"Relationship. Relationship. Relationship"#86-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 21, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Relationship. Relationship. Relationship)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
"During the week, much of my waking life revolves around work—getting ready for work, or driving to work, or driving home from work, or texting my wife to let her know that I'm going to be late, getting home from work." A reporter from the Boston Globe named Billy Baker wrote those words in an article about social isolation, inadvertent social isolation.
Do his words speak to your situation like they speak to mine? Or maybe, if not yours, to the situation of someone that you care about? Ask someone how they're doing, and more often than not, what are they going to say? What are they going to say? "Busy. I'm busy." "Yeah, we got a lot going on. We're pretty busy."
In that same article by Billy Baker, he referenced a diagnosis from the U.S. Surgeon General, a few years back. It said that the most prevalent health concern of this nation is not cancer; it's not obesity; it's not heart disease; it's isolation. Isolation. Crowded schedules don't leave much room for relationships.
You don't need to believe in God to see that human beings were made, were designed for, relationships. Without relationships, we wither. Within healthy, life-giving relationships, mutually supporting relationships, we thrive. Our Creator made us this way. God is not a solitary, isolated, unmoved Mover in a cosmic corner, contemplating His own perfection. God is relational to the core: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father sent His Son to break into our isolation. The Father sent His Son into our isolated world. The Son opened up His arms to embrace a world that rejected Him. And by His resurrection, He has broken into your isolation and mine. And by the giving of His Spirit, He is offering; He is working; He is moving to restore your relationships.
The Bible announces this. The Bible also lays out six core teachings—six core practices, really—that restore relationships. The Holy Spirit uses these practices to face us toward Jesus, restoring us to a right relationship with the Father in the vertical dimension, and with a right relationship with each other in the horizontal. Each of these six core teachings—they're all about relationships.
The Ten Commandments express the Father's values, the relationships that He loves, life-giving, healthy, thriving relationships. The Apostle's Creed narrates the story of how God lives by these values, embracing us even when we turn away. The Lord's Prayer, Jesus gives us words to turn back toward the Father and talk to Him. In Baptism, we hear the Father's promise of adoption, that in the Father's heart, we are equal with Jesus, we are equal with His own Son.
This week we conclude the series with two more teachings, two more practices, and these two practices are like all the others; they're about relationships. You could think of these two practices as the center where the horizontal and the vertical line cross to create unity with God and community among God's people.
Unity takes honesty. For example, how do you feel when you find out that a friend has lied to you? How do you feel when you realize that your husband or your wife has been hiding something from you? Or when you're at work, how do you feel when you realize that one of your coworkers has twisted the facts to manipulate you? How do you feel? In a word, distant. Dishonesty in relationships creates distance. And the path towards a restored relationship is honesty. That's all this fifth practice is about: the Christian practice of confessing our sins to God and to one another.
Christians are taught to confess their sins, not to make us feel better; although, it might do that. Christians are taught to confess our sins not to make us feel worse, not to lay a guilt trip on us. Christians are taught to confess their sins for one reason and for one reason only: restored relationships.
Christians seek forgiveness not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end, because forgiveness is the way to heal a broken relationship. It's the same way with the sixth practice: the Lord's Supper. Jesus gave His followers the Lord's Supper, not to make them feel better; although, it might do that. The Lord's Supper is not like consuming a substance to give you special powers. It's not like drinking from a fountain of youth. It's not like eating a peyote cactus. The Lord's Supper involves real food, real drink, real feelings, but that's not what the Lord's Supper is about. The Lord's Supper is about one thing and one thing only: relationships, relationships, relationships: unity with God and community with God's people.
You want to see the truth about the Lord's Supper, listen to 1 Corinthians 11. It's a letter written by the apostle Paul to followers of Jesus living in the ancient Roman colony of Corinth. The Christ followers there in Corinth thought that they were having the Lord's Supper, but Paul tells them that they're not. As far as Paul's concerned, they may as well be eating magic mushrooms, because they're not having the Lord's Supper. They're having food; they're having feelings; they're having drink, but it's not the Lord's Supper because they're not having the Lord. Now, the Lord is there, but they're not having Him; they're not letting Him do what He lives and He loves to do. What does the crucified and risen lord Jesus love to do? Restore relationships, create relationships.
Now, it's impossible to reconstruct every detail of the context that Paul writes to in 1 Corinthians, but here's a rough sketch. It's a small church there in Corinth, so they gather in one of the member's houses. Let's call them Maximus and Patricia, Max and Pat for short. Max and Pat have a nice house, a traditional Roman villa with rooms, surrounding a large open-air atrium, a garden in the center. Max and Pat are well-to-do, and so they're used to having people over for dinner parties in their intimate dining room. When they have the church over for the Lord's Supper, it seems quite natural to them that they would share the Lord's Supper with some of their closest friends there in the dining room, reclining on the couches, as in the traditional Roman fashion. The other people, the commoners, the blue-collar folk, the slaves, they can, well, they can eat in the atrium after they get off work.
Paul, the Lord's apostle, hears about this, and he blows a gasket. He writes a letter, he writes a letter in Greek, and in the Greek language when he uses the word "you," he uses the plural form, as in yous guys or all ya'll, depending on where you're from. I'm going to bring that out in the translation. Listen to the apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11, beginning at the 17th verse.
Paul writes, "In the following instructions, I do not commend you. I do not praise you because when you all come together, it is not for the better, but for the worse. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one of you goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, and another gets drunk. What!? Do you not have a house to eat and drink in, or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you in this? Shall I commend you? Shall I praise you? No. I will not, for I receive from the Lord what I delivered over to you—that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, 'This is My body, which is given for you, all of you. Do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He said, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you—all of you—proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of dishonoring the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, therefore, and so, eat the bread and drink the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on themselves."
This is the Word of the Lord through His holy apostle—1 Corinthians 11.
Did you hear it? The Lord's Supper is about relationships. It's not just another meal; it's not just a ritual. Jesus is there. Jesus is present in a way that I can't understand, in a way that I can't explain. He's there in and with and under the bread and wine. He is the primary Person with whom you and I relate when we receive the Lord's Supper. Start by being honest with Him. You can't hide from Him. I can't hide from Him, so just be honest.
Ask him, "Lord, show me how I have isolated the people that You love. Show me how I have isolated myself. Show me how I have put distance in my relationships. Lord, I am sorry for all this. I ask for grace. I ask for Your discipline. I want to do better."
Then, go, open your hand and receive the bread, and listen again to His promise: "This is My body given for you." Then, open up your ears and listen to the promise, as you drink the wine: "This is My blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins." Look up to Jesus, and He will pour forgiveness and new life in your heart, into your soul. Look up to Jesus, and then look around at the people that are standing with you or kneeling with you: broken sinners, just like you; people that Jesus loves, just like you. Even the people that annoy you and infuriate you, even the people that don't look like you, they don't talk like you and don't smell like you. Do you know any of their names? Have you listened to their stories? Have you cared to find out what burdens they're bearing? Do you know what makes them laugh? Jesus cares for them. Will you?
When I was serving as a pastor, I brought the Lord's Supper to an elderly woman in the hospital. Her daughter was there. Now, her daughter had been a member of our church; she had been baptized. She had shared the Lord's Supper with God's people, but she hadn't been to gather with the Lord's people in a really long time. Very carefully, I thought about how to speak to her. I said, "Your mom and I are going to share the Lord's Supper, and I want to invite you into this, but I want to make sure that this is what you want. Because by sharing this, you would be giving us permission to care about you in a deeper way. You would be inviting the church into your life, and we would want to call you and see how you're doing and ask when we get to see you again. Do you want that?"
Very politely, she said, "No, thank you."
I don't know what was going on in her life. But I do know that some people want a relationship with God. But when it comes to God's people, all they want is their personal space. I understand why. Believe me, I understand why. God's people can be foolish; they can be frustrating; they can be infuriating. But they can also be forgiven because He has forgiven them. They don't need space; they need you. They need Jesus in you just as much as you need Jesus in them.
In the 2004 movie "Spanglish," a little girl named Cristina and her mother Flor immigrate from Mexico into the United States. The movie portrays the struggle that that they have, finding their identity as they navigate this new situation, this new culture, and the two of them clash. Cristina, the young daughter, is drawn to these new values that she sees, values of individuality and self-expression, and Flor is trying to hang on to her traditional values of closeness and togetherness and keeping the family tight. They have an argument at the end of the movie on the way to the bus stop. Cristina publicly scorns her mother. She shouts at her, "I will never forgive you! You ruined my life! I will never be able to forgive you! ¡Nunca te perdonare! ¡Nunca!"
They get to the bus stop, and Cristina stands on one end and Flor on the other. Flor waits for a moment, and then takes a step toward her daughter, and Cristina puts out her hand and utters a distinctly American phrase, "Not right now. I need some space." Flor, who has uttered barely a word of English the whole movie, walks over to Cristina, gets about an inch from her nose, and says, "No space between us."
About a year ago, I got to be a part of a small fellowship group associated with my church. We shared the body and blood of the Lord Jesus together. We committed to carve out some space in our busy schedules to share life together. Our church hadn't done anything like this in years. This was a pilot group, and from this group we started four other small fellowship groups. We got together on Sunday evenings. We enjoyed a potluck meal together; everybody brought something to share. We read the Bible together; we talked about it together. We shared bits of our life stories with each other; we exchanged joys and sorrows. We prayed for each other. As a pastor watching this unfold, I'm telling you, it was the church at her best.
This group of Christians walked with me and my wife as we struggled with the decision to end my service there as pastor of that church so that I could serve here with Lutheran Hour Ministries. They walked with us through that.
The followers of Jesus can be frustrating; they can be infuriating. But when they rest in a relationship with their Father, they can really be wonderful. That's all the Lord's Supper is about. That's all any of these core teachings of the Bible are about—relationship, relationship, relationship.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org., which includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for July 21, 2019
Title: Relationship. Relationship. Relationship
Mike Zeigler: We've been talking about getting to know Jesus through the six core teachings of the Bible these last six weeks. And today, we're going to talk about communing with God through the practice of the Lord's Supper. And we've been working with this core idea that there's a difference between knowing about someone and knowing them. The Lord's Supper helps us get to know Jesus, not just to know about Him. So I have again with me Deaconess Dorothy Glenn and Pastor Paul Schult. And Paul and Dorothy, how were you taught to approach the Lord's Supper—how to prepare your heart to receive the Lord's Supper?
Dorothy Glenn: For me growing up, I was taught in preparation for the Lord's Supper we have ... what comes before it in the service. So we come together, acknowledging God, confessing who we know He is in His identity, and then also confessing and humbling ourselves and recognizing that we are unworthy, but then hearing forgiveness in the stead and by the command of our Lord, by the pastor.
Then, of course, hearing God's Word and really thinking about the words that are being said so that as we go up to Communion to receive that forgiveness, we can go on to serve and care with that forgiveness to the people around us.
Mike Zeigler: At the beginning of this series, Pastor Schult, you had this great image of the cross being not simply the thing that Jesus was crucified on but a reflection of the design of human life. And it's reflected in our bodies, that the Roman cross was designed to match the human body, and the human body is this image with arms outstretched of a cross, indicating there's a vertical dimension in our being that we relate to God, our Creator, and then this horizontal dimension. How does that play out in the Lord's Supper?
Paul Schult: It this being reconciled to God, but it is also this beautiful communion of the saints, of those gathered around the meal together, but Christians around the world gathered around the same meal. And there's something very divine about that communion of saints; there's something very divine about the unity that comes from that and the relationship that comes through that about Christ's body and blood being within all of us together.
Dorothy Glenn: A few weeks ago, we talked about a relationship being built upon shared experience. And here, we're sharing the ultimate experience with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In that experience, we see as well that we share values. And so now we have the body of Christ in the people as the, some call the "royal priesthood of all believers," coming together. And there's that unspoken part of it, of the understanding that we do all have the same values, and we are sharing in this same experience, which is that salvation and that forgiveness. And then we can, in leaving the table of our Lord, continue to care for one another as the body of Christ, knowing that we have that relationship with the people who are there with us.
Paul Schult: Often people come to church, and they're seeking something or trying to discover or find something for themselves. And they're not even sure what's happening there, even practically, of how to go up and receive the elements, much less spiritually what's happening there. I also talk publicly about what this meal is and why God's given it to us and the reality of what's happening there.
Mike Zeigler: Well, yeah, there's two sides to the coin of intimacy. There is that assurance, acceptance, and belonging, but there's also accountability—that we live by these shared values. And we all agreed that these things are important to us, the Ten Commandments, and if you don't have that accountability, then you don't have intimacy.
Paul Schult: I talk about that in my book, that these six core teachings, they do kind of progress. Ultimately, it progresses to the Lord's Supper. The relationship is an essential precursor to the intimacy. So you don't walk up and just hug strangers, right?
Mike Zeigler: Most people don't, but some people do.
Paul Schult: Yeah, well, you can get in trouble for doing that, too.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, that's right.
Paul Schult: A lot of trouble, right? And so there are certain expressions that are just not appropriate because the relationship's not there. I'll tell that to my junior-high kids kind of jokingly. But if my young daughter comes to me, I may caress her face because I care for her, to show her I love her. But when I'm checking out the grocery store, I don't caress the clerk's face because that's weird, because I don't know this person. The closeness—it follows the relationship.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"One Thing's Needful; Lord, This Treasure" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)