Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Community's Values (5th in Love God, Love Others series)

The final sermon in the "Love God, Love Others" series for Lent. 

Love God Love Others 5

Matthew 5:3-10

Please look with me at the Main Street United Methodist Church Vision Statement. Let’s read that out loud together:

Fostering vital communities through love and life-changing experiences.

And I tell you, this is one of the greatest needs of our time—people are hungry for vital community. A community is a network of relationships. A vital community is a network of relationships that is alive and life-giving.

And who doesn’t want that? Everybody wants vital community. People are starving for vital community. Raise your hand if you DON’T want vital community—if you’re saying, “I want to live by myself and I don’t want to deal with anybody!”

Now, here’s the thing: For us at Main Street to foster vital communities, we have to BE a vital community. And for us to be a vital community, we have to live by the Jesus Creed. And at the start of this sermon series, I told you what that is. A man came to Jesus one day and said, “What is the greatest commandment?” And what Jesus said in response is what we call “The Jesus Creed.”

So, do me a favor and let’s say the Jesus Creed out loud together:

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.”
The second is this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.

And my sisters and brothers at Main Street, that is THE KEY to vital community:
Love God
Love Others

Let me hear you say that … [repeat]

That’s the key to vital community, and that’s what we’ve been talking about during the season of Lent. And we’ve looked at the community’s prayer, which is the Lord’s Prayer, and the community’s table, which is Holy Communion, and the community’s standards, which are the Ten Commandments—and today we’re going to look at the community’s values.
We’re going to read from Matthew 5, verses 3-10. These are statements from Jesus that come at the beginning of one of his most famous sermons. We call them the Beatitudes, from the Latin for “blessed.” I’d like us to read these out loud responsively:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3-10, New International Version

LET’S PRAY: Oh God, let these statements of Jesus shape us into the Christ-centered community that you want us to be. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

So, everybody loves the Beatitudes. They’re beautiful. They’re poetic. “Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are the merciful … Blessed are the peacemakers.”  People read the Beatitudes at weddings, at funerals, at graduations. Everybody loves the Beatitudes. The problem is, nobody seems to know what they actually mean.

For example, is Jesus giving us a list of things he wants us to DO? “I want you to go out and perform acts of mercy.  I want you to go out and make peace.”

OR— are the Beatitudes a list of things we’re supposed to BE? Like some people call these the “BE-Attitudes.” We’re supposed to BE humble, and meek, and pure in heart, and if we’re not those things, we’re supposed to work on being those things.

OR—are the Beatitudes a road map to happiness? Some people call them the “Be Happy Attitudes.” So maybe Jesus is saying, “Look, if you be humble, and be meek, and show mercy, and make peace—then you’ll be happy.”

OR (and stick with me now)—are the Beatitudes simply statements of fact that don’t ask you to do or to be anything? Could it be that Jesus is looking out on a group of people who already are poor in spirit … who are already mourning … who are, in fact, hungering and thirsting for righteousness … could it be that Jesus is looking at these people who are right in front of him and saying, “Look, I know society shuns you, but God honors you” (which is another word for blessed)?

Maybe the real point of the Beatitudes is that Jesus wants you to look out at the world and realize that many who are least in the eyes of the world are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And maybe Jesus wants you to realize that many who are great in the eyes of the world, aren’t even going to make it into the kingdom of heaven.

So are the Beatitudes …
a)    A list of things to do?
b)    A list of things to be?
c)    A road map to happiness?
d)    A statement of who is already blessed in the eyes of God?

Well, obviously opinions vary, but in my study this week, I did see two things that most scholars agree on. Whether the Beatitudes are things to do, or things to be, or just simple statements, all the scholars I read seem to agree on two things:

1-    The Beatitudes represent a set of VALUES.
2-    These values are upside down from the rest of the world.

Everybody agrees on those two things—that whatever else the Beatitudes are, there’s a set of values behind them. And the values behind the Beatitudes are upside down from the rest of the world.

Now, what do I mean by values? Values are what you care about. Values are what’s important to you. Values are not the same thing as rules, because there are a lot of rules you follow that you don’t care about.  And values are not the same thing as goals, because values are not things you’re trying to accomplish.

Values define who you are. Values say, “This is good, and this is bad. We want this, and we don’t want that.”

So, for example, in America, we value hard work. And we value democracy. Artists value creativity. Universities value academic freedom. In the South we value hospitality.

Values are guiding principles. So if you look at the Beatitudes you’re going to see the principles that are supposed to guide this community called the church. These are…

The Community’s Values

1-    Humility: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”

To be poor in spirit means to not be full of yourself. It’s reliance on God. It’s an inner disposition that says, “I am nothing without God.”
So, in other words, we value humility, which means we don’t value bragging, boasting, or arrogance.

2-    Broken hearts: “Blessed are those who mourn”

“Blessed are those who mourn” doesn’t have to do with losing a loved one. It has to do with being broken-hearted over the state of the world. It means that you look around at the pain and suffering and the sin and sadness, and your heart breaks, and you long for the day when God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is what Bob Pierce, the founder of Samaritan’s Purse was talking about when he said, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

3-    Gentleness: “Blessed are the meek”

And meek does not mean wimpy.  It does not mean weak. The original Greek word refers to strength that is under control. It’s used of a wild animal that’s been tamed. The idea is that you’re not pushy, you’re not aggressive, you’re not harsh—you’re gentle.

4-    Spiritual Hunger: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”

In this community, we’re not hungry for money.  We’re not hungry for success. We’re not hungry for fame or fortune.  We’re hungry for God. We long to grow spiritually. And so we study the Bible and we pray and we worship and we seek out more and more of God so that we can become more and more like Jesus. And that passion drives us like a hungry person is driven to find food.

5-    Mercy: “Blessed are the merciful”

Friends, get this straight: We value mercy.  We don’t hold grudges.  We don’t retaliate. We forgive.  That’s one of our core values.

6-    Integrity: “Blessed are the pure in heart”

Pure in heart means single-minded and honest. It means that what you say with your mouth is what you mean in your heart. It means you tell the truth. It means people can trust you.

7-    Peacemaking: “Blessed are the peacemakers”

We do not value violence—whether it’s physical violence, verbal violence, emotional violence, sexual violence—we abhor violence. We want to see people put down their weapons—whether those weapons are guns, or spoken words, or posts on the internet—we want to help people put down their weapons and live at peace. And a good place for that to start would be if we in the Christian community would put down our weapons and learn how to live in peace.

But get this straight.  I don’t see how Jesus could say this any more clearly: We value peace.

NOW THIS LAST ONE, I kind of struggled with. It's the one about being persecuted. Is Jesus he wants us to go out and get ourselves persecuted? I had images of one of you going to work tomorrow and acting like a jerk so you can get yourself persecuted and then say, "Aha! I'm blessed." 

I kept asking myself, "What's the VALUE behind this Beatitude?" And I noticed something that makes this Beatitude different from all the others. Two things, actually. And when I thought about that, and I thought about the historical context, I finally decided that THIS is the value behind the 8th Beatitude ...

8-    Concern for people on the margins:

This is the only Beatitude that Jesus expounds on. It's also the only one that he expresses in the second person.  That is, he turns it from "they" to "you." 

Jesus says,

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And then he adds, 

 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
                                    --Matthew 5:10-12

Now, the historical context: Jesus is talking to people who are being beat up by the establishment. The religious leaders kicked them out of the synagogues, and the political leaders outlawed their beliefs.

Jesus is talking to people who are shunned by the rest of society. They're at the bottom of the ladder. They’ve been pushed out on the margins because of their faith. 

And Jesus is comforting these people. He’s saying, “Don’t be discouraged. You, of all people, should rejoice! Because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven!”

Now here Jesus speaks to those who are marginalized because they’re being persecuted for their faith. But I’m going to suggest that this concern extends to people who are on the margins because of poverty, or discrimination, or educational status, or lack of opportunity or lack of voice. Homeless people, sick people, people with mental illness, people in nursing homes, people who can’t work and therefore can’t support themselves—anybody who finds themselves left out, left behind, or looked down on.  The classic phrase is “the least, the last, and the lost.”

In the Christian community, we value these people.  We don’t shut them out. We don’t exclude them. We don’t look down on them. In fact, we look up to them because they have a lot to teach us about what it means to have faith. We value these people. We honor them. Because one day, they’re going to be royalty in the kingdom of heaven.

Now do me a favor and look at those values again:

The Community’s Values
1-    Humility
2-    Broken hearts
3-    Gentleness
4-    Spiritual Hunger
5-    Mercy
6-    Integrity
7-    Peacemaking
8-    Concern for people on the margins

For the most part, those are not the values of the world around us. The world’s values are more like be strong, be bold, be a winner, get what’s yours. Be attractive and flaunt it. Get money and buy stuff.

The world is not all that excited about humility and gentleness and spiritual hunger and all that stuff.

So, I want us to really think about this question: When people look at us, do they see the world’s values, or the values of a Christ-centered community?

One thing to notice about the community’s values is that they have to be lived in community—it’s impossible to live out those values on your own.

So look again at the community’s values:

-       Are those the values we live by?

-       Are those the values that most Christians live by?

-       Are those the values that Christians in America are known for?

-       Are those the values that we Christians look for in our leaders?

Values are what’s important to you. Values are what you care about. Values define who you are and how you do things. And in the Christian community, our values are upside down from the rest of the world.  

So what would it look like if we in the church stopped taking our cues from the world, and made a new commitment to live out the values of Jesus?

I’ll tell you one thing that would happen. We would be a vital community that

Foster[s] vital communities through love and life-changing experiences.

LET’S PRAY: Oh, God, make us humble. Make us gentle. Make us merciful. Make us people of integrity. Make us makers of peace.

God, break our hearts for what breaks yours. Place within us a deep spiritual hunger. And give us, Lord, your passion for those on the margins. In the name of the one who taught and lived these values—your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Community's Standards (4th in Love God, Love Others series)

This was my sermon on Sunday, March 11:

Love God, Love Others 4
Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, Ten but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
--Exodus 20:1-17, NIV

Once upon a time there was a woman—a sweet, kind woman—who married a well-known man who was tall, dark, and handsome. She loved him very much. But unfortunately, as time went by, he grew cold, distant, and domineering. He started bossing his wife around, telling her to cook and clean and do all the old-fashioned housewife stuff, and on many days he would go so far as to give her a LIST of things she had to do before he got home from work. The woman still loved her husband, but she was also afraid of him, so she did the things on the list out of fear.

After a while that husband died, and the woman met another man, who showered her with affection and swept her off her feet. He treated her like a queen. He made her feel loved like never before. They got married, and they lived together in wedded bliss for many years.
One day the woman was cleaning out an old chest of drawers, and she found a list—one of the lists from her former husband—a list of things she had to do. And as she read the list, she realized that she was still doing everything on that list for her new husband—but not because she had to—and not because she was afraid. She did those things because she wanted to, AS A RESPONSE OF LOVE.

I tell you that story because I'm about to give you a LIST, and I want you to understand that, metaphorically speaking, this list comes from the second husband. That is to say, the God who gives the Ten Commandments is not a domineering, uncaring, hateful deity who says, “Here’s the list – get it done!”  No, the God who gives the Ten Commandments is a caring, compassionate, tender God who has gone to great lengths to show His affection. And now we “do the list,” not because we’re afraid we have to, but because we want to, as a response of love.

To really understand the Ten Commandments, you have to understand what comes before God gives them. First, God chooses a man named Abram (later Abraham), and he says, “Abram, I love you, and for no other reason than because I love you, I’m going to bless you. I’m going to make you famous. I’m going to give you more descendants than anyone can count. I’m going to make you into a great nation. And best of all, Abram—all nations will be blessed through you!”

And then God makes that same promise to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and to Isaac’s son, Jacob, and to all twelve of Jacob’s sons.

Then God takes the people to Egypt where they’re well-fed and cared for and they can multiply and grow. But then a cocky king comes along and turns God’s people into slaves. And God lets that go on for a while, until he finally say, “All right, that’s it. I’ve had enough.” And he busts his people out of there through a series of miracles. Powerful stuff. God turns water into blood, and blots out the sun, and makes there be frogs everywhere, and generally wreaks havoc.

So the people leave Egypt, and they’re marching across the desert, and they come to the Red Sea. And they come to this body of water and they stop. And they look behind them, and the Egyptians are coming! The Egyptian army is coming after them. So they look at Moses, who’s been leading them, and they say, “What do we do? What do we do? Did you just bring us out here to die?”

And Moses says, “Be chill. God’s got this.” And he raises his rod, and WHOOSH—God parts the waters, and the people walk across the sea on dry land.

Then God leads them through the desert, in a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire at night. And when they get hungry – ZAP! God gives ‘em bread from heaven. And when they get thirsty – SWISH! God gives ‘em water from a rock.

And then after all that--after God has reached out to them, rescued them, cared for them, led them, protected them, provided for them--after God has formed a RELATIONSHIP with them, he says to His people, “Look: Because I love you – let me tell you some things about the way life works.”

#1 – Put Me first in your life – your life has been designed to operate with me at the center.

#2 – Be sure you’re really worshiping ME – don’t put any things or people or places or special experiences in my place. Be careful to worship the real ME, and not some made-up image of Me.

#3 – Be careful how you represent Me – don’t drag My Name through the mud. Don’t say things in My Name that I didn’t say. Don’t do things in My Name that I didn’t tell you to do.

#4 – For your own good, Take a day off every week – Rest, and remind yourself that everything does not depend on you. Trust me, and relax in the knowledge that I can run the universe without you!

And later on, Jesus summed up these 4 things when he said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.”                        
--Mark 12:30

And then God gave the people six more commands that tell us how to get along with other people – how to live with each other in the human community:

#5 – Family is important – so take care of Mom & Dad.

#6 – Life is important – so treat every human being as sacred.

#7 – Marriage is important – so be faithful to your partner.

#8 – Boundaries are important – so respect what belongs to others.

#9 – Truth is important – so be honest.

#Ten – Gratitude is important – so be content with what I’ve given you.

And later on, Jesus summed all these up when he said,

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
--Mark 12:31

Now, the Ten Commandments are RULES, but they’re more than rules. For one thing, the Ten Commandments are values that reveal who God is, and what God cares about. The Ten Commandments reflect the character of God.

For another thing, the Ten Commandments are principles that show us the best way to live. They’re not given to destroy our fun – they’re given to PROTECT US.

There’s a story that’s told about Chi Chi Rodriguez, the famous golfer. It’s probably not true, but it makes a good point.

The story goes that Chi Chi was traveling with a friend who noticed that he was driving much too fast. As they approached an intersection, Chi Chi sped right through the red light. 

The friend said, "Chi Chi! Man, what are you doing? You ran that red light!"

Rodriguez said, "My brother taught me to drive, and my brother never stops at red lights, so I don't stop at red lights."

A couple of blocks later, the light was red and again, they drove through the intersection at a high rate of speed. The rider said, "Chi Chi! You're going to get us killed! What are you doing?"

Chi Chi said, "My brother taught me to drive and my brother doesn't stop for red lights, so I don't stop for red lights."

A few blocks down the street, they came to an intersection where the light was green. This time, Chi Chi put on the brakes and came to a stop. "Now what are you doing?" said the friend. "The light is green!"

Chi Chi said, "I know it. But my brother might be coming."

When we get in our cars and drive, there are rules like:
            - Stop at red lights
            - Go the speed limit
            - Pass on the left
            - Don’t pass when there’s a solid yellow line.

Why are those rules there? TO PROTECT US.

Now, back when I was 16 and I first started driving, I obeyed the traffic rules (when I did obey them) for one reason: I didn’t want to get caught! I was afraid. Not just of the cops, but of my parents.

Later I grew up a bit, and I gained some wisdom and maturity. And then I obeyed the rules because I realized they make sense.  They’re good rules, they make traffic work, and best of all, they keep me from getting killed!

But then later I grew up even more, and I got a wife, and two kids. And then I found another reason to obey the rules. It’s called “LOVE.”

You see, I care deeply about those three precious human beings who used to ride around with me in the car. I didn’t want anything to happen to them. I wanted my wife to feel safe.  I wanted my kids to learn good habits that would keep them safe later.

And so now I follow the rules out of LOVE.

The Ten Commandments are like traffic rules for the road called “LIFE.”  They’re much more than rules – but they are rules. And there’s several things you can do with these rules: You can reject them, like Chi Chi Rodriguez in the story; or you can follow them because you’re afraid of being punished; or you can follow them because you’ve come to realize that they actually make sense.

But my hope is that you are someone who knows how much God loves you – and how much he’s already done for you – and how he’s already showered you with grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing. My hope is that you are someone who has accepted God’s free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

And my hope is that now, you will “do the list,” not because you have to, but because you want to – as A REPONSE OF LOVE.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Community's Table (3rd in Love God, Love Others series)

Oops! I got behind on cleaning up my sermon notes and posting them online for folks to read. I have a good excuse, though: Lorie and I were BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE to get to keep our grandson for 8 days while his parents traveled out west. It was fun. It was fulfilling. It was exhausting. And it was worth every minute. 

This sermon is from Sunday, March 4:

Love God Love Others 3

Matthew 26:26-29

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
--Matthew 26:26-29

What is it about food that marks a special occasion?

How do we celebrate Easter? We eat ham. How do we celebrate Thanksgiving?  We eat turkey. How do we celebrate Christmas?  We eat….everything!

What is it about food that marks a special occasion?  A meal is a multi-sensory experience that brings memories alive. Think about it: You walk into Grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving Day. You smell the turkey in the oven. You see the table set with the good china. You see the people who are there – and you miss the people who aren’t. You feel the hugs, you feel the fancy tablecloth, you feel the special silverware in your hand.

You have certain rituals that go with the meal. Dad always carves the turkey. Mom always starts passing the food. Uncle Joe always reaches for the wine bottle. Aunt Betty always slaps his hand.

All these sights, sounds, smells and tastes bring memories alive and trigger all kinds of emotions. And a meal does that so much better than if I just said the words, “Be thankful.”

Well, in a few minutes, we’re going to have a meal. But first let’s think about where this meal comes from.

Quick review: Two weeks ago I told you that Jesus took an ancient Jewish creed called the Sh’ma, and he added to it to create what we now call The Jesus Creed – which is basically Love God, Love Others.

And then last week I told you that Jesus took an ancient Jewish prayer called the Kaddish and he added to it to create what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

So he changed a creed, he changed a prayer – and now we’re going to talk about how he changed a meal.

LET’S PRAY: Father, we thank you for the food we are about to receive—both physical and spiritual. Speak to us about where this meal comes from, and what it means to us today.  Amen.

It was hard, cruel labor. Sunup to sundown—seven days a week—backbreaking, exhausting toil—constantly under the threat of being lashed by a whip or run through by a spear—brutally oppressed by their Egyptian taskmasters.

God’s people Israel lived like this for 400 years, until finally God sends Moses to the King Pharaoh of Egypt to say, “Let my people go.” And the King says, “No, I’m not going to let your people go! I like my slaves!”

So God sends a series of plagues – boils, gnats, frogs, locusts, and other nasty things. And you need to understand that each one of these plagues was related to one of the Egyptians’ gods. For example, blotting out the sun attacked Ra, the sun god. Turning water into blood attacked the goddess of the Nile.

God is revealing himself to these people and saying, “Hello! I’m the real God! You should be worshiping me!”

And I truly believe that at any point in time, the Egyptians could have said, “We get it! We were wrong. You’re the real God. We’ve been worshipping false gods!”

And God would have forgiven them.

But instead, they keep worshipping idols. And they keep being prideful. And they keep oppressing God’s people.

And finally God says, “All right, I’m sending one final plague. The angel of death is going to move through the land of Egypt and take the life of every firstborn child.”

And God turns to his own people and says, “Listen: To protect YOU from the judgment that’s coming, I want you to do something. Go out to your flock and choose a perfect, unblemished lamb. Slaughter the lamb. Take the blood of the lamb and spread it on the doorpost of your house. Then, when the angel of death comes through, he will “pass over” you.”

And from here on out, God wants his people to remember this night--the night they were set free--the night they were delivered from slavery—the night they were saved by the blood of the lamb.
God wants them to never forget, so he tells them to mark the occasion with A MEAL. The meal is called “Passover,” because it celebrates the night the angel of death passed over God’s people.
Now, fast forward 1,500 years (give or take). A young Jewish Rabbi gathers his students together to observe the Passover. Everything goes the way it always has. They eat the same food, follow the same rituals, just like they always have.  

As the host of the meal, it’s the Rabbi’s job to bless the bread. So he holds it up and says, "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth." And then he breaks the bread, as the host has always done. But he does something very strange: As he passes the bread, he says, “This is my body – broken for you.”

The students are stunned. They’re thinking, “What is this?” But before they can recover, the Rabbi does it again. This time, he takes a cup of wine. He holds it up and says, "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine." And he passes it and says, “This is my blood – poured out for the forgiveness of sin.”

At this point, the students don’t know what to think. It’s definitely the strangest Passover they’ve ever attended.

What they will come to understand in the days ahead is that in saying, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” Jesus is instituting a new Passover. And he’s making himself the Passover Lamb. As the apostle Paul would say later, “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast …” (1 Corinthians 5:7b-8a).

Jesus makes himself the Passover lamb. And he makes the Passover meal into the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He took the Sh’ma and made it the Jesus Creed. He took the Kaddish and made it the Lord’s Prayer.

And now he takes this ancient Jewish meal in which the people remember how they were saved by the blood of a lamb, and he says, “I am the Lamb. Do this in remembrance of me.”

But there’s more—when we come to this table, we’re not just remembering.The Apostle Paul says, “When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, New Living Translation).  In some mystical, spiritual way that we can’t quite explain, we are going to be sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. The Greek word for sharing is koinonia. It means participation, close fellowship—communion. This is not just thinking about Jesus—it’s fellowship with Jesus.

And there’s more. Paul says, “And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body” (1 Corinthians 10:17 NLT).
This meal is fellowship with each other. This table turns us into a community. Whatever else we are—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, northerner, southerner, Republican, Democrat, Carolina fan, Duke fan—whatever else we are, when we come to this table, we’re all just hungry sinners. We’re all just beggars at the table of grace. And that makes us all the same.

What is it about food that marks a special occasion? A meal is a multi-sensory experience that brings memories alive. In just a minute, you’re going to see me lift up the bread and the cup. You’re going to hear the music. You’re going to feel yourself come forward. You’re going to see your hands coming together in a gesture of receiving. You’re going to hear the server say, “The body of Christ; the blood of Christ.” You’re going to touch the bread. You’re going to taste the grape juice.

All these sights, sounds, smells and tastes bring memories alive and trigger all kinds of emotions.

It’s communion with Jesus. It’s community with each other.

It’s our meal.

It’s the Community’s Table.