Sermon 01/31/21: Power Tool #4: The Supper of the Lord (Epiphany IV)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, many are not quite ready to return to face to face worship.

If this includes you, please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video:

Screencast-o-matic: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/crVwVDRqzW

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/506632164

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition: 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

HYMN For All the Saints, Who from Their Labors Rest
SINE NOMINE-FOR ALL THE SAINTS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y-yvL2P_FY

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Let Us Break Bread Together
J.D. Sumner, The Stamps Quartet – Let Us Break Bread Together [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QoolEJe6a0

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Power Tool #4: The Supper of the Lord.
Text: John 6:30-60, 1 Cor 11:20-29
Series: Those Methodist Tools (Attend Upon All The Ordinances of God)

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

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SERMON NOTES

1 Cor 11:20 When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 

John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. … 41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” … 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” 59 This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper’na-um. 

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HYMN One Bread, One Body
One Bread One Body with Lyrics by John Michael Talbot
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z01zrrOFkNE

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

As you know, the wise men came toward the baby Jesus at Christmas. And certainly, as they returned to their homes, they grew even wiser. My hope is for all of us, that as we move from Christmas onward through the life of Jesus, because, of course, we’re headed to the cross; we’re headed to Easter, is that we will also grow wiser, that we would be wise people.

John Wesley gave us rules to help us to understand what wisdom is. And one of those rules is a little bit mysterious. It actually says to attend upon all the ordinances of God. What does that mean? The very best answer that I have to that question is there are things that you and I can do that help us to grow spiritually. And John Wesley named six of them, six power tools for us to grow in faith. And one of those has to do with the supper of the Lord, with Holy Communion, with, as it says in Greek, the Eucharist. What is the role the Holy Communion should have in our lives?

Well, before we get to there, let me just remind you of something you all know. Sailors on ships would travel on long voyages and they brought food with them. And the farther they got from land, the sicker they got. And doctors wondered if it was a disease. Doctors wondered if it was a germ. But what they finally discovered is that there’s something in the food we eat which is necessary for life, a very tiny little thing that if you don’t have it in your diet, you’re going to die. And what they found simply by experimentation is if the sailors had a little bit of fruit, they would not get scurvy. Vitamin C helps us stay alive. And so the British sailors started taking limes on their voyages, and as a result, they got to be called limeys. That’s where that nickname came from. But you need vitamin C for your body to do what the body needs to do.

John Wesley saw communion as an essential part of spiritual growth.

His other fellow students at Oxford University, Lincoln College– this is a picture of the chapel at Lincoln College on the screen. His fellow students thought he was a crazy religious fanatic. You know why? He went to church once a week. Now, if you remember being in college, if you had that privilege, maybe you didn’t go to church very much on Sunday morning, maybe you were too busy on Saturday night doing things you shouldn’t be doing.

But John Wesley did none of that. He went to church on Sunday because it was a rule and he went by the rules. One of the rules was to take communion at least once a week, and he went to church, and he took communion once a week … and was seen as a crazy person for doing something we would see as, well, really, sort of normal.

Now, in those days, the pastor was seen as somewhat of a holy gatekeeper to decide who was worthy, who was worthy to take communion. Kim and I traveled to Savannah a few years ago, and we actually got on one of those horse-drawn carriages. And we told the driver that, since I was a United Methodist pastor, since we were United Methodist, we wanted to see anything that had to do with John Wesley. So we went through the town in the horse-drawn carriage, listening to him tell John Wesley stories.

And he told about how John Wesley had a little black book. And as he wandered through the town and would see a church member, he would write things in his little black book. And the carriage driver said what he was doing was writing down the sins of church members that he observed. Now, you know why? It was his job. Remember, he kept the rules. It was his job, if someone came forward for communion who was not worthy, to stop them from taking communion. That’s the way it used to be, folks. He changed his mind a little bit later. It’s a long, long story.

But at that time, the pastor was supposed to decide who was worthy. Here’s what we understand now about worthiness. If Jesus Christ died for you, He is worthy. And He’s the one who invites you to come to the table! And so there’s no need for the pastor to stop you, as if communion was something only for good people.

And in fact, to be very honest, John Wesley saw Holy Communion, he came to see this, as similar to medicine. It does a body good, because he felt that no matter how holy you were, no matter how sinful you were, you would be empowered by God to be a better person by taking communion; that it benefits both perfect people, as if there were any, and sinners. It has an actual effect on a person’s life. So the pastor no longer needs to be the gatekeeper.

But there is concern about this because of this scripture. Here’s what it says in 1 Corinthians 11:27, “Whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord – see those words in red – in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so we eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

And so the preachers back then felt that they needed to protect people in the church from taking communion in an unworthy manner. Why? Because there are consequences. For anyone who eats and drinks – please notice the words in red – without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself. Look at verse 30. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

And so in order to protect people from the dangers of communion throughout history, priests and pastors have been tasked with the question of, what does it mean to eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner? Here’s the explanation they came up with years ago. What must be important, they decided, was that you eat and drink with a proper theological understanding.

In other words, if you don’t agree with the doctrine of our church, communion will hurt you, instead of help you. And that is why in many denominations today, if you’re not their way, you’re not allowed to take communion. You’re not allowed to take communion, they think, until you have a worthy theological, doctrinal understanding. And there’s a great variety of understandings.

So over on this extreme — But over on this extreme, people have what is called a sacramental understanding. What they believe is that when Jesus took a piece of bread and handed it to the disciples, he could not be lying. Consequently, if Jesus handed the disciples a piece of bread, it was no longer bread. It doesn’t matter what a scientist would say. It doesn’t matter what it tastes like, or what it looks like. It’s not bread anymore. That’s the body of Jesus Christ. Why? Because that’s what he said. And so consequently, they behave in a way that is consistent with their doctrine. If there’s any Holy Communion left over, it’s actually put in a little safe behind the altar to protect it. And good Catholic people will kneel at the altar, and they will pray and draw comfort from being in the “real presence” of Jesus Christ himself. Why? Because the bread is there, and that’s what He said. To a Catholic person, this is called transubstantiation. And by the way, I’m grossly oversimplifying thousands and thousands of books that have been written on this topic. But they believe that the bread has been entirely changed.

If you come over toward the Protestant side, to Episcopalians, and to Lutherans, they still believe the bread is different. It’s somehow more than bread. It can’t just be bread. Because if a priest prays over it– if a pastor prays over it, prays that it become the body of Christ, somehow the body of Christ is there along with the bread. And when you take communion, Christ enters your body in the form of the bread. And as you drink of the cup, forgiveness of sins comes to you as you drink of the cup. That’s one side.

Way over on the other theological side are the folks who believe that Jesus was enacting a symbolic practice; that, in other words, the bread is still bread. The juice is still juice. But when you obey Jesus Christ, Jesus, who is already present inside of you, because He’s come to live in your heart, and you know how we say those words. Jesus is already there. And being obedient to Jesus by taking the bread and taking the cup, strengthens His presence in your life. Not because there’s anything special about the bread, but because He is so special and is living inside of you.

On this great spectrum from both sides, where are United Methodists? As we usually are, we are smack dab in the middle. Because there are those of us who believe that the bread actually changes, and there are those of us who believe that the point of this is to strengthen our spirits. And there are those of us, like myself, who believe both at the same time.

It makes a difference if we take communion. But a “worthy” understanding, I think – to have the correct doctrine – I don’t think it’s the real answer to this problem. Because if you want to understand a scripture, you don’t take it out of context; you examine it in context. When Jesus says, “This is my body,” it seems that the phrase discerning the body is about the bread. But what if discerning the body in the book of First Corinthians is just a little bit different? What does it mean to take communion unworthily, as Paul defines? As not discerning the body?

If you just look a few verses earlier, look at the behavior of the people. When you come together, Paul says, it’s not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal and one is hungry and another is – let it sink in – drunk. What? Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?

You see, the original Lord’s Supper happened in the midst of a Passover meal. A full meal with multiple courses was served for everyone in that place to eat. And in the midst of that Passover meal, Jesus took a cup and said those words. Jesus broke bread and shared it, and said those words. And so, in the early church, worship and gathering and communion was always in the midst of a full meal, but not a potluck.

Apparently, from what Paul’s saying, is people who had money brought a picnic basket with enough wine in it that they could get drunk. Whereas other people, particularly slaves, came from work. They had nothing to eat; they had nothing to drink. And so in the same room, looking at each other, you’ve got people pigging out and getting drunk while other people are very hungry. And I think you’d agree with me that this is just simply wrong. Paul certainly thinks so.

Paul goes on to say, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” And from that time forward, wherever Paul had influence, communion was never more a part of a shared meal. It was a bit of bread. It was a bit of wine or juice because no one should go without.

So what does it mean to discern the body? In the very next chapter, 1st Corinthians 12, Paul says that the church is the body of Christ. Maybe discerning the body has to do with recognizing that you are a part of the body of Christ. Maybe communion has to do with you recognizing that, just as if you become blood brothers, if you share the same blood in your veins, your family and family doesn’t treat each other this way. Maybe discerning the body means to understand that you are a part of all the people you take communion with. You are linked to them by ties of blood and they are linked to you forever and throughout history. What if discerning the body means understanding that you are a part of everyone who’s around you and everyone who is around you is a part of you?

Maybe that’s what Paul means and that we need to be reminded that just as Christ died for us, Christ died for everyone who’s around us. And so they should be treated with great kindness and great respect because Jesus died for them.

Paul says, For what I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in addition to all the other meanings of this, it could also be that what Jesus meant is that whenever you take a bite of bread, you should remember that he gave his life for you. “And in the same way, also the cup after supper saying, This cup is a new agreement, new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” And it’s certainly true among all the other things that this means, it’s possible that what Jesus wanted them to understand was any time you take a drink, remember that it’s my blood that washes away your sins. Remember how you came to be forgiven, every time you take a drink. Because Paul says verse 26, “For as often as you eat this bread, as often as you drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And so all those things come together.

In John, Chapter 6 … there are some promises where Jesus speaks to Jewish people in the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” This is a promise.

“I am the bread of life.” verse 48.

Verse 51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread, which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Verse 53, so Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

Now, please understand this. If you’re a Jewish person, the most despicable thing that you can do is to break the law, to consume blood. Because as it says in the Old Testament, “The life is in the blood.” It belongs to God. It’s for God. And so no Jewish person would consume blood. They would be horrified by this saying that Jesus gave.

And here you and I are. We’re a little bit like the people who have seen the film “ET” before … because we know about communion. We know about Jesus saying over a piece of bread, “This is my body.” We know about Jesus saying over a cup, “This is my blood.” We know the end of the story. And so it’s not a bit shocking to us, but it’s incredibly shocking to them.

But it’s a promise from Jesus, “If you drink this blood if you eat this flesh, I will raise you up at the last day.”

Jesus says, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me, is connected to me, dwells in me, and I am here as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” And this is in John 6.

And of course, they did not understand our celebration of Holy Communion, because these promises apply to Holy Communion … and which is why it’s good for you to take Holy Communion. It’s perhaps as important to spiritual life as vitamin C is to physical life.

Please join me in this prayer. We do not presume to come to Your table, Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but only in Your mercy. We are not worthy to gather up crumbs under Your table, yet You welcome Us as Your family. Grant that, as we share in this Sacrament of Your Son Jesus Christ, we may walk in newness of life, may grow into His likeness, and may evermore dwell in Him and He in us. Amen.

It is Jesus Christ who invites you to this table. It is Jesus Christ who extends the invitation. And in all the centuries since the first invitation, we United Methodists extend the invitation to others. We are one of the denominations in the United States where, it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic or if you’re Baptist or if you’re Lutheran or if you’re Episcopalian. We are all family, and everyone is welcome at the table of the saints. Amen.

I would like to remind those of you who’ve been in military service, there is such a thing as MREs. They’re kind of popular with people who go camping. But in the military, supposedly when you’re on the battlefield, they can drop a box of MREs out of an airplane by parachute. And you could sit there in your foxhole and supposedly enjoy spaghetti that’s every bit as good as what your mama would make back at home. And if you believe that, you’ve never had an MRE, which stands for Meal Ready to Eat!

I kid you not, spaghetti, pizza. It’s all dehydrated in this little plastic bag. It is a meal ready to eat. It’s not as good as when you have it at home, but it’s still good. It’s still good.

I’d like to invite you to take this little thing in your hand. And I have more. Friends, I want to suggest to you that this is a CRE: communion, ready to eat. You’re welcome to take some of these home. It’s not as good as a communion you get at church. The people listening to the worship video online today have the opportunity to get a Ritz cracker or something like that, something that vaguely resembles bread, to get something to drink. Not sure what might have been available, a glass of water, perhaps. But they were invited to take communion at home as best they could because it is taking communion that gives value to it.

Now, the way it’s understood is when you have communion in church, the pastor prays over it. You’re in the presence with all the other people of the church. They are the body, just like the meal you eat at home that your grandma makes. It’s better, but you’re better off with communion ready to eat than no communion at all.

But if there’s not a pastor to pray over it, if there’s not a church building where you can have it because it’s not safe, you can have a communion at home that represents a remembrance.

And so I’d like to invite you to carefully peel off the top layer of the communion package ready-to-eat. Now, if your hands shake like mine do, you may want to ask the person next to you to peel it off!

And I want to ask you to remember. You remember that Jesus died for you. And when he asked you to take and eat this as my body, he wanted you to remember that he gave his life for you. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. So before you take the piece of bread, I invite you to say, “Jesus, I remember you.” Jesus, I remember you.

[silence as people partake]

Lord Jesus, I ask that the bread that we eat would be a blessing to us as we remember the gift of your life upon the cross and that we would receive every blessing they received when they took the bread that you handed them and ate it. Amen.

In your communion ready-to-eat, there’s another plastic flap. Please carefully open it and remember what Jesus said. “Take and drink. This is the new agreement in my blood which is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.”

So as you drink this cup, please say, “I remember you.”

[silence as people partake]

Lord Jesus, I pray that as this juice enters our digestive system, as it moves into the circulatory system and spreads throughout our blood, throughout our body, I pray that it will be just as it was when you shared it with your disciples, and we might feel the deep and genuine truth of your forgiveness for our sins. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Communion does a body good. It’s the vitamin C of our faith. You are welcome to take communion when you’re here. And we will do this next week, which is the first Sunday of the month. We’ll do this on Wednesday mornings for anyone who would wish to come at 10:30. But you may find yourself, because of icy weather, at home. And if you feel led by God to take communion with some sort of bread, something to drink, you are welcome during this time of online worship, according to our bishop, to do so because communion is more important than doing it perfectly or properly.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you made a lot of promises in John chapter six. I ask now that you would fulfill them, that we would be strengthened by what we eat, that we would be provided with energy to do your will by what we have just eaten, that we may be blessed by engaging ourself in the exercise of taking Holy Communion. And I ask you to bless us as we do. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.
 

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