Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Jesus Expects Us to Follow His Example

I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. John 13:15 (GNT)

I've had the privilege of being involved in different kinds of worship services throughout my life, different contexts, different churches, different denominations, different ways of doing the symbolic foot washing service.

When the Bible tells us about Jesus doing this foot washing, He said that He was setting this as an example of the kind of relationship we're supposed to have with each other, and the world around us.
In John's gospel, it's the bigger part of the Communion Service. In John's gospel, he just mentions that they had the bread and the wine as they had their Passover meal, and then he elaborates on this part of the service they share. The foot washing part of their experience.

[Listen to the audio for this sermon]
preached extemporaneously 
at Briensburg UMC on September 22, 2019.

For many people, the Gospel, and everything that Jesus did gets marginalized somehow as something that's unattainable. Something that was only to make us look bad, only to show how good that God is. And it does show that, but that's not all it is. Sometimes we have a tendency to think, "Well, Jesus did that, but I can't. I'm not even supposed to try."

But Jesus said He was doing this as an example of what He wants us to do, and expects us to do as His followers. I would like to reflect today on one of the meaningful foot washing services I have participated in, and as you share that reflection, perhaps it will touch you as it touched me.

Several decades ago, many more than several, but forty years ago I had the privilege of living for a couple years on the family farm in Tennessee where my father's mother grew up. Her father had three jobs there. My Great Grandfather was a blacksmith in the community, and he was a fireman on the railroad, and he was a preacher. So I got to meet some of the people who were my Grandparent's age who still remembered my Great Grandfather. They told me stories about him and everything, and so that was pretty neat! To live in that community and to worship sometimes with the people that my Great Grandfather, and my Grandmother, and my Grandparents worshiped with.

Several of the smaller churches in the community of that denomination had a tabernacle that they shared, and whenever they had in their Communion Service they would meet up at the tabernacle from all the different churches. And there'd be a whole lot of people. It was like an open auditorium, and they would have a lot of singing, and a lot of preaching, and a lot of food for a dinner on the grounds. Then a lot more singing, a lot more preaching, and a lot more singing. There was lots of singing!

In fact, you know I've told this story about how every once in a while, I'll tell you about this lady that requested for Brother Billy to sing in the garden, and that's where that was. And I still don't know whether she meant, sing the hymn, "In the Garden," or to go outside and sing in the garden, but that's where that was.

As we gather for Communion after the meal and after a lot of singing and a lot of preaching. Then we shared the bread and wine, and then the way they did it was everybody separated, the men to one side and the women to the other for modesty. They passed out basins of water and towels, and then we each took turns getting down on our knees and bathing each other's feet. It's one of the most emotional, spiritual times, experiences of my life. To be with these people that I had learned to respect and love, that we worked side by side with, that we worshiped with, that we struggled with, and we went through things in the community with, and people I looked up to getting down on their knees and washing my feet and I theirs.

Along with the singing came a little shouting and a lot of people hugging each other's necks and weeping in each other's arms. As all this we brought up is that the love and the stresses together and all this washed through the crowd throughout our hearts and minds while we symbolically washed each other's feet.

It's hard to think that you could have that kind of experience with somebody, I mean go outside and not love them even more and then come back together before it all wore off and do it all over again. That's one of the things I love about our time here of passing the peace. When we shake each other's hands, and hug each other, and smile at each other, and talk to each other, and remind each other the love that we share, as Mitch said it that "swells in the room." I love that way you said that in your prayer. So then as we kind of melted back together, all the people back to their places singing some more.

In this Bible passage, the disciples shared that experience in a small group with Jesus being around to wash their feet. You can kind of get a little bit of a sense of that when you think about somebody you look up to, somebody you love, somebody you respect humbling themselves to wash your feet. They got up from that place and then they went outside and they talked and sang as they walked.

They talked about heaven, they talked about love, and they sang hymns the Bible says. They made their way out to where Jesus was being arrested, and giving himself up for us. And Jesus in this room before they left, 
He said, "I've done this to set an example for you that what I've been doing, all of it really, symbolized, all these things that I've been doing, all the ways I've been loving you, all the ways I've been showing you God's love, that's what I expect you to do for each other and for the world around you."

And then He gave that commandment. You know, the lectionary reading for today I think talks about when Jesus celebrated the Great Commandment and said the greatest is that you love God and love one another, and on these two commandments saying all the law and the Gospel, and the prophets.

In this law, toward Gethsemane after the foot-washing, Jesus gave His commandment. He said that, "You are to love one another as I have loved you."

It's so wonderful, isn't it? To think that Jesus has given us an example, and invited us to love one another the way that He has loved us. And that he expects us to do that and that's not something for us to wish we could do, but something for us to learn how to do.

Like the song said, "Teach us how to love one another! Lift us to the joy divine!"

So one of the songs that everyone told me was my Great Grandfather's favorite song, then it had become one of my favorites. "Life's Railway to Heaven." It's about keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail, and this is the chorus.

"Blessed Savior! Thou wilt guide us! 
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us, 
in thy praise forever more."

One more thought as we close. Yesterday, I shared a picture on the Internet: "Jesus knew Judas' heart and still washed his feet."

Christ invites us to love each other. Christ invites our family and friends to love each other. Christ invites the world to love each other. That way, right now. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Kingdom of God is Within You

No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21 (GNT)

Jesus came preaching that a Kingdom of God, and he was saying the Kingdom of God has come not into you, and he would invite the people to be a part of that Kingdom.

Somehow between then and now it became popular to think that God's Kingdom and heaven and everything about what God is inviting us to, is applying to something way off in the distant parts of the universe, or even beyond that universe, and way off in the distant future. But Christ invites us into something that is for us now, a Kingdom that we enter into now, and be a part of now, and that extends then into these other remote places they will not be going for a long time.
[Listen to the audio for this sermon]
preached extemporaneously 
at Briensburg UMC on September 15, 2019.

The expanse of the universe and the life of the world to come, are things that are going on in the future. The Kingdom of God is now, and we're all invited to be a part of it.

And it's in him. They saw must struggle about how if you go off to the highest mountains, God is there down to the lowest depths. Wherever you might go. Paul wrote about how in him we live, and move and have our being.

Then we had Emerson and I tried to memorize this last night, so we'll see how I do. I think Arby, just...
"What lies behind us..." "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us," Emerson.  Praise the Lord and thank you for the prompts.

Well, John wrote in his letter "Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world." And then in Revelation he wrote that God said "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with people."

So, over and over the Bible testifies to what Jesus is saying right here in this passage, challenging the thinking of those who wanted to put it off somewhere unreachable. Because if it's unreachable, then it's also not a problem, if we don't go into it. And this is kind of a little bit of the argument, if love can't be expressed in its fullness and perfection, then some people think that we shouldn't even try at all.

And what Jesus is saying is "Come on in now, the Kingdom of God is within you. The kingdom of God is among you."  And he invites to be a part of that kingdom now, to see the realities of who we are, ourselves, and who the people around us are. To experience that presence and that joy.

So, the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of love. That's God's law. And there are a lot of ways to look at the Bible and people look at the Bible in a lot of ways. But Jesus taught us to look at the Bible through the lens of love. And if we do that, we're going to have a whole different perspective that we view our whole faith from.

Then, anybody who looks at it from any other perspective. Whatever that may be. Whosoever verses, or whatever opinions, or whatever views that somebody has as they read the sacred pages. If they're not reading them from the perspective of God is love, that the basis of understanding the scriptures is love as Jesus taught. That the commandment of God is to love one another as Christ has loved us. They're going to have a different perspective, and there's really no use in arguing about it. Because they're going to have a whole different approach to the scriptures, which is going to mean a whole different outcome on how you're going to understand. 

So, Christ invites us to this prism: The view of love in every word that we read, in every psalm that we sing, in our prayers, in our fellowship in our evangelism.

I don't know if I told you but I appointed Mitch as our Evangelism Chairperson during the Pride Festival because he was doing such a good job telling anybody about how we love each other here.  So, Praise the Lord. Amen.

In all of that we view love is a central focus there. Because of John 3:16 which we'll study about. Besides, We'll get through the 16th verse. And Leslie, let's remind us of what that is.

"For God so Loved the word that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

So with that, God is inviting us to be a part of the kingdom of Christ. Now, it's a kingdom governed by love. There's a verse in a Christmas hymn "Oh Holy night," and it says "Love is his law and peace is this...something" [Love is his law, and his gospel is peace.] Love and peace. and our famous hymn, Oh! for A Thousand Tongues to Sing, a big Wesleyan hymn, has that final stanza that says "Anticipate your heaven below and own that love is heaven."

Just think if everybody loved each other in our whole community around Mashall County the way we love each other here in this room right now. Don't you think the world, at least in Marshall County, would be a better place? And what about our whole country? And our world? So, we want to stand on that. And we don't want to give up a world that we love one another as Christ loved us. How important is that? It makes the difference between the joy and sorrow in the whole world right now.

And certainly we're not the only room where loves is being preached in Marshall County, or around the world. But we're one of them and we believe in it. Amen? And through that love we are becoming more than we are, even just as we reflect on that and think about God's love for us, in practice that love for each other and the world around us, it changes us and it changes the world. Maybe not a whole world overnight-- maybe not us overnight. But it changes things for us to love one another. To try to love one another, even if we're not very good at it. To practice it, and get better. And it brings us into a oneness. That nothing else can bring us into. You can't be one with people you don't love.

So, Paul talks about how we are growing into the stature of the fullness of him that filleth all in all. And he talks about how that is the work of Christ on the cross, reconciling all things to himself. All that unity and oneness can only really come about by love. Any other attempt to do that puts us at odds with each other somewhere, but love brings us into harmony with each other.

We still will be all different, and we celebrate that and go in and instead getting rid of that we celebrate all of our uniqueness. Just think of how that keyboard would sound this morning that there was only one note. It would get a little monotonous if all the keys only had one note. But because it has many and they're all played softly, they come into harmony and you give us some beautiful music. That's what God invites us to. When he invites us to the Kingdom of God. So, he says the Kingdom of God has come nigh until you. The Kingdom of God is near at hand. The kingdom of God is within you. The kingdom of God is among you.  In a way they seem like separate concepts but they're not. The word that is translated in some translations as "within" says "the Kingdom of God is within you," is translated in other translations "the kingdom of God is among you." 

Because that's the definition of word. It's got two definitions "within" and "among" and they're not that quite different. They're part of the same concept that Jesus is talking to us about. But we do have a tendency to think of our relationship with God, and our religion, and our views about the faith, in very personal terms. And we should, it is personal and there are aspects of that that are just very personal. But when we enter into our personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we each claim Him as our Lord and savior and some of the things we had in the affirmation faith, we used to walk out from the baptismal covenant.

We see him as our Lord and Savior. It's a very personal thing. It means personally studying the scriptures, learning how to write with the divine word of truth. Going through the feelings that we have, sorting out the thoughts that we have and hearing God speak to us and call us as individuals to "follow Him."
But it's also a "we thing." I'm not the only one that is doing that in this room, am I? Each and every one of us is doing that. Each and every one of us has our personal relationship with God in Christ. Each and every one of us in this whole room has our own experiences and understandings and views and questions, and challenges, and affirmations, and doubts and all the things that go into being a person of faith. Each one of us has those and we share that.

Jesus said, "I am the light." Jesus was talking about that he was light of the world, but then he told everybody in sermon of the mount, "You are the light of the world." Collectively and individually, whether we are together and whether we are apart, the light of God shines through us and into us and we share that.

We share the relationship that we have. That's why I love about the testimony at time and we say about things that God has blessed us with. Then we get to share those joys or while I'm about to pray at times when we share the concerns that are on our heart. Then we share those. It's more than just saying what they are. It's a sharing. Don't we feel that? When somebody tells us about something that's painful going on. We feel that, don't we? We empathize with that and it becomes part of our suffering as well. And when somebody has the blessing and the joy and Knox [newborn baby in our congregation] is born, we feel that joy, we get to share that joy. It becomes as part of our joy, we empathize with that joy, and there's a unity there, isn't it? There's a oneness there. Like family. Like being the family of God. Like being a family. Together.

I think that's part of what Wesley is trying to capture in writing that stanza,  "Anticipating you heaven below and own that love is heaven." Because we're already entering into that heaven.

When we feel those joys, when we share those. That's why we sing Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love." We're all entering into heaven. We've already entered in. When we have that little spark and the leap of faith that makes us, let us jump over that chasm of doubt and just believe, and just love and trust. And as we grow in that, then the kingdom grows within us. And as we all grow in that, the Kingdom grows among us.

And we go out the door in a few minutes, the kingdom -- we'll spread it around wherever we go because everybody we love, everybody we smile at, and everybody we shake hands with gets a little piece of the Kingdom through that contact.

We take Christ, we take his life and take his love. We take his friendship and joy, acceptance and nurture and support and encouragement and all the things that we are experiencing right now in these moments, and we share it with everybody we know in all kinds of little ways. Most of them are not even words. Most of them just the way we connect with family, friends, strangers, whoever else whose paths we cross this week.

Behold, the Kingdom of God is within and among you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Love Even Your Enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
   Matthew 5:43-44 (GNT)  
 There's a saying going around says, "Break the rules, love everyone."

 When Jesus gave this part of the sermon on the Mount, he broke all the rules. He contradicted the law of Moses, and he contradicted the traditional interpretation of the law of Moses in radical ways.

This is just one place where he did it, so you can tell why it made a lot of the people around him mad whenever he talked, whenever he told people his vision for humanity. When he told people what he thought God meant by whatever God said, and what God wanted for us. This was radical because he contradicted Moses in the Bible. What it said right there in the Bible in plain (not English), Hebrew.

[Listen to the transcript of the audio for this sermon]
preached extemporaneously 
at Briensburg UMC on September 8, 2019.

Jesus contradicted what most of the theological thinking of his day was. He told people, don't do it that way, do it this way. Love even your neighbor, which takes love to a whole new level doesn't normally think about it. Everybody knows it is easy to love the people who love you, who can bolster your career, or throw a party and invite you to it, or do all kind of things like that. But it's a little harder when people, if they don't like you. To still love them.

That takes a little more work, that takes a little more practice, that takes a little more thinking and studying on how best to do that. But that's what He calls us to. I put a picture for this.  I'm doing landmark passages that are landmarks to my own spiritual growth along the way. So today's landmark is about loving even our enemies. I've put a picture there to go with the Bible, and the Book of Discipline because that's kind of what Jesus contradicted, the similar materials from His age in giving these and other things that He said.

The Bible for Jesus was really what we think of as the Catholic Bible today. The Old Testament, including the parts that were removed a few hundred years ago by some of the reformers. It was hundreds of years later before the New Testament was added to our Bible. So He was looking at the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets and the Psalms that they sang and everything like that, that was the scripture that He quoted from.

It's also in this passage, the scripture He'd known and quoted from, but that He contradicted directly, intentionally. We have the Book of Discipline. Of course, it wasn't around. It's just a couple of hundred years old. It's our Book of Discipline for our church. But they had the Talmud, and they had other materials like that. Theologian's papers. People would write, you know,  things that people would say, and they would get together kind of like our representatives do in general conference. They voted on whatever they thought that the Bible meant, and sometimes one side would win, sometimes the other. It would go back and forth like it does now.

Jesus directly confronted those votes. He confronted those decisions on how the scriptures were being interpreted and applied. Probably the most radical place that he did that was not even here. It was when he said, when he was asked, what are the most important commandments in the whole scripture, in the whole Bible? He said, "Love God, and love one another." Then he added this too now, "On these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets also." Those two commandments are what pull together and interpret everything that we read in the Bible. Whether it's the law, or whether it's people preaching on the law.

By extension, everything else we talk about, everything else we do as the people of God is to be interpreted by love. That made a lot of people mad. But not everybody, because some people believed in Him, and they followed Him, and His law, and His vision. But it still made some people mad.

It addresses really the way we do things today with the, what we do with the Bible. What we do with not only the Bible as it came about in its original forms, but also the various translations and interpretations and the way we apply the scriptures to our lives. When we do that in love and in genuine curiosity to know what God is trying to communicate to us, the God who loves us, the God who identifies as love. Or some other basis and standard of what we want to say, and what we want it to mean, and what we want to do with it.

People have always, and still do, come up with all kinds of ways to justify some of the most atrocious applications of the scripture that they can imagine. We stand against that. We stand for love. We stand for loving each other the way that Christ has loved us. Fully, completely, unconditionally. Absolutely. Universally.
The Bible that Jesus quoted from Exodus 21, he said, "The punishment shall be life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." There's some other ones in there if you read before and after that.

Except that right after this, there's another one that he said, that addressed the issue of slavery. He said, "If anybody harms their slave, and harms their eye or their tooth, then the payment that they need to make to that slave is to set that slave free." Freedom will be the price that they pay. Well, I think we're pretty clear on that, but that didn't really happen among our slave holding ancestors.

They came out with a slave Bible, where they just took out the whole book of Exodus. So that the Bible wouldn't say that anymore. They prevented people from being able to read, and were not learning how to read, so that if they did get a hold of a copy of the Bible with the book of Exodus in it, they wouldn't be able to read it! Some people will go to almost any length to suppress the word of God, the true word of God, in order to oppress others.

So that's what Jesus was standing up against, when he said this about... They took this, and they went around talking about all the time the way that we still hear it being talked about. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The Bible says that, right there. It does. Says about so in the book of Leviticus, that everybody likes to quote. 

Whether they take the ones that they have applied to someone else, and they say, "Oh, those are still valid for today." But the ones that apply to themselves, they say, "Oh, that's in another category, the category of the ones that don't apply today."

That's pretty much the whole basis for deciding which apply and which don't. The ones they want to apply to somebody else, they still apply. I saw on a meme on the internet recently, and somebody had a tattoo of a verse in Leviticus that they wanted to say what God was against, you know? There's only a few verses later that it says don't put tattoos. So that's not the way to decide.

So Jesus was really coming against people, and saying, decide it on this other basis. Decide it on the basis of love, not on the basis of whatever your personal whims are, or what you even, even on the basis of what our delegates vote on. Those are all guidance. In fact, the whole Bible, and all of the body of theology is guidance of people pointing to Jesus, and saying, there's Jesus, find Him, and get into a relationship with Him, and let Him love you. You love Him, learn all about love. Love each other. Love the world around you. Be the people of God loving each other and the world around us, no matter what. Even if they're our enemies.

Segue back to the passage. I think I was still on the passage, but that's where Jesus was doing. He was confronting those notions. Another thing was that in the book of Leviticus, that verse that Jesus lifted out as a basis of interpretation, said thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Well, when Jesus said this about that. You've heard it said, love your friends, and hate your enemies. This was not in the Bible that it said love your friends and hate your enemies. It was the votes of the delegates, you might say. It was the votes of the people who were trying to interpret this. It was the kind of orthodox thinking of the day.

That since the Bible said, (this is the reasoning), since the Bible said love your friends, it must mean also that you're supposed to hate your, everybody else. If they weren't your friends, if they weren't your neighbor, if they weren't your family, if you didn't love them, then hate them. That's the way they applied it. That's the way a lot of people look at it today. Love your friends, and hate your enemies.

But I say to you, love everybody. Even your worst enemies. Especially your enemies. If you do, then you will be able to be called children of your father in heaven. Doesn't that remind you of what he said in the Beatitudes, because really that's his summary as He began, His introduction to Sermon on the Mount, and one of the things He said, "Blessed are the peace makers. They shall be called the children of God."

So He confirms it in His teachings, not only some of the things that were already written in the Bible, which I'm sure He knew because my understanding in Hebrews, call Him the author and finisher of our faith. He knows all about our faith. If anybody, and in fact, the Bible even says, in John, about how that Jesus is the word made flesh, living among us. Living out this whole expression of God, self-expression of God among us. He's demonstrating how we can do that.

What better demonstration of loving our enemy, than when Jesus was hanging on the cross, and forgave the people that were hanging him on the cross? Even when they were torturing him. Sometimes we might think, well, maybe later, after he got over it, he forgave him. No, he forgave them while they were doing it. Oh, later, maybe after they begged him to forgive him. No. He forgave them even while they were in the middle of doing it. He loved them.

That's pretty profound; that's more than what I can really wrap my mind around, actually. But that's the demonstration that he gave of what he meant. That's what the Bible means to Jesus. That's what He invites it to mean to us. It may take us an eternity to work into that and live into it, but that's what we're trying to do here.

In the last verse that Peg read a while ago, said, "you must be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect," in this translation. I think in the translation that she read, "complete as your father in heaven is complete." In the Message version, it says, "live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." Jesus pointed out that God makes it to rain on the just and the unjust. He shares His blessings with everybody. Good, bad, everything in between.

God loves everybody. God loves the whole world, to send Christ to be our savior. Teach us how to love one another. Teach us how have that joy. "Lift us to the joy divine," as the song says. So live that way toward one another as best we can. The more we do it, the better we'll get at it. Practice love. Practice up on love. Put it to work in our lives. It seems almost obvious that if we can love, the more we can love our enemies, the even better and easier it will be to love our friends, automatically.

The more lovable we become as people of love. So that's what Christ invites us to. So that's why it's a landmark to me, is because it's just one of those things in spiritual realm that really guides us, and shows us the way to being complete and full and fulfilled and happy. In this life, and in the life of the world to come. 

In the name of Jesus, amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Communion of All Who Remember

The sacrament of holy communion is one of the landmarks of spirituality in my personal life. Many of the religious experiences I've had have taken place around the table of the Lord. That's where I was saved. That's where I was called to preach That's where I was filled with the Holy Spirit. And many other things that have happened.

Sense of communion and oneness and closeness with my family and friends who have gone on before, others that are scattered around the world. And we emphasize all these things in a ritual of the church. The ongoing love and fellowship that we have regardless of whether we're in the same building or in the same country, or even in this world or the next.

Transcript of the [audio for this sermon] preached extemporaneously
at Briensburg UMC on September 1, 2019.

And the closeness of Jesus himself, the presence of Christ in the sacrament. We have a hymn in the hymnal that isn't a very catchy tune, so it doesn't get sung much, but it's an old Wesley hymn that says that we don't really know how this happens, that somehow this bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ. And we don't get into the arguments that people have traditionally got into and did get into at the time that hymn was written about all of that. We just say that Christ is present here.

In my ministerial training at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, when I went there for the course of study back in the '80s, I was really blessed to have a person who taught about the sacraments, who said that for us as Methodists, it's not so much about what happens on the table as what's happening around the table. What's important for us is what's happening in our hearts and minds and relationships, in our congregation and in the world around us when we share the supper of the Lord and extend that to others.

It's the Lord's table and it's an inclusive table. It has been, that's been a manner of controversy since the earliest days of Methodism. John Wesley broke with the training that he had and the upbringing that he had in this aspect, that it used to be for him very rigid. And there's some funny stories, sort of funny anyway. Funny, but you know, of him being very restrictive of who would be allowed to receive the sacrament from his hand.

But as he continued to minister, then he changed his view. And this new view that the table would be open to everyone became the prevailing view among the Methodists and it continues to this day because John Wesley reasoned that what better place to meet Jesus than at his table. If we're going to believe that Christ is present in the sacrament, then why would we turn anybody away from Christ?

One thing that really stands out to me is that as we highlight this, as the Methodists always have, as a means of grace, one of the great means of receiving the grace of God, why would we ever want to prevent somebody at the times of their greatest need? When people are suffering, when they're struggling, when they're questioning, when they're wondering, when they're trying to work things out, and all this, that's when they need to be here. When they're going through difficulties in their relationships and difficulties in their life and everything that they're doing, that's when they need this sacrament the most. That's when they need the grace, all the grace that we can help them find.

And so, the table is open. We extend that same invitation that whosoever will may come. And the way that I learned it normally in my ... let me word it here in a few minutes. Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him and wish to live in peace with one another. And I always add this, usually add this I should say, regardless of your age or your religious affiliation, or any other circumstances, because for some people it's not very clear if that even means them. Yes, it does. This means you under what circumstances.

When I was a child, before my dad became a preacher, sometimes when my parents would not be going to church that Sunday, I would get dressed, I put on my tie because I was nerdy when being a nerd wasn't cool. And I'd, as a child, go across the road to the church across the way. And one Sunday I went there and they were having communion. And at that church, they passed the elements down the rows. And so they passed the bread down and when it got to the person beside me, they held it up in the air and passed it to the person next to me on the other side, make sure I couldn't reach it. And they did the same with the wine.

Of course, I didn't understand then but I did feel the exclusion. And I feel it right now as I talk about, just as real as it happened last Sunday, as it would have happened last Sunday. And it's been almost 60 years ago.

Two main reasons, I later found out, were because my age, I was a child, and because of my religious affiliation, I wasn't a member of that church. You know, I'd have to say, there's other reasons that people get excluded, a lot of other reasons. And none of them are any good. And so, I lump the rest and say, or for any other circumstance.

It's the Lord's table and Christ is the one extending the invitation. What we're doing is just what the disciples did when Jesus said, and he took the loaves and the fish from the boy and fed the 5,000, he just gave it to them and said, "You feed them." That's what we're doing when we participate. That's our role, to facilitate everybody gathering around the table and having their lives transformed by Jesus into whatever Jesus wants you to be.

Well, there's one sermon. "This my blood which seals God's covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Remember it's in the biblical sense. It's more than just recollection. And remember it's in the biblical sense, it's more than memorializing an event or a person. Remember it's in the biblical sense, it's another word for empathy. It is where we live into an experience. Something that might have happened to us, but more often than not, something that happened to someone else, and now I've become a part of our live and we're a part of that moment.

So when Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me," he's inviting us to the cross with him. He's inviting us to the moments of ministry with him. And those moments become our moments. Those healings become our healings. The prayers, the meals, the fellowship, the songs, the scriptures, it all becomes a part of who we are.

The night that Jesus instituted the sacrament was a night of Passover for the Jews. And that's just exactly how it's described, when the law was given. When Moses said, "From this day on, you will remember this. You will remember this Passover." And the procedures were given to help them and to facilitate them in reliving this experience, which only one generation lived through. The next generation entered into the Promised Land, and all the rest of the generations following from then until now relived this experience and remember that experience of the Exodus, not because they were there, but because they've been brought into the experience and it has become a part of who they are by empathy, by the sacramental acts that they shared among each other and passed down from generation to generation as we do.

And so, when Jesus extended this one more way, that's what he was extending. And adding to that, "This is my body, this is my blood. It's here for you. Remember me." And so, that's what we do when we remember Christ, remember all of our own personal experiences. But that's just a drop of water in the bucket of all the ... in the ocean, you might even say. Of all the experiences of humanity that we're a part of when we remember in the biblical sense of remembering.

We're one body. When we break the bread, we emphasize this loaf, even though it's just one loaf, when we break this, it's like us being one body. Many as we are, and many as we are, it's not just as many as we are in that room, and it's not just this one loaf. This loaf becomes a part of all the other loaves that are being broken around the world in remembrance of Christ. This becomes the chalice from which all the other chalices are also filled, and we all share together as one body in Christ. The love and the sacrifice that Jesus made, and the invitation that Jesus gives to everybody, "Come unto me all ye that labor and heavy laden and I will give you rest." Bringing us into one body, even if we don't recognize it. Even if others don't recognize it. We're one body in Christ. One faith, one hope, one baptism, one calling, one God and Father of us all. And we share together the blessings of Christ.
We're being transformed and that's far from perfect in the way we live it out and express it. Amen? But that's what Christ is doing in us, is continually working to transform our lives into the likeness of him.

We're participants of the one body. In fact, one of our rituals says that and quotes the Bible where the Bible says that he is made us to participate in the body of Christ. To participate with him, who on the night he gave himself up for us took the bread and wine. We all have many different gifts, but it's one Spirit that gives them and sends us to minister those gifts to each other in a world around us. Like a royal priesthood of believers.

Then Jesus said this, he said, "Do this," and the first thing that comes to our minds, of course, is do this, take some bread, take some wine. But I think he means do this in a whole broader sense. That's the sacramental part, that's the part where we ... that has its own effectiveness of bringing us to the touch-point between the physical and the spiritual. Where "they sing the lamb in hymns above, and we in hymns below."

But as we kind of let our spirit go into that moment, it brings together all the past and all the present and all the future, and invites us to do all of what Christ was doing. Invites us to the fullness. "Do this," and not just some of you, not just one of you, not just a few, but all of us, do all of this that Christ has been doing in our lives and all along.

Think about all the things he did in his ministry. Didn't he send people to do the same things? Not just to have the communion, not just to have a worship service, but to heal the sick. To help the poor. To take care of the people who are suffering around us. To bring good news to people that were not getting any good news like this. To bring the Gospel, bettering the lives of people around us. All of this that Jesus did. Everything you see Jesus doing in the Bible, that's what he's inviting us to do as well. And he's inviting us all to do that.

So as we share the sacrament this morning, I hope that everybody has a religious experience. It's a wonderful time to think about the presence of Christ. And the presence of heaven around us. Wherever God is, heaven is there. Amen? And you know that I can affirm that, wherever God is, that's what the Psalmist said, go up to the highest mountain, down to the lowest, wherever, God is here with us. Christ is present with us as we worship and as we participate in this sacrament.

And so is everybody that's in heaven with him. Our families and friends and loved ones that have gone on before us. Those that used to come here to church but now they've gone on to be with the Lord. And that's a wonderful feeling. To be in communion with each other, with Christ. And to have a permanent relationship that the world didn't give us and the world can't take away.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.