Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stepping Stone #4 - Bread (Communion)

Listen with me for the Word of God as it comes from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 24:28-35 (The Road to Emmaus)
Several of the stepping stones are like mile markers we’ve been thinking together about along the journey of faith – we see as milestones on our path. Baptism is like that. It is a stone that we encounter once in our journey of faith, so that we can ever after remember God’s first step toward us. Next week we’ll talk about confirmation. Other stepping stones, like learning the Bible, are more like stair steps. Hopefully, we keep climbing, getting more and more understanding and wisdom as we go. Communion, however, is a stepping stone that is really a home base. Like in a child’s game, of tag, maybe home base is the place where you go to tag up, to get a breather from running around, to get reoriented somehow. Communion is the stepping stone that we come to, if we are lucky we come to it early and often.
The premise of this sermon is that we all have times in our lives when it’s especially appropriate and helpful for us to seek the table of our Lord as our home base. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month. But I’m not talking about a set time – what the Greeks called “chronos” time – that can be measured with a watch, or a sundial or a calendar. The Greeks had another word for time: Kairos. And Kairos meant – the right time. A good time. A fitting time. I want to talk about times of our lives in which we especially need to return to experience this stepping stone of faith as part of our walk. The times when we need to pause at home base before – metaphorically speaking – getting back in the game.
One of those times is When we need to remember how very much God loves us. How precious each one of us is in Jesus’ sight. “This is my body, broken for you” – Jesus was willing to be broken in order that you might be made whole. Breaking the bread and pouring out the cup are to be done remembering that Jesus made this sacrifice out of love for humanity. When we need to remember the greatest love the world has ever known, it is time to come to the table.
Another right time is when we have run into a stretch of road full of dangers and difficulties. Maybe the difficulty is illness. Maybe it is an injury to body or soul. The danger may come from people who are trying to hurt us. Or who just don’t care whether we live or die. I think of walking in some pretty rough urban environments, in which getting mugged was a real possibility. I was pretty young, and remember asking my citified friend, “Why would anyone want to hurt us?” She said, “They don’t want to hurt us. They just care about what they need. We don’t even exist to them.” That’s scary. When you are walking through a dangerous place, your very existence is in peril, it is natural that a person would long for the security of knowing that God is present in the midst of the tough times.
As a chaplain in a hospital, and as a pastor now, who goes to the hospital – one of my most important “jobs” was just to embody God’s presence to people whose lives were in peril. In that situation, communion is a powerful sign of God’s presence. Take this bread . . . means that the doctor may be beside you, the nurses hover around you, your family may watch over you. But Christ’s love and peace are INSIDE you. God is really with you, in your struggling body in this wilderness place. The 23rd Psalm captures this experience so beautifully with the image of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and finding there that God has spread a table there, in the midst of the enemy, at which one may be nourished and sustained. When danger and difficulties arise, we are welcomed at the table where we can receive grace and courage to face whatever lies ahead.
Times of illness, difficulty and danger are not the only times we may have a special need to return and touch base at the Table. In fact, sometimes we may need to come to the Table because our daily routine has become so . . . daily and so . . . routine. Get up, go to school or go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch a little TV, and go to bed. Next day – the same thing. And you think, “Gee. Is this the wonderful plan God has for my life?”
When tedium of routine threatens our sense of calling, we may need to get back in touch with the joy of life. The Eucharist is one way God has given us to do that. Here’s how: Eucharist means Thanksgiving. It’s used very early in the church – in the Gospels and even in Paul’s letters, to mean this sacrament. The joyous acts of thanksgiving that permeated the observance of this rite undoubtedly caused the second-century Christian writers to use the term Eucharist as the standard name for this meal.
Thanksgiving – consciously being grateful – is to take a break from boredom and opening our eyes to the blessings and gifts that have been showered upon our lives. Paul and the Gospel writers knew something that has, in recent times, been proven by scientific studies: The act of gratitude- of thanksgiving - lowers stress, boosts the immune system, eases depression, and improves a person’s perspective. It just makes us feel better, too. We have so much to thank God for in the stories of Jesus, the love he showed his disciples in their everyday walk, his care to give us this meal to share. There is so much for which to be thankful. Eucharist – thankfulness – brings us back into God’s presence and allows us experience the blessings of God in new and surprising ways. As we focus on thanksgiving, we notice that God is among us in ways so ordinary they might escape our attention were it not for the stepping stone we encounter at this Table.
1) When we are in danger,
2) when we are caught up in the boring details of living, and
3) when we feel alone and lonely. Loneliness is a big part of our experience in this culture because we are taught “self” reliance, independence and individual initiative. And those things are good. But the Bible gives us a much more balanced picture of who human beings are. Each one of us is part of “us” And the Bible teaches us that this “us-ness” was a huge part of the meaning of what we do at this table. It is called “Communion” – “Koinania”. This word is variously translated as “ Sharing” , “Fellowship”, “Partnership” as well as “communion” . It is the word from which we take “community” - and the understanding clearly is that what we do at this table is a community business.
When you are lonely – and think that you walk alone. Touch base with the table as a tangible reminder that you are drawn here with brothers and sisters. Some of the brothers and sisters you see. Here we are. A body of believers. And some of the brothers and sisters you will never see. But the ties that bind you are not imaginary. God has drawn us into His family and this is the family table. Close your eyes and see some of them: Zion Lutherans who sang in the choir, Zach LeCrone whose steel guitar makes “Precious Lord” rock. They are around the table this morning, too. Tolono Presbyterians who do mission with you, Sue, whose house is decorated with Bible verses, the African American congregation in Benton Harbor. They are around the table this morning, too. Think farther . . . The Disaster assistance teams working in Galvaston, and Houston, and Cedar Rapids. They are taking communion this morning. The Synod of Livingstonia, in Malawi, that works year round to bring clean water to villagers there. The staff of the Beit Jala Boarding Home, who show Christian love to boys in Palestine. They are gathered around our family table. Everyone that God has called in love and made his own – God has joined us together and made us One family and today we are having a virtual family reunion. Wherever we are, we stop what we are doing and spiritually join hands across the miles, across the oceans, across all the racial and ethnic and political and economic differences that divide us, and we share this meal with Jesus Christ sitting at the head of the table, smiling at all of us in love.
Wherever we may be in our spiritual journey, we are invited and encouraged to come to the table for nourishment and strength to go on. It is a way God has given us to touch base with him and with one another at important times in our lives.
Let’s have a good time as we take this step of faith together.

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