Sunday, September 28, 2014

I Will Follow, But... (Matthew 8.18-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 28, 2014
Text: Matthew 8:18-27

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Jesus, All for Jesus" (Robin Mark)
Hymn of Praise: "10,000 Reasons/Bless the Lord" (Matt Redman)
Offering of Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" (ALL THE WAY)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we continue in a series on belonging to God. We are looking at a key component of that belonging: how we respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Last week we read about Jesus settling in Capernaum, spending time there among the people and along the shore. We read about his calling out to four fishermen to “Come follow me.” And we saw that the invitation wasn’t just to follow him around, but to be a part of his mission – his own “fishing project” among the people of the world to which he was sent.

Today we are looking at another “follow-me invitation.” This one was more literal. There is a crowd around and Jesus announces he will leave to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. What comes next is three different responses to literally following him or not. Each is instructive to us as we think about what it means to follow after Jesus.

Response #1: I Will, But Don’t (vv. 19-20)
19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
The first responder is a scribe, an expert in the Law.  And the scribe says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (v. 19)  That sounds perfect, right?  Jesus says, “Do this,” and someone responds, “I will do whatever you say.”  The problem is, the person has not counted the cost.  Jesus’ response indicates some of what it will cost to follow him.  He replies, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  If you want to follow me, you’ll endure some big challenges.  We don’t find out what the scribe chose to do, but the implication is that after such an enthusiastic response, he failed to follow through.

Have you heard the invitation to follow Jesus and enthusiastically said, ‘yes,’ only to find that it was more than you bargained for?  Maybe you were part of a retreat, rally, or crusade as a young person, but the Christian life has never amounted to much more than that kind of once-long-ago decision.  It’s not a cakewalk; Christians suffer just as much as the next person.  In fact, if we are to believe Jesus, it might even be that Christians – that is, radical followers of Jesus – may face more challenges than they might otherwise.

You can’t follow Jesus without counting the cost.

Response #2: I Can’t, But Might (v. 21-22)
21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” 
A second person, this one called a “disciple” responded to Jesus’ command to cross the sea.  This one had what sounds to most of us like a very good excuse.  “Let me tend to a few private matters and I’ll catch up to you.”  Said another way, this response might be, “I can’t right now, but I might one day.”

I want to note two things here. The first is PRIORITY: there is something even more important spiritually than burying one’s own parents.  Does that sound shocking?  It should!  But that is the weight of following Jesus; it is no simple thing like choosing where to shop or what to do on a Friday night (or Sunday morning).  Jesus wants your life!

The second is the phrase, “Let the DEAD bury their own dead.”  The “dead” refers to the spiritually dead, to those who would not understand the first-order significance of Jesus’ invitation.  Some people may not understand some of what you might give up to follow Jesus, but he is worth everything.

You can’t follow Jesus without making him your first priority.

Response #3: I Do (v. 23)
23 When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.
We see a third response simply and briefly in verse 23.  When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  Their response was simply, “I do,” and it was backed up with their actions.  Their actions were not unconsidered and these disciples had already made Jesus their first priority, many or all of them having walked away from the only professions they for which they were trained, and some from family and friends as well.

A true disciple is one who not only knows about Jesus, but follows him wherever he leads.  This will sound redundant, but I’ll say it anyway: you can’t follow Jesus without following Jesus.

A Lord Worth Following (vv. 24-27)
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Now this last part is why it is so important to read in context.  We have seen three very brief examples of different responses to Jesus and his invitation to “follow me.”  We have seen the importance of counting the cost and of making Jesus first priority.  And we have seen that at the end of the day, a disciple is one who actually follows.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard or considered these responses with this scene that follows, nor have I heard or considered the calming of the sea story with these three responses.  But they are tied together – you see that, right?  In verse 18, Jesus tells his disciples they are going to cross the sea, and then in verses 23 and following they do it and that’s when the storm comes.

This makes a difference in how we understand the calming of the storm.  It wasn’t just a happenstance storm in which Jesus demonstrated his power.  This was a situation that came about because of obedience to Jesus.  And what I believe Jesus demonstrated in those terrifying moments was that he had hold of them.  I am reminded of Isaiah 41:10…
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: Be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Said another way, in obedient discipleship, in following Jesus in faith, there need not be fear because if you go where Jesus leads, then he is there with you.  And there is no better place to be.  Indeed, though the fox and bird have a home and you may not, if you have followed Jesus to get where you are, you are better off than with a soft pillow.  If following Jesus has cost you the some of the things the world deems important, but you have made Jesus your first priority, you are blessed.  And if you follow Jesus into the storm, there is no better place to be than at the side of the Lord of the wind and the waves.

Following Jesus costs something, but Jesus is a Lord worth following.

Have you counted the cost?  Is Jesus more to you than a long-ago prayer or pledge or promise?

Is following Jesus your highest priority?  What other things clamor for that priority?

Will you go where he leads?  Remember my favorite question of the past year or more?  “What is God doing in and around me, and how can I be a part of that?”  Have you asked and prayed that question earnestly?  Have you acted on it?

Finally, whether you find yourself in still waters, a stormy sea, green pastures, or death’s dark valley, hear this Good News: God is with you in Christ.  There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ.  Follow Him, for He is a Lord worth following, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Amen.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Follow Me (Matthew 4.18-22)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 21, 2014
Text: Matthew 4:18-22

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Faith and Hope" (arr. C. Tornquist)
Song of Praise: "Come People of the Risen King" (Getty/Townend) (audio)
Hymn of Praise: "Where He Leads Me" (NORRIS) - acapella - (audio)
Offering of Music: piano, Sharon Butler
Hymn of Sending: "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" (TRUST IN JESUS)
Postlude: "Revive Us Again" (J. Husband; arr. F. Bock)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? And how would you respond to such an invitation? And why do I ask?

Last week we talked about Jesus himself – his humility and obedience – and we heard the invitation to have that same attitude and that same love that Jesus lived out among us. That’s what it means to belong to God, which is what we are focusing on this fall. Another way of talking about having the attitude and love of Jesus is to follow him. So today we are going to look at one “follow me invitation” and the response to it, with others to follow in coming weeks.

What Was Spoken (vv. 12-17)


Though we are focusing on verses 18-22 in Matthew 4 today, I included some of the verses before and after in the service today. That’s because I wanted to give some context to this first “follow me invitation.” In verses 12-17, we get some of the back-story.
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We read that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. That geographical note is significant for two reasons.

The first reason, given by Matthew, is that in doing so Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Isaiah had spoken a prophecy about the Messiah, singling out that very region by the sea as the place where the great Light of the Messiah would shine in the darkness. John the disciple would later tell us that this Light dwelled among us. That connects us to the second significance of Matthew’s geographical note: Jesus “settled in Capernaum” – he settled! He made his home there for some time. The Light of the World moved into the neighborhood to witness to the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, having settled in Capernaum, Jesus began teaching and preaching. Matthew gives us the gist of his messages in verse 17. Jesus preached this: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” My focus this morning is not on that message, but let me take a moment to say something about it. Repentance means change of mind and heart. Set in the spiritual context, particularly with the note about the arrival of God’s Kingdom, it means changing from a mind and heart set away from God’s Kingdom to a mind and heart turned toward God and His Kingdom. It describes a focus on and love for Kingdom matters. Elsewhere Jesus will describe these matters in more detail as love of God, love of neighbor, humility, obedience, and more. But this is his starting point: “Turn around, people; God is here!”

In the Neighborhood (vv. 18-22)


I noted the significance of Jesus “settling” somewhere for a time. Notice that he didn’t just park himself in the religious center of Capernaum for several months, but he went to the true heart of the town. Jesus moved to and settled in a sea-front town and he went to do ministry among those who worked on the sea.
18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
So we read of the calling of the first disciples in verse 18. It begins, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee…” Wonder how many times he did that? Was it a daily walk? Did he pray for the fishermen he saw there? We don’t get all those details, but we do now that he was out and about that day. He went to where the fishermen were and he spoke to two of them – Peter and Andrew – and spoke to them in terms they could understand: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Did they totally understand at that moment? I doubt it. Were they intrigued? I’m sure they were. Had they seen him before – perhaps walking and praying by their stretch of water? We don’t know, but I’d like to think that he wasn’t a complete stranger to them. Or maybe he was and God’s Spirit was at work. At any rate, they didn’t delay, they didn’t discuss it first, they didn’t ask their friends. Verse 20 says “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And moments later it happened again with two more fishermen, James and John. They also followed immediately (v. 22), leaving their father, Zebedee in the boat mending the nets.

There was some context to the “follow-me invitation.” It wasn’t out of the blue or unexpected. Jesus had been living there and speaking about the Kingdom of God. But likewise, most or all of you here this morning have some exposure to Jesus and his teaching. It’s not out of the blue to think about what it means to follow him. Jesus says, “Follow me.”

How have you responded? How do you respond? What does that look like?

To that last question, we actually get a bit more.

Settling In the Shadowland (vv. 23-25)


Jesus moved to Capernaum, a sea town. He settled there and went where the people were. He spoke to them with images and language they could understand, even if it stretched them beyond the things of earth and into the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus didn’t just say “follow me.” He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (v. 19) Follow him isn’t just imitating and trotting after him like some kind of obedient puppy. He actually invites us to be a part of what he’s doing, to participate in his work and mission.
23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
As we read on to verses 23-25, we get a glimpse of that work. He traveled around, teaching about God’s Kingdom and healing and helping the sick and diseased. Crowds came to hear and be healed. And in the midst of all of that, these new disciples were “fishing for men.” They were a part; and after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they kept on.

What does it mean to follow him? We are not keepers of the light huddled inside walls of presumed safety, hoarding this Good News treasure for ourselves. We are, in Jesus’ words, a city on a hill, a beacon of light in the shadow lands around us. And we, in His name, are the light of the world, sent out in and among our neighbors to speak and embody the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes before us into this neighborhood. I remind you that there are some 10,000 people within a mile of this church. Do we yet know all their needs? Have we ventured into the shadow lands? Do we know their language to speak words of hope and truth and light and life?

That’s one run at what it looks like.

But what about the question of how you will respond? Jesus speaks the invitation to discipleship to us just as surely as he spoke it to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Will you drop what you are doing immediately to follow him? Said another way, do you hear Jesus’ question as the most important question being asked of you? We will hear him ask that question again several times over the next few weeks.

What we do hear in this text is that Jesus will teach and equip us to share in his work if we follow him. And that’s one example of what it’s like to belong to God. Amen.





Sunday, September 14, 2014

We Belong to God (Philippians 2:1-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 14, 2014
Text: Philippians 2:1-8

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: jazz piano, Rick Bean
Song of Praise: "In My Life, Lord" (Bob Kilpatrick)
Hymn of Praise: "Before the Throne of God Above" (Bancroft/Cook; ref. Barnard)
Offering of Music: jazz piano, Rick Bean
Song of Sending: "He is Lord" (Word Music)
Postlude: jazz piano, Rick Bean

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)

Two weeks ago, we looked at a passage from 1 Corinthians 3 as we talked about the ministries of Good Shepherd belonging to God through you, the members. The passage you heard today as the call to worship is the conclusion of that great chapter:
21 …For all things belong to you, 22 whether…the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
I said then that we would spend this fall looking at what it means to belong to God, individually and as a church. If we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God, then our best indication of what it means to belong to God is to look at Christ. And there is no better or more foundational text for that than Philippians 2:1-8, which describes the character of Christ in terms that we are to emulate.

So today we begin a series called, “We Belong to God.” In today’s foundational text of belonging, Paul challenges us to be like Jesus… that is, to live in humility. To do so, says Paul, will have extraordinary results, not only in our life, but in other’s lives, and in relation to God.

Since These Things are True… (v. 1)

Our text begins with a series of “IFS”. But Paul is not raising a question of whether these things exist, but using the certainty of their existence to then challenge us to be like Christ. Let’s look first at this list to understand what it looks and feels like to belong to Christ. I also want to turn them around to state them positively as true claims for your life in Christ. If you ever find yourself doubting Christ, these are the kinds of tangible expressions of Christ’s presence in his Church that we can latch onto. We will then turn to the question of HOW exactly we are to be like the one to whom we belong.

There is encouragement in Christ (v. 1) – Have you ever felt the encouragement of being a Christian? Maybe someone from church has called to check up on you or given you a hug on Sunday morning. Maybe you’ve received the letter from the church staff at just the right time, saying that we’ve prayed for you. Maybe you’ve heard a song or hymn or read some scripture that encouraged you when you were discouraged. Encouragement is one of the tangible ways in which Christians experience God’s presence.

There is consolation of love (v. 1) – This is an extension of the encouragement in Christ. This is also something I hope you have tasted in your life, particularly here at Good Shepherd. Consolation of love is the knowledge that you are not alone. God loves you and is with you. Your brothers and sisters in this church family love you and are with you. That is the consolation of love – extended when you are in crisis, offered when you are in need and needing support, given freely out of Christian love. It is a tangible expression of God’s presence.

There is fellowship of the Spirit (v. 1) – Building on the consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit is the constant connection Christians feel with one another, particular as they gather to worship in community. The fellowship of the Spirit is the Bible’s way of talking about what is so tangible here – the quality of community that we often call “church family.” It’s why our call to community time runs so full and free, even more than the social time around the snack table. We are bonded together because of the Holy Spirit and we are having fellowship – community together because of Christ. This is a supportive and tangible way we experience God’s presence.

There is affection and compassion (of the Spirit, in Christ) (v. 1) – Paul goes on to describe two of the qualities of living and worshiping together with one another in the Holy Spirit. There is true affection for one another. I think that is one of the most evident proofs of the presence of Christ here (Good Shepherd). There is also compassion, toward one another and outwardly towards the community and world around us. As we come to know God’s presence in our own lives, we become able to take note of those around us and extend the good news of Jesus Christ and the peace of God to others. This is what Paul describes in vv. 3-4 as humility – regarding others as more important than ourselves – and then as compassion – looking out for the interests of others. When God is at work in our lives, we turn the inward joys of encouragement, consolation, fellowship, and love outward to others. This is what fuels our searchlight ministry!

Each of these qualities – encouragement, consolation, fellowship, affection, and compassion – is descriptive of what happens when we share the mind, love, spirit, and purpose of Jesus Christ. Verses 2-4 expand on what those traits look like in community.
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
This is what happens when we emulate and follow Jesus in humility and obedience to God. Let’s look at HOW we do this.

Little Christs

You may have heard before that the word “Christian” means “little Christs.” My understanding is that this name was originally given to the followers of Jesus by the Roman emperors who were killing these people who declared a Lord greater than Caesar. It was their commitment and obedience to this Jesus Christ that led to the name “little Christs” or “Christians.”

That is at the heart of how we are to experience God’s presence and blessing in our lives. Paul says we are to be like Jesus. It’s so simple and so foreign to us! But Paul says it twice in this passage:

    …[be] of the same mind (v. 2)

    Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus… (v. 5)

Let’s look first at what attitude was in Jesus, then we’ll consider how we might share the same attitude, with the result that we might experience the blessings of God’s active presence in our life, which we’ve already talked about.

What was Jesus’ attitude? It was complete and perfect humility. Look at three different acts of humility.

Humility before God – he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (v. 6)

Though Jesus was fully God, fully divine, he did not reach or cling to divinity as Adam was tempted to do, but “released” his place and right as God in order to do God’s will and serve God’s purpose.

Service to God – he “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (v. 7)

This humility translated into obedience and service to God, whereby Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a human being, a servant of God. Jesus demonstrated this humble obedience in a living parable to his disciples when he, their teacher, donned the towel and washed their feet.

Humility and compassion towards human beings – “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8)

That humility become obedience then became acted out obedience and compassion toward the human race, as Jesus suffered and died, fulfilling God’s saving plan for the world.

Belonging to Jesus, Belonging to God

I wonder if you are asking yourself, “Which comes first… knowing and belonging to Christ or imitating and following him?” It sounds here like Paul is somehow saying both; and I think he is. It’s not contradictory; it’s a self-sustaining and faith-building dynamic. Do you already know Christ? Then imitate him. Do you want to know Christ or know him more? Then imitate him!

What we imitate about Jesus is not just his attitude but also his actions. And while we do not act to save the world from sin, we do act to show God’s compassion and grace to our neighbors. We are to be “little Christs” to the world around us.

So, like Jesus, we are to have the attitude of HUMILITY before God. We are to let go of the tendency to create false gods and set ourselves up as #1 in the universe. We are to recognize God’s divinity and utter right to be God over us.

That Christian attitude of humility produces the attitude of OBEDIENCE and SERVICE, which is also an action. We obey God by listening to His Word and following it. We obey God by serving and worshiping God. We obey God by joining in His mission to the world – to seek and save the lost. We “empty ourselves” of all that would keep us from God, confessing sin to God and turning from darkness to God’s face.

And this humility, obedience, and service is manifest most clearly in a COMPASSION and LOVE towards fellow human beings. Even as Jesus was willing to suffer and die for humanity, so we are to go all out in caring for those around us. This is our mission and it is our privilege.

If you know or have known what it is to belong to Jesus, live out those things! If you want to know and belong to Jesus or know him more, live out those things! And hear this good news: through Jesus, you belong to God! Amen.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

==INTO THE WORLD (2014)==

“Into the World” Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
May 18 - September 7, 2014

In this study of Acts 1-4 and some of the exilic prophets, we see that God is doing some amazing things in the world and we are to be witnesses to that work. Sometimes you will even get to share in that work, but never forget that the power to witness and to work comes from God.

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]