For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
-Romans 12:4-5

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Body Speaks

The Body Speaks
10/20/13 OCMC
Eph. 4:1-6, 22-32

This sermon began with a demonstration.  I had two people join me and we were tied together at the wrist, one person's left arm tied to my right arm, one person's right arm tied to my left.  Then we tried to work together as one body.

            The bonds that tie us together as believers in Jesus Christ are spiritual bonds, not physical.  We are united in our belief in the One True God, in our faith and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord, and in our baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ.  We follow the leading of one Spirit and we participate in the one Kingdom of God.  But we each have different parts to play.  We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, our own gifts, talents and passions.  And it takes each one of us doing our part under the direction of the One Lord for the Body of Christ to be effective in this world.  We don’t all do the same thing.  Last week Pastor Leonard preached about the different gifts that are part of the Body and he spoke about how, early in his tenure here at OCMC he prayed that God would send him people with different abilities and gifts and God said “You have all you need right here, right now.”  But he didn’t believe it.  You see Pastor Leonard, like the rest of us who were a part of OCMC at that time, wanted to get to the end result of seeing the Body mature and growing and functioning well.  We wanted to see the neighborhood transformed and wonderful things happening right then.  We had the raw ingredients among us but they needed to be put together and cook awhile before we could enjoy the meal.  And I would say, we’ve had a taste of what’s cooking but the meal is still in the oven.
            We are still growing.  People with gifts and abilities are still coming and joining with us.  Vision is still being developed.  We still have a lot of work to do and it does take all of us working together to keep the mission of this congregation going forward.  And Paul’s words to the Ephesians in chapter 4 give us some good instructions on how to go about growing and living and working together.  Beginning in verse 22, we are reminded that, as people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, we have entered into a new life.  Our former way of life is described here as being old and worn out.  It’s like a piece of clothing that we’ve worn forever and it’s ragged and dirty and threadbare and needs to be thrown out.  We can’t wear it any more.  We need to put off our old way of life because it’s been corrupted by evil, by desires for what is forbidden by God.  Instead we are to put on the new self which, rather than being corrupted, is actually patterned after God.  We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds.  We are to think differently, to have a change in world view.  We are to see through the eyes of God now, to think as He thinks, to view the world as He views it.  Our new self which is patterned after God or created to be like God, is fresh, unworn, unused.  It is a new self of righteousness and holiness and conforms to the truth that is found in Jesus Christ.
            Paul is using action words in this chapter.  He’s telling us to take specific action, to put off the old and put on the new so that our lives will conform to the pattern of the righteousness and holiness of God.  If our lives don’t look like Jesus, if they aren’t conforming to this pattern, it probably means we still have some old to take off and some new to put on.  I don’t know how many of you watch makeover shows on TV but what Paul is talking about is like a spiritual makeover.  If we think of a show like The Biggest Loser, where people are trying to lose a hundred pounds or more, it can help us understand what he’s talking about.  On the Biggest Loser, people have to stop doing things the old way and do things in a new way.  They have to stop eating the old way and eat in a new healthy way.  They have to stop being inactive and start exercising regularly.  They have to stop believing they can’t change and start believing they can.  Then, over the weeks, as they consistently stop the old and enact the new, change happens in their bodies and they lose weight.  At the end of the season, they look like new people.  The same thing happens to us spiritually as we renew our minds with the truth of God’s word, as we stop following old habits that are corrupted by evil, and as we begin doing those things that originate in righteousness and holiness, as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and rely on His strength and power, we become new creations and we end up looking like Jesus.  It’s hard work, just as it’s hard work to lose weight.  But that’s how it’s done.
            Paul says we are to put off falsehood, deception, lying and instead speak according to the truth.  We are to be free of pretense and deceit in our interactions with others.  If I had said to my helpers this morning that we were going to walk to the left and then I turned to the right, that’s lying and the result is confusion.  They won’t know which way to go and we won’t get anywhere.  That’s how it is in the Body of Christ.  We are bound together and we need to be truthful with each other so as not to cause confusion.  There is a way to speak truth though.
            Paul goes on in verses 26 and 27 to talk about anger and he warns us not to let our anger lead to sin.  We need to stay on the path of uprightness and honor even if we are angry.  We need to seek to resolve things quickly, not letting conflicts or problems go on and on because they will just get worse.  We have a spiritual enemy who will take every opportunity to destroy us.  We should not give him any opportunity to act against us.  The word devil here means slanderer or accuser.  How many times when we are angry are we quick to believe the worst about the person we are angry with?  I know there are times I get angry with Vandy and I’ll find myself thinking all kinds of bad things about him and then I have to get on myself because I’ve given in to the accuser who is trying to destroy my relationship with my spouse.  Maybe you’re thinking, well you have a right to be angry and yes I do.  Paul isn’t telling us we don’t have the right to be angry.  But I don’t have the right to let my anger lead to accusations and slander and a tearing down of the relationship.  That’s the difference.  My anger can’t distort the truth.
            We are to speak truth to one another, truth that is not tainted by slander and accusations that come from the devil.  The truth needs to be spoken in love.  In verse 29, Paul tells us to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building up and promoting growth in the other, according to their needs.  Truth may be hurtful at times, but it shouldn’t cause the other person harm.  If truth is spoken in love, it won’t seek to harm or do damage to the other person.  Instead it will seek to heal and to promote growth.  Unwholesome talk is anything that is corrupted by evil.  Paul uses the same language he uses in describing the old self.  Don’t talk in ways that are corrupt and lead to death.  We have to think about the words we use sometimes.  And not just the words themselves but how they are being said.  If anger, condescension, judgment and other such negative emotions come through our words, the message is probably not going to communicate love and promote growth and unity.  Instead it can cause hurt and division. 
            So again in verse 30 Paul tells us to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling or arguing, slander and malice.  These things are not helpful.  They don’t help us grow.  Instead, if left to fester, they will divide and destroy relationships.  The Body of Christ exists in relationship as the members are joined together to the head, who is Christ, and to each other.  We have to get along.  My helpers and I this morning found out how hard it can be to try to do something without any anger or malice in the equation.  How much worse is it when we are dealing with all these negative emotions as well?
            The corruption of the old life must be put away.  We think of this most often in terms of our individual lives.  It’s not good for my own spiritual growth if I hold on to anger or malice or if I’m lying to people.  But it’s also not good for the Body of Christ.  Nothing we do as people is in a vacuum anymore once we become believers in Jesus Christ.  The health of my marriage has an effect on you just as the health of yours has an effect on me.  The health of your prayer life has an effect on me just as the health of mine has an effect on you.  We are joined together in the body of Christ.  If you aren’t growing spiritually, it can cause me problems too.  We don’t think of this though.  We tend to think our spiritual lives are our own business between us and God and don’t affect anyone else around us but that’s not good theology.  Why do you think Paul went to such lengths to give specific instructions for living in this letter?  Because we are bound together and what one does affects the whole.
            When my helpers and I were tied together, every move one of us made affected the others.  So it is in the body of Christ.  The bonds of faith join us together so that the movements of one affect the others.  In chapter 5 Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians that there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality among them.  Our culture tells us that our sex lives are private and what happens between 2 consensual adults has no effect on anyone.  Yet looking at our own society how much are we affected by the sexual mores of others?  We can’t listen to popular music, watch a movie or TV show, see an advertisement without being bombarded with someone’s sexual mores.  It has an effect.  And if sex is so private, why is it on every billboard in America?  And why does pornography even exist if sex is private?  Our culture is lying to us people.  But in the Body of Christ there is to be no deception and no corruption of the old way of life. 
            Neither is there to be greed.  Paul writes in 5:5 “For of this you can be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.”  Greed has no place in the Body.  Greed leads to all kinds of problems and it separates people from one another.  In chapter 4 Paul writes about the person who has been stealing and says he must do this no longer but instead is to do something useful with his hands.  Stealing is an unuseful use of one’s hands.  It’s dishonorable and unworthy of anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord.  You might say that some people steal because they have no other means of getting what they need.  I’m not saying that isn’t so.  But in the Body of Christ there should be no reason for someone to need to steal.  There should be a generosity of spirit among us that those who have will provide for those who don’t have.  And all who are able to work and do something useful with their hands will do so, so that the needs of the community are met.  Yes, this is an ideal.  I know that. But we have to start moving in that direction and we won’t if we are greedy. 
            When Paul speaks of the person who steals doing something useful with their hands, he is talking about doing something excellent and honorable and distinguished.  To me this communicates work that a person can take pride in and that will reflect positively on the Body of Christ. No matter what type of work we do, whatever we produce should be our best effort.  We shouldn’t have a work ethic that slacks off.  You know I entitled this sermon “The Body Speaks” because Paul writes so much about language here, but he’s gotten into our sex lives, our finances, our work habits.  He’s just all up in our business here.  Because every part of our lives speaks.  It’s not just the words we use or how we say them, it’s all our habits, our lifestyle.  They all speak something to the world about the reality of Jesus Christ.  This is why he tells us to take off the old lifestyle, put away the old world view that is corrupted by evil and put on a new lifestyle, see through a new world view that is patterned after God. When we do that, we will begin to look like, sound like, act like Jesus.   What is it that we are communicating through our lives, as individuals and as a church community?
            In Ephesians 5 beginning in the last part of verse 18 Paul says that we are “to be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thanksgiving, praise, joy, these are what we are to be communicating through our words and our actions.  Our lives should reflect the reality that we have been forgiven of our sins, cleansed from everything that is corrupted by evil.  We’ve been reconciled to God, accepted into His household as His own children.  We’ve been made new.  Our lives are moving in a new direction and we are now joined together in the Body of Christ.  We have hope.  We have the promise of eternal life.  We’ve been given the very Spirit of God to dwell within us as our source of life and strength.  Our lives should reflect and communicate this. We are not alone in this walk of faith.  We have the members of the Body of Christ around us, as well as the Holy Spirit within us, and we should be learning from each other, praying for each other, encouraging each other as all of us are in the process of taking off the old and putting on the new.
            I want to invite the worship team up now to lead us in our closing worship.  We can celebrate today because we are bound together in the bonds of faith with one Lord, One God, One Father who loves us and is working out His will in our lives.  And we can dedicate ourselves to continue to put off the old self that is worn out and useless to us, and with the help of the Holy Spirit to put on the new self which is patterned after God.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Soul Food
John 6:47-59
Luke 22:14-34

            When I was in school growing up, everyone bought lunch at school.  We had a cafeteria and the ladies would cook the meals so the food was pretty good.  They cooked just like they were cooking for their families at home.  I remember once in 4th grade, the cafeteria decided to have international foods week.  So every day we had a different type of food.  So one day we had spaghetti for Italian day and another day we had chicken chow mein for Chinese day.  But one day I didn’t know what to expect because the menu said we were having soul food.  When I was in 4th grade I didn’t know what soul food was and I was excited because I imagined it would be something very different and I was looking forward to trying it.  I remember taking my tray up to be served on soul food day and there was ham, collard greens, black eyed peas, and corn bread and I thought, “This is Sunday dinner at my Grandma’s house.  We just need some sweet potato pie.”  It was a little disappointing to find out I had been eating soul food my whole life and didn’t know it. 
            Today I want to talk about soul food.  Not the kind that my Grandma would make but the soul food that Jesus speaks about.  In John 6 Jesus makes the declaration that he is the bread from heaven and he gives life to the world.  In verses 55ff he makes this shocking statement that unless a person eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood, they will have no life in them but whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.  Jesus is talking about real soul food, food that feeds the soul of a person and gives real life.  But it sounds really exotic and pretty far out there.  This is one of those Bible statements that is every bit as jarring for us to hear as it would have been for Jesus’ original listeners at the synagogue in Capernaum.
            What is Jesus talking about when he says we need to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  This is zombie movie stuff, not stuff you expect to hear in church.  People were so offended at what Jesus was saying that many of them turned away from following him.  But when Jesus asked his 12 disciples if they were going to turn away from him as well, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  Yes this is a saying that is hard to understand.  But like the 12, we need to hang in here with Jesus and find out just exactly what he’s talking about.  He has the words of eternal life, He’s the one who can feed our souls.  It’s important that we take the time to understand just what this soul food is.
            The idea of food and drink that feeds the soul, that gives eternal life didn’t start with Jesus.  It was something that goes back into the Old Testament.  In fact at the very beginning of the Bible we see in the Garden of Eden there was the tree of life.  When Adam and Eve sinned, God said that they must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever.  Their sin needed to be atoned for before they could be allowed to live forever.  The prophets speak of the source of living water which is God Himself.  Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13 both speak of the people of Israel forsaking God who is the spring of living water.  Isaiah 25:6 speaks of a great banquet that God will prepare for all people, a feast with the best food and wine, an abundance of good things that give life and joy.  And in Isaiah 55 there is the invitation to the hungry and thirsty to come and get life giving drink and food from God, to hear the words of the Lord so that our souls will delight in the richest of food and drink, and that our souls may live. 
            In Luke 22 and in John 6 Jesus is speaking right in line with the teachings of the law and the prophets.  He’s not coming up with some new concept out of the blue but rather he’s expanding it and personifying it.  He’s saying that He Himself is the living water and the bread of life.  This is what was so hard for the people to understand.  You see we tend to think mainly of the physical.  So when I say soul food, some of you are having visions of fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, collard greens and ham, macaroni and cheese.  And that’s how the people of Jesus’ day thought.  At the beginning of John 6, Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding a crowd of 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Then he left the people and went to Capernaum and the crowds came looking for him there.  When they got there Jesus told them, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”  They wanted more free bread and fish.  They were overlooking the fact that it was a miracle that they had gotten that food in the first place.  In fact they even ask Jesus in verse 30 what miraculous sign he would do to prove to them that he was from God.  He just did one people!  They couldn’t be satisfied because they were only focusing on the physical.  They only wanted physical food, not soul food.
            Now Jesus did meet the physical needs of people.  He healed many people, he raised the dead, he turned water into wine and multiplied food to feed thousands.  But he also consistently offered soul food.  He taught about the kingdom of God and called people to repent and turn to God.  He taught about the things that God requires of people and he corrected the religious leaders when they did things or taught things that kept people from freely coming to worship God.  Jesus knew people need soul food in addition to physical food.  Physical food is only going to satisfy us so long and then we get hungry and we have to eat again.  Physical food will spoil.  It won’t last forever.  It won’t stay fresh forever.  And if it does, we probably shouldn’t be eating it because it’s probably shot full of dangerous chemicals.  Physical food is temporary.
            Soul food, the food that Jesus offers, will satisfy forever.  In John 4 Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well and he tells her that he has living water.  He says “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  To the crowd at Capernaum he says “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  There is a food that doesn’t spoil and that never runs out and it satisfies forever.  It is food for the soul and it is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
            But still what does it mean to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man?  That still sounds ghoulish to us.  So let me try to illustrate this in a way that this congregation ought to be able to relate to very well.  I want to use the analogy of a pregnant woman.  Where does her baby get life from?  From her flesh and her blood.  Yes, the father contributes his DNA and gets the process started but it’s the mother’s flesh, the mother’s body, that protects the unborn baby and allows it to continue to grow and develop.  It’s her blood that provides oxygen and nutrients that allows that baby to live and grow.  If a baby is disconnected from its mother too early, it will die.  For 40 weeks, give or take, the mother nourishes the baby from her own flesh and blood.  Then after the baby is born, she continues to feed it from her own body, nursing it and providing it nutrients so it can continue to live and grow.  This, I think, is the picture Jesus is trying to give us when He says we must get our source of nourishment and life from His flesh and His blood.  In order for our souls to live, we must be connected to Him, receiving life-giving nourishment from Him.  The difference is that we never disconnect from Him, as the baby will eventually disconnect from its mother.  Children eventually learn to eat solid food and feed themselves and grow up to be able to provide their own food and we no longer have to feed them.  But we always need to feed from Jesus.  He is the never ending source of living bread and living water.
            This, I think, is why our practice of communion is so important.  It is a regular way of reminding ourselves that we get living bread and living water from Jesus.  As we take communion, we are re-enacting the Last Supper and remembering the words and actions of Jesus.  Luke records that at the last supper Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to his disciples telling them, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.” 
I want us to think about that word “covenant” for a minute.  The Greek word that is translated covenant can also be translated as testament meaning legal agreement.  One way we use the word testament is in last will and testament, which is a valid translation of this Greek word.  I believe the primary meaning Jesus is using is to say that His blood seals a new and binding agreement with God, a new covenant based on God’s promises of forgiveness and cleansing from sin for all who call on His name.  But I think we can also gain great insight into the depth of this sacrifice, and what Jesus means by feeding on his flesh and blood, if we consider these words as Jesus’ last will and testament. 
A last will and testament is a legal document that spells out how a person wants to dispose of their possessions after their death.  Jesus had no possessions to pass on to anyone at his death.  He spent the last few years of his life on the road, traveling around teaching about the Kingdom of God and demonstrating it through his miracles.  If he had any personal possessions, they most likely were left with his family.  So at the Last Supper Jesus is handing on to his disciples the only thing he has left to give – his body and his blood.  This is what is going to be sacrificed for our sins.  In the Passover celebration, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and ate it at their Passover meal.  At the original Passover in Egypt, the Israelites had to take the lambs blood and put it on their doorposts so their first born children would not be killed along with the first born of the Egyptians.  They had to eat the flesh of the animal that was sacrificed so they could live.   This again gives us some understanding into what Jesus is talking about.  Just as the Israelites had to feed on the sacrifice that spared their lives, so we have to feed on the sacrifice that spares our souls from eternal separation from God and eternal death. 
The bread and the cup that we have at communion are a representation of the bread and cup that Jesus gave His disciples and proclaimed that this was true food of the new covenant and that we are to partake of these in remembrance of Him.  This is soul food and it’s not comfort food.  Real soul food demands something of us.  It demands that we look at the things in our lives that are not right, the things that separate us from God.  When we look at the bread and the cup of communion and we remember the sacrifice behind it, it should make us uncomfortable.  Even at the Last Supper Luke records that Jesus had to confront the fact that one of his disciples was going to betray him.  Judas was sitting with him at the table, eating this meal with him, planning how he was going to betray Jesus.  And Jesus knew it. The other disciples broke out into an argument about which of them was considered the greatest.  Apparently it was one of their favorite things to argue about.  Jesus had to confront their pride and ambition and remind them that he served them, even washing their feet that very night. 
He had to confront the fact that he and his disciples had a spiritual enemy who wanted to destroy them.  He tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” He went on to tell Simon Peter that he would end up denying that he even knew Jesus 3 times that very night.  But even in knowing that Peter was going to deny him, Jesus promised restoration – “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus confronted some uncomfortable stuff but in that confrontation, he offered life.

These are the things we are to remember as we prepare to take communion today.  This is soul food.  It is necessary that we listen to and respond to the words of Jesus.  It is necessary that we spend time in His presence in prayer and in service.  It is necessary that we take what He offers us, that we take it into ourselves and make it a part of us, that we may live.  It’s not always comfortable but it does give real life.

            As we prepare ourselves to take communion today, let us take the time to examine our own lives to see what’s there that Jesus needs to confront.  We are told that we should examine ourselves in preparation for taking communion so that we do not take it in an unworthy manner, meaning we confess any known sin in our lives and ask for forgiveness.  When we do, we are forgiven and as we take communion, we can remember not our sins, but Jesus who gave Himself so we could have life.