eye and say, “And how much
of God’s grace is too much?”
Jesus desires to eat this
meal with us.I am so honored that Jesus
thinks enough of me, loves me enough, to invite me to his table.Jesus takes his place at a table packed with
all sorts of unworthy people.Take a look
at the table; it may look like bread and wine up there, but the main course is
an abundance of God’s love and grace.
Are you hungry for some
grace?I hope so; dinner is served.