March 2, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
"Holy Communion - the Grace Meal"
1 Corinthians 11: 17-34 Matthew 26: 26-29
Yesterday morning at 7 am the doorbell rang. Now normally on a Saturday morning I would have been up for a while, but not yesterday. We had all been up late so I did not hear the ring but only Karen saying: "Honey, that's the doorbell. Do you want me to get up or are you able to?"
"Huh? The doorbell?"
I had been asleep. But I believed Karen to be an accurate judge of a sound, pulled on my sweat pants and made my way downstairs barefoot just as the bell chimed again.
I opened the door and there stood 9 year old Skyler from next door. "Hi Pastor Brian," he said, "could you come over, mom has some kind of emergency."
"Sure," I said, grabbed a coat and followed him across the gravel to his house while he filled me in.
"A little while ago she noticed smoke coming from the garage and went to find this water gushing out of the water heater. She can't get it to stop."
I am thinking, "Dear Jesus, they have the wrong guy," but went willingly. I am their neighbor. They are part of my family, this body, besides. I could come.
It was steam that had been the telltale sign from the garage as the hot water geyser from the hot water heater soaked down the wall, and was forming a lake of water beneath the things stored there. Huh barefoot by an electrical appliance being doused with water - it did not seem to be a recipe for success, but I sought to stay away from the electricity while seeking to do something.
They reached Andy Haboush on the phone and he told me to try a couple things with the water heater, and then we ended up shutting off the main water supply to the house. Jill and Skyler and I overjoyed as I got the knob to turn to the off position with Andy's direction.
Wet and thoroughly awake I made my way back home thinking about the Body of Christ, the gift of being part of that body, the privilege of being called into service even in an area that is as far from my expertise as China is from Banks, but under the guidance of another member of the body participating by phone-like a glimpse of the action of God's Holy Spirit. What a privilege.
I had another experience with the Lord's body this week on Tuesday as several things happened. One, I awoke and felt less than terrific. After I did some light exercises I felt positively awful. It reminded me of the time when I first arrived at Willamette University in the fall of 1977 and dove into the pool to do some laps, when I had never swam laps before. I swam nearly 40 and got out to head to the locker room when it hit me-nausea, dizziness, and a cold sweat. I sat down on a bench and put my head between my legs. Another guy walked by and asked, "Are you okay?" "Not currently," I replied.
Then I had just worked too hard. But on Tuesday morning I felt the same. I eventually made my way to the office. I had to get some things done for the meeting in Hillsboro at noon that day and a few other things completed as well.
While there I received a phone call. It was from a woman in Seattle with whom I had planned a conference last year. "Hi Brian," she said, "how are you?"
"Honestly, I am less then chipper today," I replied.
We chatted and I answered her original reason for calling, then she said, "You did not ask for this, but my advice would be to clear your calendar and head home."
A few minutes later I was lying on my back on my office floor thinking, "Hmmm this is no way to get anything done." But I did not have the energy to get up. It was then, while flat on my back that I realized the wisdom that had just been shared with me. The "body of Christ" - it is about caring for one another, being there for one another, providing for one another, loving one another - so, while there on the floor, I made a decision. I crawled to the phone and called Dexter Danielson who was to go to my 12 noon meeting with me and told him of my situation and asked if he could run the meeting. He said he could. I offered to prepare an agenda and the materials he would need and leave them in the office. Then I called Cecile Macdonald with whom I had had an appointment and cancelled and she through Joyce Krull got people praying for me. Then I went home and slept the rest of that day and some of the next.
The body of Christ - an acquaintance encouraged me to care for myself; Dexter could lead in my stead; and many, many of you began to pray.
We are a part of something intangible that becomes visible as we care for one another - we are the Body of Christ - and when we come to the Lord's Supper - this table set before us, we fellowship in that Body - not only with one another, but with the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
In the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul wrote: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (a sharing in fellowship) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one loaf" (v. 16-17).
That sharing in the cup means a sharing in, an experience of the forgiveness offered through that cup. And the sharing in the Body means a sharing in the death of Christ which gives us life.
The manner by which the Corinthians were approaching this table, however, was fragmenting and obliterating the reality of that Body. This is something Paul tackles in the 11th chapter as he addresses the schisms in their body. While they came together to celebrate the Lord's Table they forgot that it was not about their individual enjoyment or actions, but a community event. While some were getting drunk others were leaving hungry. They were behaving like the prophet's Isaiah's description of the fool who: "practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the Lord; he leaves the hungry without food and from the thirsty withholds water" (32:6).
Their practices were humiliating the poor among them, Paul told them.
What was the problem? They had forgotten the body of the Lord. As they came together they were part of something bigger than themselves. This supper was the Lord's doing - it was by His command they came, and as His Body they celebrated His death and therefore His life among them.
Divisions - schisms between then had no place. They must remember they are members of one another as they came. They could not afford to put others down in their thinking as they supped. They needed to wait for one another as they ate. They were one Body, after all.
Paul's point: Come to the Lord's table as One Body in Christ.
Paul's remedy for the Corinthians is to clarify first that it was the Lord who gave them the meal they are celebrating - so to come to God's table to proclaim what God has done through Christ. But warns not to come in an unworthy manner - he does not say that only the "worthy" may come. If that were the case then none of us could come. "An old highland minister seeing an old woman hesitate to receive the cup, stretched it out to her, saying, "Take it, woman; it's for sinners; it's for you." (Barclay, 117).
John Wesley wrote: "If we abstain from communion because of a sense of unworthiness due to our sinfulness, then everyone would abstain! We are all sinners saved by grace. This meal is designed for sinners!"
No when paul speaks of not coming in an unworthy manner he is speaking of how the Corinthians were coming - neglecting one another in the body, with divisions between the poor and rich, when the Lord had died for all and equalized all strata of society through what He had done. You are to proclaim the Lord's death-that death reconciled all of us to God and one another! So come to the table recognizing the Body of Christ, discerning the Body.
Come to the table recognizing that you are part of the Body of the Lord - that you have been incorporated into something bigger than you are, that you are not a lone ranger, but one who has been bought with a price, so glorify God in your body as you care for one another, as you live with one another, as you pray for and encourage one another - continue to live in this thing, the Body of Christ.
It was Wednesday afternoon that Janet Towne reached me at the office and asked, "Are you sure you are able to lead the New Members' class tonight?" I had called here that morning and left a message saying I was certain I could lead it, but found my energy came in waves during the day, I would be up with strength and then sink low without any.
At the point when she called, I was in a low point without energy and so took her up on the offer. I was able to rest more because of it.
This is what we are a part of - Paul's reminder to us is of this supper at which we remember the Lord's death which made such a body possible - so come remembering that you are part of such a place of belonging, such a place of ministry and strength.