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Category Archives: Communion

As Bread for the Broken

(a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday, based on  Exodus 16:2-15)

I suppose that it was inevitable.

After all, it was now about six weeks out from their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their subsequent journey across the parted Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness: just long enough for food supplies to run out, patience to wear thin and the harsh reality of their situation to settle in.  And moreover, to be fair, there was a certain vagueness to this whole enterprise.  There’d been a whole lot of talk about freedom, a better life and “a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Exodus 3:8) which was all very good, but so far no specific indications as to how that was all going to work out; nor had they had any real say in the process.  All they knew is that this pilgrimage through the wilderness had now become a battle for survival; bad to the point where they’d even begun to reminiscence that even in the worst of times back in Egypt, they “sat by the fleshpots” and ate their fill of bread!  So it was kind of understandable that what they did in response was exactly what any of us might have done under the circumstances:  they complained. 

Now, in other translations of scripture, the word used is grumble, but actually for my money the best translation comes from the old King James Version where it says that “whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured” against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The idea that out amidst the dry sand and blistering winds these people were murmuring their discontent, for me says it all: no rioting, no attempted coup or petitions for asylum; just this growing crescendo of fear and uncertainty, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that builds into hopelessness, and then to anger and desperation.

And that we can understand, right?  Because after all, we are a people who want, need and expect some measure of control in our lives!  M. Craig Barnes says this very well: “Vague is one of our least favorite adjectives.  If you give a report or presentation at work, the last thing you want to hear is that you were vague… when your daughter announces she is getting married and you ask about their plans for the future, you don’t want to hear they plan to live on love.  Vague frightens us.  We are a people who prefer plans, strategies, numbers, and lots of details.”

The trouble with all this, however, is that oftentimes life is far out of our control; and just like Israel, we find ourselves wandering aimlessly in the desert.  Things are going along just fine, and then you lose a job; there’s a health scare; a cherished relationship comes to an abrupt end; a world-wide global pandemic (!) leads to months of quarantine… and suddenly that pathway you’ve been walking along every day of your life takes a sharp turn into unfamiliar territory. You’re totally disoriented, scared to death and wanting like anything to go back to the way things were, where at least it was safe. 

That’s the desert experience, friends; that’s what the Israelites were facing out there in the wilderness; and that’s what you and I very often have to deal with in the utter uncertainty of our own lives! In the face of that, murmuring just seems like the proper response!

But here’s the other thing about the desert experience:  while it is most definitely the place where we have to give up control, it is also the place “where we learn to receive the mysterious future God has for us.”  To quote Craig Barnes again: “The desert journey is hard because it is so threatening.  Resources and assurances are few; questions and anxiety are plentiful.  In the desert you discover you have no choice but to trust God, which is why it is a place where souls are shaped.

In today’s reading from the book of Exodus we discover that the Israelites’ problem is ultimately not with Moses and Aaron, but with God.  Even Moses can see this: it’s not he or his brother that the people can’t trust, it’s Yahweh; and that’s because they don’t know or understand that this same God who enacted their deliverance also plans to be with them in the wilderness.  They don’t “get” that while their plight is very real, God in his providence will sustain them for the journey ahead.  Once you’ve started crossing the desert, you see, there is no going back; the future and its promise lay ahead and Israel had not yet come to embrace the truth that only the God of mystery could get them there.

So what does God do in the midst of the murmuring?  How will God respond to a people who won’t trust him to lead?  Well, the answer comes in one of the most evocative images we have in the Old Testament:  God tells Moses that “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”  It’s manna, “a fine, flaky substance” appearing each new day with the morning dew, “as fine as the frost on the ground,” as Exodus describes it; in fact, we’re told later on in this chapter that “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (16:31)  It’s a true gift of God, but it’s a gift that comes with instructions:  first, every family has to gather their own; you can’t hoard it because by the middle of the day it will have been spoiled by the worms; and only one day’s ration was allowed, except on the sixth day of the week, when you could have an extra portion for the Sabbath.  So, manna in the morning, followed by the arrival of quail in the evening for meat: not too much food, to be sure; but enough, just enough sustenance to keep them going on the journey.

Interestingly enough, while Moses is very reassuring in bringing this news to the people – “in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining,” he says to them – God, on the other hand, is more than up front as to how this is, in fact, a test of Israel’s trust and faith; a determination as to whether or not this measure of food will lead them in trusting that God will continue to provide for them along the way… or not!  If you read through the entirety of this 16th chapter of Exodus, at first it sounds kind of vindictive, the very vision of the judgmental God of the Old Testament.  But looking at it a little more closely, it makes perfect sense that God would see this as a test of faith; in fact, it actually kind of completes the gift!

You see, just as God understood that the Israelites would most certainly not be wholly satisfied with what they were being given; God also knows that there will never be enough sustenance in this world, at least, to rid you and me of every concern and anxiety we carry; because the true nature of life, friends, is that life is predictably unpredictable!  In other words, just about the time we figure out what we need to survive whatever it is we’re facing today, here comes another challenge that needs facing tomorrow!  On some level or another we will always be hungry, we will always be thirsty, there will always be yet another unexpected twist and turn along the pathways we follow: like it or not, that is simply what life is, and if you and I are going to live that life with any sort of confidence or integrity or purpose, friends, we are going to have to walk those pathways trusting God, knowing that there will be more manna and quail when we need it.

Granted, we all do the best we can along the way: we put away money for the future, we build up our pension accounts, we get serious about losing weight and exercising more, we wear our masks and make every effort to stay socially distanced from one another.  But at the end of the day, that kind of effort only takes us so far, and the time will inevitably come when in the midst of our challenges, our “murmuring” and even our brokenness, we’ll have to give the rest over to God… this God who provides for us one meal, one day, one blessing at a time; truly giving us “this day our daily bread.”

Today, of course, is World Communion Sunday and in a few moments, we’ll be gathering – however remotely in 2020 (!) – at the Lord’s Table with believers the world over so that we might know his presence in the broken bread and shared cup.  It’s also, I think, a time to reflect on the true meaning of this sacrament as regards our Christian faith and moreover, a chance for each of us to remember and give thanks for how this deceptively simple meal has nourished our own spiritual growth. 

For me, this day is filled with the memories of moments when in either receiving or serving communion I was made newly and palpably aware of the Lord’s presence in the bread and cup, as well as the powerful movement of God’s Holy Spirit in and through my life and the life of the church of which I was a part.  But of all those memories, perhaps the one that stands out the most happened right here in this very sanctuary; shortly after I’d arrived here at East Church as your pastor. 

As most of you know, before we came here, I was at a place I like to refer to as “in-between callings.”  Lisa, the children and I had left Ohio and had come back to Maine, where I was going to focus all my attention on the search and call process and finding a new church.  And we did so knowing that in the United Church of Christ, this is a process that can take some time; but hey, it was summer, we had the camp and it was going to be fine!  But… as August turned into September and the days of autumn crept toward a long Maine winter with still nothing concrete about a pastoral position, I’ll be honest with you; I had begun to do more than just a little “murmuring” of my own! Now, in retrospect, I don’t know if I ever doubted God through all of that but I certainly doubted myself and day by day I was feeling increasingly mired and broken there in the middle of my own personal desert wilderness. 

But you all know what happened:  our wonderfully amazing graceful God managed to bring us together as pastor and parish here at East Church.  And now, about a month in, it was the first Sunday of the month, we were in worship and I was leading us in communion; something that as a pastor I’d done literally hundreds of times over the years… but this time it was different.

And I can tell you exactly the moment I realized it:  it’s when I said, as I almost always do during communion, “In the broken bread we participate in the broken body of Christ… in the cup of blessing, we celebrate the new life that Christ brings.”  I tore the bread, and the reality of it hit me like a ton of bricks:  I’d been broken!  All the challenges and struggles of the past few months, all of the uncertainties, all of the doubt, all of the lingering feelings of regret and fear and anger and… brokenness in my life: I was suddenly and profoundly and deeply aware that Jesus’ body was broken for my sake so that I might know redemption and hope and life, not to mention forgiveness and the ability to forgive; all of this even when I’d been too mired in my own feelings of being lost and broken to fully know and trust in it.  But now I realized that I was, in fact, “participating in the broken body of Christ,” a recipient of love infinite and unending… and able, at last, to truly and wholly celebrate the new life Christ brings.  As bread was given for the broken in the form of manna, at that very moment of celebration in our worship I was given the sustenance I needed.

And I’m telling you about this today because if right now you’re feeling broken – maybe seven months of pandemic has finally gotten to you… perhaps the onslaught of negativity and divisiveness in this election year has left you exhausted, angry and bitter… or maybe you’ve come to the sad conclusion that this roller coaster ride that is 2020 is much more than you can handle and now you’re just broken as a result – if that’s you, beloved, then know that this Holy Meal we’re about to share is for you.  As the song goes, “there’s life to be shared in the bread and the wine,” and whereas this act of worship might not change the ever-spinning nature of the world in these times, it will give you and me the sustenance we need for this desert journey…

…so let us come to the table so that we might be fed, and that we might know the presence, the power and the Glory of God in Jesus Christ in the process.

And may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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“It Begins with a Voice…”

(a sermon for January 12, 2020, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Psalm 29 and Matthew 3:13-17)

We are a church that is, by its very nature, sacramental.

By definition, a sacrament is a holy act and visible sign declaring the promise of the gospel to those who receive it in faith and gratitude.  As Christians, we believe that a sacrament is holy because Jesus Christ himself, by word or example instituted it.  Now, in most protestant churches, including the congregational tradition of which we are a part, baptism and communion are the two celebrations of the church that are recognized as sacrament.  The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, also recognizes five other rites of the church as being sacramental: confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and the sacrament of the sick (that which used to be known as “last rites.”).

That’s not say that these are of lesser value or importance in our tradition; it’s just that for us communion and baptism hold a special significance in the Christian life. We believe that the sharing of these sacraments make for the most intimate part of the worship experience, and are amongst the most meaningful parts of one’s walk of faith.  Sacrament, you see, is by its very nature a very physical act: a time when you touch Christ and Christ touches you; a moment in which your own relationship with the holy begins to take shape and grow.

All these ecclesiastical explanations aside, however, I’ve always loved what Frederick Buechner has written about the nature of sacraments: he says that while in the midst of such church oriented milestone moments, “you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life….  church isn’t the only place where the holy happens.”  He goes on to say that “sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody.  [For instance,] watching somebody be born.  Sharing love.  A high school graduation.  Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick.  A meal with people you love.  Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out he’s not a stranger” after all.  In fact, Buechner suggests, “if we weren’t all as blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.”

I love that; because what Beuchner’s words serve to remind us is that in amidst all of life’s many and myriad experiences is found yet another example of the mighty hand of God at work.  There is so much of the holy that’s happening all around us – so much in our lives that is truly sacramental in nature – but only if we have eyes to see it for what it really is!

What’s interesting, you know, is that in my own work as a church pastor I am, by definition and through ecclesiastical authorization through the United Church of Christ, a minister of Word and Sacrament, and so as you can imagine I’m dealing with that which is sacramental all the time… but not always in the ways you might expect.  There’s communion and baptism, absolutely, but there’s also, for instance, the sacrament of the Sunday School Christmas pageant, especially on those inevitable moments every year when one or more of our little ones (and maybe even a few of our big ones!) literally start groovin’ to “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”  It’s the sacrament of “Silent Night” sung by candlelight; or, for that matter, of our reaching for the high notes of “Up from the Grave He Arose” at Easter Sunrise!  There’s the Sacrament of Fellowship and Laughter that’s found at Bean Suppers, Holiday Fairs and countless other gatherings, as well as the sacrament of sorrows shared and of burdens mutually borne in moments of grief and struggle and uncertainty; and within that, the sacrament of Prayers Ascending not merely on a Sunday morning but on every other day of the week.

What I experience on a regular basis as your pastor are the sacraments of not-so-random acts of kindness, of words of encouragement spoken, and of standing up for and with those in need.  These are also the sacraments that are revealed in countless untold blessings of our having been drawn together as a community – a true family – of faith; and then there’s the sacrament that come in the palpable sense of God’s presence, and his power, and his love… but not, as it turns out, here at 10:00 on a Sunday morning but at some other time and place during the week, perhaps even in amidst a situation where you least expected to find God… and yet, there God was.

Because, you see, while ours is a shared ministry of Word and Sacrament, the truth is that it doesn’t always happen at church!  For when you and I experience something like that – something like God – in our lives, whether it’s in joy, or in peace, or in struggle or even in the wake of great tragedy then life for us becomes a sacrament, something that is most holy and good and fully imbued with God’s presence and power and love. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you this morning that that the only place where true life and real living begins and grows and flourishes is with the voice of God.

It all begins, you see, with a voice….

…a voice that is at time raucous and profound as thunder crashing across the silence of a summer night; at other times as gentle and as subtle as the sound of crickets after a storm.  It begins with a voice that’s “tympanic… symphonic,”  [The Message] filled with “glory and strength” and “full of majesty.” It begins with a voice: the voice of God.

Realize, of course, that when I speak of the “voice of God,” I am referring to the biblical understanding of what that voice is.  For when the people of the Old and New Testaments referred to “the voice of the LORD,” they were not as much referring to an audible, speaking voice coming down from out of heaven (although scripture is full of moments when that was the case) as much as they were referring to the ongoing activity and the powerful nature of God!  What you’ll always throughout scripture is that the words “the Lord spoke” are almost always synonymous with “the Lord did.”  It’s right there from the very beginning in the creation story in Genesis:  “Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.”  Actually, our English translation of scripture sort of suggests a cause and effect – that first God said it, and then it happened – but the original Hebrew is lot more direct and to the point: at God’s very utterance, the deed is done, and it’s done with power and might, in the process shifting all that we ever expected to be true about life, so to be in accordance with his will.  We see this very clearly in our reading this morning from Psalm 29, in which the Psalmist sings – because remember that these psalms were in fact songs meant to be sung with all due emotion and even bravado (!) – that “the voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”  In this psalm we bear witness to a God of action: a God who, when he speaks, the oaks whirl, the forests are stripped bare, and strength is given to his people.  In fact, God’s involvement in every aspect of life and in creation is so readily apparent that all in the temple can but cry, “Glory!”

So, that in mind, it is no coincidence that the ministry of our Lord Jesus begins first with baptism and only with the voice of God; and even then, that voice is manifest in action and divine love, with the spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove from the heavens, opening at just that precise moment.  It’s a voice as from a loving parent, perhaps even as a mother would sound cradling her child in her arms:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” I have long been fond of speaking of our celebration of baptism in the church as a sacrament of welcome: be it be the christening of an infant or an adult baptism, it’s a welcome into a life of faith, a blessing for the beginning of a journey toward whatever life brings, and the affirmation of God’s presence and love being there at every part of the journey.  And truly, that’s what was happening here: a visible (and audible) sign of God’s active and continuing involvement in the redemption of his people.  It’s important to note here that the ministry of Jesus Christ did not begin in a vacuum but by the voice of God: a voice that was heard and felt by his people gathered that day by the River Jordan; a voice that made clear what God was doing in sending Jesus to this earth to bring forth his kingdom and to do the work of redemption; a voice that even now reminds you and me of the holy presence of God in our lives, yours and mine; of our baptism, and of who – and whose – we truly are.

In fact, lately, I’ve been thinking that for all the “sacramental” aspects of what I do as a pastor, at the end of the day I’m more of an officiant than the actual provider!  By that, I mean I’m not the one who truly “baptizes” the baby, any more than I’m the one who sanctifies the wedding vows between two people in love, or that I am the one who makes a simple meal of bread and grape juice the body and blood of Christ. I am simply the intercessory of what God is doing, the instrument of the music that God wants to be played.  God does the baptizing; God blesses the marriage vow; God in Jesus Christ, by his great and redeeming love, who makes the elements of bread and wine infinitely more than the commonplace.

In all of these sacraments, and so many others as well, there is the voice of the Lord, speaking in and through our hearts, our lives, and in the fellowship of faithful, kindred hearts; speaking so powerfully and personally that the very ways that we speak, and act and love are perceptively shifted in positive and creative ways.  I know that I have heard that voice speaking into my own heart and through the continuing journeys of my own life; and, unless I miss my guess here, I suspect you have too.  We experience that voice in the countless ways that God’s spirit moves in unexpected, life-renewing ways; and we hear it in the comings and goings of our our daily lives, if we’ll but have ears to hear what’s being said.  The good news is that all the love, and the peace, and the hope, and joy that is manifest in the voice of Jesus Christ has been spoken, and even better is that it continues to be spoken – even and especially now.

And that’s the challenge of the gospel, beloved: to listen for the voice of God!  Slow down for a minute; be quiet for once; listen in the middle of the silence for the voice that’s inside you, and pay attention:  for perhaps it is the voice of the Lord seeking at this very moment to lift you higher so you might walk along his pathways rather than your own.  Listen… for just maybe in the midst of all the other noise that fills up our ears we might just hear the sound of his voice; perchance to experience something holy and good.

Because it all begins with a voice… and with God.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Baptism, Communion, Epiphany, Life, Psalms, Sermon

 

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The Way… of True Worship

(a sermon for October 6, 2019, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday; first in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and James 5:13-20)

(a podcast version of this message can be found here)

So the question is… why are you even here today?

Seriously… what motivated you to get up out of bed and come to worship on such a beautiful autumn morning as this?  Don’t get me wrong; speaking both pastorally and personally I’m very glad (and grateful!) that you’re here, but I’ll confess this is something I always kind of wonder about!  Have you come here, for instance, out of a sense of gratitude for the ways God has been acting in your life?  Does this place and our time together in worship serve as an oasis, if you will, amidst life’s many difficulties, not to mention respite from a world that that more and more seems to be spinning out of control? Or is it more of a matter of routine for you, something you do simply because it’s Sunday morning?  I don’t know, perhaps you’re here this morning out of some sense of obligation or even guilt; hey, it happens!

Now, I’d like to think that maybe you’ve come here today because in some way or another you’ve found some measure of comfort, inspiration and joy in what happens in our time of worship, and you’ve come seeking more of that:  that you’re needing to hear and to sing music that speaks to the heart and lifts the spirit; hoping perhaps to recognize yourself in scripture or song or prayer; wondering if today the preacher just might say something applicable to your own life (and I’ll be honest, I’m always hoping that’ll happen)!  Or it could be that you’re hoping that being here will help you grow in faith and, to quote the Rev. Christopher Winkler, a Methodist pastor and preacher from Illinois, to live your life a little “more faithfully tomorrow than you did yesterday;” and perhaps by being part of this sacred community of the church you’ll find the kind of fellowship, support and teaching that will help you do that.

Actually, I suspect that truth be told, the reasons that led you to worship here this morning likely encompassed all or parts of this, and so much more besides!  And I hope it goes without saying that it’s all valid; I mean, this all speaks directly to our personality as a congregation and about the vitality of our life together, right?  It’s all about who we are and what we do in the context of Christian worship.  And worship matters; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that our gathering together for worship is the central activity of our life together as the church; some might even argue that it’s our primary reason for being.  But all of this said, friends, I would like suggest to you this morning that the real purpose for our gathering together on this or any Sunday morning, “the Way” of true worship ultimately has little or nothing to do with any of these reasons we’ve been listing off here.  If we are sincerely engaged, as we so often say, in worshiping the Lord “in Spirit and in Truth,” then it’s not  primarily going to be about the style of worship, or the preaching, or the music, or the way we “do” communion, or how we pray, or how long the service lasts, or how great the refreshments are going to be after the service, but simply and wholly in “ascrib[ing] to the LORD the glory due his name… worship[ing] the LORD in holy splendor,” glorifying and praising God for his steadfast love that endures forever.

Without that being first and foremost in our hearts, then all the rest of it?  It’s all very well and good, to be sure, but in the words of a worship consultant by the name of Ken Lamb, it all ends up as “all the wrong reasons for all the right things.”

The great 19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard used to use the theater as a metaphor for describing how most of us will misunderstand the role and purpose of worship. Kierkegaard would complain that all too often we imagine that the minister is the star actor or actress in a play, with the choir, the musicians and the rest of the worship leaders in supporting roles, and the congregation as the audience of theatergoers. In other words, worship itself becomes too much like a performance, in which those of us “up here” are engaged in offering up something of value to you “down there.”  And, trust me here, that’s not how it should be at all!  In fact, just the opposite; Kierkegaard says that in a proper “act and attitude of worship,” the worship leaders are in fact prompters helping to lead the congregation in offering up their best “performance” of worship and praise unto the God who is, “in the most earnest sense,” Kierkegaard writes, “the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to.”

The way of true worship, you see, is not so much about what we’re getting out of the experience but rather about what we are putting into it!  I’m reminded here of a great story told by Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary in which he recalled his years of being a church pastor, and how following a service of worship one day a member of the congregation met him at the door to berate him for the his choice of hymns for that day.  “Those songs you picked out were horrible,” she said.  “Not a single one of them were the least bit familiar, the words are all changed and they weren’t even singable… I hated every one of them.”  And to this, Barnes calmly replied, “Well, that’s okay… we weren’t singing them to you.” (I wish I’d thought of that!)  Ultimately, you see, our worship is not for us; our singing isn’t for our benefit nor our entertainment; our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and intercession is never meant to be an act of self-aggrandizement.

It’s about God.  Every part of our worship is to be directed toward and for the praise and glory of God.  I’m here as a prompter, so to speak, as are Kat and Susan and our choir; we are here to prompt your worship of God.  And in that regard as worshippers we’re all the performers, and the Lord God is the audience.  But it’s in that all those gifts grace and healing and forgiveness and wonder come to pass.

Our Old Testament text for this morning from the 1st Book of Chronicles has to do with David’s reclamation of the Ark of the Covenant, which was the container that ancient Israel had created to house the fragments of the stone tablets on which were written the ten commandments (and yes, in case you were wondering, that’s the same Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones went searching for in “Raiders of the Lost Ark…” but I digress!).  Biblically and historically speaking, the backstory here is that King David had done just about everything possible to return the Ark to Jerusalem and now it was finally happening; and with much music and shouting and food, not to mention David himself “leaping and dancing,” (15:29), there is this incredible celebration that now, at long last, the Ark – this symbol of who God was to them and everything God had done – the Ark  has been returned and now there would be this place of worship where the presence of God lived amongst his people.  There’s great rejoicing, and it all culminates with David calling the people to thanks and praise for all of God’s wonderful acts, “his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.”  You see what’s happening here?  It’s what one commentator I read this week refers to as “theology set to music;” a song that declares how wonderful God is, sung before the very presence of God!

A celebration of the presence of God amongst us; a joyous affirmation of the movement of God in and through our lives; a much-needed reminder of the reality of God’s unending hope and to give thanks and praise for his power amidst the living of these days:  that is what worship is supposed to be all about.  It’s what informs every part of this time we spend together every Sunday; it’s what my preaching, no matter the text or subject matter, has to be about; it’s why we sing and play the songs we do as a choir and congregation; and it’s what leads us in everything else we seek to be as the church of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our only Savior.  It’s what makes us who we are as a church and the “Way” that we walk… it is first to ascribe to God the glory due his holy name.

But, of course, that not where it ends.

Our other text for this morning, from the New Testament Letter of James, is another of the so-called “pastoral epistles” that seek to encourage us in the ways that we seek to live as disciples of Christ within (and beyond) the life of the church.  Specifically, it’s about dealing with those are sick or suffering or lost or enmeshed in sin (“Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.”), or even cheerful (!), in which case, a song of praise is in order!  The message here is that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” and that’s important to remember; but it seems to me that the larger point is that our prayer and praising, while of first importance and absolutely essential for us as God’s people, is never meant to happen in a vacuum.  We are called to bring true worship unto God and God alone, that is true; but by our worship, we are also meant to be transformed, day by day, more and more into the people God created us to be.  In other words, we should never leave here on a Sunday morning the same way we came in.  In some small, even perhaps at times in a seemingly imperceptible yet nonetheless palpable way, we ought to leave our time of worship feeling different… changed, somehow… challenged in our thinking and living… relieved, maybe, or strengthened, or filled up with something akin to true joy and real love.  Scripture is filled with stories of men and women and entire nations coming into the presence of God and being changed – body and soul and heart and strength – forever; and so it ought to be, each in our own way, with you and me.  What’s the saying about faith being a journey and not a destination?  Well, beloved, it’s God’s presence and power experienced in true worship that sets us forth on that journey.

In just a moment we’ll be answering this divine invitation that’s been given us, joining with countless other kindred hearts on this World Communion Sunday in feasting at the Lord ’s Table, sharing in this wondrous experience of knowing his presence in a simple meal of bread and wine. Now I know that in many ways, our sharing communion today is no different than it is on every other first Sunday of the month when we have communion, and that we have our “way” of having communion that’s wrapped up in tradition and liturgy and “the way we’ve always done it.”  And the truth is, at times I worry that this truly blessed meal becomes for us routine.  I hope and pray that this won’t be the case for any of us today, but that perhaps as we pass the bread from one to another and drink from the cup of blessing we’ll see it as an opportunity to fix our full attention on God; to truly give God our whole thanks and praise for the life abundant and eternal that’s been given us in Christ Jesus; and by our prayers, both spoken and silent, ascribe to God the glory due him.  But then, having been refreshed at this sacred table of joy and life, let us be moved to go… go and become the people that God has always intended for us to be.

This, beloved, will be the way of true worship, and I have no doubt that each one of us, and our world, will be the better for it.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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