Monday, May 21, 2018

THE CUP OF SALVATION


Psalm 116

                Have you ever known, or known of, someone who was on a certain road to death and then by one action was delivered from death?  Can you imagine the roller coaster of emotions they experienced?  I have seen a TV story of a man whose heart was about to stop because of irreversible damage and then he received a heart transplant.  The report showed two families meeting for the first time.  I saw the mixture of sorrow and joy on a mother’s face as she listened through a stethoscope to the steady heartbeat of her deceased son inside another person’s chest.  And I watched as the recipient hugged and thanked the family with great, joyful gratitude for the gift of life that he had received.

                Those same emotions are also seen in Psalm 116 where the psalmist, standing before the congregation, testifies emotionally of being encompassed by the “snares of death” and facing the “terrors of the grave.” His language is strong and emotional as he describes how he faced what looked like certain death.  But then he says, “I called upon the Lord saying, ‘save my life, O Lord” (v 4).  And he heard me and “delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” (v 8).  Then the psalmist asked, “what can I do out of gratitude to Yahweh, in return for all his kindness to me?” (v 12).

                Immediately, he says, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on Yahweh’s name.  I will give back to Yahweh what I promised, in front of all his people” (Vss 13-14, N.T. Wright translation in Paul for Everyone, 2 Corinthians, 48).

                As redeemed and resurrection people who have been saved from eternal death, how can we express our gratitude?  We too can take the cup of salvation that represents how Jesus Christ has given us the gift of life, and we can give back to the Lord through the stewardship of our talents and treasure what we vowed in our baptism to give him.  So let us take the cup of salvation and fulfill our vows to the Lord.

Monday, May 7, 2018

THE ROYAL WEDDING FEAST


A communion meditation for May 6, 2018

                A big royal wedding is coming. Do you have your invitation and have you figured out what you will wear? No?  Oh, you probably think I am referring to Harry and Meghan who are soon to be married.  No, I refer to a much bigger, more significant wedding. One that you definitly are invited to and for which your wedding attire is already set. We read about it in Rev. 19:6-9. John writes:

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”  Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”

                John uses his imagery freely enough to allow the church to be both the bride and the guests invited to the wedding party.  “Hallelujah!”  Its party time; its exciting, joyful because the bridegroom has come.

                In contrast to this great joy there is a very sad picture in Rev. 3. It’s the picture of a church closed to the presence of the Lord.  John shows us the Lord, the bridegroom, standing alone at the closed door of the church and saying, “Look! I’m standing here, knocking at the door. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into them and eat with them, and they with me.” N.T. Wright says “no early Christian could have heard those words without thinking of the regular meal, the bread-breaking, at which Jesus would come powerfully and personally to give himself to his people. Such meals anticipate the final messianic banquet. They are advance ‘comings’ of the one who will one day come fully and forever” (Revelation for Everyone, 36-40). 

                We are at one of those “advanced comings” now.  Someday the Lord will come again and there will be a great party – a messianic banquet – a royal wedding feast.  And we are all invited.  In the meantime, he comes to us now in the Lord’s Supper, as a foretaste of that great banquet that is to come.  Have we opened the door to him? If we have he has promised to come in and eat with us now.

               

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"PROCLAIM THE LORD'"



If Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, we who are Christians face the question, how can we most effectively proclaim Christ crucified in our culture?  One answer to this question is found in Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians in 1 Cor 11:23-26, in which he reviews the words of institution by the Lord at the last Supper.  He concludes his review by saying, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By faithfully observing the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the Lord’s death.

Suppose, however, that we lived in a country that was closed to the gospel and church assemblies were not allowed?  What could we do?  Here is what one church did, as told in a recent issue of Christian Standard (Dick Wamsley, March 2018).

“TCM (Taking Christ to Millions) is an international training institute in Austria, where theological graduate students from countries in eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and central Asia converge for concentrated study to help them reach their people for Christ.  One student at the institute describes how the church he serves in one of those closed countries observes the Lord’s Supper each week.

The adults meet at an appointed time each week at a restaurant for a meal.  They may sit at several different tables, but the predetermined leader situates himself so everyone in the group can see him.

After everyone has finished the meal, the leader picks up a piece of bread and bows his head in silent prayer.  Everyone knows what he’s doing, though nothing is said.  When he lifts his head, he eats the piece of bread.  Others at the various tables follow his lead.  Then he bows again in silent prayer.  Again, he lifts his head and picks up a glass of wine, water, or whatever else he has, and he drinks.  Others follow in like manner.

No words are spoken.  No one acknowledges what they have just done.  But everyone at the tables knows they have just “proclaimed the Lord’s death.”  In fact, it’s the very reason they gather in a public place to observe the Lord’s Supper – to proclaim Jesus’ death even at the risk of being discovered.

The student’s story draws us into the profound sacredness of the Lord’s Supper: that we proclaim our Lord Jesus’ death with other Christians around the world, some of them at risk of their own lives.”

With this in mind, we come to the table, whether in a church sanctuary or a public restaurant, and proclaim the Lord’s death.

Monday, February 19, 2018

FINISHING BY IMITATING


                A man I have known for 70 years, a colleague in ministry, a companion on trips, a competitor on the golf course, and who became my best friend, died recently.  I have thought of him a lot this past week and what I might say at his memorial service.  At the same time, I was thinking about what to say for our memorial service here today at the communion table.  These thoughts brought together several NT texts.

                2 Tim 4:7-8 came to mind as I thought about Orris.  Paul wrote it near the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

                The idea of “finishing the course,” reminded me of Jesus. At one point in his ministry, Luke tells us in 9:51, Jesus “set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem.”  He was determined to follow that course, and eventually, with a few stops along the way, he made it to Jerusalem.  There, at the end of his journey he found a cross.  As he hung upon that cross, having accomplished all that his Father sent him to do, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

                I wondered, why was Paul able to say what he did at the end of his life?  I think much of the answer can be found in what he said earlier to the Corinthians.  In 1 Cor 11:1 he urged them, “be imitators of me, just as I also imitate Christ.”  Paul tried to imitate Christ.  He wanted to imitate his love, his forgiveness, his servanthood, even his sacrifice.  Therefore, he said in Phil 1:20-21, “It is my earnest expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that will full courage, now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ but to die is gain.”

                After Paul urged the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ he went on in the same chapter to express his disappointment in how they were observing the Lord’s Supper.  They were not “discerning the body,” that is the body of Christ.  They were not living out what the Lord’s Supper called for.  They were not imitating the love of Christ, his forgiveness, his servanthood and his sacrifice. 

                The call of the Lord’s Supper has not changed.  In it we can hear the voice of Christ himself saying, imitate me … imitate my love, imitate my forgiveness, imitate my servanthood, imitate my sacrifice. 

                If we do that we will be able to say with Paul at the end of our journey: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

UNTIL HE COMES




            In Mark 13, the Gospel reading for today, Jesus spoke of a time in the future when the trials and tribulations of mankind will be resolved. In verses 24-27 he said: But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth.” The time will come, Jesus said, when the Son will come and gather his people together to receive his eternal blessing.



            Jesus went on to say in the same passage that no one, not even the Son, knows when this will happen.  Therefore, he advised, “be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

           

            Frances remembered that when she was a teenager in Hoquiam she one day was walking to a dreaded dental appointment, looked up at the foreboding clouds and thought, “this would be a good time for the Lord to return.”  In a sense she was expressing the hope that the church was born with, that the time predicted by the prophets would come, the time when:



·         Wars would cease, and peace prevail;

·         When evil and sin is replaced with love and justice;

·         When pain and tears give way to joy and singing;

·         When this old house of an earthly body will be taken away and we will be given, as Paul said, “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 5:1).



The church was born with this hope and one of the primary means of reminding ourselves of it is the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor 11:26 Paul wrote: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  We don’t always think about the last words, “until he comes.”  At this table we often stress his death for us, and all that it means, which we should, but we cannot forget these last words.  In that small phrase, “until he comes, our hope is summed up. Think about it.  If the Son were not to return, what good did his death do? But Jesus knew he would return and his word to us was: BE ON GUARD, KEEP AWAKE. FOR YOU DO NOT KNOW WHEN THE TIIME WILL COME.”

But the time will come. He will return. We anticipate his coming. And in the meantime, we proclaim his death until he comes.




Monday, November 6, 2017

A GOOD CLEANSING


                I visited another church last Sunday in order to hear my brother, Gilbert, preach.  He was filling in for the pastor who was gone.  I went because the thought had occurred to me, ‘at our age this may be my last chance to hear him preach a sermon.’  It did not surprise me when he started by saying, “this may be the last sermon that I preach.”

                In the the sermon he spoke about his granddaughter, Haley.  She is a recently married young woman now but when she was about four or five years old, he said, she loved to go out after a good rain and play in the mud.  Not just tromp around in puddles, but get down in the mud, scoop up handfuls of it, roll it into shapes and play with it.  Before long, her clothes were muddy, it was on her legs and face, and even in her hair. Then her mother would come out with a big towel, wrap it around her, carry her in and put her in the bathtub.  Soon she was clean all over and ready for the next adventure.

                When Saul came into Damascus after being blinded by the heavenly vision of Jesus, he was met by a man named Ananias who said to him, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).  Saul was dirtied by twisted thinking, hateful passions, and destructive actions. He needed a good cleansing and he found it in his baptism.  He experienced what John described in 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”

                Don’t we all need a good cleansing?  Paul thought so.  He said in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned – all are dirty – and fall short of the glory of God.”  In our baptism we are connected with the cleansing blood of Jesus.  But what then?  The next time it rained, Haley found another mud puddle and so it is with us – we are soon dirtied again with sin.  Fortunately, there is another connection with the cleansing blood of Jesus.  Paul identified it for us when he wrote these words about the Lord’s Supper: “The cup which we drink, is it not a sharing in (a participation in) the blood of Christ?(1 Cor 10:16).  Why would he say this?  It may be because Jesus himself, at the last supper, said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin” (Matt 26:28). At this table we can hear Jesus saying to us: you are forgiven, you are clean.




                 



                  

Monday, September 11, 2017

REMEMBERING


                Frances and I celebrated our 68th wedding anniversary on Sept 2nd, a week ago yesterday.  “Celebrated” may not be the right word because we didn’t go out to dinner or to a movie.  We didn’t even go to Barnes and Noble or the library like we usually did in the past. We watched the Oregon football game on TV and let that record win be our celebration.  The game was about over when Frances said, “When this ends, lets talk about what we remember of this night 68 years ago.”  We didn’t wait.  I turned off the sound and we began to reminisce.  Some things came to mind quickly but we realized there was a lot that we had forgotten.  Talking about it helped to resurrect some long-buried memories.  Each of us remembered things the other did not and it helped to remind each other of what we did back then.  Probably, if we had done this kind of reminiscing regularly over the last 68 years we would remember even more today.

                Last Sunday in church I began to reflect on how what we did relates to what we do here each Sunday.  I think Jesus must have known how easily we forget and so ordained this service of communion and remembrance.  Besides going through this simple service, it also helps that we don’t have to remember by ourselves.  It helps that we come together and tell the stories about his life and teachings, and most of all about who he was, what he did for us, and how he continues to be with us.

                Every time a storm like Harvey or Irma hits we hear inspiring stories about people who risked everything to save someone else.  We remember these stories and people for a while, but all too soon they are forgotten – unless there is a committed group who regularly tell the stories again and again.

                The church is such a group.  Sometimes we think the church exists to serve us, to help us be better persons, to inspire and guide us.  And it does that.  But first and foremost, it exists for one reason: to remember Jesus Christ and tell his story. 

Paul reminds us of this when he writes in 1 Cor 11:23-26, For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same manner, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.