From chaos to order at the Lord’s table

Sermon given on Sunday, October 1, 2017 and includes communion as part of World Communion Day.

Scripture connections:

Philippians 1:2,6

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

. . .  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

Philippians 1:27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13

1: 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

 

2: Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

     Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

. . . 12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

 

Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

4: Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

. . . And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

. . . 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[d] who gives me strength.

 

Reflection: From chaos . . .

This week has been tough. How does one go from such a high as a baptism service, then experience utter chaos and then wake up to a new day? Prayer.   The only answer is prayer and turning to scripture.

Today the Christian world joins in the oldest sacrament of discipleship there is—Communion, Eucharist, or as listed in our denomination’s hymnal, A Service of Word and Table. The entire Christian community is sitting down at the table, speaking figuratively, and hearing the same words in their native languages and tasting the bread and the wine or juice as is customary in their local community.

Last week is over and the new week is ahead.

At no other time is sharing in the word and the table more critical than it is today. The crisis in our own church family is just a miniscule issue in comparison to the myriad of crises that span our state, our country, our hemisphere, and our world. Still the pain of any crisis is real and the answers seem evasive. Where does one turn to find answers, to find solace, to find purpose?

This week my crises lead me to serious reflection, prayer, discussion and scripture. My days seemed flat, so to speak, but I still go to bed, still wake up, and still continue the routines I have established, even rely on, whenever chaos clutters up my life.

Yes I cried. I yelled. I whined. I cried some more. Then I found quiet, and the world slowed down a bit. My mind cleared and I prayed. Remember, in baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and God is within us. I had to clear my head and find quiet in order to hear God through the Holy Spirit.

Returning to my personal practice of reading the lectionary in preparation for the Monday morning discussion group, I heard God speaking. I realized that the work over these past few months of reading Paul’s letters and discerning or seeking God’s advice through those letters was just as important if not more important this week than in the past weeks.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides me and us words to restart church or to use in reassessing this faith community through scripture and prayer. The chaos of one Sunday is simply a symptom of an illness that lingers for years. In the first two chapters of Philippians, Paul provides the prescription for a healthy, or at least healthier, congregation.

Remember, Paul is in prison and is visited by the congregation’s leader. He hears what is going on from this messenger and writes the letter in praise, not only for sending him a care package as we might call it today but also for the success of the congregation:

“. . . for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work. . . (Philippians 1:3)

Hearing these words this week causes me pain. Reading Paul’s message of praise to the Philippian church forces me to evaluate the work of our church: Can we honestly say that we are spreading the Good News about Christ?

God calls each one of us to share the message that God loves us, in fact God loves us so much that he joined us on this earth as Jesus, a child born of a man and a woman just like any one of us, a child that had to go through all the same physical development stages as we did, and a child raised in the faith of his human family like so many of us. We share the human experience with God through Jesus Christ.

Paul’s experience was no different, and he was raised as a Jew just like Jesus was, too. The difference was that Paul did not “hear” the good news. Instead, he persecuted those who did hear Jesus’ message of loving one another and disregarding the Old Law of Moses.

Last week baptism reminded us that loving one another is God’s law. Last week we reaffirmed our own baptism through the words of the liturgy that is used in our churches around this world. Today we share in the word and the cup in union with Christians around the globe. Our personal lives may be filled with chaos, but we return to scripture, to the table, and to prayer in order to be in communion with God.

Let us enter into an attitude of prayer as we join God and the host of the faithful who have been, are and will be ever part of the Christian family:

[UMH p. 6 for “A Service of Word and Table I]

Returning to the reflection. . . to order . . .

During the week, I have read and re-read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When I first began the journey as a pastor, I found myself relying on the Philippians verse 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

For several years I had enjoyed the Mitford Collection, a series of books about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim. His verse was Philippians 4:13 and as I read through the series and thought about my own life, I discovered myself holding on to that same verse. That was my guiding principle I used on the bulletin that first year. This week while sorting out the chaos, there was the verse again.

Paul’s letter primarily was a compliment to the church, but the lessons he shares help pull me out of a sense of chaos to a sense of order. In the first chapter, I hear the purpose and the outcome of being a Christian:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:10-11)

Reading on, the message seemed earmarked for me:

  • . . . everything that has happened to me here has helped spread the Good News. . . .
  • . . . preach about Christ with pure motives.
  • . . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.
  • . . . as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
  • . . .fully expect and hop that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bod for Christ. . .
  • . . . trust that my life will bring honor to Christ. . .
  • . . . living means living for Christ. . .

And then, in verse 25 is the overall goal of life as a pastor:

  • . . . [to] continue to help all of your grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Last Sunday was a high, the baptism of young people, but the chaos that followed the service crashed my world. I can apologize for the human weakness I exhibited, but it has caused triggered a week of self-reflection and re-ordering of my life. The work is tough, but Paul’s letter provides the guidance God wants each of us to follow:

[Insert the scriptures: Philippians 1;27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13]

[UMH p. 8: The Service of Table and Word I]

  • Confession and Pardon

 

Reflecting continues . . . at God’s table

            The passing of time in God’s world does not match the sense of time we experience in our daily lives. The chaos of a week ago is gone. The week of reordering our lives is over, now, too.

Today, we join the world community of Christians at the table. At the table, there is promise. At the table, we are in union with God through the gift of his son Jesus Christ. From chaos to order all at God’s table. All!

An act of thanksgiving:

  • Offering (with offertory)
  • *Doxology UMH 95
  • *Prayer of thanksgiving:

                                    Dear Loving Father:

                                         Please accept these gifts

                                       as thanks for your grace.

                                         for our salvation through Jesus Christ,

                                         and the promise of life eternal.

                                         May we work together

                                         to serve as your disciples

                                        so others may experience your love. –Amen

 

UMH p. 9-10: The Service of Table and Word I

  • Thanksgiving and Communion
  • Breaking the Bread
  • Giving the Bread and Cup

 

Closing Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

 

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