Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

""Broken for You"

”Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

-Proverbs 19:21

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying: ‘this is my body, broken for you.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.”

-Mark 14:22-24

Since the earliest days of the church, believers have gathered to pray, break bread, share wine, and sing praises to the Lord. The Lord’s Supper has been a solemn and holy celebration since the very first believers gathered. This supper has served as strength through the trials of life, affirming that faith amidst human life is possible, affirming that God’s grace is experienced in human flesh. There has always been something beyond words about taking the bread and the cup in faith. It stands as a sign and a witness that God’s eternal power remains with us even amidst our broken and fragile human lives. And, here we are again. Coming as we are to the Table. Looking for God’s fullness in our emptiness, the Spirit’s energy in our weariness.

In Ecclesiastes it is written: “The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead.” Of course, this is a very grim view of human life, but it is the view that was impressing itself on the heart and mind of wise man long ago. “Many are the plans of a man or woman’s heart.” Thoughts and feelings swirl within us. Good thoughts, bad thoughts, confused thoughts, clear thoughts; good feelings, bad feelings, mixed up feelings. We human beings are subject to ups and downs in our inner life, up and down moods, thoughts. One day we are hopeful, the next we may despair. One day we are loving, the next we struggle not to be filled with hatred. And, so Ecclesiastes says: “there is madness in their hearts while they live, and then they go to the dead.”

And, there is some truth in that, no doubt. But is that all we are? Proverbs suggests that the plans and movements of our hearts are various, but then, the Proverb writer points to another reality: “but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” This Proverb points to the eternal amidst the experience of our time-torn lives. Because the life of faith has to do with the experience of change, uncertainty, ups and downs of this flesh and blood life and the life of faith has to do with the experience of the eternal life of God even and precisely in the midst of real, fragile human life.

It takes faith to be in the world but not overcome by the world. It also takes faith to not flee from the world.

One religious answer to the struggles and fragility of life has been to seek peace in a renunciation of flesh and blood reality. Christian monks have taken this route. . . Buddist monks have taken this route. . . Salvation is seen as escaping the bonds of this flesh and blood life. In this view, God is experienced by renouncing one’s fleshly nature, and affirming only one’s spiritual nature.

And, there is some wisdom in this impulse to flee from temptation and flee from the insecurity of human experience. But, this fleeing from life is not the fullness of faith, nor does the scripture lead us to renounce the goodness of life on earth.

In the 1500’s Martin Luther was faced with this very choice. Is salvation found by renouncing the flesh and seeking refuge from the flesh and the world? Or, is salvation found in affirming and experiencing the goodness of the flesh and the world in a living, earthy faith? Luther’s experience was that true grace is found in a holy affirmation of the created order, in the sanctification of human flesh and blood experience, not in fleeing from all that God created. Luther believed that God had become flesh, not to condemn human flesh but to restore and bless it.

And, I come to you this day, looking with you at the struggles and pains and anxiety of this human life, and having some sympathy with those who want to find a way to escape and flee from the struggle. But, I come to you this day, knowing in my heart, that we won’t find God by fleeing from God’s creation. We will find God in the reality of our flesh and blood experience, in the reality of God’s earth, and in being able to sing praise to the Creator for our daily bread, our daily struggles, our daily hopes, our daily failures and successes. But, I’ll be honest about one thing: I’m at the point of just wanting to run away from it. Run away from being responsible for others; run away from worrying over others; run away from struggling to make things right in a world where so much is wrong; weary with the struggle to overcome sin with righteousness even in my own life. Yes, I’d kind of like to find that mountain retreat and stay there a long time – anywhere where there is lasting peace.

But, its too late for that. Its too late for fleeing from life. I’ve poured myself into it, and there is no turning back.

The way of Jesus was not a retreat from life. He is the one who poured himself out for others. He came to redeem human flesh. He is God in human flesh, the blessing of God’s created order, the blessing of life on earth.

So, having come to faith in Jesus, there is no turning back from reality.

And, that’s a way of understanding the old hymn: “I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus . . no turning back, no turning back.” Faith is about this way of Jesus. Its about pouring our lives out in love for others, in concern for this life, this society, this experience. Its about honoring God in the midst of this world. And, that’s where my heart leads me to this communion.

Jesus and his disciples sat down together to eat supper. It was a solemn moment. He took the bread, gave thanks to God, and as he broke the bread, he handed it to his friends saying: “this is my body, broken for you.” It was an act which showed what he would do in giving his life for his friends and for all people. It was Jesus’ expression and commitment to be given in faith and love, to pour out his life in love for God, for the salvation of others. And, Jesus took the cup of wine and gave it to them saying: “this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many.”

Now, I don’t really think the point of Jesus’ action and words: breaking bread, saying: “this is my body, broken for you” --- I don’t think he was real concerned with beginning a new ritual meal, or a sacred ceremony at religious services. What Jesus was doing was expressing his faith and love in the most powerful way he could, showing them what he had been doing and was to do, and telling his disciples to do the same for each other and the world. “Do this in remembrance of me.” He says: “Be broken in love for others in remembrance of how I was broken in love for others. Pour out your heart in faith and love, as I am pouring out my heart in faith and love.”

Of course, not everybody at the meal went out and showed love for others. Judas did the opposite of Jesus, and went out and “sold out” his friends for 30 pieces of silver. He betrayed their trust. You can partake of this bread and this cup and do just like Judas: consider money or popularity or some other good more valuable than love and faithfulness to other people. Surely, we’ve followed Judas’ way at times, instead of the way of Christ. Jesus says: “Be broken in love for others in remembrance of how I was broken in love for you. Pour out your heart in faith and love, as I am pouring out my heart in faith and love.”

That’s what this meal is all about. Real communion is about this faith, and is experienced in the giving of the self in love for others. That’s when the Risen Lord is experienced – when human beings pour out their souls in love for each other in the name of the gracious Christ. To really honor our Lord, and commune in his name, we probably ought to each take bread and break it, and pass it to another person and say: “this is my body, broken for you in the holy name of Jesus.” Amen. And, then go out and give of ourselves to others in the love of Christ. The real presence of Jesus is not in the bread and the wine, but in the flesh and blood struggle of love, the imperfect giving of the self in his name.

Do this in remembrance of him. Amen.

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