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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blood of the Covenant (1 Corinthians 11.18-34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 7, 2014
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:18-34

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music - Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Arise, My Soul, Arise" (Indelible Grace; Kevin Twit)
Offering of Music - Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" (SOLID ROCK)
Postlude - Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
There is no sermon audio this week, but you will find the manuscript below.
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (vv. 18-22)
Invitation to Communion: We’re All a Mess (vv. 18-22)

1 Corinthians 11 is a crazy chapter of the Bible! You’re going to hear, in just a few moments, the very words of institution for communion. They are in vv. 23-26. But they don’t come in the middle of a chapter about worship or as an instruction manual on how to do communion. Instead, they come in the middle of a chapter that sounds more like a script for a first century soap opera.

The early part of the chapter (vv. 1-17) describe the conflict over women praying and prophesying in such a way that it disrupted the assembly. Claiming Holy Spirit inspiration, they were shouting things out in unintelligible tongues and shouting over each other and no one understood what was being said. Paul does not tell the women not to pray and prophesy, but gives instructions on how to do so appropriately.

Then, starting in verse 18, Paul describes the divisions and factions created over people fighting to be first to the Lord’s Supper – literally fighting to get to this Table!! The result: some go hungry and some become drunk off the wine. Underlying the craziness of that scene is the deeper issue: some are hogging the Sacrament and some are being excluded!

Since today’s sermon is about the Lord’s Supper, I have interspersed the readings and preaching throughout the usual order of worship for communion. While I am not accusing any of you of fighting over this Table, do hear this basic claim that I believe is backed up by scripture: when we come into the Lord’s house, the Church, and when we come into the Lord’s presence and when we come to this sacrament, this Table of Jesus Christ, we don’t come better than anyone else or worthy of God’s attention; we come all messed up. We’re all a mess. We may hide it a little better; we may tone it down and keep it under wraps. But we are not all that different from those early church folks. The difference is in the particulars; we all come the same… we’re all a mess.

This, then, is the invitation to the Table. It is not Good Shepherd’s Table, or a Presbyterian Table; it is the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ. And all who trust in Him as Lord are invited to come, remember, share, and hope in God’s grace through His body and blood.  You don’t come because you are perfect, but because He is perfect. Let us pray…

[Communion Prayers]

Words of Institution: Explanation (vv. 23-26)

So, in the context of disruption in the church in Corinth, Paul redirects the church to the meaning and significance of the Sacrament:
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.  (vv. 23-26)
As important as it is for Paul to address the disruption around the Lord’s Table, he first directs the church to the meaning of the Sacrament, and only then offers a diagnosis and prescription.  While Christians hold varying understandings of the nature of the Sacrament – i.e. memorial meal, symbolic presence, real presence, actual body/blood, etc… all agree that what is at hand is the grace of God demonstrated through the atoning work of Christ in His death. 

Grace… through the body and blood of Jesus. Grace… a new covenant, but one rooted in the old covenant we heard about in Exodus 24 during the Call to Worship.
3 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” 4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:3-8)
Listen to God’s Word, seal the promises of God with sacrificial blood to cover our human sin. God has shown mercy and grace once and for all in and through Jesus.

Diagnosis and Prescription (vv. 27-34)

Only now does Paul offer diagnosis of the problem in Corinth: the real significance of the Sacrament is being disregarded by those in the church, resulting in an unhealthy church body and the discipline/judgment of the Lord rendered through Paul’s rebuke (not eternal damnation).
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.  (vv. 27-32)
“Unworthy manner” does not mean they have sinned. That’s the whole point of the covenant and the Table: we come as sinners to receive the grace of God! The problem was that some were hogging the sacrament and keeping others from it. Some were eating and drinking to satisfy earthly hunger and missing the whole spiritual point. Paul says to “examine” ones’ self, not to be sinless, but to understand precisely one’s sin in light of God’s grace in Christ. Why do I interpret it that way? It’s because of Paul’s prescription in vv. 33-34:
33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.  (vv. 33-34)
Paul’s conclusion and prescription for this errant and unhealthy church body is to exercise restraint and humility and a Christ-like “first-shall-be-last” mentality rather than “me-first.”  The last sentence underscores the severity of the problem in the Corinthian church with divisions and factions.

Said more simply, the church in Corinth was plagued by “me-first” people and the height of irony – and perhaps even tragedy – was that this attitude would even be played out at the Table of Christ, where the one who taught and lived “me-last” is central. If there is any part of the Christian faith that reminds us of the attitude that was in Christ, that he would humble himself in obedience even to death on the cross, it is here at this Table. So Paul reminds his people.

Me-First People and a Me-Last Lord

Realizing all this can sound kind of philosophical and far away, let me offer a current Good Shepherd example. Clearly, since Cathy Youngblood has just left us, the future and direction of music ministry is on our minds. I surveyed about 25 folks in the church at our office-staff retreat about two weeks ago, particularly asking about music direction and preference. The results were interesting.

Under one question that invited opinion and preference, I got a surprising range of responses about music taste. Do you know what a Bell Curve looks like? [gestures with hand] It was kind of like that. There were 6-7 folks who strongly preferred traditional music of organ, choir, and classical music. There were also 6-7 who strongly preferred contemporary music of guitars, drums, microphones, and choruses. There were 2-3 on each end who also expressed their dislike of one or the other style. And there were a bunch in the middle who expressed no strong preference.

Interestingly, my first reaction to that was discouragement… after 12 years of blended music, I heard the same preferences I’ve heard in 100 other churches, many of whom are openly fighting 1 Corinthians-like about the music. But then I had this realization: I also asked that same group about the direction of the music ministry and almost all of those who shared a preference when I asked them about it said that they thought we were approaching music in the right way with our blend of styles.

I could take a long time to unpack that, but here’s my take-away from that. By and large, churches that fight about music style don’t have a music problem; they have a “me-first” problem. It’s fine and right and to be expected that we all have preferences. But what thrills me about the feedback I got is that out of such strong preferences, our leadership expressed a “me-last” perspective. Or said in the language of Paul’s words: “When they come together, they wait for one another.” You all serve one another and look to the needs of the person next to you ahead of your own.

That’s one of the essential things this Table teaches us. Just as Jesus gave up Heaven to come among us and give himself up for us, so he invites us to walk after him and love one another as he has loved us. Not only does that mean not rushing the Table to get your bread and juice ahead of the next guy or girl; it means being willing to worship with the organ, drums, choir, or guitar because the person next to you speaks a different musical language than you do.

I am sure there are other areas where our “me-first” shows; but for today I wanted to offer encouragement. You are a generous and Christ-following group of people, even as we recognize that we’re all a mess.

In the coming weeks, we will be digging into the humility of Christ, looking at what it means to belong to the one who did not count himself first, but made himself last and least for the sake of the world.

Come, the Table is set and all are invited through Jesus Christ. These are the gifts of God for the people of God!

[Distribution of the Elements]

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