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.

              


                 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

HER FAITHFUL EXAMPLE

           Its Mother's Day, 2016.  As Mother’s Day approached I thought of my mother.  Partly because it was Mother’s Day but also because it was just two years ago this Tuesday she died after almost reaching 105 years of age.  When I learned that I would do communion on this Mother’s day I thought of her example.  She taught Sunday School, played the piano, cooked, cleaned and more throughout a life of faithful service.  Dad was an elder and I have memories of seeing him at the Lord’s Table and her at the piano at the same time

             We lived in Milwaukie, just south of Portland, long before it all became one big city.  My grandparents, her parents, lived in Forest Grove and we would visit them occasionally on a Sunday.  There were no freeways.  We had to go through Sellwood, Tigard, Beaverton, and Hillsboro and it took a while so we needed to get away as early as possible.  Mom and Dad had responsibilities during Sunday School so we had to wait until church time to leave.  But we never left before communion.  We had an outstanding preacher and they hated to miss his sermons, but they did.  However, they would not leave before taking communion.

             They never explained to us kids why they did this.  It was years later as I studied the significance of the Lord’s Supper that this memory surfaced and I began to understand their action.  As a child I did not understand a lot of it but their actions impressed upon me the idea that there was something very important about the Lord’s Supper.  They could miss a good sermon, but they would not miss taking communion.

             My mother and father’s action demonstrated a faith in keeping with those of the earliest disciples that we read about in Acts 2:42, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  And also the words of Heb 10: “Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, … let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering … And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

             I am thankful for her, and my father’s, faithful example.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

REMEMBER THE BENEFITS


             It can be self-serving but in most cases it is quite natural to ask “What’s in it for me?” when someone asks us to do something.  Why should I?  How will it benefit me?  Or, if we look for a new job, we want one that not only pays a decent wage but also has benefits.  More than ever before in this economy, benefits are important to us.

             In a similar way it is natural for us to ask why should I be a follower of Christ?  Why should I believe in God?  How does it benefit me?  The Psalmist has an answer for us in Psalm 103.  In the first five verses he lists five specific benefits.  He lived long before Jesus died on the cross on our behalf but what he says is a great summary of the benefits that we have in Christ.  Here is what he says:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
             and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
             And do not forget all his benefits—
Who forgives all your iniquity,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the Pit,
Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Who satisfies you with good as long as you live,
             So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

             Can you think of any greater benefits than those? 

·         ** Forgiveness for all sin.
·      ** Healing.
·      **Redemption from the pit of destruction.
·      **Being crowned, or as one version puts it, being surrounded by steadfast love and mercy.
·       **And being satisfied with good all of our lives, or as another version puts it, “who satisfies your years with good things.”


             Sounds like a good deal to me.  I like those benefits, and all of them are available by faith in Jesus Christ who loved us and gave his life for us.  Let us think of his great benefits as we remember him who said, “this bread is my body, given for you; this cup is the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins.  Do this in remembrance of me.”