Sunday, November 23, 2014

Abiding with Christ at the Table -- A Stewardship Sermon

Altar at Bath Abbey

John 6:53-59

This morning we celebrate both Christ the King Sunday and Thanksgiving Sunday.  We are also bringing in the harvest of our stewardship conversation.  During the offering you will have the opportunity to share your estimate of giving cards so that we might celebrate the commitment that we are making as a community to support the ministry of this church.
   
Christ the King Sunday brings to a close the liturgical year that began on the First Sunday of Advent.  The liturgical year begins with a word of hope and anticipation. We move through the year lifting up stories of how God is present with us in Christ and through the Spirit.  On this day we celebrate the coming of Christ’s reign in its fullness on earth as in heaven. We will continue repeating the cycle until the Day of the Lord comes.  

This Thursday has been set aside by presidential decree as a day to give thanks for the abundance given to us.  Although Thursday has become synonymous with turkey, football, and now shopping, we will have two opportunities this week to join with others in the community to offer thanksgiving for the blessings that have come to us.  You can join me this evening at Big Beaver United Methodist Church for the annual Troy-area Interfaith Group celebration. Then on Tuesday we will be hosting the Troy Clergy Group Thanksgiving Service, which will feature a joint choir. Both services will help us focus on the call to give thanks.  As the Psalmist declares:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
 (Psalm 100:4-5).  
The theme of our stewardship season has been “From Bread and Wine to Faith and Giving.”  In each of the sermons I have been trying to connect the call to stewardship with the call to the Table.  One of the ways in which we name what happens at the Table is the word Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word that means “to give thanks.”  


If the Table is a place for giving thanks, then it is appropriate that we bring the signs of our commitment to the ministry of this church, the body of Christ meeting in this location, to the Table where we receive the elements of communion.  These elements – bread and juice – mystically communicate to us the presence of Jesus in our midst. 

Yes, I know that we Disciples are a rational bunch and we’ve traditionally resisted mysticism.  But surely when we come to the Table we are doing more than remembering a dinner hosted by a long dead religious leader.

In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John we are confronted by a message that could, if we take it extremely literally, repulse us.  As Jesus spoke to the crowd that was hoping to make him king, he tells them that instead of giving them the kind of bread he had offered them the day before he would offer them his own body to eat, and his blood to drink.  If they would do this then he would abide in them, and they would abide in him. 

If we read John 6 as a Eucharistic text, it gives incredible depth to the meal we share at the Lord’s Table.  When we come to the Table, we not only eat bread and drink juice, we are also sharing spiritually or mystically in the life of God.  What Jesus says here is rooted in what John says about him at the beginning of the Gospel.  The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and now we can, if we choose, share in that Word become Flesh at the Table.  If we receive the Word into our lives, then God is not far from us and we have reason to give thanks!    

While the Gospel of John doesn’t give us the words of institution or tell us to share in a meal of remembrance, it does give us important clues as to the meaning of this sacrament – this sacred moment in the life of the church.   

While this passage may cause us a bit of anxiety about what it means, let me assure you that John isn’t promoting cannibalism.  But, by putting things this starkly, he makes it clear that Jesus is truly present with us when we gather at the Table.  Not only that, but if Jesus abides in us and we abide in him, then this relationship connects us with God.  Biblical scholar Gail O’Day puts it this way: “the interrelationship of Jesus and the believer is actually an extension of the interrelationship of God and Jesus” [The New Interpreter's Bible: Luke - John (Volume 9), 608].   Therefore, this is more than a meal of remembrance; it is a meal of presence.  In this meal we feed on Jesus spiritually, even as he feeds us spiritually.

When we gather at the Table each week, we acknowledge our dependence on God’s bounty by bringing our offerings to the Table.  It’s not that we’re paying for the meal.  It’s simply an act of thanksgiving for the abundance that God provides as we abide in God and God abides in us.  The traditional doxology written in the 17th century by Thomas Ken makes this declaration: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Mary Anne Parrott’s more contemporary doxology, which we have been singing recently, allows us to declare:
Accept, O God, the gifts we bring of spirit and of clay, transform them into blessings on those we serve today.  Chalice Hymnal, 379.
From this declaration of thanksgiving which we make through our offerings, we abide in God through the presence of the Holy Spirit, even as God abides in Christ.  And if the church is the Body of Christ, then through Christ we also abide with each other.   You have heard it said that someone is “so heavenly minded that he or she is of no earthly good.”  Well there is a reverse to that.  Sometimes we can be so “earthly minded,” so centered on ourselves, that we miss what heaven is doing in our midst.  When we come to the Table, we experience the overlapping two spheres – heaven and earth.  The one feeds the other.  We live in this world, but we are not of this world.  Our ultimate allegiance belongs to God our Creator and sustainer of life.

So what does this have to do with stewardship?  Our giving is rooted in what God has already done for us in Jesus.  It is as John says elsewhere, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:7-12).  We love one another because God abides in us and we abide in God through Jesus – the Word made flesh.  

This morning as we bring in our commitment cards we do so not out of obligation.  We’re not paying for services rendered.  We give because God has already given to us.  We are blessed with eternity, so that we might be a blessing to all.  And the gifts we bring are a sign of gratitude for the abundance that God pours out upon us.  

This morning you are invited to bring the signs of your commitment to the life and ministry of this church.  Each of you must decide in your heart what you will give as signs of the covenant that you are making with Christ and his church.  Our offerings are signs, even as the bread and cup are signs, that we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us.  

In the words of a Taizé song:
Eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry.
Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.

Robert Batastini and the Taizé Community, Chalice Hymnal, 414
Let us therefore give thanks with grateful hearts to the one who is the giver of every good and perfect gift by sharing our abundance with the body of Christ gathered here at Central Woodward.  Amen

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2014

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