8/26/2012 Sermon: “The PR of Jesus”

John 6:56-69.  56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’*

The Nichols family visiting NYC in 2010: Kathy in foreground, then Jamie, Chris and Regina sharing a photo op.

Good PR.  It wasn’t long after we moved to Connecticut (1992) that we took the kids to New York City.  It was about 10:30 in the morning on a beautiful summer day when we walked by the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center.  We saw television lights and cameras on the side street next to the building, so we stopped to look (isn’t that what tourists are supposed to do?).  The police had stopped traffic and security guards were keeping people away from the equipment, but we were the only people around because the major event of the morning had already happened.  The “Today Show” cast does little parts of the program out on the street with the crowd, but we had missed that.  Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric had just gone inside.  Now the camera crew was setting up for something else.

In a few minutes, the Today Show cast came back out to do “promo” commercials for New York City.  Katie Couric and Anne Curry, one at a time, would stand with Rockefeller Center behind them, people walking by, and the director would say, “Who’s for New York?”  They would say, “I’m for New York!”  The director started with Anne Curry.

“No – louder.  Who’s for New York?”

“I’m for New York!”

“More enthusiasm. Who’s for New York?”

“I’m for New York!”

“More animated.  Who’s for New York?”

“I’m for New York!”

“Keep it rolling.  Who’s for New York?

“I’m for New York!!”

“Who’s for New York?

“I’m for New York!!!  You can’t get much more animated than this!!!”

The camera crew started to laugh because Anne Curry – the news person on the program – wasn’t usually excited about much. But here she was being all enthusiastic for New York City and really throwing herself into it.  The director knew exactly what he wanted her to do and how to get her to do it.  I never saw the commercial they were working on – maybe NBC only showed it in the Midwest.  But somewhere, somebody turned on a TV, caught the enthusiasm, and came down to the city to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and spend a little money.

While Anne Curry was doing her “takes,” Katie Couric walked up to us to say hello.  She talked to Kathy and the kids and wrote on our tourist map.  “Thanks for stopping by.  Have fun in New York.”  You can picture exactly how she said it.  She was really nice.

Afterward, it occurred to me how well-trained these folks are to say precisely what people want to hear.  I walked away thinking, “Hey, that was kind of neat.  Nobody in New York much wants to talk to you unless you’re going to pay them for something, and here, in the middle of 49th Street, Katie Couric walked up and talked to us like we were together at a church dinner.”  Our new best friend!

Jesus’ PR.  Most of the time, public people like TV personalities and politicians running for office give the crowd exactly what they hope they’ll get: a big smile, enthusiasm, a warm hello.  In the gospel stories, sometimes, it seems that Jesus is giving the crowd exactly what they want. They’re sick, he heals them (John 6:2).  5,000 people on a hillside need something to eat (6:5-13).  Jesus gives them what they need – free – and they eat it up, literally.  And to them, he is their new best friend.

Jesus became known for spending time with all sorts of people; he had a reputation as a nice guy who could do good things for everyone.  No matter who you were, he would have dinner with you.  But then suddenly, Jesus says something totally inappropriate.  Each of the gospels describe a moment when Jesus says something that turns people off, and usually not just a few individuals.  In the gospel of Mark, Peter tries to coach Jesus, tries to direct Jesus, but Jesus won’t have anything to do with it.  He says, “Get behind me Satan!”  (Mark 8:33)  Jesus just doesn’t seem to understand that there are influential people who need to be impressed.  Come on Jesus; it’s easy.  Just say what they want to hear!  Who’s for Jerusalem?  I’m for Jerusalem!  Who’s for theTemple? I’m for the Temple!

But instead, he says things like, ” Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56)  And his own people began to complain about him.  A few years later, a rumor went around the Roman Empire that there was a new religion of cannibals called Christians – probably because of the words you read in the 6th chapter of John.

So what does this mean that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them?”  Jesus is trying to get your attention!  He’s saying that life is more than just eating and drinking.  We’re hungry for it – something to believe in, something that gives meaning to life.  Something that fills that void, that emptiness at the core of us.

If you have prayed to God for healing, and God heals you, God only fixes your body.  What God really wants is your faith.  That’s where the real healing needs to happen.  God wants to be one with us, to fill the void.

Hunger is a huge problem in our world.  Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”  God calls us to connect people with the bread they need for both physical and spiritual nutrition.  Follow the  pattern of Jesus….

Those 5,000 people Jesus fed on the hillside were hungry again a few hours later.  The meal fixed the immediate need, but they need more than food.  After the meal, after everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus stands up and says, “I’m it!  I’m what you need!  I’m the bread of life.  Let’s be so together with each other that you are eating and drinking me into yourself.  Eat my flesh and drink my blood.  Abide in me.  Believe in me; take me into your life.  Then help me feed the world.”

But that’s hard to hear, and some of his people began to fall away.  To the twelve in the inner circle he asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” (6:67).

It’s a great question to ask ourselves.  Do we wish to go away? Have we had enough of this ministry with Jesus? Have we been with Jesus long enough to know that he requires us to give out of our abundance to those in need?  That Jesus requires us to be doing our ministry, almost always when it’s least convenient?  That we deny ourselves and risk rejection for having that kind of faith, with Jesus at the center?

It got hard and people left.  It’s interesting that when people walked away from Jesus, he never tried to get them to stay.   But those who stayed found out that God gave them a kind confidence for living and power for change that they didn’t have before.

Peter said it best:  “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

The change begins when each of us can say that for ourselves.

Prayer.  O God, there is so much to know about you and our minds are so limited.  Open our minds to know you.  Open our minds to the possibility that we don’t know you as we should know you; that we don’t even know ourselves as well as we should.  Help us understand that at the family table, at your supper, you accept us as we are. Open our minds to the Bread of Life.  Open our hearts to Christ.  We give you our trust, knowing that you will use us to change your world.  There are so many needs – from New Orleans to New York.  There is so much to change, and it begins with us.  Open our hearts now to the Bread of Life.

8/12/2012 Sermon: “Dealing with anger – do not let the sun go down…”

A mannequin outside of a clothing store in Nablus, Palestine, which was heavily damaged by Israeli tanks in 2002. Photo – CN (March, 2011)

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2  So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.  28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.  29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,* as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  *51Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 An Eye for an Eye.  In a large town there were two merchants who were fierce competitors.  Their stores were across the street from each other.  The only way each kept track of their success was not daily profit, but how much more business one had than the other.

If someone made a purchase at the store of one merchant, he would taunt the rival across the street when the customer was gone.  The rivalry grew each year.

One day, God sent an angel to one of the merchants with an offer.  The angel said, “The Lord God has chosen you to receive a great gift.  Whatever you desire, you will receive.  Ask for riches, a long life, or healthy children, and the wish is yours.”  Then the angel said, “There is one catch:  whatever you receive, your rival will receive twice as much.  If you ask for 1,000 gold coins, he will receive 2,000.  If you become famous, he will become twice as famous.”  The angel smiled and said, “This is God’s way of teaching you a lesson.”

The merchant thought for a moment.  “You will give me anything I ask for?”  The angel nodded.  “And he will get twice as much?”  The angel nodded again.  The man’s face darkened and he said, “I ask that you strike me blind in one eye.”

I think everybody can pinpoint some relationship they’ve had – or known about –that didn’t work out very well.  And where does it begin?  Who knows?  When there is major conflict between people, they often can’t even remember how it started.  It’s probably true that there are some people who just can’t be together.  Their personality types are too different, or one person may still have the capacity to harm the other.  But if you have said yes to God, you have the same Holy Spirit in you as that person you’re sitting next to, the same Spirit as me, and the same Spirit as every other Christian in God’s universe.  It’s that Spirit that commands us to get past “it,” what ever it is.  It’s the Spirit of God that gives us a supernatural ability to love, so much so that Jesus said we would be known by that love (John 13:35).

Unresolved anger destroys more than relationships, it destroys people from the inside out. Unresolved anger will not allow families to survive together.  And this is why unresolved anger has no place in a church.  The essence of our faith is honest, healthy relationships between God and us and between ourselves.  Anything that disrupts those relationships has a certain amount of evil attached to it.

Spiritually, this is the loophole in your life where evil steps in.  The part of us that is sensitive to injustice can give us permission, we think, to hang onto a grudge.  Dis-ease and evil can step through that door.  The bible gives evil a personality; evil is a person.  In the bible, the devil is synonymous with evil, and what evil does is disrupt good relationships.  You might think of Satan as just a generic bad guy who does bad things, but Satan’s motives in scripture are simple and clear.  Satan disrupts relationships, especially between God and believers.

Your faith is a good thing that can become corrupted by the evil of unresolved anger, or lack of forgiveness if you let it.  And the evil is that voice inside you saying simply, “I hate you.”  Evil plants that seed hoping it will grow into a huge thing that comes between you and God.

When you become a Christian, you become a new person and it’s as if God puts a bookmark in your life.  This is what you were; this is what you are becoming.  Before… after.  Our faith sends us down a new road where life is different – forgiveness is always possible with the Spirit of God in you.  But there are always opportunities to make ourselves open to evil, and when we leave ourselves vulnerable, we run the risk of separating ourselves from people, especially God’s people, and from God.

Paul says imitate Christ and makes an indirect comparison: The differences between Christ and us:

  • He says don’t lie.  Christ tells the truth; Christ is not afraid of the truth.  Christ says, “I am the truth.”  Truth might hurt, but it’s the kind of hurt that brings healing.
  • He says don’t steal.  Christ does not steal; Christ gives.  Christ is not selfish.  The goal of the Christian life to be able to give to others.  The opposite of stealing is giving.  Paul leaves nothing in between.  There is no gray area between stealing and giving.
  •  He says don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  Don’t let it fester.  Christ gets over his anger – Christ forgives.  Christ could have walked away from the people he came to save, but he didn’t.  He knew what was coming and gave himself anyway. As he is nailed to the cross he says, “Father forgive them…”

Where does anger come from in the first place?  Just a few thoughts:

Injustice.  It comes from sin and our reaction to it.  Living in the world means living with other people who don’t have the same priorities as we do.  I see things in the news that get my blood boiling, and things in my life don’t always go exactly as I’d planned.  Sometimes these things are intentional and sometimes they aren’t.  God gives us our sensitivity to injustice.  This is how you know you are made in the image of God: you know right from wrong and the wrong gets you upset.  It’s a hard thing not to react to sin with more sin.  It’s about always developing a thicker skin.

Exhaustion.  Too much work, not enough Sabbath.  I know that I am always more vulnerable to anger when I’m tired.  Sabbath means you regularly take the time to sit back and think about your life, enjoy your family (and church family) and thank God for all the good things God’s done for you.  If you include God in your Sabbath time, you develop an inner strength to forgive and anger is less of a factor in your life.  I think that if you don’t have some form of regular Sabbath time, you leave an opening for evil.  Also, I believe it’s more productive to have hard discussions after dinner!

Habit.  The lack of resolution to conflict can be a habit, a kind of addiction.  Maybe you feel better for “letting off steam,” but the habit of unloading on somebody and just walking away is sin.  It’s possible that this is learned from parents and it’s a form of abuse if you don’t take the extra step to resolve the relationship.  Living this way is a statement that your point of view is the only one that’s important.  It’s selfish and it has no place in your faith. Generally speaking, if you’re going to beat somebody up with your words, you have to be able to hug them too.  You have to be able to get rid of your anger before the sun goes down.  Resolving conflict is also a habit, and if you can’t do it, ask God to show you someone who can help you.

Notice that Paul says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  He does not say, “make sure your relationships are completely resolved before you go to sleep.”  He’s talking about finding peace within yourself, about letting go, about making a choice to not live a 24/7 lifestyle of anger.  If you stay focused on your own need to be angry, it’s almost impossible to focus on God’s world in need.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”

The defeat of anger can be a miraculous thing.  It can be a gift from God. It can be the best kind of release you can experience, allowing you to approach daily living from a new perspective. As I think about opportunities to be angry, it helps to take a look at somebody who truly deserved to express anger and found healing.

The Story of Eric Lomax  (theforgivenessproject.com).  [During the Second World War Eric Lomax was tortured by the Japanese on the Burma-Siam Railway. 50 years later he met one of his tormentors. His book, The Railway Man, tells the story.]

If you are a victim of torture you never totally recover. You may cope with the physical damage, but the psychological damage stays with you forever.

In 1945 I returned to Edinburgh to a life of uncertainty, following three and half years of fear, interrogation and torture as a POW in the Far East. I had no self-worth, no trust in people, and lived in a world of my own. The privacy of the torture victim is more impregnable than any island fortress. People thought I was coping, but inside I was falling apart. I became impossible to live with; it was as if the sins my captors had sown in me were being harvested in my family. I also had intense hatred for the Japanese, and was always looking for ways and means to do them down. In my mind I often thought of my hateful interrogator. I wanted to drown him, cage him and beat him – as he had done to me.

After my retirement in 1982, I started searching for information about what had happened in Siam. The need to know is powerful. In the course of my search I learnt that Nagase Takashi – my interrogator and torturer – had offered to help others with information. I learnt that he was still alive, active in charitable works, and that he had built a Buddhist temple. I was skeptical. I couldn’t believe in the notion of Japanese repentance. I strongly suspected that if I were to meet him I’d put my hands round his neck and do him in.

My turning point came in 1987 when I came across The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture. For the first time I was able to unload the hate that had become my prison. Seeing the change in me, my wife wrote to Nagase. The letter he wrote back was full of compassion, and I think at that moment I lost whatever hard armour I had wrapped around me and began to think the unthinkable.

The meeting took place in 1998 in Kanburi, Thailand. When we met Nagase, who greeted me with a formal bow. I took his hand and said in Japanese, “Good Morning Mr Nagase, how are you?” He was trembling and crying, and he said over and over again: “I am so sorry, so very sorry.” I had come with no sympathy for this man, and yet Nagase, through his complete humility, turned this around. In the days that followed we spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing. It transpired that we had much in common. We promised to keep in touch and have remained friends ever since.

After our meeting I felt I’d come to some kind of peace and resolution. Forgiveness is possible when someone is ready to accept forgiveness. Some time the hating has to stop.

That story expresses the principles of healing through forgiveness that God could use in each of our lives, healing that’s immediately available to anyone who believes.  Allow God to guide you through the situations that cause you to give in to anger.  Surrender to the will of God as you approach those moments.  There is someone who needs your forgiveness today.  Imagine that person as we pray.

Prayer.  God, every day we read about, hear about, and see for ourselves how our brothers and sisters work out their anger, their need for justice, in ways that make our world less safe for our all of children.  It’s a complicated situation that could leave us in despair.   But you tell us that the inner peace we all crave is just a prayer away, and those of us gathered here pray that prayer.  God give us the peace that passes understanding, the peace you promise to those who believe.  Through your Spirit, give us that strength to forgive the one who wronged us.  Help us forgive as you have forgiven us.  Lead us toward healing, and a strong, obvious lifestyle of love.  Amen.

8/5/2012 Sermon: “The Holy Potluck”

 

A family prays before their picnic lunch in Zimbabwe (2009).

[Note: This sermon was given at North Guilford Congregational Church UCC, North Guilford, CT]

Last week, the gospel reading in the lectionary was about the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people.  This week’s reading expands on the meaning of that miracle, that Jesus is himself spiritual food for us, that he fills the spiritual void.  Then the Apostle Paul has some things to say about how we experience the presence of Jesus through the Lord ’s Supper.

John 6:29  Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which* comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

1 Corinthians 11:23  For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for* you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.   (if you were reading, keep your Bible open).

 Whenever I’ve asked church leaders to describe their churches and their communities, there are a couple of things they always say.  The schools are exceptional.  This is true no matter where you go.  What is it Garrison Keillor says? Lake Wobegon is, (North Guilford,) “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”  And, the people of our church make great food.  We love to eat.  Isn’t that also true here?  Think about the last time you ate wonderful food at a church gathering.  My favorite church food is…. (talk amongst yourselves!)

 Once upon a time, I helped organize a youth group exchange that brought about 30 adults and teenagers to Eastern Germany, and then their group came to visit us.  All we had to pay for was the plane tickets.  It was a beautiful exercise in hospitality.  After we had worshipped with our hosts in a stately brick Lutheran church building, suddenly, the seats cleared away and tables were set up in the middle of the sanctuary.  And everyone sat down to an amazing German meal, in honor of our fellowship and our mutual relationship through Christ.  In the sanctuary!  That kind of meal has a connection to our scripture passages for today.

The Holy Potluck.  As much as we like to eat, especially those church breakfasts and suppers, food in our life together as a church may not have the same kind of significance it did many years ago, when our ancestors were figuring out how to be “church.” The Hebrew people of the Old Testament and in the time of Jesus would come together several times a year for feasts at theTemple in Jerusalem to remember special times in their history.  They would make sacrifices of meat (and other foods), cook it, and eat together.  Feasts usually lasted for several days. They would also gather privately with their families at times like Passover for symbolic meals.  Passover food, like unleavened bread, helped them think about their escape from Egypt.

Our communion, or Lord’s Supper, tends to be like a seder, like a Passover meal in that it’s a sparse, symbolic meal that helps us remember the body and blood of Jesus, the lamb who was sacrificed for us, the one who leads out of slavery to sin.  But the early Christians in Europe celebrated the Lord’s Supper differently – they made it into a feast.  Like Thanksgiving!  The reading from 1 Corinthians is addressed to a group of Christians in the Greek city of Corinth who had some problems with their Lord’s Supper feast.

Corinthis in the middle of the mainland of Greece and in Paul’s time, it was a major city. Corinth was a commercial crossroads and had a reputation as a kind of Las Vegas or Atlantic City.  At that time, loose living was called “Corinthinianizing.”

Paul came to Corinth to preach about fifteen or twenty years after the time of Christ.  His letters to them are some of the earliest writings in the New Testament.  When God the Holy Spirit started the church there, Paul had lots of competition from the pagan temple worship on practically every street corner of Corinth.

The Corinthians had trouble keeping the pagan culture out of their Christian lives and Paul was blunt with them about it.  If they were doing something wrong, he let them know.  At this point early in his ministry, Paul could be harsh; he mellowed as he got older. If this letter we are reading is difficult to understand, it’s because we are eavesdropping on a personal conversation between a minister and his church, in a culture that’s somewhat foreign to us.  But this just makes it more interesting!

One of their problems had to do with food sacrificed to pagan idols (see 1 Corinthians 10).  You see, one of the ways you worshipped a pagan god was to eat a meal in the god’s presence; a dinner party; a feast.  People would take the leftover food and either sell it or eat it at home.  This was only a problem if those around the table knew it had been sacrificed to some pagan god.  In this way some were still carrying on the pagan worship by eating it.  Paul told the Corinthians they needed to cut that out.  Get away from the idols!

As Christians, the Corinthians (really, all Christians) have new lives and new traditions that bring us closer to the Christ who is saving us.  The Corinthians adapted the feast idea; they made the Lord’s Supper into their own feast (they are Greek after all!).  Instead of, or in addition to, the sparse, symbolic Passover meal, the Corinthians had a banquet; a dinner party in honor of Jesus.  Imagine that for a moment.  Coming to church on communion Sunday for a three course meal.  I know that idea appeals to many of us here and would work well in Guilford!

It seems that the Corinthian Lord’s Supper feast for them was something like a potluck, a holy potluck.  The problem was that the more well-off members of the church weren’t sharing their food with poorer members.  They were being exclusive.  To Paul, this was a slap in the face of Christ, who sacrificed himself for the world, young and old, rich and poor, and then told us to remember his sacrifice through this meal.  It was an insult to Christ in another way; all believers are his body, and this kind of behavior is directly opposite of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in bringing us together to minister to each other.  The Spirit of God brings us together in spite of our differences.  This meal is meant to be absolutely inclusive.

So, Paul wrote to the Corinthians to set them straight and in the process, set down in print some words the church has been wrestling with ever since.

11:27-29  Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

Those verses leave questions.  What should our attitude be when we take communion?  How can we keep the Lord’s Supper pure?  How do we “discern the body?”  In some early Reformation churches, there was actually a fence across the front of the church to keep “just anybody” from coming forward and taking communion.  The minister was supposed to know who was worthy.  Churches over the centuries have tried to protect the Lord’s Supper in one way or another.  These are some of the most misunderstood verses in the bible.

Now, I don’t have the key for every mystery of scripture, but to understand this passage, all we have to do is pay attention to the context.  This is dangerous, because these verses have a message for us today.

What is eating and drinking in an unworthy manner?  It’s not about making sure that all your sins are confessed or that your life is pure (as if that’s possible!).  Paul says, “discern the body,” that is, we need to see the family around us.  The body of Christ.  We need to understand that the communion table here represents Christ with his arms wide open, ready to embrace all of us, no matter who we are.  Communion is God’s altar call!  Then though this meal, we become the embrace that God wants to give the world.  Communion is for everybody who understands that they need God; who understands that Jesus died for them.  Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner is taking part in the meal with prejudice in your heart toward another person whom God loves.

Maybe there’s someone in the room who needs forgiveness, or needs an expression of friendship.  If you thought you needed that from someone, you are probably the one who needs to be reaching out!

Where the Lord’s Supper in concerned, we need to take down walls.  Are we treating everybody in the church – near and far – fairly?  Do we see the body of Christ?  In this room, at this moment, we may not have a problem.  But what about our attitudes toward other Christians?  Many of our churches are “Open and Affirming,” but are we really welcome to all?  How welcoming are we to each other?

Here’s a welcome I picked up from a Catholic Church bulletin:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no hablo Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

‘We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

‘We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

‘If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because grandma is in town and she wanted to go to church.

‘We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”  (Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community – I don’t know where that is)

Communion is an expression of Jesus saving us and the Spirit working among us.  It is a monthly invitation to those who may not be here, so we need to think more about the people we want to invite to the party that is the North Guilford Congregational Church.  When we serve the Lord’s Supper, we should be picturing Jesus walking up and down the aisles, offering himself to everyone here, and then looking around to see if he missed anyone, then stepping outside to offer it to anybody who happens to be walking by.  We are his body.  Let’s live as though we belong to him.

Prayer

God, we give you thanks for another beautiful day, and another opportunity to bring our community together.  We thank you for one more opportunity to serve you through our worship  Forgive us for our inability at times to see beyond ourselves, forgive us for becoming closed or thinking that there is only one way to do things.  We pray for openness to all people of all types, all colors and all cultures.  Give us opportunities to include them whenever possible.  Help our relationships grow, and help us learn the power of living that comes from being together with you and sharing the meal that reminds us of your love for us.  Amen.