Posts Tagged 'Communion'

“What’$ He/$he Worth?”

Pastor Don raised that question in his message last Sunday. He reminded us that we continually evaluate the people we meet. Far too often  cultural norms shape our judgments more than biblical teaching. Does he/she look like “my kind of person”–prosperous, put together, like me or the Me I’d like to be? Do we want him/her in our church–or in the church down the street that serves “his/her kind”? Do we want him/her in our life, as our friends? Will he/she help us climb the ladder of success or drag us down?

Don’s provocative question arose from this Bible passage: “If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a sreet person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven’t you segregated God’s children…?” (James 2:2-4 MSG)

What’s a person worth? Their stock portfolio? Their bank balance? Their intelligence, skills and abilities, attractiveness, personal magnetism? Our consumer society teaches us to evaluate others by their usefulness to us. That street person looks (and likely smells) like more trouble than he’s “worth”. “Better sit here in the back row”–where most people won’t see you, close to the door we hope you’ll use quickly, permanently, and very soon. But we want to make the best possible impression on that prosperous-looking Suit. We don’t want him getting out the door without getting attached to us. We can use him. That impressive package usually comes with many helpful abilities and assets, including a deep checkbook and the ability to attract others like themselves. “Sit here, sir…the best seat in the house!”

“Haven’t you segregated God’s children?”As surely as if we made them use separate restrooms or water fountains, eat at separate lunch counters, or sit in the  back of the bus. We fought that battle in this country decades ago. We decided clearly that all our citizens should have equal access to public facilities, education, employment, etc. We’ve since extended that protection beyond racial discrimination to those who are discriminated against for various other reasons.  Granted, “all” doesn’t yet mean “all” for everyone everywhere in our land. But we’ve established the principle. Old patterns of segregation are unacceptable. All people in this country deserve equal access to public facilities, resources, and opportunities.

It’s no accident that Christians were, and continue to be, at the leading edge of the civil rights/human rights movement. We understand that human beings–every single one, no exceptions–are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). We know that a person’s worth isn’t measured by assets and liabilities, appearance, or a resume of gifts and abilities. Our worth does not lie in what we’ve accumulated, accomplished, created, or built. Our worth lies in our createdness that is the overflow of God’s limitless love. We–and every person who’s ever lived on this planet–are equally and infinitely valuable to God not because of what we’ve done, but simply because we are.

Last Sunday’s service moved from Pastor Don’s message into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In that transition, I realized (and Pastor Don later agreed): “The best seat in the house” is right here at the Lord’s Table! We United Methodists place no ecclesiastical hurdles in anyone’s way. We welcome everyone who wants a place at the table. After all, “[God’s] kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.” (James 2:5 MSG) Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we affirm and proclaim that promise. We celebrate God’s love that has drawn us together in Christ even as we recognize that our table still has empty placesto be filled as more and more folks discover their worth as precious children of God.

Now it’s the middle of the next week. I’ve been watching and listening to endless versions of the question: “What’s he/she worth?” I hear too-easy answers rooted in money, power, and celebrity. I hear fearful answers based on believing what’s right (according to me and my tribe) and condemning, even demonizing those who hold any other belief. I hear and see disturbing answers that say, “Unless you’re like me/us/our group/clique/cult, you’re worthless.” I hear, see, and feel too much ungodly segregating of God’s children going on–even by God’s children!

Jesus show us a different way to live together. The world I see desperately needs a different way. I’ll do what I can. Will you help? Good. He’s promised that he will too. Working together with him, we will see that promised Kingdom become a deeper, fuller, truer reality than we dare to dream.

“Jesus Tastes Sweet Today”

That’s what our friend Jen said after communion last Sunday. The “Bread of Life” was that sweet Hawaiian bread. Thank God our worship has evolved so that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper with all shapes, sizes, and flavors of bread. It’s a welcome change from the bland diet of fish food and shot glasses I grew up on. The only redeeming quality of those tasteless cardboard wafers was that they melt in your mouth. (In God’s wisdom, we use them with ill and homebound folks for that very reason.) Sometimes, instead of wafers, the bread appeared as hard little lumps that looked and tasted like congealed glue recycled from Sunday School. The individual “shot glasses” of grape juice were labor-intensive for the communion stewards. I concluded very early that the separateness they preached contradicted the sacrament’s intended message of unity in Christ. This holy meal was served with an ancient-English ritual that drew responses ranging from “wake me when it’s over” to “English, please”, even from ordination-bound Methodist youth like me. Communion was “observed” (usually too solemn to say “celebrated”) quarterly—and then reluctantly by many.

One fine day worship began to evolve. Some churches introduced precisely-cut cubes of crust-free white bread to go with precisely-filled glasses of juice. Others made the radical move to intinction. We shared both a common loaf of bread, untidily broken in the congregation’s presence, and a common chalice. Initially this was a courageous move in the face of anti-Catholic resistance. Decades later that resistance has faded but not completely disappeared.

The common loaf opened up our options. We tried sheepherder’s bread (nice size), sourdough (tasty but embarrassingly tough to break unless it’s pre-cut), pita bread, tortillas, and more. Now the “bread of life” actually tastes good! (I don’t believe Jesus is ever pleased to be identified with tasteless pseudo-bread.) Most of us knew better than to try cornbread—tasty but a hyper-crumbly disaster! These changes helped us experience the Lord’s Supper as both a physical and spiritual event. We feel the texture of real bread—sourdough, whole grain, various flatbreads, etc. We taste the sweet Hawaiian bread, corn tortillas, whole wheat, etc. After bread-making machines became popular in the early ‘90’s, we set one up in a corner of the sanctuary one Sunday. It baked quietly before and during the early service, and again in the hour between services. The aroma blanketed the room. Everyone was hungry! The still-warm bread that day was extra-special.

“Jesus tastes sweet today.” We say that we’re “fed” and “nourished” through the bread and cup. But not all bread is equally nourishing. That Hawaiian bread tastes good, but it has relatively little nutritional value as breads go. A little sweetness (“…a sweet, sweet spirit in this place…”) may be just what we need some days. But a steady of diet of white bread isn’t healthy. It’s spiritual junk food. We need whole-grain substance. A little sourdough taste and crustiness is a welcome, healthy change. Tortillas, pita bread, and other flat breads provide basic sustenance for hundreds of millions of our fellow passengers on this planet.

A few people become ill when they eat the bread we proclaim “the bread of life”. Once a newly-appointed district superintendent brought his family to worship at the church I served. Nobody in our church knew that his daughter was one of those people. But well before I went to that church, those folks had begun providing a gluten-free option at communion. That infamous “fishfood” wafer was once again the perfect food! The district superintendent’s daughter was able to join the rest of us as we shared that holy meal. She and her family were grateful that we’d (unknowingly) provided the bread that met that little girl’s need to feel included in God’s family.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Tasty bread helps. Whatever bread we serve–even “fishfood”– is God’s instrument used to gather us who’ve been living our separate lives around the Lord’s Table, the source of true Life. Here we reaffirm God’s will for us. Here we refocus our lives on God’s vision for us, for the whole church, for the human family, for the whole Creation. In Christ God takes on all the world’s brokenness and brings healing to our lives, our churches, our families, our communities, our planet.

We haven’t fully realized the vision yet. Brokenness, suffering, and self-centered living are epidemic in our society. The seven deadly sins are alive and well! Much hard work, tough/tender love, and deep persistent prayer lie between us and the fulfillment of God’s Dream. But every Holy Meal we share brings that fulfillment nearer. We are fed and nourished with the very being of God. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, part of Christ becomes part of us—the love, the forgiving, the healing, the self-emptying servant attitude. Sometimes “Jesus tastes sweet today”. Other times the taste is sharp, or wholesome, or flat and pasty, or even bitter and hard. But always God nourishes us so we are strong enough to help build the New Creation where all are welcome, no-one is turned away, and everyone has enough.