EMC – August 5, 2006
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 11:
As you travel across this country you come across some rather interesting sites. Some make sense when you see them. They are associated with the name of the place you are traveling to or thru. Others are attempts to define the place you come across as having a certain attraction that would make you want to stop and visit or even want to live there. Others are just strange.
One thing is for sure though, each of the symbols that dot the landscape of our nation are attempts by communities to define themselves and tell us just who they are and why we would want to visit if not actually live there.
As we were traveling I was thinking a little bit about community and how each community tries to define itself in certain ways. Especially as we came to some which try to make you believe they are the capital of this or that. We saw at least one sign that identified itself as “World Capital of…” I could help but think, “Are you sure? Are you really the capital in the whole world for growing or for…?” Or are there a dozen other places that make the same claim to fame as this community? How would you ever know unless you traveled a lot?
In thinking about the various communities we came across I began to think about how we are very much like a community and I asked myself “how would we define ourselves?”
For me this is an anniversary of sorts. The first service I was part of as a staff person in this church happened 9 years ago as we came together to forge a community that would have greater impact in this area for Christ. Over these years we have defined ourselves in several different ways. The one that seems to be common is we have often defined ourselves as a family. And we have attempted to create that family kind of atmosphere here. You know the kind of atmosphere where everybody knows you and you feel the connection everybody has with each other. Where we are a family.
However, the more I have been thinking about it the more I have begun to realize how in many ways, defining ourselves as a family doesn’t exactly fit the mold. We aren’t so much a family anymore as I see it. We still are in the sense that we are part of the family of God that crosses all ethnic backgrounds and unites followers of Jesus Christ as the Head of the church. We are united with believers around the world together as the family of God. We are family in that sense. And we try and create an atmosphere of people getting along and loving each other, encouraging and supporting each other like family. But for me the parts about family that I imagine are getting harder to keep in place.
When I think about family there is a distinct image that comes to mind. For me family is where everybody knowing each other really well. There is a close bond that unites all of the members together. We are committed to each other. We are committed to each person in the family. And while there is that sense of commitment to one another we don’t all have it to each other. We don’t know each other so closely that everyone is that committed to everyone else. There may be lots of people you do know that closely and are committed to, but not everyone. Hopefully you have chosen to be part of a small group and have discovered that kind of commitment there. That is what they are about.
Small groups are the place where you can gain that kind of commitment to a group of people.
But not everyone knows everyone else here like that. The intimacy, where everybody knows everybody really really well doesn’t quite fit. We may know each other’s name, but we don’t all really know much about everybody else who comes here or considers being part of this community of faith. And that’s okay.
I know some see family in terms of those relatives they are stuck with. As the adage says “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family”. Well I want you to know that I don’t feel stuck here. This isn’t the only option for me as a pastor. I don’t see each of you as relatives I have to put up with, as a matter of fact, none of us really have to be here; its not like we are stuck here, rather we choose to be part of this community of faith.
Some think of family as being the people who have to accept us just as we are. Because they are family they have to put up with me when I am feeling or being miserable. After all we are family and you have to love me regardless of how obnoxious I am, because we are indeed family. Hopefully we love one another, even when we are being miserable, but we also are here to help each other through our miserable times and straighten each other out when we need straightening. In families that is not always easy.
The more I have been thinking about it the more I have seen how we really are more of a community than a family. We have chosen to come together to build a community of faith under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Now before you start feeling like something is wrong with being more of a community than a family, or that we somehow have lost something, just stick with me for a few minutes.
Community, just like family, can be defined in a number of ways. Webster defines community as: “A unified body of various kinds of individuals interacting in a common location.” As I have thought about community, I have noticed that those communities that are thriving are those who bring together people with varied abilities, who put their skills to use to build their community.
Communities that thrive are communities where not everyone farms, not everyone is a welder, not everyone is a carpenter, not everyone sells goods, not everyone serves food, not everyone…you get the idea. But thriving communities are those where there are numerous and varied abilities and skills that people put to use in order to grow the place they live. There is a working together even though they don’t always agree or would do things a different way if it was up to them, but they have chosen to use their wide range of talents, abilities and expertise to enhance the place they live in.
They have chosen to live, work and interact with the people around them to build a place, which can prosper and benefit more than just themselves. For me that is what we are like. We are a group of vary diverse people, with varied gifts, talents, abilities who have chosen to work together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ to build something that enhances where we are and that affects the lives of people throughout our area.
So as we think about community today, what kind of community are we building, and what kind of community do we want to build? What will define us as a community of faith?
In a little while we will be reflecting and coming to the Lord’s Table to remember the gift of love we have received from Jesus. His actions are the cornerstone of our faith. His death and resurrection is why we come together to celebrate. It is at the heart of why we meet together. We are here to proclaim Him as Saviour and King.
And so we choose to be a community that celebrates Jesus. It is all about Him isn’t it? This community of faith is not built on my agenda or your agenda; it is built on His agenda. What matters to Him, needs to be the things that matter to us. What is important for Him needs to be what we see as being important.
What is that? In order to be a community that celebrates Jesus we need to discover what it is that Jesus sees as important. What did He spend His time doing? What is He doing now? What is He looking for? What moves His heart?
As we answer those questions we gain pieces of what matters to Him and in turn we find out what path we are to pursue. It is about Him, not us.
So we choose to be a community that celebrates Jesus, and we also choose to be a community that comes together to not only work together but also to share life together.
This morning as we prepare to come to the Lord’s Table, I want you to look at His table from the community perspective. Last month, Pastor Randy spoke about communion from our relationship with God. Today, I want us to look at it from this perspective of community, our relationship with one another.
In the first letter to the Corinthian church we discover that the Apostle Paul set out to correct the misguided response the church had to living out their faith as community. This first century church, this community of faith in Corinth, has often been seen as dysfunctional. If you read through the lengthy letters we have addressed to her, we read over and over again how they need to change how they think about this or how they need to do stop doing that or how they need to grow up. We read how Paul wished that he could speak to them as mature believers but they hadn’t grown up very fast in their faith. We read how they had divisions over, which leaders to follow. We read how they ignored issues by trying to demonstrate grace and then we read how they failed to show forgiveness and remained harsh in their response to others.
However, as dysfunctional as it appears this community of believers was, there are aspects of the church, which should be applauded. While they erred on some aspects of their faith, they demonstrate some qualities, which stand out.
They were willing to follow leaders. They were generous to others. They were open to the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. They were willing to learn. These attributes identified this church as a church of life. They were a church where God was at work and things were happening.
I think that is important for us to see before we go any farther. It would be easy to pass judgment on the Corinthian church without seeing the total picture. At the same time, it could be easy for us to justify ourselves by seeing this church as so dysfunctional that we fail to take their message seriously and apply it to our own lives.
As we examine the Lord’s Table, we find the Apostle Paul instructed this community of believers in Corinth about their response to this act of remembrance. These verses may be quite well known to you as we often refer to them when we speak of communion.
However, as we read them, I want you to notice them from this slightly different angle. These instructions are given to the church because they were struggling with being a community of faith. Earlier in this first letter Paul addresses the division the church in Corinth was encountering. Instead of getting along and seeing everyone as part of the same team, they identified one another by who they were following. Some were following Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, some claimed to only follow Christ it was a real mixed bag. So in the end Paul says,
5 Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. 7 The ones who do the planting or watering aren’t important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose. Yet they will be rewarded individually, according to their own hard work. 9 /We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God’s field, God’s building—not ours./
What he was stressing is that if they are to be a community of faith they need to understand that we all bring different thing to the table, yet we are part of the same team. We have different jobs as it were, but we work together. We are partners in building a community of faith. It’s not about any one person; we are all in this together. No one matters more than anyone else. But we all have to do our work. It is not the Paul show, or the Apollos show, or the Randy show, or the Floyd show. We all are in this together.
And it is within that context that the Apostle Paul gives us some instructions about the Lord’s Table. If you turn to First Corinthian chapter 11 we read the following:
20 It’s not the Lord’s Supper you are concerned about when you come together. 21 For I am told that some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Is this really true? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace the church of God and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say about these things? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly do not!
23 For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I received it. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.
27 So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.
31 But if we examine ourselves, we will not be examined by God and judged in this way. 32 But when we are judged and disciplined by the Lord, we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So, dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 34 If you are really hungry, eat at home so you won’t bring judgment upon yourselves when you meet together.
/I’ll give you instructions about the other matters after I arrive./
In the middle of this address to the church, Paul gives what we often read or quote from as we come to the Lord’s Table. From verse 23 to vs. 26 we find Paul telling the church what Jesus said to His disciples in the room where He met with them to observe the Passover.
Surrounding these words of instruction about what Jesus did, are issues related to the community of believers in Corinth. The divisions, which were evident to Paul, were vivid when this community of believers came together to eat the Lord’s Supper.
In vs. 20 we read,
20 It’s not the Lord’s Supper you are concerned about when you come together.
They were concerned about something else. What? What was it? He identifies the issue they have. When they come together they are concerned only about themselves. They are only concerned that they are well fed.
What do they do? They eat their own meal and don’t wait for anyone else. They don’t share. So some end up going hungry and others go home drunk.
Paul has one response.
In vs. 22 he says,
22 What? Is this really true?
He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that was how they behaved. Now in our context it would hard to get filled up or to get drunk on a cracker or grape juice. But, the principle Paul identifies that was bringing judgment on the community of faith at Corinth still holds true.
When they came together they were only concerned about themselves. They were only concerned that they were fed. They were only concerned that they had enough. They weren’t concerned about sharing they were concerned about getting.
Have you ever gone to church and left feeling like there was nothing in it for you that day? You don’t have to put up your hand.
Let me allow in on a little secret. It isn’t necessarily for you. There may only be one person here this morning that this message is for. And the rest of you are here just to make sure they don’t go home empty. Next week, it might be your turn.
Somehow in our culture we have become so individualized that we struggle to see community. We become the focus, our needs become what matter and making sure that we get fed seems to be what it is all about.
But, that is not the case in a community of faith. We are here for one another. We are here to make sure all are fed. While we come to the Lord’s Table to remember what Jesus did for us, the implication of what Paul addresses the church in Corinth with is that they should also remember that those around them matter as well.
We can take communion and make sure we remember what Jesus did for us, but if we hate the people around us who are sharing in His body with us, something is wrong. If we don’t care about them, something is missing. The same unworthy attitude that brings judgment takes place then as well. Because while we understand the sacrifice of Jesus is for us, it is also for those around us. It is also for the community of faith that we are part of and live life with.
So as we come to His table this morning, remember what He has done and thank Him. At the same time thank Him that we are part of a community of faith made up of diverse people who together with us are being a community to celebrate Jesus and bring hope and life to our world.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.