Invitation: Come as You Are

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Most of our experience with communion is in a fairly formal setting. The priest or worship leader takes us through a familiar ritual. The bread is dedicated specifically to the purpose of communion. Depending on your tradition and beliefs, it may or may not be considered sacred but, knowing what it symbolizes, we all treat it with reverence and respect. As far as reenactments of Jesus’s last supper go, it’s pretty inaccurate.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread…” No one processed into the room with consecrated wafers or a loaf with a slit in the bottom to make it easier to break. There may have been unleavened bread on the table for a traditional Passover meal, but otherwise it was unremarkable. Jesus used bread that was already present — and possibly half-eaten. The cup was just a cup. The gathered disciples would have washed it up after the meal with all the other cups and by the next morning probably couldn’t remember which one it had been.

Then there’s Judas. In all four Gospels, Jesus is aware his betrayer is at the table. He doesn’t identify Judas by name. He doesn’t exclude Judas from the meal. Instead Jesus shows him the same love and offers him the same blessing as everyone present.

The last supper — or first Eucharist — was made of the ordinary: the half-eaten, backwash-tainted, treacherous things and people at hand. It was sacred not because of the sanctity of the elements, but because Christ’s transformational presence makes the ordinary sacred. Your participation in communion does not require your perfection; it requires humble recognition of your deeply flawed nature. That’s the door through which Christ’s broken body and shed blood enter and transform you. And nobody can shut it but you.

If Christ welcomed even Judas at the first Eucharist, what possible reason could there be for anyone to be excluded? Who can say: “I get to determine who is worthy of the grace Christ gives freely?” We don’t get to decide that about other people, and other people don’t get to decide that about us. We don’t even get to decide it for ourselves. Communion isn’t about the perfect loaf of bread for the perfect people. It’s about Christ turning leftovers into a banquet that feeds the world.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

Invitation: Faith is a Roller Coaster

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Who doesn’t love roller coasters?

OK, lots of people don’t, but I sure do. One of my favorites is the Superman ride at Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois. Once a rider is strapped in, your arms and legs are free, and your torso is harnessed so that your back is to the track and you are facing outward. As the track soars, swoops, and twists you get a superhero-eye’s view of the sky and earth – a childhood fantasy come to life.

The first time I rode it the line was two hours long. The day and the company were pleasant, but still I had a queasy feeling replacing the usual excitement. Part of the fun of a coaster ride is the fear and feeling of survival, but for some reason the fear was more intense than usual. I hadn’t been to an amusement park in years, and had put on a lot of weight since the last visit. Part of me was irrationally convinced I was too heavy for the ride. Voices and visions of snapping gears and the rapidly approaching ground filled my mind. Other people heavier than me were getting on and safely returning, but reality wasn’t reassuring. I considered ditching the line and waiting for my friends.

Unlike Superman, I can’t deflect bullets, but once in a while I can bite them. Sweating and nauseated, I said a little prayer as the attendant secured me into the ride and launched us down the track.

It was the best coaster ride I’ve ever been on, and you can bet I’ve been back. Why the irrational fear? It’s because I wasn’t who I thought I should be, and let my insecurities tell me lies about where I belonged.

Church can be that way.

Some people don’t come to church because they believe they aren’t good enough. Or others come to church and believe the invitation to the communion table couldn’t possibly include them, even when the attendant tells them it does. In their minds, somehow their sins and shortcomings are weightier than the sins of everybody else in the crowd. They may even believe God has forgiven far worse sins than theirs, but for some reason they are still afraid. This attitude may seem like humility, but in truth it requires an enormous ego to believe your burdens are the only ones in creation God can’t lift off you. You just aren’t that special.

But you are beloved by God. Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:12) Your sins and imperfections are not barriers between you and Christ: they are doors. The bigger your issue, the wider your door. You just need to be willing to open it.

Faith has lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. It can be exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Through it all, no matter your burdens, God will be strong enough to carry you. Strap in and come to the table.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Tikkun Olam

Well this is a little different than most videos I post, but I enjoyed seeing this American take on the Israeli version of Sesame Street. Part of repairing the world is opening ourselves to new experiences, and this was different yet familiar. And the message is timeless. I hope you enjoy also!

Invitation: Prince of Peace, King of the Road

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My grandparents were generous people. They didn’t have a lot, especially when they were a younger couple, but any family members or friends present at meal-time were fed. Actually it didn’t have to be meal-time: if you showed up, they offered you food. Somehow Grandma could transform half a pound of ground beef and a can of tomatoes into a meal for a dozen people gathered in their tiny four-room house.

The village where they lived had a nearby rail yard, so it was not infrequent for hobos to drop by asking for food. Today “hobo”can have an offensive connotation, but in the first half of the 20th century hobo culture thrived. Grampa would  tell me stories about how Grandma cooked up breakfast for them, and shared stories and conversation.

Because hobos were a community, they liked to help each other out. Often they would draw discreet symbols on fenceposts or the like to let each other know what they could expect from the owners of the home. One of the earliest symbols was a plus sign or cross (+). This indicated the people in the home were friendly and would be willing to feed you. Over the years these symbols evolved. The cross eventually came to mean: “these people will feed you, but you’ll have to listen to some bible-thumping first … and they might not get to the feeding.” Another sign like a small table (∏) gradually replaced the cross as a symbol for a generous home.

I was almost forty years old when I first heard the term “table theology.” It describes a type of worship that doesn’t focus as much on the crucifixion of Christ as his efforts to bring us together in loving community. Table theology doesn’t exclude the importance of crucifixion – the communion meal at the center of the table symbolizes Christ’s death! – but it promotes his message we are to love one another.

In secular society, the symbol of the cross has similarly evolved. Polls consistently show non-Christians no longer associate the faith and its most famous symbol with radical love and self-sacrifice, but with judgment and exclusion. Sadly that’s often true. Some churches are more concerned with who can’t come to the table (or enter the door, or lead the choir, or preach the sermon) than they are with sharing Christ’s unconditional love. James 2:16 tell us: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” Being welcome to the table is not a reward, because none of us perfectly deserves it; welcome is a default position because we are all wandering children of God who are hungry, even when we don’t know what for. Sharing this sacred meal opens an ongoing, sacred conversation among a person, a community, and our God. Come in from the cold. Have your fill of the Bread of Life. Tell your friends.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Joyful Joyful!

After a post about suffering and celebration, I really wanted to re-visit one of my all-time favorite interpretations of a classic piece. If you want to see some 90’s fashions, or really young versions of Lauryn Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt, or just a truly joyful celebration of the Lord, this is for you!

The Byrds

After that picture, I just needed to hear the song. Peace!

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