Created for Communion, a three week sermon series on one sacrament, week 3 of 3
Preached June 6, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
Two weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday, we met at the Lord’s Table, and took the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is happy to feed bread and fish to hungry crowds but feed us the bread of life itself. At this table, we taste and see life in all its fullness, and absorb some of that way and truth about life into our own. The Lord’s Table feeds our faith. life. One reason we do The Lord’s Supper together is to feed our faith, to help us truly believe Jesus is Lord, and to follow him.
Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we enjoyed the Eucharist. We heard Paul talk about various reasons why people were or were not comfortable sharing the meal with one another, usually because of their differences. Paul made the case, we don’t come to this meal to be right. At the Eucharist, it isn’t what we do or how we do it, as much as why. The Eucharist is where we practice being together despite our differences, and learning to be grateful.
This week, we celebrate Communion. Let’s pray and hear the word of the Lord from…
Scripture Hebrews 13:1-16
13:1 Let mutual love continue.
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them;
(remember) those who are being (oppressed), as though you yourselves were being (oppressed).
4 Let marriages be held in honor by all, and let the marriage relationship be kept untarnished; for God will judge (liars) and (cheaters).
5 Keep your lives free from the desire for money, and be content with what you have; for God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 (So,) Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.
10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the temple(s) have no justification to eat. 11 (Just like) the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin, are burned outside the (walls), 12 Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.
13 Let us then go to him outside (our walls) and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here, we have no everlasting community, but we are looking for the community that is to come.
15 Through Christ, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. That is the fruit of lips that profess his name, (and) 16 not neglecting to do good or to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Let’s say we’re leaning into the lessons of the Lord’s Table. Let’s say we come to worship, come to this table and believe a bit more every time that Jesus really is Lord of all, that his way of seeing the world and doing life is the better way, the way for us to find wholeness and peace. This Lord’s Supper feeds us more than bread. God nourishes us for our journey toward a life that looks more like Christ’s.
Then, let’s say we’ve also begun to embody the Eucharist. Let’s say we come to worship together, come to the Eucharist together and feel less superiority over one another or judgment of one another. We notice differences, but we don’t feel the need to be greater, more right, more deserving than others. We also feel less sense of shame, or guilt, or unworthiness here. We still notice our own differences, but we don’t feel judgment on ourselves or our differences as problems. At this table, we are encouraged only to be and continue becoming our true selves, and to grow healthier relationships with one another.
Let’s say The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist is doing these things in us. That’s two of the reasons we do church, we do this sacrament… to build up our trust in Jesus as the way to do life, and to connect us to our true selves and to one another in true relationships.
There’s a third reason we do church, we do this, and it’s revealed in our other word for this Sacrament, Communion.
God created us for community, God’s Kingdom. That is why we exist, the meaning of life, so to speak.
At the end of the previous chapter, the author of Hebrews tells the people of the church… “you have arrived at Zion, the city, the community of the living God… there are innumerable angels in party mode, 23 and a great gathering of all God’s children… and God… and the spirit of perfect justice, 24 and Jesus, the enabler of God’s promise.”
Hebrews is trying to tell us, we are created for communion, a united community with God, with one another, and with all creation. Hebrews is also saying God’s city, the new Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, this community we were created for, its not as much a place as a way of being with one another. It’s not as far away in the distance as most people think. It’s right here, right where we are. It’s not as far off in time, in the future. It’s today. It’s now. And its not only about those who die, and only then if good enough, or lucky, or chosen. It’s about all God’s creation.
We were created for Community, and this sacrament takes those first two things… better faith in Jesus as the way to live life, and a better understanding of ourself and better relationships with each other here in the church, and dares us to go outside our walls, and grow the everlasting community, that is coming, out there, now.
What does that community look like?
One, let our mutual love, our love for one another continue as we go. The world needs to see people who truly love one another because we believe Christ first loved us.
Two, show radical hospitality to strangers. We love one another. Great. But don’t get cliquish or closed. Open the tightest circles between oldest and best friends, and fully include new people in those amazing circles of relationships.
Three, give special attention to those who are in prison or being oppressed, as if we ourselves are in prison with them, or being oppressed alongside them. Prison is not like God’s community. There is judgment, shame, and isolation. Oppression is not like God’s community. There is misuse of power or resources against one another, instead of for the good of all. The church must remember those who made mistakes and were judged, shamed, and isolated. The church must surround those being oppressed, put our bodies and resources between oppressors and the oppressed, and show the world the power of God’s sacrificial love.
Four, let our unique relationships, like marriages, be honored by all. Keep those intimate relationships untarnished. Lying to one another, cheating on one another breaks relationships, and harms God’s community.
And five, avoid desiring money. Be content with whatever you have in income or possessions. In God’s community there is enough for everyone, so don’t worry or compete to have more. “More” means nothing in God’s community. Before you desire or fight for more, check to see if everyone has enough.
These five things show us what it looks like to live in God’s city.
Then Hebrews reminds us, this is the core message of the God we know is Christ. It was the first message, and the most important one. So, don’t get distracted by strange teachings. If any teaching about Jesus is more focused on the regulation of others or ourselves, then it is not core. If a teaching about God in Christ is more about grace and abundance, then it is modeling the Community of God for which we were created.
We need to honest with one another though. This community for which we were created, its hard to believe, see, or trust sometimes. There’s lots of evidence that competition and fights are winning. There’s lots of evidence people would rather have more for themselves than to make sure everyone has enough. There’s lots of evidence that division and sides are the norm, and a fast judgement of others based on whether they are on OUR side or the OTHER one. There’s even more evidence that lies and cheating are practiced by some, and accepted by others, as long as those liars and cheaters are from OUR side. Outside the sanctuary of church, its hard to see God’s community.
That’s why Hebrews then tells us to go, go outside (our walls) and bear the same abuse he endured. In here, we only have a prototype of the everlasting community, but we cannot have the fullness of everlasting, abundant life until all creation has it. We have to get up and go from here looking to take with us out there the honest, authentic, vulnerable, loving, just, accountable community we build in here.
That is our sacrifice of praise to God. That is the fruit that grows from lives that claim to follow him. That is the good we carry with us, and the sharing we do, because we know, in doing so, we are helping create and deliver the Community of God to all God’s creatures, and that is very pleasing to God.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown