and I Corinthians 11:23-29
Welcome. As Eileen said my name is Erich Becker. Many of you probably came thinking or hoping to hear from Murray Smoot. He was scheduled to be here with us today, but you have probably heard that early this week he was taken to the hospital and the report is that he has had a stroke. He is in stable, but fairly critical condition. The family has asked for our prayers, but he is in such a state that we probably shouldn’t be barraging him with phone calls or visits, but I would just like to take a minute before I share with you to pray for Murray and the Smoot family. So could you join me in a word of prayer.
Father, Murray Smoot is a saint. His name is a legacy around here, in this community. He has been a man of God, a man who has served you well and faithfully for many many years. He needs you now to be his healer, so Father we pray that you would heal him as he recuperates. Bring him back to strength Lord and we look forward to the day when he will be standing here delivering the message that he was prepared to deliver himself today and we pray for your peace and your hope to be with him and his family in these next few days. We commit him to you now, in Jesus name. Amen.
Well you rightfully ought to be asking, “who is this guy?” You know I know some of you. Some of you know me, but I was invited by your elders to be here in Murray’s stead, but you all don’t know me and you’re about to hear a message from somebody that you don’t know. Now, in telling you about myself, I could articulate degrees that I have and jobs that I have held and those kinds of things, but who cares about that. Let me tell you a story that I think probably could be as good as anything to let you know a little bit about who Erich Becker is. When I was 42, I had a wake up call. That wake up call was a couple of associates, not close friends, but associates of mine who had heart attacks at about in their early 40’s and it said to me, “Erich, you have got to get your act together friend.” Because at that point, although I had been an athlete growing up, I played soccer, baseball and basketball, whatever sport was in season and I played each of them well enough to make teams, but none of them well enough to be a star or really focus on any sport, so I played a lot of team sports growing up and I considered myself an athlete. But after college, I got in to these jobs and roles that had me less and less engaged in physical activity. More and more sitting behind desks and eating meals and gradually over the years, I put weight on. Slowly at first, but to the point where when I was 42, I would have stood before you weighing 210 lbs on my little 5’10” frame. And then as these two associates of mine fell down and had heart attacks and one of them actually died from the heart attack, I realized that I had to do something. Now, I love to eat. So I wasn’t going to give eating up, but I did know that I could try to exercise in a way to counter balance what I was putting in to my body. And I had to stop kidding myself that I would be able to play basketball, or pick up a basketball game three times a week. It wasn’t happening. Or a pickup soccer game, well that’s pretty tough. It takes 22 people you know, or something close.
So, I realized that the only thing I could do by myself in terms of exercise is to start running. Now I called it jogging, because that’s about all I could do at first. I would go out for like a quarter of a mile, two laps around my block and I would come in and would be breathing heavily. My wife would say, “I love you fat, it’s okay.” “You don’t have to kill yourself to try to get in to shape.” And I would go, “No, I have to do this.” “I can do it.” So, I gradually increased my ability to run. I persevered through weather conditions and trying to get the right shoes that fit and all those things, and I dropped 30 lbs in the next year and a half, not by altering what I ate. If you watch me eat even today, I mean I pound down the sugar and the sweets, salt and the chips and everything, but I try to counter balance it with this exercise regime. But I tell you that to say that part of who I am, is to try to set a goal for myself and achieve it. God has given me that sort of wiring, that makeup, to say “Erich, put something out there and go for it and work and persevere and train and do everything you can to achieve that goal.” And now, eight years later as I am looking 50 right smack in the face next month. I am still out there pounding the pavement. I’ve got three marathons under my belt. I am not doing anymore of them. The last one was about three years ago and I said, “That’s it.” But all that to say, I took baby steps and baby steps and baby steps and built up to the point where I actually ran three marathons. Now, I say I ran three marathons. I probably should say I finished three marathons. I didn’t run the whole way on any one of them. I cheated, although people encouraged me. It’s better to walk a little bit and finish than to run 18 miles and quit, just because you stopped running. So, I would run a little, walk a little, run a little and I finished three marathons. And I am proud that I did that, but that tells you a little bit about me. But here is the reality. My daughter is 20. She decided in September that she was going to run the Baltimore marathon that was just like three weeks ago. So between September and October whatever the date was, she did a little bit of training. She got up that Saturday morning, ran 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes. She qualified for Boston, which we are going to go to in April and she was just a machine. At the end of it I said, “How do you feel Lee?” “Okay.” So don’t applaud me for finishing one, applaud her for that kind of thing.
But, what I want to do this morning is to very briefly explain what we are going to celebrate here at this communion table, because I personally feel that many Christians come and celebrate communion once every four weeks, once a month, however often, but we really don’t understand what we are doing. We are following a tradition. We are participating in a ritual, but we don’t know or understand what it is that we celebrate when we have communion. And so, I titled this message, “We celebrate at the Table What Christ purchased at the Cross.” And so I want to explain to all of us and remind us what it is we celebrate here today.
This is first of all a sacrament that Jesus himself instituted. This is not something that men created to remember Jesus or to celebrate his life. He is the one who said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Now about two months ago, many of us were scrambling to try to figure out what we could do to honor the hero’s of September 11, 2001 and we were scratching our brains and trying to figure out what could we do that would really honor them and celebrate their sacrifice that day. Well we don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder how to celebrate or recognize or honor Jesus for his sacrifice. He told us how to do it. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” So there is something in this that celebrates Jesus’ life and honors him.
I want to talk real briefly about three components to communion this morning. The first, is it’s a remembrance. We remember Jesus’ death as we celebrate communion. The second, we experience Jesus’ presence among us this morning and this afternoon as we celebrate communion and third, we celebrate Jesus’ life in and through us as we gather. So if you can remember REC, you can remember my message. Remembrance, experience and celebration.
What do we remember? We remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We were all sinners. The Bible says that. God said that. I didn’t make that up. God says we were all sinners and the wages and consequences of sin is death and separation from God. So we remember as we celebrate this communion table, that Jesus paid the penalty that we owed. We remember that he went to the cross on our behalf, instead of us. And we remember what he purchased for us. Reconciliation to God. Unity with one another. Hope for eternal life and to be reunited with the God who created us. So we remember all of that, but when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I think it was a little bit more than just, “Oh yeah, remember what I did.” When you do something in remembrance of someone, what you’re saying is, “I want to emulate them.” “I want to model what they did.” You know there are a couple of dozen rescue workers and policemen and firemen and women who are running today the New York Marathon in remembrance of their comrades who fell a year ago on September 11th. They didn’t just want to remember them intellectually, they wanted to do something in remembrance of them. To celebrate, to acknowledge, to emulate them and so when we remember Christ in this sacrament, we also ought to remember to live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called. So remembrance isn’t just looking back, it’s also committing to live differently in light of what Christ did at the cross.
The “E” is we experience Christ’s presence. Somehow in this bread and this juice, Christ becomes present to us. He is with us this afternoon, in and through these elements. You know Jesus himself said, “This is my body. This is the blood of the new covenant.” Now he didn’t mean that literally. He couldn’t have. Because if you think about it, he was standing there with his disciples and he said, “This piece of bread is my body.” So he was speaking figuratively. Just as he does when he says, “I am the door.” Or “I am the light.” He isn’t saying he is those things, but those are images of who he is. So he is in this meal that we take together, not literally, but really present with us this afternoon as we take this bread and we drink this cup. We experience his presence.’
One of my favorite authors is J.B. Phillips and he wrote in a book called, “Appointment with God.” He wrote, “If we don’t experience something of the presence of Christ when we take communion, why bother.” Why do it if we don’t really experience Christ? And I believe many come to the communion table and they just take a cracker or piece of bread and take a cup of juice and they drink it and they go out and they don’t know what just happened or why. But I want us this afternoon when we dip our bread in this cup and we put it in our mouths, to really remember and recognize that Jesus is present here and we can experience him in these elements and together.
The third thing. We celebrate Christ’s life in and through us. And we celebrate that in at least two ways. I only have time to talk about two this afternoon. We celebrate forgiveness and we celebrate unity. This meal is a celebration of your and my forgiveness. It’s a very personal thing which Jesus did. I understood it when I accepted Christ that the person shared with me said, “Erich, if you were the only person that had ever lived, Christ would have gone to the cross for you. That’s how much he loved you Erich. That’s how much he still loves you Erich. He purchased your forgiveness. You couldn’t do it. You couldn’t be good enough. You couldn’t earn it, deserve it, work for it, achieve it. It’s a gift. Forgiveness is a gift for each one of us.” And we celebrate that today, that we are forgiven, reconciled to God. But part of celebrating that forgiveness is that we would become people who extend forgiveness to others as well. Part of living in remembrance of Christ, part of living to honor him is that not only do I recognize that I’m forgiven, but I have a responsibility to extend grace and forgiveness to others. Paul said it this way in Colossians 3, I think about Verse 12. “Just as Christ has forgiven you, so also should you forgive one another.” So when we celebrate this afternoon and you come forward and you thank God for forgiving you, take it to the next step and say, “I want to commit to being a person who forgives others, just as you have forgiven me.”
The other thing we celebrate is unity. Christ allowed his body to be broken to construct us in to his body. We are the body of Christ. He allowed his body to be broken, to call us to become his body. God gave his one and only son, a family member, to die that we would become the family of God. Christ purchased unity on the cross. Our challenge is to maintain it as a body, as a family. And so as you come forward this afternoon, I ask you not only to be grateful and to celebrate unity, but also to commit yourselves to being people who will maintain and keep the unity, which Christ purchased us. And I would just say this, sometimes the test of unity is not in us all agreeing, but in how we disagree. How we manage our disagreements is probably a bigger test of our unity than that we would all get to be on the same page about something and so the challenge as the body of Christ as the family of God is that we would keep and maintain the unity of the spirit which Christ purchased on the cross as we interact with each other, day by day and we disappoint each other and we sin against each other. We extend grace and forgiveness, but then we also invite unity because communion is not so much an individual experience as it is a corporate one. Nobody can have communion alone. It’s a corporate celebration, a community celebration. And so one of the challenges I would put before you is we prepare ourselves for communion, is to think through in your own circles of relationships, “am I at odds with anyone that I am aware of?” “Is there a relationship in my life that is fractured right now?” And if so, I would invite you to commit before God that you would do what you can to make that relationship right. Romans 12:18 says, “As far as is possible with you, be at peace with all men.” We celebrate unity, but we are commanded to keep and maintain that unity through hard work of building relationships and rebuilding relationships and extending forgiveness and grace and receiving it from each other and maintaining that unity which Christ purchased on the cross. And so, that is what we celebrate when we come to this table. It is not just a tradition of men. It is a sacrament instituted by God. We come to remember Christ and to commit to live lives in remembrance of him. We come to experience Jesus in our midst, in and through each other and in and through these elements, he is here and we experience his presence and we also come to celebrate forgiveness and unity and to be people of forgiveness and to be people of unity. And so as the worship team comes back up to play while we celebrate, I would invite the elders to come forward, who are going to assist in the communion service. And I would like to close us in prayer and use that as a preparation for receiving communion today.
Father, we thank you so much for the length to which you went and you allowed your son to go to purchase our forgiveness and our unity. We celebrate that today and we want to commit ourselves to be people of forgiveness, who not only experience forgiveness ourselves, but extend it to others and people who live in unity and community together and do the hard work of repairing and restoring relationships when they fracture. Not for our sake, but for yours and so father prepare us to receive the bread and the cup this afternoon. It’s all for you. In your name and in your honor and in remembrance of you that we share it. Amen.