Sermon For October 26, 2014

Matthew 26:26-29

“Present At The Table: God’s Unbounded Love, Our Faithful Response”

A Sermon Series On “From Bread & Wine To Faith & Giving:

God gives to us at the table and, in turn, God’s giving inspires and empowers our own giving.”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

 

Art Week OneMany of us in the Protestant Christian tradition appreciate Holy Communion earnestly but get a little queasy with some of the language Jesus uses when offering up the bread and the cup. “This is my body…” and “This is my blood…” being first and foremost on the list of “uncomfortable things Jesus said.” Most traditions have historically come up with various doctrines and perspectives that try to make sense of it. I would like to invite us today, as we begin a four-week consideration of how and why we give to step back and take Jesus’ words not so much literally as spiritually.

 

“This is ME!” Jesus proclaims in essence. What would it mean for Jesus to be present fully in Communion? If you know me at all you know that I look at all of us as whole, complete persons: mind/body/spirit all as one and inextricably connected. Therefore I look at Jesus in the same way. If he said he was present in the bread and the cup, all of him was present, every aspect of Jesus was – and is – present in Communion, every time we share it.

 

Jesus’ presence with me is my all and all. I am so convinced this simple and yet powerful prophet, teacher, storyteller, and healer from Galilee is so fundamental, so critical to my salvation that I yearn for – no, I crave – his presence with me all the time – every second of my waking day and sleeping night. I will do anything I can to experience that presence in my life, through my service to God, through the love I offer the people around me, through the efforts I make at building sustainable community, through my spiritual disciplines of prayer, exercise, study, and hospitality. But always, first and foremost, I can count on experiencing Jesus presence here in worship most particularly in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

 

Let me tell you why I feel Jesus’ presence in Communion. I believe that Jesus understood humanity so well he instinctively knew we needed rituals to maintain our focus on what is worthy in this world. But he also understood that these rituals had to be simple so that we could repeat them easily and often. Baptism requires only water. Communion requires only bread and juice. Both require only the presence of the gathered community to not simply witness the ritual, but share abundantly in it. Jesus gave us these gifts because he knew he would not be present with us in bodily form forever, and yet he knew it would be desperately hard for us to remember his teachings, his words, his stories, his example, his life without something to reenact to remember them.   But the purpose of baptism and communion are not simply to remember… but to experience the very real presence of Christ in our midst. That is why they are not simply words to be repeated, but actions in which to immerse ourselves.

 

This is why Jesus felt compelled to use such dramatic language: “This is my body…” “This is my blood.” Jesus knew that he could not be everywhere his followers would be, then and in the future, and so he gave us a gift to remember his gift. And like many gifts we receive from loved ones, they do not mean as much in the moment as they will in the future. After his crucifixion and resurrection, the gift of Jesus’ presence in bread and cup would mean all the world to future followers and would sustain them through difficulties unimagined, whether it would be the horrifying persecution of the Roman Empire, the commandeering of the faith by Constantine, the abuse of the faith by Medieval kings and popes; the wretched misuse of the faith through crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, slavery, and colonization; the commoditization of the faith through materialism and consumerism; or the disregarding of the faith through neglect and irrelevance… Jesus knew that he could not be present with us in the way the disciples had come to know him. So he gave us a gift that would keep on giving: Communion.

 

And this is why I give my money, time, and energy to the church: because I believe in Jesus and believe the work of Christ in this world through churches such as Franklin Circle Christian Church is critical to keeping Jesus presence alive. We have a calling in this congregation of humble service, rich hospitality, and radical inclusiveness that is all too rare and is precious beyond comparison! But I also know that this church cannot be present everywhere that our important work needs to be done. Oh I know we can take our show on the road to Regional Transformation Events and we can have our booth at Regional Assemblies and community festivals, but that reaches only a few, and is a quiet persuasion at best. And, I know there is a trend for churches to have various “campuses” that extend their mission and ministry to other communities or found institutes to train people in their particular way of doing mission. These are, indeed, great opportunities to share the gospel in creative ways, but at most they create only a handful of places where the church is extended. What we do when we put money in the offering plate is we make Jesus real here and now in the lives of people, so that they can go out into all the world. It is the difference between addition and multiplication. This is why I passionately support the first line of our Mission Statement: Our Mission is to empower disciples to serve and glorify God. Discipleship exponentially shares the presence of Christ to the world around us!

 

But discipleship doesn’t just happen. When we give money to the offering of this church we insure that we have a trained Christian Education Staff who will be reliable and accountable, so that they can make Jesus present with our babies, our children, and our youth at some of the most impressionable moments of their lives. We give money to our church so that there will be an Administrative Staff who offer a smiling face, a kind word, and a helping heart when folks come into this church on a daily basis for assistance, connections, information, or services and they make Jesus present with the community at our very doorstep. When we give money to the offering of our church we insure that we have a well qualified, dedicated, and very hard working custodian who guarantees that the building and grounds are always hospitable, clean, and in working order and that we have security to ensure the safety of our visitors and their belongings so that when any program takes place here, Jesus is fully present in their midst. We give money to our church so that there will be a music staff present so that every Sunday we can be assured of having the highest quality, consistently reliable, and faithful leadership that we all might more fully give glory to God and that Jesus can be made real in our very midst when we sing and meditate. We give money to our church so that there will be a pastor who is educated, who has the necessary experience, who is available to care for the congregation and the community with all its varied needs, from dedications, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, funerals to guidance and discernment, evangelism and community development, to staff supervision and leadership training, to worship and education planning, to praying and preaching the gospel, so that Jesus’s very presence will be made real in tangible ways to those who are touched by this church’s ministry and presence in the community.

 

I know in some organizations salaries are considered in the category of “Administration,” but in the Church we simply cannot afford to discount or minimize the incredible ministries our staff are doing that make Jesus’ presence real to the world in this day and in this place. This is fundamental to discipleship and to the empowerment of the congregation so that the presence of Jesus can be multiplied exponentially by all of us!

 

There is a direct connection between the plate and cup of communion and the offering basket and plate. God has so graciously given us the presence of Jesus and Jesus has shared with us his amazing grace and immeasurable love. It is not required by God that we do anything about this grace and this love except to receive it, let it wash over us, be filled by it. But I tell you, these gifts are so incredible for me that I cannot help but respond! I shout out to God my praise and thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus Christ in my life, and I want to extend that grace to more and more people (2 Cor. 4:15). So I give. I give money to my church in the offering received each week. I do not give to try to pay God off for that would be impossible. I give so that the grace and love I received may be given to others who do not know, have not experienced God’s unbounded grace and transforming love. Time? Yes!!! Energy and passion? Yes!!! But money, the resources of my life, I give to make Jesus’ presence which is so real to me in Communion real in the lives of people in our church, our neighborhood, across our region, our continent, and around the entire world.

 

May it be so. Amen.

 

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