Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Sermon on the Sacrament of Holy Communion

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
January 19, 2014
Text:  John 1:29-42

[This sermon was part of Teaching Liturgy Sunday, Part Two, which focused on The Meal within the Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending order of Lutheran worship.]

“What are you looking for?” “Where are you staying?”     “Come and see.”

That exchange between the disciples and Jesus gives us a helpful framework for understanding why we worship, why we do what we do in worship, and what we can expect to encounter in worship.

Jesus asks: “What are you looking for?”      

The disciples respond with another question: “Where are you staying?”

Jesus responds: “Come and see.”

What are you looking for when you come to church?  There are probably as many different answers to that as there are people here.  Some of you are here because you enjoy the people who gather in the church.  You’ve known them for many years, perhaps all your life.  They are your friends and family, and gathering here at church is part of what makes up your relationship with them.  Your friendship and family-ship is fed by the faith you share.  And your faith is fed by the friendship and family-ships you experience in this place.
Some of you are here out of habit.  It’s just what you do.  You were raised going to church, it’s part of your routine, and you can’t imagine your life without it.

Still others are here because their parents or spouse dragged them out of bed this morning.  They like it once they’re here, but getting them here can be a struggle.

I’ve even heard people in this church - including young people – say they come here because it’s fun!  They like to sing the hymns.  They enjoy the fellowship hour.  They like the activities we do in youth group, the suppers, the way we reach out to the community, the way we help people.  They like the way we can laugh together, and how we can comfort each other when we cry.

What are you looking for?  Whether you are conscious of it or not, whether you admit it to yourself or not, on some level, in some way you are looking to encounter God.  All of those other reasons for being here are true and real and mostly good.  But on a deeper level, the deepest level, every human being at some time in their life longs to connect with the holy mystery of the sacred.  Call it what you will – the Divine, the Force, Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Creator – that awesome power that is beyond our understanding longs to connect with you, too.  You are looking for God.  God is looking for you.

“Where are you staying?” the disciples wanted to know.  They wanted to know where they could locate Jesus.  They wanted to know his dwelling place, where he resides.  They wanted an address and GPS coordinate.  They knew they were looking for the Holy One of God.  They knew they had found him.  Now they wanted to know where he lived so that they could have access to him, have a reliable place to find him.

Where do you find God?  Human beings can encounter that Divine Presence anytime and anywhere it chooses to manifest itself to us.  It may be at a holy site, in the darkness through a dream, in the birth of a child, in the physical embrace of two people, or standing atop a mountain or alongside the endlessly churning waves on the beach.  But here in this place of gathered people around the font and the table is the one place we can be sure to find God.  Why is that?  Because Jesus has promised to be here in these sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.  And God always keeps God’s promises.

This is not to say that you are going to have an earth-shattering, mind-blowing lighting strike of God’s presence every time you come to church or hold your hand out for the bread and wine.  It doesn’t work like that.  And if it did, it wouldn’t actually be a sacrament.  It would be like an addictive drug that promises this super-sensory explosion of mind and body, but leaves you ravaged by its power.  And all you would want to do is get another hit of this God-drug.  You wouldn’t be free to go out into the world and live your life.
So that’s not how the sacraments work.  Instead, it’s like the steady, slow work of nurturing your mind, body and spirit over a lifetime.  Remember last week when I said that good preaching is like eating a good meal because it feeds you and keeps you strengthened for the long haul?  Well, communion is the actual meal.  It is God’s Word that you can see, taste, smell, hear, touch.
“Come and see,” is what Jesus said to the disciples.  He bids them to follow him and experience the life of being a disciple in the world for themselves.  Certainly they witness earth-shattering, mind-blowing instances of Jesus’ power and miracles.  But Jesus knew that if they only focused on getting their “Jesus-high,” they would not be free to go out into the world and live their lives, doing the work he was equipping them to do.  So the sacraments of baptism and communion are the gifts of his presence that he gave in order to initiate us into this new life, and then to sustain us as we walk this walk together, build this kingdom together.
When you receive communion, you are literally “together with” Jesus.  That’s what communion means – “com” = with; “union” = joined or together.  You are together with Jesus in this sacrament because he promised to be here.  We don’t claim to know exactly how this happens.  As Lutherans, we are content to live with the mystery and trust in the promise. 
In addition to being together with Jesus, we are together with all the other Christians who gather around the table, both in this church, and in all churches around the world, with our homebound members who receive it at their bedside, with hospice patients who receive that small bite of bread and that small sip of juice as one of their “last suppers.”  Not only that, we are together with every Christian who has ever taken communion in the past – all the saints who came before us and now feast with God in heaven.  Not only that, we are together with every Christian who has not even been born yet who will take communion in the future.

When you come up and receive this “foretaste of the feast to come,” you are taking place in what’s called a “kairos” moment – a timeless, eternal moment that connects people across time and space.  When you think about it, it really is a mind-blowing, earth-shattering!

But I have to admit, when I take communion, I’m not always thinking so big and deep.  Often I’m just hearing the words “for you.”  And as much as I want to be selfless and connected with the universe and all of space and time, because I am a human being, it often just comes down to little ole me.  And sometimes I gasp thinking that all of this timelessness and spaceless-ness is concentrated in one little morsel, one small sip – for me.

What are you looking for?  We’re looking for God.  Where can we find God?  Come and see.  Amen.

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