Christmas Sunday , December 25, 2016
FROM THE STABLE TO THE TABLE
Hebrews 10, Luke 22:7‑20
[pic of Last Supper during reading of Luke 22]
Lying in the cradle, within a stable, is the first gift of Christmas, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Over the next 33 years much will happen, leading from the stable to that table upon which the Last Supper was served.
On the front of the communion table are usually found the words, "This do in remembrance of Me."
When we come to observe this ordinance, it should be a time of remembrance of the difference Christ made—past, present, and future.
And we don't need some ghost to escort us, only God's Word and His Holy Ghost, so that we may remember
CHRISTMAS PAST —Remember the Lord's death
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.
FIGHTING OVER WHO OWNS THE RIGHTS TO THE TRADITIONAL PLACE OF JESUS BIRTH. ROMAN CATHOLIC - GREEK ORTHODOX
‑This death was made possible by His birth
There's something special about little babies¼so precious and perfect, so simple and serene. And that paper soft skin, and that smell!
To watch a newborn sleep strengthens your soul, and you'd think this little one doesn't even have a sin nature¼and then, "waaahhh!", and "urp", and the smell changes drastically, and reality sets in!
Mary's little Lamb was the first truly spotless lamb.
The Old Testament centered on the sacrifice of unblemished lambs.
Jesus was to be the "once and for all" Lamb.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
He was God's gift for our redemption.
Made possible by His birth¼
‑This death was made meaningful by His life
It was Christmas Past when that tiny gift was presented to the world, and that gift kept on giving as He kept not sinning.
Perfect was this Lamb, living the life sinful man could not live.
And He saved just as He gave gifts to all who would believe on Him—all who would unwrap God's gift of the Savior¼in Christmases Past!
Jesus desired to have a few last hours with His disciples to instruct them of some last things.
“This do” —was the way of showing forth his death.
And His death was made possible by His birth, and made meaningful by His life.
He was born to die, that we might live!
‑This death was made monumental by His resurrection!
[birth, life, death, then a breath!]
He conquered death, hell, and the grave¼and so His gift continues giving to us eternally!
CHRISTMAS PRESENT —Remember the Lord's steps [and walk in them]
The word "communion" is an action word which means: "fellowship, participate in, share together, have in common."
The observance is not simply keeping a dead memory alive.
It is entering into the presence of one who lived, died, was raised from the dead by the power of God, and is alive forevermore.
Above all that He is present with us always and is represented here and now—at the table. Christmas should be much more about this table than yonder stable.
Jesus wanted to have communion with His disciples.
He wanted them to think often of Him.
He wanted them to walk as He walked¼and He wants us to, as well.
I Peter 2:21
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.
He left us here to continue His work and legacy and He promised in¼
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
We are a fellowship of believers.
When we sit at the Lord's Table, it is as if we were present with Jesus during that final meal. Most definitely, He is with us.
At the Lord 's Table we call to mind the high cost of our salvation.
While it is free to us, it cost Christ dearly—His very body and life's blood.
Sometimes, in the things we do, we don't show forth His death as much as He requires.
Instead, we live for ourselves and often crucify Him anew.
Heb. 10: 28
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing?
Before we finish considering Christmas Present, have you considered what will be your Christmas Present to the One Whose birthday it's all about?
Make sure He gets the best¼make sure and spend the most, and make sure the "thoughts that count" are in place today and throughout the season, and beyond!
CHRISTMAS FUTURE —Remember His soon return
I Cor. 11:26
"For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death till he comes." You proclaim the Lord's death "Till He Comes." Did three words ever tell more?
Jesus spoke of His coming kingdom.
He Who came into the world will take us out of the world before the coming judgment!
When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we are to remember the promise of His return.
The Last Supper wasn't really the last, for the next supper is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the table is already being set!
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.  And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.
And as we think of the 3 tenses of Christmas—past, present, and future—let us be sure to remember that our past is forgiven and forgotten [or can be!], that our present is a gift of life that cannot be purchased, but rather has purchased [redeemed] us, and that our future is unwritten except for the end¼we know what the back of the book says.
Take your clean slate, and walk in His steps, until He comes!
The Deacons will come at this time.
As we approach the Lord's table, let's do as we do when we approach our own and give thanks¼for the stable where it all started, for the sinless life, and for the body and the blood, sacrificed for us.
He Who was born to die didn't stop there¼
He died that we might live, and He rose to make it possible!
Living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away, rising He justified, freely forever, and one day He's coming, Oh glorious day!NNNN
COMMUNION IN A MANGER
At Christmas time we think about the baby Jesus lying in a manger.
This baby would grow up and one day tell people that if they did not eat His flesh and drink His blood that they could have no part of Him.
A manger is simply a feeding trough.
On that Christmas morning so long ago, a baby who was born to die for all of humanity, was laid in a feeding trough so that one day all of those who would embrace Him would eat of His flesh and drink of His blood as a sign of their covenant with Him.
I know that in our modern day, civilized world this sounds atrocious.
Think of how it sounded to the first‑century Jews that Jesus was teaching.
This statement of drinking His blood and eating His flesh caused many to turn away from Him (see John chapter 6).
Think about the imagery: bread and wine in a manger.
A baby destined to become a sacrifice for us.
We are all invited to come to the feeding trough and partake of this precious bread and wine (body and blood).
For me it was a very moving part of the service.
It helped me to realize the significance of communion in a much deeper way.
Just something to think about as you journey along!
Many of you know that I am a lectionary preacher, which means that I don't select the basic scriptures that we read most Sundays but share what is heard in millions of other places across the world on the same day.
I do this to be in solidarity with other churches and so that I don't preach my own favorite sermon over and over again but even read texts that I don't favor.
Which leads to days like today.
On Annual Meeting Communion worship, I would not necessarily choose stories about exorcising demons or arguing over food sacrificed to idols.
These were not pressing issues in 2016.
But the truth is that they are powerful stories, and they may be pressing issues next year or maybe even later today.
Especially this food issue, because we are just about to celebrate Communion and then eat brunch and then digest our budget.
I mean no irreverence, but it is possible to make a case that from one end of the scriptures to the other there are repeated food fights in the Bible.
Some of them are deadly.
From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau, from Joseph and the famine to the Jews and the shellfish, there are a lot of struggles over food that reflect varying types of logic and hugely high stakes. Matt Boulton, over at Harvard, recently wrote to remind us that in the Gospel of Luke the Last Supper ends in a fight.
The first Communion caused an argument, just as Jesus had done by eating with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners and feeding hungry people on a hillside.
Now the Apostle Paul writes to us about the bad behavior in Corinth concerning food sacrificed to idols and another fight, and I'm telling you all of this about forty five minutes before our pot luck begins.
But let me go deeper, because the issue in Corinth was multi‑layered.
It had to do with theology, liberty, intellectual ability, and self understanding.
It had to do with hunger, culture, and Christ.
This was a social issue, and this was a religious issue, which is why it gets almost three chapters in Paul.
At its root, this meat sacrificed to idols had to do with meat suppliers and the quality and character of their product.
In Corinth some of the best meat was pre‑sacrificed, so if you wanted a high‑quality, safe product you likely got something already committed to some Greek god.
You got that at church pot lucks, and you got that at the equivalent of Super Bowl parties ‑‑ the Isthmus games ‑‑ and that represents the fullness of my reference to American football today.
Anyway, if you were poor the meat you got at church and at social events was probably your only meat, so this had to do with health and need and culture, and it wasn't a simple issue of this or that. In church, the brightest and most articulate folks, the most progressive and educated and reasonable, thought that at the end of the day this was not a big theological issue for them, if you will, and it was OK to eat this meat because these were false gods and the meat was just meat, of a nice quality.
These folks described themselves as knowledgeable, and they were.
But not everyone was so knowledgeable, and some people were poor, as I said.
Some people were new Christians, too, and not so firm in their faith ‑‑ not so sure these other gods didn't have a hold on them.
These people worried that this meat was tainted, like money donated to a church by a drug lord, and that this taint was irrevocable.
So what did the knowledgeable people in church do? They ate the meat anyway, because they were smart.
They celebrated emancipatory theological knowledge, knowing God had liberated them, as I so often preach.
Enter Paul. Paul was not impressed.
Because his sense of the Body of Christ is not just the importance of each emancipated individual but of the community sharing God's love together.
Paul introduced a revolutionary idea to the ancient world already so replete with amazing ideas. Indeed, he introduced a counter‑cultural claim: to the culture that said "Know thyself," Paul said knowledge must be subject to love.
Imagine telling that to the CIA.
That's the rough equivalent of saying it to Greek intellectuals.
You may know more than someone else, but you can't be unloving to them.
And furthermore, you can't be exasperated or impatient with them.
You can't overpower them.
You can't insult them.
You are in solidarity with them.
Which does not just elicit the lowest common denominator in all community action but the highest communion values in all creation.
Scholars say that Paul is working to unite the theoretical and the practical for a new way of life.
Here's another dimension of his idea: freedom is an illusion, and its pursuit can even result in enslavement as we go with our individual inclinations.
No man is an island, so to speak. Being in Christ has corporate implications.
Don't eat meat if it is injuring or troubling those who are not where you are or new to the journey or simply weak.
Now, how do you run a church like that?
Well, basically Paul is asking for love, patience, unity, and humility.
These aren't such bad ingredients for Communion, brunch, or annual business.
Basically Paul is echoing Jesus saying not only what goes into our body is important, but what comes forth from the body is central.
The way that we actually celebrate Communion here can reveal how we receive all this.
Our practice might seem casual to you at times, but it has a deep meaning ‑‑ actually several deep meanings from which we draw.
I don't mean what happens to the bread and the cup: I mean what happens to us.
Some weeks we serve Communion in the pews, and we pass around trays with individual cups and cubes of bread.
This reflects a layer of meaning as the Elements are carried to the people ‑‑ God meeting us where we are.
Servers bring out trays to serve you, symbolically.
As we do this we have two choices where we are: we can serve ourselves first or we can serve our neighbor first. And what we do makes a difference.
When we pass around these trays to the pews we have another choice, too.
We can eat as soon as we are served or we can wait and all eat together.
This parish asks folks to serve others first, and it asks everyone to eat together, but there is no way to control how people act in freedom.
Other weeks we come forward for Communion.
It means something that we get up and come forward, assuming that we can.
Christianity is a participatory sport.
Which means lots of choices.
We've chosen, here, always to have lay people serve lay people: we don't generally have our pastors serve the cup and plate.
Even symbolically God is not uniquely in our hands.
God is in everyone's hands. Indeed, my own practice is to walk to the back of the sanctuary and be served almost last.
I do that because in so many Christian families the priest or pastor is served first by tradition, and I am not theologically accommodated to that, even when it is house rules.
So my little walk is intentional, too.
But there's more.
What we say here is important.
Even though we say many different things ‑‑ which is fine.
Some say "the bread of life" or "the body of Christ" as they serve you.
Some say "the cup of blessing" or "the blood of Christ."
That's a longer sermon, but these are all correct.
Sometimes deacons ask me exactly what to say and I vaguely make a suggestion because there isn't one exact thing to say that will make Jesus any more present than another ‑‑ that would be idolatry.
So I offer ideas, which I put into your hands for new life.
But there's more.
What do you say when you are served?
Thank you is appropriate and literally a faith stance.
Amen is traditional and wonderful and almost Aramaic.
I've always wanted to say "wow." Or even "you're kidding."
Not to be irreverent, but what do you say when someone offers you the bread of life?!
The way we act when we celebrate Communion means something, and isn't just an accident.
In the context of theology, liberty, intellectual ability, and self‑understandings, it is our quest for love, patience, unity, and humility.
What if we led our whole lives this way?
What if we strove to make knowledge subject to love?
I wonder if there be fewer food fights and less hunger?
I wonder if we would be more alive?