Saturday, November 22, 2008

Communion - A Meal With a View (notes for sermon 23/11/08)

1 Cor 11.17-34

Being able to worship freely is something we can take for granted in this country; 450 years ago, things weren't so different...

Over a period of 3 years (1555-1558), Queen Mary I – or Bloody Mary as she became known – rounded up 288 people – men, women, elderly, an archbishop, even 4 children – and burned them to death at the stake in big public shows. Farmers sold snacks to the crowds; some brought children with them to watch. The victims’ friends could pay to have a keg of gunpowder tied to their loved ones' neck or waist for less suffering; when the flames reached the keg, things progressed rather more quickly... NICE
  • WHY?: “The principal reason why they were burned was because they refused one of the peculiar doctrines of the Catholic Church. On that doctrine, in almost every case, hinged their life or death. If they admitted it, they might live; if they refused it, they must die” (J.C.Ryle, 1890) The doctrine in question was Communion... was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper? “Did they or did they not believe that the real body of Christ... was present on the so called altar so soon as the mystical words had passed the lips of the priest? Did they or did they not? That was the simple question. If they did not believe and admit it, they were burned.
  • THANK GOD WE DON’T HAVE TO BE BURNED FOR OUR BELIEFS... But then, do we take Communion seriously enough sometimes?
  • This is both a subject and a practice that can either be belittled, or overly legalised, or handled irreverently for the sake of being ‘provocative’ or ‘different’. It is a trap we can easily fall into, "you're supposed to do it this way or that", and this tradition (or ordinance) can then become religion. THAT is not Christ's, nor Paul's, intention.
Concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul has to reprimand the folks at Corinth because of division (that same old problem’s cropping up everywhere in this letter, isn’t it?) and now selfishness, greediness, lack of humility, and a complete lack of respect for their brethren and a lack of integrity as God’s people... Paul shows them and us that each time we share in the Lord’s Supper, it is a special place in time where we can stand still and acknowledge 4 spiritual scenic viewpoints:

1. Looking Back:
  • WHY we do it - Christ's instructions and explanation – verses 23-26, the historical explanation - the Last Supper itself (just hours before His arrest, torture and death) was a Passover meal: Matt 26.17-25, Mark 14.12-21, Luke 22.7-23 – "DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME"
  • it is not Christ's life and teachings that save us, it is His death and resurrection
  • we need to remember HOW He died too: blood was shed +++!
  • and in His resurrection, we are not merely participating in a 2000-year old event/memory but we are participating SPIRITUALLY in fellowship with our LIVING Saviour
2. Looking Around:
  • this should be a demonstration of unity as Christ's body (and there wasn't much in Corinth at this time! Communion was currently a demonstration of their DIS-unity!)
  • How is our church's unity? What does this really mean in practical terms? Is there a brother or sister we need to get right with? Someone we've sinned against or offended? Do we need to ask forgiveness? Or do we need to forgive someone?
  • v17 - the church coming together is for the worse! COMPLACENCY IS A SIN.
  • DIVERSITY is great – EMBRACE IT! Whether we feel like it or not, we're one big weird family; we don't always get it right - but DIVISION is WRONG.
3. Looking Within:
  • v27-28, 31-32 - "in a worthy/unworthy manner" - not that we must be worthy (THAT'S THE POINT!) but that we must do it in a WORTHY MANNER. A worthy manner does not mean perfect! That’s the point of Christ’s sacrifice!
  • v20-22 – the church in Corinth regularly shared a “love meal” or “agape feast” together as part of their corporate fellowship, this was a significant part of their meetings and would include the breaking of bread towards the end. However, some treated the Lord’s Supper as an excuse to chow down and be gluttonous, even ignoring those that were going without! AND SOME EVEN GOT DRUNK! The irreverence is perfectly clear but they didn’t see it. This despises the church (v22), let alone God Himself...
  • PAUL WISHES THEM TO UNDERSTAND THIS EVEN FURTHER THOUGH: Even if they did relearn their table manners and share their food, to simply eat, drink and remember is STILL NOT ENOUGH... WE CANNOT JUST STAND HERE AT THIS AMAZING VIEWPOINT AND SIMPLY ADMIRE THE VIEW: A RESPONSE IN HEART AND MIND AND ACTION IS REQUIRED: 1 Cor 10.16, Paul states: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a *participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a *participation in the body of Christ?
  • *"koinonia" = "communion by intimate participation". This word is used frequently in the New Testament to describe the relationship within the early church as well as the act of breaking bread. We PARTICIPATE INTIMATELY in the body and blood of the LIVING LORD JESUS CHRIST. If the Corinthian church really “got” that, would their behaviour have been altered? YEP!
  • Hence, in v27 Paul states that eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of PROFANING THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD (profaning = being abusive, blasphemous, vulgar, FOUL...). Dare we even skirt close to such a state of heart before our most holy God? Examine yourself with complete reverence and fear...!
  • v28 - examine YOURSELF - not your elders' job, nor your brothers' or sisters'. Sure, we talked about judgement within the church in serious cases a few weeks back (1 Cor 5)... but the buck starts with YOU.
  • Because if you take communion without true repentance, it causes spiritual death, illness or physical death (see v30), it despises the church, it despises God's holiness.
Some pictures depict a slim flowery hippy Jesus, like a bearded Angelina Jolie with skin that hasn't seen the sun for years, a lovely white dress and beautifully conditioned hair: not my Jesus!

When Jesus walked this Earth, He was a meaty, rough-handed, homeless guy Who carved wood and stone for the first 30 years of His life; the real Jesus is the Son of God, the KING OF KINGS, Who became a man, God in human form, fully God and fully man simultaneously; He lived the perfect life, and showed us how He fulfilled the Old Testament, not threw it away, and was arrested and tortured at the hands of the people He created because of what He declared about Himself.

What He stood for and said offended those He created – it still does - and when they had finished ripping the flesh from His body, they hung Him on a cross by giant nails driven into His wrists and feet...

He hung there for hours until He gasped His last breath and said, "It is finished!" Why? Because in that moment He had completed what was required of the ultimate sacrifice. In our sinful state, each one of us bears the stain of sin; since Adam and Eve's choice to place their desires before God's, to put themselves in God's place, all things were and are corrupted: animals, bacteria, flora, man... our thoughts, our bodies, sex, relationships...

The cross deals with 2 aspects:
  • PROPITIATION(*Eph 2) = WRATH: despite the current allegations of "cosmic child abuse", Jesus DID deal with God's wrath that was due us by bearing the full brunt of it Himself. There's a whole wealth of sermons here alone... It's little surprise that darkness came over the land for 3 hours, demonstrating the power of that dark moment when God turned His face away from His Son Who bore our dirty sins. Without the dealing of that wrath, there is no Gospel.
Then His glorious Resurrection... on the 3rd day, Jesus rose from the grave, victorious over sin, over the devil, over death. FOREVER. Without the resurrection, there is no complete Gospel.

THUS, if you genuinely judge yourself (v31-32) - ie not just deciding what's right and what's wrong, but also deciding on the appropriate action - then we will not be judged - because if that's done right, then we will stand right before the Lord, the most Holy One...
  • = examine our hearts
  • = judge our sins
  • = confession & appropriate response
4. Looking Forward:
  • v26b - "till He comes"
  • THIS IS CELEBRATION, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED, BUT ALSO WHAT’S TO COME - FUTURE WEDDING FEAST!!! [John the Baptist describes Christ as the bridegroom; Christ uses a parable of a wedding ceremony to explain His return for us in the future; Rev 19.6-9 = the marriage of the Lamb]
  • We’re heading home together, and Jesus is preparing us a place
  • We may be remembering the death of Christ, but it is not a funeral wake. HE’S ALIVE FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!!! It is absolute reason to rejoice, rather than to mourn
  • Different ways, but the substance is what matters...
  • There is no specific instruction on the size or type of bread; nor on wine or grape juice (Christ speaks of not drinking of this “fruit of the vine” until His return). There’s no legalistic edge to the bread and the wine; however, handing around tortilla chips and Pepsi for the sake of being ‘culturally relevant’ and ‘lateral thinking for the Gospel’ would be irreverent and missing the point...
  • Frequency? Again, weekly, monthly, that is not the concern...
  • The bread and wine DO NOT become Christ’s body and blood. That is a Roman Catholic belief (TRANSUBSTANTIATION), and is also what those Marian martyrs died resisting; when Jesus said “this is my flesh; this is my blood” it is said in a context of symbolism; Jesus and His followers understood symbolism well enough to not have to explain it! When He said “I am the true vine” (John 15.1), he didn’t have grapes hanging from His ears, and “I am the door” (John 10.9) does not imply he has fancy hinges and a mahogany wood stain... “My body, my blood” infers they are SYMBOLS and should not be taken any other way. Nothing magical occurs with the food when we eat and drink these things. Besides, Hebrews 9 is perfectly clear that Christ died once and ONCE ONLY; there is no place for a repeated dead body and shed blood...
  • What DOES happen, however, is that Communion literally FEEDS us spiritually as well as physically; it feeds our relationship with Christ through faith – AS WE REMEMBER WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US, AS WE LOOK AROUND AND WITHIN AND AS WE LOOK FORWARD TO THAT GREAT WEDDING DAY, WE NOURISH OUR SOULS
  • What also happens is that we PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL (v26.) Communion is a WITNESS – it is CELEBRATION and PROCLAMATION.
  • The world is watching us, asking is "Jesus really real?", and our conduct when taking communion speaks absolute volumes to any guests we may have.
  • Also, the act itself remembers the cross AND the resurrection in that we do it UNTIL HE RETURNS
  • v33-34 - Paul's round-up of the sorry tale... He does not say STOP MEETING or STOP EATING, but SORT IT OUT...
1. Look back
  • to CHRIST’S perfect sacrifice & resurrection
• 2. Look around
  • Unity and fellowship; anyone we should be getting right with? Speak to them before partaking...
• 3. Look within
  • Examine ourselves; is there any sin that needs dealing with? We must not participate in Christ’s body & blood in an unworthy manner...
  • When we come together for Communion, what are we really thinking? Worrying about making a noise? About being asked to help pass the bread and wine around? About the injustice of whoever lost on "Strictly Come Dancing" last night? THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH WERE THINKING ABOUT THEIR BELLIES AND SOCIAL STATUS; WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE THINKING ABOUT JESUS
• 4. Look forward
  • To that great day when He returns for us, His people, healed by His broken and torn body, washed in His blood, sealed by the Spirit; IT’S A SURE THING
  • it is a time, not for grief and sombreness (despite appropriate, sombre reflection of our own hearts to begin), BUT OF JOY AND CELEBRATION IN FELLOWSHIP WITH OUR LIVING LORD
  • Jesus gave thanks, even though He was about to suffer and die... WE SHOULD DO TOO...

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Beacon Touchpaper#4: "Prayers for the saints"

"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." (Eph 6.18)

My mind wanders. Regularly. One moment I can be thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, then before I know it I'm straight on to that great scene from last night's DVD, via a poignant comment in one of Mark Driscoll's sermons I've just listened to, a cool line from a book I'm reading, and why the dog's just eaten today's post. And all that's supposed to be while I'm praying. Praying at length is one of the hardest things I've had to work through in my life.

It's often said that the average Christian spends less than 10 minutes a day in prayer. If the average Brit can spend 2 1/2 hours each day watching the TV, 44 minutes getting washed and dressed, 31 minutes cleaning and tidying, and even 34 minutes shopping - and recent research shows that we even spend 2 1/2 hours on average a day "faffing" (true story!*) - then how much priority do we honestly give to spending time each day with the God of the universe?

Paul, in chapter 6 of his great letter to the church in Ephesus, has just explained the reality of the spiritual dimension of the world around us, and the need to avoid ignorance of such a battle. As a conclusion to his great instructions on wearing the spiritual "armour of God", he finishes with the true body blow: PRAYER. Paul does not expect us to be knelt in a corner for hours, sweat dripping from our furrowed brow - there's a time and a place for such, but there's also work to be done - but instead he simply states "... at all times...". If anything has revolutionised my prayer life, it is in realising the truth of this instruction, and that realisation came when I stumbled across a quote from the remarkable preacher Charles H. Spurgeon: "The great matter is not how long you pray, but how earnestly you pray. Consider the life of the prayer rather than the length of the prayer." Don't feel you have to pray for more than a few minutes at a time in prayer. But don't go for more than a few minutes without praying either.

One means to enable praying " all times... for all the saints..." is using Paul's own prayers as models. Try Ephesians 1:15-23 & 3.16-19, Philippians 1.9-11, Colossians 1.9-14, 1 Thessalonians 3.11-13 or 2 Thessalonians 1.11-12 for starters. They are short, to the point, and powerful. Write one down on a post-it note and use it as a book mark, or maybe stick it to your car dashboard, bathroom mirror or computer screen. Pray them regularly, and maybe even learn them by heart! Using Paul's model as a template, we can pray for each other at all times, lifting God's people up before Him and asking for help, and connecting with the God of the universe ourselves on a regular, even continual basis... just imagine the outcome!

(* )
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