By Pastor Jack Hartman
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 (The Message)
Text: Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.
Introduction: I would like to begin by asking you a question you can answer within yourself. When you think of partaking communion, what feelings stir within you? For some of us, the feeling is a sense of joy; we are just so thankful that Jesus gave us this way to remember what he did for us. Some of us may feel like we don’t deserve to come to communion; we feel like we are not worthy enough to come. Some of us may not feel much of anything. Whatever you feel this morning, I want to invite you to look at communion in perhaps a different way. This way was identified by the Apostle Paul in the scripture this morning. He suggests that we come to communion in “holy awe.” What it means to come to communion in holy awe is what I would like to share with you this morning.
Prayer: Holy Jesus, by your Spirit, I pray that you will take my human words and transform them into the word we each need to hear from you from this morning. So have your way with us: melt us, mold us, fill us, use us. We pray in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
We come in holy awe to communion because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
We come to communion not because of what we have done, but because God has shown how much he loves us. Here is the bottom line: There is no one who loves you more than Jesus loves you. Let me say that again. There is no one who loves you more than Jesus loves you now.
I want to share with you two statements about Jesus’ love for you. The first one is: there is nothing you can do to get God to love you more. Have you ever thought about that? It is an amazing truth; there is nothing you can do to get God to love you more. But you may be saying, “I am not so sure about that. You do not know about my life and my relationship with Jesus or lack of relationship with Jesus. There are so many things that I think of that need to be changed in my life. I am not as faithful or committed to Jesus as much as I would like to be. Therefore, until I get my spiritual act together, I don’t know how much Jesus can really love me.”
The good news is that the love of Jesus in your life does not depend on you! When Jesus died on the cross, he declared his love for you forever. The reason Jesus died on the cross was to prove how much he really loves you. Someone asked Jesus one day, “How much do you love me?” He spread his arms wide and said this much (My arms extended wide as if Jesus were on the cross.)
I want to tell you a story about a young man whose life was going in the wrong direction. He was arrogant. He was rude. His attitude and behavior estranged him from his family. He spent his time looking for the next party. He spent more money than he had trying to buy a good time. Eventually the good times ended when he ran out of money. He was destitute. His life was suddenly at a dead end that did not offer any hope. He decided the best thing for him to do was to go back home and apologize and seek forgiveness from his father and see if the father would have anything to do with him.
What he did not know was that the Father had been longing for this son to return. Every day he would sit on the front porch hoping he would see in the distance his son coming home. Then one day, he saw his son at a distance coming home. The father was filled with joy. He literally ran to greet his son. The son never got to offer an apology or seek forgiveness. The father threw the biggest party you can imagine to welcome him home. Do you recognize the source of this story? It was a parable that Jesus told to illustrate how much our Father God loves us. There was nothing the son could to do to make his Father love him more. The father never quit loving. That is the way it is with God and us. Celebrate and give thanks that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more than he loves you right now. That is the first thing about your love.
The second thing I want you to know about God’s love: there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is also nothing you can do to make God love you less. You can mess up, make wrong choices, go the wrong direction, and God still gives his full love to you without reservation.
I was called once by a family because their youngest son had been caught shoplifting at the mall. The son had just a month earlier confessed his faith in Jesus as his Savior and had joined the church through the confirmation program of the church. The parents had to go to the police station where the son was released in their custody. They wanted me to talk to their son. So when they got home, I went to be with the family.
He listened silently as his parents told him how disappointed they were in the decision he had made to shoplift. After a bit of time, the son turned to me and said, “So what does Jesus think of me now?” I reminded him of a conversation I had with him during the confirmation process. You don’t confess your faith in Jesus when you have climbed some kind of spiritual ladder of your own goodness. We are accepted in spite of ourselves and receive the grace and love of Christ in our life.
The opposite is also true. I told the son that when you mess up you do not get kicked out of the kingdom. There is still love and forgiveness for you. The same is true for all of us. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. So you can come to communion this morning knowing there is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Just rejoice in his love for you.
We come in holy awe to communion because Jesus chooses us to come to his table.
I was a person who grew up in school not being chosen. I can recall being in grade school when our class would play something ay recess. The teacher would appoint two students as captains, and they would choose who they wanted on their team. I was almost always one of the last ones chosen.
As I grew older, I always saw – even my friends – as being smarter, better looking, more put-together than I was. The bottom line was that I felt inferior to almost everyone. So much of the time, I felt left behind … a misfit.
Then one summer when I was in late junior high school, I went to one of our church camps. I remember so well a message our keynote preacher shared with us. It was a message that changed my life and how I saw myself. He shared with us from the book of John these words, “You did not choose me. I choose you.” (John 15:16). Really …. Jesus chose me! I am chosen. Jesus had already accepted me for who I was and even for who I was not. That understanding changed my life. If you have struggled with who you are and how you fit with everyone else, the good news is, regardless of others, Jesus has chosen you and wants to shower his love, grace, and forgiveness over you! You have been invited this morning to come to communion because Jesus has invited you to come.
Paul Tillich puts this idea in a simple phrase. Tillich is a modern day theologian. He said our greatest need is to accept that we are already accepted. I love that phrase. Our greatest need is to accept that we are acceptable.
One time at a church I was serving, the choir director chose an anthem that combined the voices of the chancel choir with the children’s choir. The children would sing the song you may know, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The chancel choir’s part rearranged those words. Are you ready for this: “Jesus knows me and this I love. “ Both are true. The Bible tells us Jesus loves us unconditionally. But it is also true when he knows me – knows all about me – he still loves me.
Because we know he loves us and knows us and accepts us and wants his love and grace to flow though us, we can come to communion in holy awe.
We come to communion in holy awe not only because Jesus loves us so much, but because his love in us changes our response to everything around us.
We cannot just be consumers of God’s love. His love is given to us so that He can use us in making his kingdom on earth like that in heaven. We are living in a broken world that is getting more broken every day. Our political system is so broken that all one political party can do is blame the other. Yet we need to address systemic poverty, racism is still real, corporate greed is running rapid, bigotry, and sexual abuse are common new items.
The church – which means us – needs to stand up for Jesus and be the counter-culture to all that is around us. Some years ago, two professors at Duke University - Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote a book entitled, Resident Aliens. The theme of the book is that the society we live in now no longer belongs to Christendom. We have become the minority culture. But that should not alarm us.
The early church was in the same situation. They were a minority in a struggling world. But they stood for truth and justice. This church is attempting to be like the NT church. This church through people like you are addressing and responding to the needs of the community is so many ways.
You may have memorized John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should have everlasting life. But we need to couple John 3:16 with I John 3:16. I John 3:16 says, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.:
Note the word “ought” in v. 16. The present tense of the word in Greek points to a regular, ongoing, even daily, obligation or duty not limited to great heroic deeds of virtue. Soren Kierkegaard put it so eloquently, “We are called to love the people we see.” To lay down our lives for others is to love not just the people we like or the people we choose, but the people who are right around us, and especially those in any kind of need.
The church and its people dare not become narcissistic. Remember the ancient story of the vain, self-absorbed young man Narcissus, who was consumed by his own self-love and incapable of loving others. He wasted away and died, leaning over a pool looking at his reflection in the water. The church is not called to admire itself. It is called to give itself away to others.
So, as you come to communion today come in holy awe of the way God is using this church – and you – to reach out with the love of Christ which he has so richly shed on us. Amen.
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