Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sermon for January 29, 2006

Recovering Our Thankful Praise
1 Corinthians 11:27-34

I am again indebted to the work of Alex Gondola in his book Come As You Are: Sermons on th e Lord's Supper (Lima, OH: CSS, 2000).

Most of us can hardly get through a day without feeling at least a little bit guilty about something. As psychiatrist named Paul Tournier once wrote, “A guilty conscience is the seasoning of our daily life.” You parents out there – who hasn’t felt guilty about disciplining the children -- either that we have disciplined them too much, or haven’t disciplined them enough? And that’s only one of many things that can make a parent feel guilty.
There’s a book called “How to Be a Guilty Parent” that lists 85 different types of parent guilt. Like “Working Mother Guilt.” That’s what happens when you get a telephone call your child says: “Hello, Mom? Is that you, Mom? I can hardly remember your voice any longer! I know you don’t like me to bother you at work, Mom, but, I really have to know: where do you keep the instant coffee? I’d like to give the Fire Department and the Police some coffee before they leave.”

Parents aren’t the only ones who feel guilty. Children sometimes feel guilty about letting down their parents. We all know people go through life thinking they were never good enough for their parents. They could never meet their parent’s high expectations. They were never smart enough, never athletic enough, never caring enough. Now scientists are talking about researching technology to genetically engineer superior children. Who will be smarter, faster, and better looking. Maybe we can re-engineer the guilt gene, too.

Parents can feel guilty. Children can feel guilty. Sometimes students feel guilty about not getting the most out of their education. Homeowners can feel guilty about taking a Saturday nap instead of fixing the faucet. And so on. Tournier was right: a guilty conscience is the seasoning of daily life.

If we could just wash our guilt away, we’d buy “Repent Body Detergent” and use it by the bucket. But we can’t. So people try other ways to get rid of guilt. Some of us try to deny our guilt. We are like the minister who walked down the road and saw a group of boys surround­ing a dog. “What are you doing with that dog?” the kindly clergyman asked. “We’re having a contest,” said one of the boys. “Whoever can tell the biggest lie wins the dog.” The minister “Oh, my. When I was a little boy like you, I never told lies.” There was a moment of stunned silence. Then, one of the boys responded, “Okay, mister, you win the dog!”

I know many people who deny they’ve ever done wrong in their lives. Paul saw the same problem in the church in Corinth. Originally, worshipers gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. They decided to serve a full meal with it. They called it a love feast. Their love feast was anything but loving. People were rude, cruel, self-serving,and self-gratifying. Rather than waiting on one another, they jumped in front of each another in line to get the best food. Instead of waiting on the poor, the poor were left hungry. While the poor got nothing, those who jumped in front of them gorged themselves drank insatiably, to the point of drunkenness. So Paul tells them how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He says words that we still say today:

For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I
received it. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of
bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body,
which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took
the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God
and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as
often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

Then Paul says something we don’t quote much anymore.

That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking
from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring
the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon

There is no room for denial at the Lord’s Table. Please don’t come to the Lord’s Table thanking God for how good you are while also proudly admitting how unworthy your neighbor is. Paul says, “Judge yourself so that you won’t be judged so you won’t have to be judged by God.”

Maybe you don’t like that idea. If we can’t deny our guilt, maybe we can try works righteousness – we try to do a lot of good things to make God happy with us and get rid of any guilty feelings we may have. Say, you feel guilty about not visiting your Aunt Tillie. To make it up, you resolve to visit Aunt Tillie every single week, although, frankly, visiting Aunt Tillie and her 37 cats isn’t really that much fun. Still you do it. You visit Aunt Tillie winter and summer, rain shine, for 52 consecutive weeks. Will that stop you from feeling guilty? No! Because eventually, your spouse or your children are going to complain that you’re not spending enough time with them. You’re always away visiting Aunt Tillie.

So you start to stretch out your visits to every two weeks. Eventually, Aunt Tillie will call you up and ask why you don’t to like her anymore. You don’t visit like you used to. If you get angry, and slam down the phone, you’ll have to feel guilty about that! You can’t win. It’s impossible to work off our guilt. Because we can’t please everyone or do everything exactly right.

So, where can we turn for relief from guilt? Freedom from obsessive and oppressive guilt, I believe, can be had only through faith. Our Christian faith tells us to be honest with ourselves. We are indeed guilty. You and I do fail our families, friends, our God, and ourselves on a regular basis. That’s the “bad news” The Good News is that our sins may be great, but not greater than God’s amazing grace.

Imagine yourself standing in a courtroom. You are on trial for your sins. The jury in that courtroom is every single person you’ve ever let down or hurt – your mother your father, your children, your spouse, the neighbor you don’t like, telemarketers you’ve hung up on, your ninth-grade math teacher, your Aunt Tillie (whom you never visit) – every single person you have ever hurt or let down is there in the courtroom to pass judgment on you.

The prosecutor is your own conscience, and it reads out the long sordid list of your sins and moral failures. All of your sins are exposed. God, and everyone else you’ve ever known can see them all. Whatever you said in the dark is now heard in the light. Whatever you whispered behind closed doors is heard by all. Not even your secret thoughts are hidden any longer.

The verdict is clear. Guilty! Every sharp word. Every thoughtless deed, every ugly thought rises up to condemn you. You, realize that you deserve the guilty verdict. You deserve to be punished for your sin.

At the very moment you can’t defend yourself, God appoints someone to defend you. It’s Jesus Christ the advocate and Righteous One, the Son of God, radiant with power and glory. Jesus stands in the courtroom and pleads your case. He looks at you, and then to the Judge ands says, “Yes, this one deserves to die. But I have already claimed this one for myself – not because of this one’s goodness but because of this one’s faith. I’ve already paid the debt for the sin.” Then Jesus shows the nail marks in his hands and the spear mark in his side. And the onlookers gasp.

Then God, the great Judge, looks at Jesus and you and then raises the gavel and declares you not guilty, Not because of your goodness, but because you belong to Jesus Christ. Not guilty. Acquitted on all charges. Case closed!

We will never be able to wash our guilt away. Or ignore it. Or work it off. Freedom from guilt comes through faith. And there is only one response – thankful praise to God.

Sometimes the Lord’s Supper is called Eucharist. The word Eucharist means thankful praise. We gather around the communion table, and we remember what Jesus was willing to do for us, and we give thanks to God.

When we take communion next Sunday, let’s remember Jesus. Let’s remember his prayerfulness – how he got up early in the morning, and sometimes stayed up all night to pray to God. Let’s remember his gentleness, how he called people to himself and loved them. Let’s remember how he resisted temptation and never gave into sin. Let’s remember his concern for the sick, the needy, the forgotten, and the outcast. Let’s remember how he spoke out for what he believed. Let’s remember his courage in the face of death. Let’s remember how as he was dying he prayed for his enemies. Let’s remember how he was obedient to God, even though it meant death. Let’s remember how he loved us so much he was willing to give his life away so that you and I could find life. Let’s remember and always give our thankful praise back to God.

Sermon for January 22, 2006

Connecting with the Head
Ephesians 1:15-231; Corinthians 11:17-26

As the hospital’s chaplain intern, Pat Novak visited a patient admitted with an undiagnosed ailment. The patient’s name was John. His medical tests showed nothing -- psychological tests were inconclusive. Yet, John wasted away; he had not even been able to swallow for two weeks. Pat walked into the room, and saw John sitting limply in his bed, strung with IV tubes. He was a tall, grandfatherly man, balding a little, and his ashen skin hung on his body where the weight dropped from his frame. His hollow eyes stared at the wall. John seemed to brighten a bit as soon as he saw Pat’s chaplain badge. As they talked, Pat sensed that God was urging him to do something specific: He knew he needed to ask John if he wanted to take Communion. Chaplain interns were not encouraged to ask this type of thing in this public hospital, but Pat did.

John broke down. “I can’t!” he cried. “I’ve sinned and can’t be forgiven.” When Pat heard that, he knew he was about to break policy again. He asked John if he wanted to confess his sin. John nodded gratefully. To this day, Pat can’t remember the sin John confessed, but he recalls that it wasn’t terribly wicked. Still, it drained life from this man. John wept as he confessed. Pat hugged him, and told John his sins were forgiven. Then Pat got a second nudge from the Holy Spirit: Ask him if he wants to take Communion. He did. Pat gave John a Bible and told him he would be back later. John already sat straighter, with a flicker of light in his eyes.

Pat went to the cafeteria and wrapped a piece of bread in a napkin. Then he ran out to a shop a few blocks away and bought some grape juice. He returned to John’s room with the elements and celebrated Communion with him, proclaiming Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 11. John took the bread and chewed it slowly. It was the first time in weeks he was able to eat solid food. He took the cup and swallowed. John was set free, and his first meal was the Lord’s Supper. Within three days, John walked out of that hospital. The nurses were so amazed they called the newspaper, which later featured the story of John and Pat in its “LIFE” section (Charles W. Colson, The Body,1992, Word Publishing, pp. 139-140).

This morning we continue our reflection on the meaning of communion in our own lives and in our church. Last week we talked about manners at the Lord’s Table. Today we are going to consider three related words: communication, communion, and community. All three of these words are related by the same Latin root: communion. It means “sharing, mutual participation.”

First, let’s talk about Communication. Some of you may remember these chilling words from Washington Irving:
On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow traveler in
relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was
horror-struck, on perceiving that (the rider) was headless!--but his horror was
still more increased, on observing that the head, which should have rested on
(the rider’s) shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of the saddle.

As children, we were terrified by the specter of the headless horseman riding through the night. But years of experience diminish our fear. For most of us, the nightmare is just a quaint fairy tale. Perhaps one of the reasons we no longer dread the ghost of Sleepy Hollow is that the very idea of a headless horseman is a paradox-why should we fear anything with no head? Because the head contains the brain--the center for all the senses, thought, and coordinated action--a headless horseman could not function and would pose no threat.

What happens if the head is separated from the body? It’s dead and useless. So, it’s significant that Jesus is called the Head of the Church. The Church needs a head to function, and Jesus is the Head. In the Bible, head has two meanings. The first is head as in chief ruler or head honcho. The head leader brings unity and represents all of the people. But, when Paul talks about Jesus as the head, he also means the body part. The head has the power to coordinate all that goes on in the body. Jesus, the Head of the Church, is the greatest power, the source, the beginning. Without the head the church is just another group of people. The Head gives us identity, purpose, direction and hope. Christ promised that nobody can cut us off from Him against our will (Romans 8:35-39). He gives us his body and he gives us a choice of whether to remain in Him or not. In other words, nobody and nothing can sever the body of Christ from the head except the body itself, by its own choosing.

If I could sum up the main function of the head, I would use the word communication. The head does all it can to maintain fellowship with the body. It is the nerve center. It keeps everything running. It speaks through words and through nerve impulses to other body parts. Let me just ask you: Are you connected to the head today? Are you growing in a life-giving connection with Christ. Can you hear his voice and react to his commands. Is your faith strong enough to become a sharing partner with Christ, or do you feel more like a chicken with it’s head cut off–you think you are getting somewhere on your own, but without the true head as your source, you know you will fall over sooner or later. Jesus has something he wants to tell you today. And everything you need to be reconnected to the head is represented at the Lord’s Table.

The second word for today is Communion. Communion is a sacramental way for God to speak to us just as the Word of God is a verbal way of speaking. And in the case of the Communion, it is a way for us to speak to God in response. God uses communion as a way to communication with us.

The act of giving something to eat is a sign of acceptance going all the way back to ancient times. In Biblical times -- and even in many places in the world today -- to refuse to eat with a person was like a slap in the face. Eating together sealed a bond of. At Communion, the God of your salvation serves you food and invites you to eat. God offers you food as a sign of love. And it’s not just any food. The bread and the wine come with a message.

When Christ died, he did two things for every person who would ever trust him as their Savior. Christ carried our sin and he offered up his perfection in our behalf. When God looks at a believer, God sees that the individual’s sins are taken away from the individual’s account charged to Christ. At the same time, Christ’s perfection is charged to the individuals account. In God’s eyes, a believer is just as perfect and worthy as Jesus Christ is perfect and worthy.

Some Christians take Communion in a casual way, as if it were no more important than having a morning snack. But there is more going on here. This meal is our memory of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is our way of celebrating the gift of grace–while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It is our reminder that Christ wants connect you to the Body of Christ. The bread is the flesh of Christ, given for you. The cup is Christ’s blood, poured out for you. Jesus did it for you. And he promises to be present with us as we eat the meal he offers us.

Let’s talk about one more word: community. Sometimes an individual Christian, for one reason or another, will grow negative toward the church. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t need the church, it’s just a bunch of hypocrites,” or, “Church isn’t that important. I just need my faith.” The truth is we need each other more than we like to admit.

A man from the big city was enjoying a relaxing drive in the country when a dog ran in front of his car. He swerved to miss it but lost control of his car and ended up in a ditch. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get his car out, the man sat on his bumper and waited for help to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long. A farmer who lived just down the road came to his aid with a big, powerful-looking horse. The man watched as the farmer hitched the horse to the car’s bumper. When the rope was secure, the farmer yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” But the horse didn’t move. Then the farmer yelled, “Pull, Buster, pull!” But the horse didn’t move. Next the farmer yelled, “Pull, Coco, pull!” But the horse still didn’t move. Finally, the farmer said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse dragged the car from the ditch with very little effort. The motorist was appreciative— and a little curious. “Why did you call out four names when your horse only responded to one?” he asked. The farmer smiled. “Oh, Buddy is blind,” he explained, “and if he thought he was the only one pulling he wouldn’t even try!”

Just like Buddy, we need other people to bring out the best in us. That’s why God created us to be part of a community -- part of a family -- part of the church. It’s very difficult to live the Christian life alone. I think living out the faith is easier when we can draw strength and encouragement from their prayers and support of a church family. Sharing communion together is our way of saying that we are partners with Christ and partners with one another. Receiving Holy Communion implies living in community. The Lord’s Supper is not an empty ritual, but a reminder of the life we share. Christ offers his Body and Blood to us so that we might become his living Body in the world.

We will celebrate the sacrament of Communion again in two weeks. In the meantime, I have some questions for you. Are you ready to acknowledge your connection to Christ, the head? Are you ready to confess your need and interdependence on the one another? Are you, as a community, ready to hear God’s communication and be God’s communication as we share in communion? If so, then you are getting ready to receive the body and blood of Christ in sacrament of communion.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sermon for January 15, 2006

Sorry for the lack of sermon postings. I'm back oin shcedule this week (kind of). I am indebted to Alex Gondola, and his sermon "Table Manners" from the book Come as You Are: Sermons on the Lord's Supper (Lima, OH: CSS, 2000).

The Joyful Feast of the People of God
Luke 14:1, 7‑11, 15‑24

I am not the most well-mannered person. It’s not my mother’s fault, though. She did her best to teach me what she could. I remember going out in public as a child. I would run into a building first. Once inside, I would eventually realize that mother was not with me. She was standing outside by the door, waiting for me to open it for her. She never lectured. When I realized what I was supposed to do, I would open the door, and she would walk through and say, “Thank you.”

Good manners are important. There is a revival of interest in etiquette in this country, probably because we are all sick of hearing people’s personal cell phone conversations in restaurants and movie theaters. Remember Miss Manners? She still has a syndicated etiquette column. Her books have been wildly and unexpectedly successful best‑sellers. I love some of the titles: Miss Manner’s Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Painfully Proper Weddings, and Miss Manners Rescues Civilization!

Etiquette academies are springing up around America! One in Chicago charges $500 a day to teach the difference between a dessert and a salad fork. They also teach their students how not to eat spaghetti! Hint: Don’t get the end of a foot‑long noodle in your mouth, then suck it up with a loud smacking sound! For $175.00 you can even send your children to summer etiquette camp. And in Los Angeles, there’s a 24-week etiquette training course for street‑wise, high‑ earning rock stars and rap stars. These home boys and girls, straight from the “hood,” often need to negotiate million dollar contracts. They’ve discovered that they make more money when they behave appropriately, at least around record com­pany execs. One recent graduate was a rhythm and blues star who used to amaze reporters by opening a beer bottle with her teeth. Her etiquette advisors told her not to.

So I thought, what about a sermon on manners: table man­ners, communion table manners? We talk to the kids about good manners all the time. How about a refresher on table manners as we begin to think about communion at TCC? What attitudes and behaviors do we need to bring to the Lord’s Supper? Now there are no clear guidelines in Scripture on the right way or wrong way to take communion. Different churches take communion in different ways. And that’s okay. Some have the Sacrament weekly, others monthly. A church I once served had communion only seven times a year. Some take communion at the altar rail, others receive it in the pews, some with wine, some with grape juice, some with wafers, some with loaves of bread, some with bread cubes.

I don’t think the details of Communion are critically impor­tant. But, our attitude is. Jesus dropped a few hints about attitudes in the fourteenth chapter of Luke. Jesus attended a dinner party put on by some people who didn’t like him. Jesus was so fascinating, even his enemies invited him to dinner -- although sometimes, as on this occasion, his enemies were also trying to trip him up. In this chapter, Jesus tells three stories about suppers. The first is the Parable of the Great Feast. A rich man invites lots of people to a feast. In those days, dinner parties were big events. They could go on for a week. No expense was spared.

The servants were sent out with invitations to the social event of the year. Yet excuses were all they brought back. Some of the excuses were lame. One man said he had just bought a piece of land. Now, he had to go see it. Don’t you think that’s suspi­cious? Who buys a piece of land without checking it out first? Another man said he had just bought ten new oxen and had to test them. Suspicious again: who would make an expensive purchase, like a car, without test-driving it first? A third man said he had to stay home with his new wife. Great idea, but totally out of charac­ter in that society. Sadly, in those days women were treated as pos­sessions. It was the wife’s obligation to please her husband ‑ al­most never the other way around.

Jesus’ listeners must have laughed on hearing those excuses. But, the host in the story didn’t laugh. He got understandably an­gry. No one likes to be taken for granted. Remember, the host in the story represents God. When Jesus first told the parable, the ones receiving the invitations were the Pharisees. They didn’t respond. Today, the ones receiving the invi­tations are us! We are each invited to be part of the joyful feast of the people of God, the Lord’s Supper. Do we recognize the wonder of that invi­tation? Do we accept it with joy?

I like the attitude of Thomas Merton and writer on receiving Communion. Merton was a Trappist monk who wrote that as he received the Sacrament for the first time as an adult, he thought to himself‑

Heaven was entirely mine... Christ, hidden in the small host, was giving himsey for me and to me, and with himself the entire Godhead and Trinity ... Christ was bom in me, his new Bethlehem, and sacrificed in me, his new Calvary, and risen in me... (God) called out to me from his own immense depths. (The Seven Story Mountain, Image Books, pp. 273‑274)

Thomas Merton sensed the wonder of God’s invitation to com­munion and received it joyfully. So should we. Gratitude is part of good table manners.

The next story is the Parable of Places at the Table. One of the guests at a wedding feast sits down boldly in the best place. The host comes along and tells the presumptuous guest to take a lower place. It’s a humiliating and embar­rassing moment for the presumptuous guest. The point is: “Those who make too much of themselves will be humbled. But those who humble themselves before God and each other will be lifted up.” Good man­ners at the communion table also include not thinking too much of ourselves.

I like the story historians tell about the funeral of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was the greatest Christian ruler of the early Middle Ages. After his death, a mighty funeral procession left his castle for the cathedral. When the royal casket arrived with a lot of pomp and circumstance, it was met by the local bishop, who barred the cathedral door.

“Who comes?” the Bishop asked, as was the custom.

“Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire,” proclaimed the Emperor’s proud herald.

“I do not know him,” the Bishop replied. “Who comes?”

The herald, a bit shaken, replied, “Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth.”

“ I do not know him,” the Bishop said again. “Who comes?”

The herald, now completely crushed, responded, “Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.”

To which the Bishop, Christ’s representative, responded, “En­ter! Receive Christ’s gift of life!”

In God’s eyes, we’re all equally needy. Charlemagne, Mother Teresa, you and me. None of us will ever be “good enough” to force entrance into the presence of God. I’m reminded of the definition of “nervous” I once heard. Do you know what “nervous” is? “Nervous” is standing in line at the Pearly Gates behind Mother Teresa, and hearing Saint Peter say to Mother Teresa, “I’m sorry, dear, you haven’t done enough!” When we come to the Lord’s Table, we’re all sinners in need of salvation, beggars needing bread. We are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Maybe not literally poor, crippled, lame, and blind, but spiri­tually poor, crippled, lame, and blind. God graciously includes us as guests at God’s Table. Good communion table manners in­clude coming to the table without thinking too much of ourselves.

Good communion table manners also include coming without looking down on any other guest, for all of us are God’s equally beloved guests. King George IV desired Communion and sent a servant to bring the Bishop of Winchester. When the servant arrived with the Bishop, the King was angry. He felt his servant had taken too long. The King scolded the man and fired him on the spot. Then the king turned to the Bishop for Communion. But the Bishop refused to give it to King George. He saw that the King was still angry. Realizing the Bishop was right, the King called for his ser­vant, apologized, and restored the man’s job. Only then could Com­munion proceed. Part of good table manners is extending graciousness to the other guests. As we have been forgiven and welcomed by God, let us for­give and welcome each other.

When we take communion, we invite all to come and joyfully celebrate the feast which Christ himself has prepared for us. It’s even enjoyable when we mind our table manners.

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...