The Sunday Sermon: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 1, 2017
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-29
Receiving and Passing On
Today is World Communion Sunday, originally known as “Worldwide Communion Sunday.” This celebration originated in the Presbyterian Church but quickly spread beyond our own denomination to celebrate the unity we all share in our common profession of Jesus as Christ, our Lord and Savior. So much divides us as Christians today. It’s been that way from the very beginning. The only thing more diverse and divided than modern day Christianity would have been Christianity int eh first two centuries after Jesus death. We even argue endlessly about the way in which Jesus is “Lord and Savior.” But that he is in our lives, in the one thing that we all, Christians around the world, have in common.
So, today, Christian communities around the world have gathered, are gathering and will gather share a meal that, more than any doctrine or dogma, procedure or practice, theological or policy statement, makes us one. This Sunday’s service, as much as any other, I believe (yes, even Christmas Eve and Easter morning) grounds us in our very reason for being: to Remember, to celebrate, and to share the Good News of God in the Jesus of History and in the Christ of faith.
This morning we’ll explore this aspect of congregational life, our Communion, as more than just a shared meal in this sanctuary for this community. It is that, but as we celebrate World Communion Sunday, it is good to “remember” that this sacrament, this celebration, this communion is an intricate and intimate part of our “world” beyond this sanctuary.
Listen for the Word of God … (Read 1 Corinthians 1:17-22-27-34)
So, what did you notice in our scripture reading this morning? What was missing? Its right in front of us in our bulletin, typed out, but maybe you heard its absence more keenly as I read. (Anyone?) We didn’t read the middle four verses of this passage which are undoubtedly the most familiar to us. Did you notice that? Did you miss them in hearing, or if you were following along, did the “jump” jostle you a bit? We will hear those words in a few moments as we gather at this table, because that’s why they’re so familiar, and that’s why some of you “heard their absence” in our reading this morning. But that was purposeful, of course.
ON this World Communion Sunday, I remind us again of the broader context in which the “Words of Institution” that are so familiar are originally spoken. We hear them month after month and imagine the perfect community gathered around a communion table like ours, patiently and prayerfully awaiting the ritual that reminds them who they are and where they are in God’s story. Not so at, at least, one of the first tables that participated in this ritual. There is trouble in Corinth. And on World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate the unity of the church, I think it’s good to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.
The language that Paul used before and after the part we skipped over is deliberately chosen to shock the community reading and sharing his words. Maybe it shocked some of you. Paul finds nothing at all commendable about their practices. Their coming together for worship should be a good thing. But it’s not. Essentially, those who were free and able to come early have been doing so and have been eating and drinking early, probably the choicest food and best wine already set out. When the others arrive (Paul describes them in verse twenty-two as “those who have nothing”), they find tipsy co-worshippers and leftover food! The basic and most powerful meaning of the “Lord’s” supper that Paul has taught, namely that the life of faith is a life of community, has been minimized and even lost altogether. Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! 11:22 The Lord’s Supper, the central symbol of Christianity’s divine responsibility for a shared earth, the central proclamation of Christianity’s liberated and sanctified life, was fractured badly at Corinth, and Paul knew it.
Now, in our time we don’t celebrate this Sacrament beginning with a larger meal and jugs of juice or wine. And we don’t celebrate the meal in the middle or at the end of the day, anymore. No one who would be able, leaves work or the fields early and arrives to our sanctuary to eat and drink the best portions. Still, we can, we must I believe, think today of the bigger picture. Where in the world are people of privilege and power consuming the enjoying the riches the world’s table has to offer first? And what are they, what are we leaving for the rest? For those who don’t have early access, or any access, to food that gives life and to drink that saves the same? Where are we found in the celebration of living. Should we be commended in the matter of abundant life for all? It’s not really a rhetorical question for us when we gather as Christians.
The last verses we read assure those who are gathering in Corinth that there will be judgment on, and there are consequences for, the unworthy manner in which the community is practicing this meal. We like to imagine that judgment in some ethereal afterlife so we don’t really have to deal with it here and now. But we may more accurately imagine that judgment to be one that we experience much more immediately in the loneliness and isolation we may feel as individuals in this community; in the discord and dissension within the church we love, and; and in the world, itself, when we don’t’ take our “world communion” seriously. That’s our “judgment:” loneliness and isolation as individuals; discord and dissension as a congregation; fear and suspicion as global community.
The meal in Corinth was fractured. And it is still today. This morning we focus our minds, our imaginations, beyond the Table we’ve set for ourselves. In verse twenty-eight, Paul warns us to examine ourselves and “only then” come to the table. We need to examine ourselves because we will be able to bear other’s burdens only according to the measure of our own faith. If we are feeling less than trusting of others, then we will be less than trustworthy. If we are not feeling hopeful, then we can’t offer much hope. On the other hand, if we are full of joy, then those we journey with cannot help but be filled themselves. If we are experiencing the grace of God in our own lives, then we will offer that grace to others in our lives. The table set before us is the ideal place for self-assessment to happen.
After examining ourselves, we must “discern the body.” All this needs to mean is that we must always be “checking out” our relations with the others who make up the body of Christ here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. As we share, we must discern our relationships with everyone in this room. (You don’t need to look around, but take a moment to “sense” the presence of the others here with you. How do they make you feel? It may not all be good! That’s okay, but let’s recognize it so our Communion together may begin to transform it.)
And, finally, we must examine our place, and our love, for the world. Where is there fear? Where is there hatred? Where is there division? Where are those who are a le to arrive early consuming the choicest meats and drinking the finest wines, leaving left-overs for “those who have nothing?”
This morning’s bread trays include pieces of bread most often eaten in the Caribbean, in Mexico, and in the Middle East: Coconut Dumb Bread, corn tortilla bread, Challah and Pita. From regions in our world that have been destroyed by winds and earthquakes and armed conflict, that are still controlled by fear and worry and hate, tour mouths, to our bodies, to our Body … of Christ.
The Corinthians are a study of those who have forgotten the communal nature of the Lord’s supper and have pursued their own interests, eaten their fill, sated their thirst and treated their brothers and sisters with disregard. As troubling as that is, had they not been making such a charade of the supper, Paul would never have written to them about it and we may never have known the tradition that was given to him that he passed on to us. Their division smoothes the progress of our unity …
As you prepare to receive this morning … assess yourself. As we prepare to receive this morning, let us discern our relationships with one another. As we prepare to receive this morning, let us be prayer for an aching world … that all may be fed at the table of God.
Let’s sing, affirm our faith, and offer our love as we come together at the table to feed and be fed. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 1, 2017