Monday, July 24, 2017

SPONSORED BY CHRIST

               I am sure that we are all familiar with the phrase, “sponsored by” – You can fill in the rest. A stadium or team sponsored by a major corporation; a television program sponsored by a big company or, on public television, by a charitable foundation.  In an earlier time Kings would sponsor artists, singers and poets.  And we all know that “sponsored” means “paid for.”  I came across the story of a young German man who used the term in a unique way.  It seems that his Oma (OH-ma), German for Grandma, bought him an automobile, his first car.  It was a gift of love and a sacrifice for Oma to buy this car.  In honor of her gift, to remember her gift, and so others would recognize the gift, he put a bumper sticker on his car that read “Sponsored bei Oma.”  In other words, “Paid for by Grandma.” (Clinton J. Holloway, Lest We Forget, 65, Nashville, Cold Tree Press)

               As Christians, maybe we should all wear a sign that says, “Sponsored by Christ.”  Paul said in Rom 6:19-20, “Do you not know that … You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.”  There is an old Gospel hymn that says:

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; Redeemed thro’ his infinite mercy, his child, and forever I am.

               From the very beginning the church has been singing about being paid for by Christ.  In Revelation 4 and 5 John describes a throne and the one who sat upon it held a scroll in his hand that was sealed with seven seals.  No one was found who was worthy to open the book and John began to weep greatly.  One of the 24 elders told him to stop weeping because the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has overcome and he can open it.  Then John looked, and perhaps expected to see a ferocious lion, but instead he saw a Lamb standing as if slain, who came and took the book out of the right hand of him who sat upon the throne.  At this the four living creatures, representing the animal and human world, and the 24 elders, representing all of the church, sang a new song, saying:

Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals;
For you were slain, and by your blood you purchased people for God
From every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 
And you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God;
And they will reign upon the earth.

               As we come to the table today we remember that this is our song, our story, our claim as well.  We are all “sponsored by Christ,” paid for by him. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

MEMORABLE AND SIGNIFICANT SERVICES

1 Corinthians 10:14-21

               Last Sunday Ron described a significant communion service he attended at one of the Selly Oak colleges in Birmingham, England.  It started me thinking of some memorable services Frances and I have attended in England and other places.  I remember the first time that I experienced a one cup communion.  My first thought was that this could not happen in our germ conscious culture.  A very meaningful service we experienced was in the Church of England Cathedral in down town Birmingham.  The action of going to the altar, having the officiant hand the elements to me and say, “the body of Christ for you,” and “the blood of Christ for you,” left an indelible impression on me.

               Frances found a communion service in the Lutheran Church of Madison, Wisconsin especially memorable, not because we went to the altar.  That was different than our usual Christian Church experience, to be sure, but what was really different, and in her case unexpected, was that the cup contained wine and not grape juice.  For one who had never tasted wine that was memorable.

               Two unforgettable services we were in occurred overseas on tours to the Holy Land.  One was sitting on stones in the ruins of ancient Corinth within a few feet of where the Apostle Paul had stood before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, who refused to act on the complaint against Paul by Jews who opposed him.  There we listened to a reading about the Lord’s Supper from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

               The second was in Jerusalem in what is called the Garden Tomb.  In a beautiful garden setting there is a tomb cut out of the rock wall with a huge round stone rolled away from the opening.  Although it is not the actual tomb of Jesus it evokes feelings of majesty and mystery and helps one more easily recall the miraculous event that took place 2000 years ago.  It is a memorable experience to sing, hear the scriptures and share in communion there.

               These and others have all been memorable.  But one that I had was not just memorable.  It was life-changing.  After one ordinary service in the chapel of Phillips Graduate school in Enid, Okla. I would no longer take communion in the same way.  I learned as a teenager in the Milwaukie Christian Church that the reason we had the Lord’s Supper weekly was because we wanted to be a New Testament Church; we wanted to restore the essential faith and practice of the New Testament church.  The original church had the Lord’s Supper weekly and so should we.  I still believe that.  However, it did not occur to me to ask a more significant question: why did the early church do it every week?  Then, in seminary, I chose to write a term paper on 1 Cor 10:14-22.  All of my research, my struggle with the meaning of the text over many weeks came together at the end of the semester when I attended that chapel service.   The key word in the text is Koinonia, a Greek word translated variously as fellowship, sharing, communion, or participation.  Paul uses it here to express the deepest spiritual relationship between Christians and Christ and with one another.  Here, in the Lord’s Supper, we share in the blood of Christ, we share in the body of Christ.  Here we participate with Christ in his sacrifice and we participate with one another in Christ.  Here we meet Jesus Christ and renew our vow allegiance to him. 

               Whether it is here or in some far off exotic location, in a small plain building or a magnificent Cathedral, with long-time friends or among people you hardly know, whether the liturgy is simple, like ours, or laden with tradition and complexity, every time we partake, the meaning is the same.  We are here to meet Christ, to share in his sacrifice, to renew our loyalty to him, and to do it together with fellow Christians. 


Monday, June 5, 2017

THE RAINBOW: MEMORIAL AND PROMISE


               Memorial Day began when General Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 to be a day of Memorial for soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War.  Through the years, in addition to a special day, we have added numerous monuments, walls, and other types of Memorials that have been erected in Washington D.C. and throughout the country in memory of those who have fallen in a terrible conflict.  These memorials serve to remind us of a great price paid for our freedom.

               However, when it comes to the origin of memorials, I think I am right in saying that the very first visible and continuing memorial ever given was given by God Himself when he said to Noah in Genesis 9:12-15:

This is the sign of the covenant which I make between you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth … and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

               For Noah the rainbow was a memorial sign.  In a sense it spoke to him with a twofold message.  It was both a reminder of something terrible that had happened – the flood and its total devastation – and it was a promise to Noah and all flesh that life would continue in the future.  It was a symbol of hope.  It inaugurated a covenant that promised life.

               Like the rainbow, this table and these elements also present a twofold message.  They are a memorial, a reminder, of the terrible price that was paid by Jesus on the cross.  In a sense, we and potentially, the whole world died with him in the flood that engulfed him because he became sin on our behalf and died on our behalf.  This simple service keeps that reality alive. 

               But it is also a promise, a message of hope – the promise of forgiveness, of new life, and of salvation and the beginning of a new and lasting covenant. 

               As a rainbow in the sky speaks of both the terrible price paid for sin and at the same time promises life, so our communion tells us of what Jesus did for us and at the same time promises abundant life both here and hereafter.


               Jesus summarized it succinctly when he took the bread and said, “this is my body given for you,” and then the cup, saying, “this is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Monday, March 13, 2017

ONE BREAD, ONE CHURCH


               We live in a divided, polarized society which disturbs many of us, and it should.  But I’m sure you realize this situation is not new.  It’s happened before, even in the church.  For example, in 1809 the divisions and competing factions in the church were so damaging and pervasive that a Presbyterian Minister, Thomas Campbell, called them a sword in the body of Christ “rending and mangling” it into pieces.  He and others went on to found a movement for unity that eventually became the Christian Churches.  He made that statement in a document that became a guiding force in our churches called the Declaration and Address in which he challenged the sectarians in the church to unite.  Listen carefully to the first two propositions.*

               Proposition One: that the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, consisting of all those who in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures …

               Proposition Two: That although the church … must necessarily exist in particular and distinct … (congregations), locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no … uncharitable divisions among them.  They ought to receive each other as Christ has also received them to the glory of God … .  In saying this he simply wanted to implement what Jesus prayed for.

               Two thousand years ago Jesus saw the danger of division among his followers and prayed on the night before he was crucified, “Father, I pray for those who will believe in me …, that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

               A few years later the Apostle Paul saw division threatening the church at Corinth and that, furthermore, their sinful divisiveness went totally against an essential aspect of the Lord’s Supper.  He said in 1 Cor 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”  That one bread of life is Christ himself.  We have one bread, one body, one table that’s big enough for all.

               In this time of polarization we lift up the vision of unity as we partake of communion.  In the past some churches have used just one cup and one loaf of bread to do it.  In England some Christian Churches still do it this way.  For most of us it is enough to let the individual wafers and cups symbolize that unity and to imagine a table big enough to include all who, as Campbell said, “profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures.”



*Declaration and Address and the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.  Indianapolis: International Convention of Disciples of Christ, 1949.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED ...


            As though he himself were present, as if he had experienced it himself, Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me … .“  How could that be?  Can we enter into another person’s experience so completely that it becomes our experience too?

            Don’t we actually do this sometimes through stories?  Its possible to get into a good story so much that you identify with and feel with the person you are reading about.  You feel their fear, their joy, or their frustration.  A friend,DH Shearer, explained how this happens to him as a Civil War reenactor.  “When we put on old clothes, military or civilian, and start acting and talking like they did in the 1860’s, we become that which we portray.”

            He went on to speak of what he called “magic moments,” when sometimes, even for a brief instant, it is like we are transported back 150 years.  And it can be the simplest thing – the smell of gunpowder, roasting coffee beans over the fire, or whatever.  “One of my first magic moments,” he said, “took place following an officer’s mess.  One of our captains took out a cigar, bit the end off of it, and spit it onto the ground before lighting up.  People don’t do that anymore.  For a brief moment, it was 1863.”

            An Israeli tour guide demonstrated how the story of his people affected him.  Our tour group was traveling from Jerusalem to Tel-a-Viv by bus when he pointed to some low hills and began telling the story of a battle that took place there.  It sounded like he had been in it.  He told it with great detail and I wondered if it was during the war of 1967.  No, he said, and he named a battle that took place before the time of Christ.  But it was his people, and it was his story, and he experienced it.

            The Jewish Passover meal, even today, combines the story of the exodus with the action of eating certain foods to help them live again their escape from Egypt and their rescue by God.  It is a kind of re-enactment that brings the ancient experience into their lives today.


            Likewise, Jesus gave us both a story and actions that help us experience what he did for us.  “Do this,” he said; “Take, eat,” he said; “drink,” he said.  These are action words.  And he said as you do it “remember me.”  There’s the story.  By our actions and by remembering the story we enter into his experience and he enters into our lives.  May we come to the cross today at this table and say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

ONE BREAD, ONE BODY, ONE TABLE

WORLD WIDE COMMUNION SUNDAY

               Recently our minister reminded us in his sermon of the prayer that Jesus made for his disciples.  On the night that he was betrayed Jesus prayed that all of his disciples, those present and those to come in the future, “may be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).

               Jesus went on to give his disciples a symbol of their unity in Him, the Lord’s Supper.  The apostle Paul realized that the Lord’s Supper symbolized unity and wrote to a badly divided church at Corinth these words:  “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:15-16).  Yes, we have one Lord, one faith, one bread, and we are one body.

               It is particularly appropriate that we should celebrate oneness today in the Lord’s Supper because this is World Wide Communion Sunday.  All over the world today Christians and churches of every kind are participating in this symbol of unity.  Let me share with you the words of one such participant.  Here is a communion meditation by Mordicai Chikwanda of Zimbabwe’

               When Jesus was with his disciples for a final meal, he said that one of them would betray him.  He said it would be the one who dipped bread in his dish.  The disciples began to question him, asking one after another, “Is it I?”

               When we come and sit at the same table, there are essentials that we assume we have in common.  Essentials like a belief in one Lord and one faith and one hope.  These essentials form the basis of our fellowship.  When I think of this kid of table, I cannot imagine that any division would exist there.  I cannot imagine a betrayer being among us.  Instead, my image of such a table is one where we all belong to each other, where we wish one another well, and where we genuinely value oneness.

               I hope that the original disciples of Jesus had the same understanding.  I believe that is why they became so upset when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.  Jesus was saying to that person that he was violating the meaning of the Table.  The betrayer did not understand the essentials of oneness and so did not really understand the Table.

               He concluded by saying: As we come together at the Lord’s Table, it is an expression of the unity that exists among us.  Participation at the Table makes the unity come to life.  And the oneness we share becomes real.*

               As one body may we now join in the confession of our one faith.









*One Church.  A Bicentennial Celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address.  Glenn Thomas Carson, Douglas A Foster, & Clinton J Holloway, editors.  Abilene; Leafwood, 2008.  P 117.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A FATHER'S EXPECTATIONS: A Meditation for Father's Day


               When a son or daughter is born it’s OK for father to dream a little, to dream of playing catch, going fishing, watching his child win a race or sing with a rich, pleasing voice, and eventually become a great writer, lawyer, doctor, or (heaven forbid) a politician.  Often the dreams turn into expectations, which can be either good or bad.  Bad if they are unrealistic or pushed in demanding, unloving ways.  Good if they come with love, support, and a growing freedom.

               I don’t know if my father dreamed of anything special when I was born but as I grew up I learned of his expectations.  I learned that he expected me to do what I was told and if given a chore to do it right.  I learned that there could be unpleasant consequences when I did the wrong thing.  He didn’t say a lot.  In fact, his expectations were communicated by his behavior – he worked hard, he was honest, he enjoyed many friends, he supported his family, and served Christ and his church faithfully.  And this is what he wanted for his children.  Thinking about this I wondered, what would Dad have said if I had asked him, just what do you expect of me in life?

               And then, as I thought about this meditation for Father’s day I began to imagine God the Father having a similar conversation with his Son, Jesus.  God speaks to his son: “Jesus, it appears that mankind has made a mess of everything and there’s no way they can set things right.  They have totally alienated me by their hatred and violence, their greed and lust, their divisions and selfishness.  I want you to go to them, as one of them, show them how a human being should live.  Then I expect you to take upon yourself the guilt of their sin and make atonement for them.  It will not be easy.  You will suffer and die but through it all I expect you to love them and forgive them.”

               If Jesus had not been one with the Father such expectations might have crippled him.  It certainly would overwhelm any of us.  But as 2 Cor 5:19-21 says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

               Jesus did what God expected.  Now our heavenly father expects something of us, his children.  As Paul said, we have a ministry, a word of reconciliation, we are ambassadors saying to the world, “Be reconciled to God.”  And, because we are his children, his family, be reconciled to each other.