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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
yourself.

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.

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