United In Communion (July 4th Weekend, 2018)
1 Corinthians 11: 17-29
United in Communion
I believe that from time to time pastors will preach on this passage, and usually when we preach on this passage we start talking about how you need to be worthy of communion. But communion is the celebration of Jesus‘s gift to us in his sacrifice on the cross, a celebration of the way in which he saved us. No matter what you think relating to that sacrifice, the fact is you will never be worthy of God dying for you. You’re never going to be worthy of that. You’re never going to earn Jesus‘s sacrifice for you. And I don’t think Paul was thinking along those lines. Rather, what he’s saying is that they have lost their worthiness to come to the table. Let’s take a look a little bit at that.
Communion back in Paul’s day was not what Communion is today. Today, especially in Protestant churches, Communion involves one small loaf of bread, usually one cup, sometimes the little cup, and you wind up getting for communion one bite of bread and Max 1 tablespoon of unfermented great juice. That’s not enough for anyone to get drunk off of. But Communion was not like that back then. Back then, communion was getting together as a community and eating a full meal together, which made you family with the other people. And what was happening in Corinth was that they were not eating the way that Paul thought they should be eating. One thing I read indicated that perhaps they were following social conventions of the day, which meant that the rich and powerful, when they ate at the same place as servants and slaves, the rich and powerful would actually get a larger portion then the servants and slaves. Perhaps the people in Corinth were following that protocol in the eating of communion, which would maintain rich and poor, free and slave in the church. Which of course we understand Paul is kind of against, given the number of scriptures he has for that.
More likely they were just simply getting there at different times. So the rich could arrive for service for communion at whatever time they really wanted, so the rich might arrive at, say, 6 PM. The poor want to work every second of the day so that either they maximize what they earn in the wages, or because the master said “you were working till sundown.” So the poor and the slaves were arriving at sundown, the rich arriving at 6 PM. And the rich were arriving and the food was ready, and they started eating, and they got drink, and they will be merry. When the poor arrive, the poor were starving because they haven’t had any meals all day (the rich had had lunch) and the poor were arriving to a few crumbs of leftovers left on the table and a couple drops of wine. And Paul is saying, “look, you’re not in community anymore. When you get together, one goes hungry while another is drunk! Don’t you have homes to eat and drink?” And you see the purpose of communion was not just simply having dinner; it was communion. The purpose was for something other than eating.
The purpose was to be in a community, to show that there was a community where there was no rich and poor, there was no slave and free, there was no male and female; everyone was equal when they were united. And Paul suggests that when they eat in the way that they were eating they were not just simply doing it wrong, they were showing contempt for God and humiliating those who have nothing. He was suggesting that when they had communion in a way that did not show everyone being truly equal, when they lived in community in a way in which people were not truly equal among them, that was insulting to God and God took offense. Just for that reason, meeting as if some of them are better than others, Paul says they’re unworthy. It wasn’t because they didn’t earn the meal, it was because they had given it up: they weren’t following the teachings of Jesus, they weren’t being disciples, and so therefore they were not worthy to celebrate God’s sacrifice. They lost it because Communion clearly didn’t mean anything to them.
We live this out in our day in a little different kind of way, but one of the ways we live this out this idea of communion together is what we’re doing in VBS this year. We’re hosting VBS again with Hillside Community Lutheran Church. Hillside Church is an ELCA church, which stands for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA has a policy called an agreement of full communion, which they try to achieve with as many other denominations as possible. We have an agreement of full communion with ELCA. What they see in this idea is, according to a 1991 statement, to “manifest the unity given to the people of God by living together in the love of Christ and by joining with other Christians in prayer and action to express and preserve the unity which the Spirit gives.” To summarize the rest, they seek to share a common faith, recognition of members, recognition of clergy, and a common witness to the world; which is what we’re doing with VBS. We are not only sharing our witness to the world. We’re living out the idea of full communion with them.
Now, this was not an easy agreement to come to. The discussions to get here began in 1977; the agreement was finally finalized in either 2004 or 2008. That was not an easy thing to do. So why go through all this difficulty? We’re not merging the church. Why go through all this? Well, simply the answer is because Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one. It’s important that we go through whatever we must do in order to return to unity as much as we possibly can. As a church in this world, where there are divisions among us, we must seek to overcome them and reunite instead of basically doing what the Corinthian‘s are doing: having our share and ridiculing those who are not as fortunate.
That’s what Paul wants for the people of Corinth; that’s what Paul wants, I believe, for the ELCA church in the United Methodist Church; and that’s what Paul wants for the global church. Did you catch here in this passage the reason he cited? That we all should want that unity because the same bread and the same cup is offered to everyone through the work of Christ, and his sacrifice.
Paul wants a church that is united instead of untied. Paul says you can’t sit here and say that someone is not your brother or sister in Christ because you don’t agree with them on the small stuff. The Corinthians were having a disagreement over whether Paul was right about this thing, or Apollo‘s right about this thing, or some other person was right about this thing. But Paul criticized them that these are minor teachings and that they must instead be in communion with everyone around them.
And the reason is because “on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and he took a cup, and he said in the sharing of meal is the sharing of me. I’m starting something new. And it is not going to follow the conventions of the world. And I’m giving you this bread and this cup as an path to you: a new beginning, a new covenant in my name. in my blood, and in my actions.” And then he handed that bread to his disciples.
And that included Judas.
If Jesus included Judas in equal measure to the rest of the apostles, who are we to say that anyone was less worth it. God might say it, but we must ensure that everyone has equality among us. Not equality of position and social stature, per se, but that everyone’s needs are met and that everyone’s need is my need, and that we must look out for each other. In Paul’s mind, that’s what the church was truly built upon: equality among all its members whether rich or poor, male or female, slave or free.
On this July 4th, I remember that that’s what America was founded upon as well; that we as a nation are great when rich and poor, male and female, Republican and Democrat are able to sit together and eat the same meal in civility and have the same opportunities as each other. We are great as a nation when we seek liberty and justice for all, as we remember each time we say the Pledge of Allegiance. We’re great in America when the same opportunities exist to a child born in Johnson County as one born in Wyandotte County. And that those who seek to make that happen in real tangible ways are the ones seeking to make this country great.
So are we? Are we as a church seeking to create justice in that way to make it so that a child in Spring Hill has the same opportunities as a child in Olathe or Orange County, California? I’m going to let you ponder that a bit. I will tell you that in Bucyrus we are donating lots of food to food pantries and that is a great place to start. In Springhill we are doing a lot for education every year, and will do it again this year with another set of backpacks for needy children and that’s a great place to start. But, can we do more? Can we do more individually? Could we do more if we were really the church united and we teamed up with some other people in one of the thousands of churches in the city? Something that I think about.
I’ll tell you that when you have a community that is larger than one there will always be disagreements. And sometimes when you have a community of one, there are still disagreements. But I’ll also tell you the disagreements do not have to be divisions. Paul is not talking about there not being disagreements among you, rather that there not be divisions among you. As we prepare to celebrate communion in a few minutes, I want you to examine yourself during this time upcoming. Are their divisions with any of your neighbors, whether in this building or not, to whom you harbor ill will? If so, during this offering, offer that ill will to God and ask God take this away from you and to help you to forgive. And when we’re ready, let us come forward together, as one body, undivided, under God. Amen.