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Worthy Participants

Close Communion  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  19:14
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We are reminded that God graciously draws near to us in the Lord's Supper. We are encouraged to examine ourselves and seek reconciliation before approaching the table.

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Communion is participation with God . . .

So this week we’re wrapping up a two sermon mini-series on Communion, talking what it is and what it means to faithfully and appropriately come to the table. And if you missed it or need a reminder from last week, we spent some time getting our heads around Communion as a participation and as unity with Christ. When we come to this meal we know that we are united into Christ’s death, all of our sins and mistakes and shortcomings - everything that makes us not-good-enough for God, die with Him. When we come to this meal we know that we are also united into Christ’s resurrection, we receive the promise of eternal life with Him. So from last week I want us to have a definition of the Lord’s Supper, let’s define it like this. Communion is a participation with God . . .

. . . as an act of confession.

But I want to expand on that definition a little bit, and one other part that comes from last week is that Communion is a participation with God as an act of confession. Part of how we faithfully come to the table is that we come to the table confessing and believing the same fundamental theology, the beliefs of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. And there was an example I meant to use last week that I neglected to use, which is kinda convenient because I can use it now.
Imagine you’re out to dinner with your wife or your husband or your significant other. It’s a nice, fancy dinner at your favorite restaurant. You’re both dressed nicely and looking forward to date night. It’s not just any date night either, it’s something special like your anniversary or something. So you’re both sitting there, enjoying each other’s company; having meaningful, intimate conversation; and your good buddy Billy rolls into the restaurant in his ratty gym clothes. Billy sees you two and pulls up a chair, starts snacking on your bread sticks and talking about your fantasy football league.
There is something wrong with this picture. Billy does not belong there. You love Billy, you don’t want to withhold a nice meal from Billy, in other circumstances you would love to spend the night hanging out. But there’s something special about this meal, a special relationship between you and the person you were eating with, and while you love Billy - this isn’t the time and place to share everything with him.
And when we define Communion as participation with God as an act of confession, it isn’t the time an place to share everything.

. . . that demands reconciliation.

So that’s the part of defining and understanding Communion we talked about last week, but there’s more to it than that. Another aspect of how we understand Communion that Paul talks about in our reading today is that Communion is participation with God that demands reconciliation. We say that in the story he tells about the Corinthian church.
You see, what he alludes to in the beginning of our reading is the reality that when the church was coming together some of the members were fairly well off and affluent, they didn’t have to work all day. So they met whenever and didn’t wait for the day laborers in the congregation to begin their celebration. And sometimes the people in the congregation who did have to work all day arrived at the celebration to find out that there was nothing left for them. Even if there was something left for them, they were often sent to a different room than the more “important” members of the church. And Paul is saying it’s not right to celebrate community when the church is divided over such stupid, sinful things. He asks “shall I commend you in this?” And the answer is “no, I will not”
And our instinct might be to hear that story and think that we don’t struggle with that. And to an extent you’re right. We’re not sending someone to a different worship service because they’re poor, we have never run out of Communion because someone took too much. But the principle that Paul’s expressing here, that he also expresses in Matthew 5:23-24
Matthew 5:23–24 (ESV)
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
is that we should approach communion reconciled to each other. How often do we identify with this story? Someone gets into a disagreement with a coworker about how to handle a problem at work on Friday, but it’s quitting time so instead of making peace with the coworker they just go home for the weekend. Then on Saturday, this person meets up to golf with some friends and gets into an argument over the score and leaves without resolving the conflict. Then on Sunday morning, the family gets in a fight in the car, but you pull up to church and everybody puts on a happy face. And that person sits in church, still consumed by all this unresolved, unreconciled conflict in his life. And Paul is saying that’s not the right way, the right mindset to approach this table with. We are called to be reconciled to our coworkers, to our friends, to our family first.
Maybe we aren’t so different from the Corinthians, maybe we need to learn this lesson. If you’re walking toward that door on Sunday morning, stop and think if your brother has something against you. If the answer is yes, before you reach for the door handle you should reach for your phone. Put into practice the instruction from Romans 12.
Romans 12:18 (ESV)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
And if you’re sitting here and you are remembering that you are not at peace with a friend or a family member - take a minute, watch the end of the sermon later, walk out that door and call them - be reconciled with them before you come to the table! If you’re sitting there thinking “is he serious, does he mean that?” Yes, yes I do. If you need to, go! Because that’s how we understand it, Communion is a participation with God that demands reconciliation.

. . . with a contrite heart.

But there’s one more aspect to this definition, to this understanding that we have to deal with. Paul says that
1 Corinthians 11:27–29 (ESV)
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
We understand that Communion is a participation with God with a contrite, repentant heart. When we come to the table, God promises that we will receive forgiveness from Him here. So we should be ready to receive forgiveness. And there are three ways I can think of to help us to have those repentant hearts, for us to be ready to receive God’s forgiveness.
The first is our practice of corporate confession and absolution. There’s a reason that every time we practice communion we confess our sins beforehand in the service. We confess our sins and receive forgiveness, we believe that when I stand up here and proclaim that you are forgiven - you are forgiven, those words do something with Christ’s authority behind them!
But that doesn’t always do it. Sometimes there’s that little voice in your head that says “if he really knew my sins, if he really knew how bad of a person I can be, there’s no way he would forgive me.” So there’s a second way that can help us to approach the table ready to receive forgiveness. And that’s individual confession and absolution. Now, some people think that’s a thing that only Catholics do - nope, Lutherans still practice this, we just don’t generally have a confessional booth. And I’ll tell you, there are few more powerful experiences than confessing your sins, than someone knowing your sins by name - and them proclaiming that you are forgiven.
And one last way that we can prepare our hearts to receive the forgiveness offered here is as simple as prayer. It can be as simple as bowing your head after the sermon but before you walk up here and praying “God, I know that I fall short, I know that I have sinned against you. Send me your Spirit and give me a repentant heart, guide me closer to your will. Thank you for the promise of forgiveness that awaits me. Amen.” Even just that small time of reflection can prepare your heart for the table.
So that’s where we stand. We understand that Communion is a participation with God that signals our shared faith, that demands reconciliation, and that we approach with a contrite heart. A participation with God that brings us the joy of unity with Christ and His forgiveness for us. Amen.
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