Home » Worship Sermons » January 29, 2012 Sermon “SAVED INTO COMMUNION”

 

January 29, 2012 Sermon “SAVED INTO COMMUNION”

 

Scripture: I Corinthians 8:1-13

Date: January 29, 2012

     The lectionary text from I Corinthians for this Sunday needs a little explanation to be understood. It was believed by many including those in Paul’s communities that eating meat that had been sacrificed to some other god would be harmful to anyone who would eat it. Those who were more spiritually mature whom Paul called the stronger knew that God is One and bigger than that and therefore there is no danger.

     But there were others, Paul calls these people weaker who still believed there was danger and therefore were troubled and frightened to see fellow followers of Jesus to eat that meat. The stronger, likely ridiculed the weaker. “Don’t you know that’s just a superstition?” It is to this predicament that Paul speaks not criticizing the weak because they don’t get it, but upbraiding the strong because by teasing the weak they cause anxiety and hurt them.

     Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

     For Paul it is better to know that the meat was not dangerous, but more important is asking: How will what I do affect my brothers and sisters? The relationships are more important than the knowledge. Paul created churches – he didn’t save individuals. He preached personal salvation but that only lived in the context of the community of faith. We are saved into communion. There can be no Lone Ranger Christians.

     One cannot be a follower of Jesus and not be a part of a communion of faith. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me – people who do not belong to a church and have no intention of doing so – “I read the Bible and I believe in Jesus as my personal savior,” in order to basically say, “Don’t bug me pastor, I don’t need the Church”.

     We live in an age of disillusionment. We are disillusioned by the institutions which are the bedrock of our society – any society – government, public schools, the family, the post office. But I believe in the United States Post Office!  And of course, that also means “institutionalized religion”. Just that sound of that makes one want to gag. The truth is, wherever two or three are gathered, there is an institution. Don’t get me started on “spiritual but not religious”. The subtext of which is I don’t want my religion to involve other people.

     Remember last week when I quoted that book:  Lost in Translation? About younger adults not having a moral compass? That just about anything a person believes is moral? For that person the only immoral thing is to judge others. This is the same kind of thing I want to make my own religion called “Jim-ism”.                                        

     Other people are difficult! They were back then in Corinth and they still are today. The stronger ones in Corinth could say: “I know better, so why should I bother with these weaklings?” “I believe… so why do I need others?” “I read the Bible, pastor, and I believe in Jesus so don’t bug me.”

     Knowledge puffs up, love builds up

     Paul didn’t call people into a faith of believing but a faith of loving. Paul built churches. There are no “Lone Ranger Christians”. The context of everything Paul wrote is the Body of Christ. Therefore what Paul is most concerned about more than any individual is building up the Church.          Paul would say: “Ask not what your Church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Church”.

     In everything Paul made judgments based upon Something Bigger than Us. How something would affect others and the church. It IS important to grow spiritually – but it is more important not to hurt these weak ones. Paul would want us to ask “Will this build up the Church?” Take any issue in the Church today, big or small and instead of asking ourselves what we think about, ask, is this good for the church? Have there ever been any issues in this Church?

     I started in ministry in 1988, which doesn’t really seem that long ago. And that was the very year that the General Conference approved allowing actual wine to be used for communion and UM Churches. Well, it so happened that a prominent and I must say powerful member of the first Church I served as pastor was a wine aficionado – and he took the ruling as license for us to bring wine back into our communion.

     This man had a forceful temperament and he was respected. The Church depended on him. But there were those who had the courage to say that they were concerned about how it could affect alcoholics and what it might communicate to children. At that church communion was served to everyone in small cups as they kneeled at a railing.

     Someone onChurch Councilsuggested a compromise – that we have both…. dived the cups up 50-50 and let people choose whether they wanted juice or wine. In my head I said to myself: We could also divide the wine portion into Merlot and Pinot Noir!!! We could have a number of trays with all sorts of wines, foreign and domestic; many varietals.

     On High Holy Days we could have vintage wine. “This Easter for communion we have 2005 Chateau St. Michelle Cab Franc featuring a soft nutty palate with hints of black cherry and a clean finish!” But then I’m certain we then would have a controversy over white wine since it doesn’t look like blood. Paul would say, of course that the “stronger” refrain from drinking white wine if it troubled the “weaker”.

     One could go on into absurdity when the primary question is, “What do I want?” rather than “What’s good for the whole church?”

     Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.

     When we served in Anacortes the Church built an addition when we were in the process of building the Co-op preschool got kicked out of the Presbyterian Church and they asked if we had space. It became a lightning rod. What will the preschool do to our building? What about toys left on the floor? People might get injured. I made the mistake of saying, “What did we build this building for?!” To me it was and still is an easy question to answer. When we ask about what is good for the church and in this case, the community, rather than focusing on personal preference.

     At Fairwood, there was much discussion about putting up a screen in the sanctuary. One woman who was dead set against it was an educator and her reasoning was that youth and children have enough screen time, they don’t need more. And I told her I agreed. At the same time our blossoming Young Adult group said to us frankly, that if we didn’t have a screen, young adults would be less attracted to our Church. It wasn’t a threat at all…. it was simply an observation. They also said we had to have a good website and be on Facebook.

     I am not much of a screen person. I still read the newspaper. My family wanted to get me a Kindle for Christmas and I said no… but I’m still not a Scrooge. And if anything is lengthy I have to read I print it out. And I don’t need a screen to worship God. But I know I have to ask, what’s good for the Church?   What will build up our community?

     Paul built churches – his focus in everything he wrote was the health and growth of the churches, which in our day of disillusionment with all that is organized is counter-cultural. If we be like Paul we will go against the grain of what is accepted by everyone. But then, Paul had to do that too, and so did Jesus. So much so that he was crucified. Paul and Jesus both had a very large vision. Much bigger than us. Always in their view was the Kin-dom of God.

     That man back in my first church in Spokane got his wish. On hot Sunday morning in August, the communion stewards didn’t want to get up early, so they prepared the elements the night before. When I was passing out the cups I thought maybe the Holy Spirit was particularly active that day judging from everyone’s expression. Then I tasted it. It had a zing to it!

     In the end we didn’t have a divided communion at CentenaryUMCin Spokane.  We did invite the Co-op Preschool to use our space in Anacortes and it is still there. And the screen went up at Fairwood, but only in the first service. And I think every one of these decisions was best for the whole church.

     This Church too has had conflict in its past and will in its future. If we do,

        What question will we be asking?

        What will our vision be?  How big will it be?

        Will it be bigger than us? 

        Will it be about the Kin-dom of God?

     Amen.

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