Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Most Amazing Meal Ever


Below is the manuscript of the most recent sermon I preached at The Line. I'm gonna admit, it is really long. I will not even try to make up some notion that it's so riveting that you'll want to read the 5,000 words. But I have space. It's free. So it's here. The audio should follow soon. The format is a bit off here, but I'm sure your eyes can manage.

1 Corinthians 11:17-29
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 

 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 

 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

INTRODUCTION: NEXT & THE LORD’S SUPPER
I’d just woken up from a glorious nap on May 1st when I received the text from David. My heart immediately started racing. “Interested in having some amazing food tonight?" it said. "We just got reservations from Next and need one more.” In that moment my phone somehow turned into a fish as I fumbled it around trying to text him back. I texted back one word: “What???” You see, Next is a new restaurant here in Chicago and is the brainchild of the already highly successful chef Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas. Achatz is considered by many as one of the top chefs in the world. His first restaurant, Alinea, which he opened back in 2006 in Lincoln Park, is now considered the top restaurant in America and one of the top 10 in the world. The idea for Next is to change the menu regularly, but in an innovative way. Instead of changing it from something like Mediterranean to Asian, the focus is much more precise. For example, the first menu, the one which we got to eat, was an updated version of what a fine meal in 1906 Paris would have been like. Needless to say, I was thrilled to grub on this first-class food with some great friends.

The next day I was so blown away I even journaled about it. In the days that followed I couldn’t help but tell my friends and anyone who would listen about what we’d just experienced. I told them that the meal was life-changing, that this was how it should be, that it was a foretaste of things to come in God’s kingdom. Many of my foodie friends were excited for and jealous of me. Many of my other friends just didn’t care that much and thought I was exaggerating. Either way, I had pics. Lots of sweet pics to show them each course and to try to explain, as best I could, what each item was. But I have to admit that I had no idea what I was talking about; the menu, even to this day, is a mystery to me. On top of that, I’m not sure I would even have the words to describe what happened that night. To me, it honestly was an experience that transcended understanding.

Haven’t you had an experience like this before? You know what I’m talking about, right? Where it all seemed to come together just right. You were with friends or the people you care about the most. The atmosphere is filled with joy and laughter, but at center stage of it all was the food. It’s even a meal you might still brag about to this day.

I have another question. When I say the Lord’s Supper, what comes to mind? Some of you are like me. What you think about reminds you of when you were little and had to go through all those First Communion classes. You remember the long, drawn-out formality of it all. Each week in church was just another ritual though you remember getting to drink wine as a kid and feeling cool about that. Some of you remember it differently. It happened every so often, maybe once a month or even less than that. The sermon was shorter than usual to accommodate the shift. You passed the plate with little tiny wafers and a small plastic cup of Welch’s grape juice, or if your church was poor you had that off brand that didn’t really taste all that grape-like. Perhaps your only experience with the Lord’s Supper is a non-experience; you’ve never actually been to church or had it before. Point is there’s most likely a huge disparity in your minds between that meal you brag about to this day and the one we celebrate every Sunday here. Why is that?

If I’m right, then we’re all coming here this morning with some confusion and misconceptions I hope to change some of that today. What I’ve sincerely prayed for you to see today is how vital the Lord’s Supper is for our everyday lives, both for our personal identity as Christians and for our community as a whole. I’m not gonna be able to expound on every detail of the Lord’s Supper, but only that which I think pertains to where our church is today and what I believe the Lord has given me to share with you all this morning. If some questions remain – and they undoubtedly will – I’m more than happy to talk afterward or answer some during the Q & A. Now let’s get into the text. I’m gonna re-read vv. 17-22

THE LORD’S SUPPER DOES NOT CAUSE DIVISION. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, contrary to much talk about it being the letter to a “Church Gone Wild,” does have some bright spots. Paul hints at this in 11:2, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” So there are some good moments. But this isn’t one of them. Some have called this an early perversion of the agape meal or “love feast,” which was like a private gathering of believers over a meal, but that’s not the case here. Basically what was happening is that they would gather together as a church, meaning this was supposed to be a time specifically dedicated for worship of the Lord, much like we are doing today. This would be in someone’s house who was typically wealthy and could own a home. When it was time for the Lord’s Supper, he would host the meal according to the cultural customs of the day. Now the home had what was called a triclinium, or a dining room that seated about 8-10 people. It also had an atrium leading into the dining room that could hold about 30 people at most if all stood. The custom of the day established that the wealthier or higher esteemed people would have the right and perhaps duty to go sit in the dining room. Once that filled up, everyone else was left out in the atrium. Furthermore, it was customary to eat as much as they could before giving anything else to the lower class folk. It was a meal of deep division, a meal that clearly revealed the “have’s” and the “have nots” And this is what they were calling the Lord’s Supper. Because they chose to follow their culture it became a meal of selfishness and greed.

This is why Paul calls them out so fiercely and says the even though there are some things he can commend them for, this particular aspect of their gathering he surely can’t.

Now, we live in a city much like Corinth, a city of haves and have nots. This is pretty easy to see just by taking the El or walking the streets. It’s a beautiful city, don’t get me wrong, but one with much division. We see it, for example, in the way the city is segregated. As one This American Life episode states it, “Whites on the northside, blacks on the southside, and Hispanics on the Westside.”  Now that’s just one of many examples. Here Paul confronts the reality that even the church – even a small church like the young one in Corinth – can be a place of haves and have nots. But what’s also implied in his words are that wherever you may find this in the city – its segregation, its politics, its wealth, its food – wherever, you should not be able to trace it even one bit in the church of God and this becomes even truer when celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Now I say this only as a warning. We are a small church. We are a young church. We’ve dealt with our share of struggles and God has been so faithful to carry us through them. But division, like this one in Corinth, is something we haven’t gone through. That’s not to say it can’t happen or that it won’t, but I’ve heard too many stories of churches being split over dumb things, like the color of the carpet. Seeing as how we don’t have carpet here, we might be okay. And this is why understanding the true nature of the Lord’s Supper is so important, because as Paul goes on to explain, it’s not a meal taken out of selfishness or greed, but one that is “for you,” one that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and one that unites the church.

THE LORD’S SUPPER IS MADE UP OF TRADITION, REMEMBRANCE, AND PROCLAMATION.
Now Paul moves on to how the Lord’s Supper is supposed to really be. Let me read them. Vv. 23-26 are short in length but much writing, conversation, and ironically division has occurred throughout the centuries over what they mean. I should say it is more vv. 23-25. Regardless, these verses show that there are at least three components to this meal.

COMPONENT 1 - TRADITION: The first component is in v. 23 and it’s tradition. I don’t want to belittle the Lord’s Supper in any way, but this can be considered a family recipe if you will. In our family it would be my grandma’s lasagna or my Zizi’s homemade pasta sauce. You know, where it’s been passed down for generations; you have to follow the exact recipe; there’s always someone’s name attached to it like Papa Nino or something like that. Well Paul says that he received this ‘recipe’ “from the Lord” meaning that it was given to him by Jesus or, as some scholars maintain, as a tradition, perhaps one of the traditions mentioned in 11:2. So it is something of importance either because Jesus himself gave it to Paul or because it was being practiced in the church early on. But he didn’t just keep the family recipe. He passed it on. He delivered it to the church in Corinth. This language is very similar also to another important passing on, that of 15:3-6, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” Essentially, this was a core teaching of Paul to the church in Corinth – the gospel! This gospel points to the person and work of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross that is “for our sins.” Along with it too is another core teaching of Paul to the church in Corinth – the Lord’s Supper. It also focuses on Jesus Christ, his death and it is a meal that is “for you.” So what I mean by a family recipe is that it is both something that is passed down from generation to generation and that it is also something very important to our identity as the Christian church or as God’s family. Furthermore, it points to the very originator of that recipe. The tradition we’ve receive now in Scripture points to Christ. It’s the Lord’s Supper.

COMPONENT 2 – REMEMBRANCE: So the first component is that it is passed down, or it’s tradition. This is in part what Paul means by, “do this in remembrance of me,” which is our second component. Immediately, the question we face is, “how?” “How do we do this in remembrance?” Or even “how do we remember?”

First it’s good to say what remembrance is not. Remembrance is not used here or anywhere else in the Bible as mere recollection. It is not referring to a notion of acknowledging the past and moving on as if it has absolutely no bearing on today. Instead, remembrance biblically is tied to action. Let me give a few examples. First, the meal that Jesus and his disciples were sharing the night he was betrayed was the Passover meal, the annual meal given by God (almost like a family recipe) to remind Israel of all He had done for them in Egypt, especially how he passed over their houses, saving them while judging Egypt. It was a meal of celebration, but one also tied to the act of worship. Or how about following God’s commands. They are tied to remembering who he is and what he has done. Moses told Israel, “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:1-2). So obedience is tied to remembrance. And then there’s Peter, who, after he denied Jesus, remembered what he said, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:72). What did Peter do? He broke down. He wept. He repented. So repentance is tied to remembrance. These are biblical examples, but you can think it this way: The memory of food leads to action today. My auntie – yes I seriously call her my auntie – will not eat Butterfingers to this day because of a bad experience had with them when she was a kid. To this day she won’t tell me what happened. She remembers so strongly that she chooses not to eat. So the point is when we remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper, it’s not just a recalling of what he did in the past and acknowledging it and leaving it there, but it’s a remembering that calls us to action. It is a meal that leads to worship of him who died, was buried and rose from the dead, it’s a meal to be thankful for what he did, to repent of how we have sinned against him, and to be obedient to him.

Now, I want to dig deeper into remembrance because I think it’s that important. What I just said is part of remembrance in the broader idea of what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called “narrative identity.” What this essentially means is that true remembrance carries with it an entire story for you and me, or plot, that flows from past to present and then to future. Theologian Anthony Thiselton develops this further and what I’m about to say follows his thought, but it’s in my own words.

Past & Present: The first is the narrative identity of past and present. We’ve already hinted at this, but it’s worth hashing out more. Bottom line is that when we take of the bread and wine today, it binds us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the past. When we read the tradition, we see that it’s given in the present tense: “This is my body for you.” The exact meaning of these words has been debated for a long time, but it’s important not to focus on that. In the very least, what we see is that the present tense in these words for the Lord’s Supper binds us to the past event of his death. In other words, it unites us with Christ and identifies us with Him who is alive, risen today, and present with us by His Spirit! Paul writes with this idea in mind in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ (past tense). It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (present tense). And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). Notice how personal it is. Paul writes this specifically about his life. Do you see how tightly our lives are wrapped up in Christ? This is how it is for each of you if you believe the gospel. Furthermore, this is not just about personal identity, but corporate. When we come to the table, we remember not only that Christ died for us individually, but for the entire church of God. Again, Paul in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). We – all of us who call on His name – are bound together as one body to Christ. More on this in a little bit.

Future: And not only the past and present, but this remembrance carries with it the narrative identity of the future. Verse 25 says that we drink of the cup of the new covenant established in Jesus blood. Jesus, when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, said this with reference to the cup: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). Jesus’ words envision a day that still has not come. So it is a meal that not only looks back and not only looks at the present, but anticipates the future. It is a meal that anxiously anticipates the consummation of all things, the restoration of all things, the return of our Lord and Savior and the coming of God’s kingdom. It is a meal that anticipates the great feast we will have with Jesus!

So the biblical notion of remembrance is, in short, robust! It is the beautiful, unchanging story of Christ, His gospel, and our identity is caught up in it. We also see here how Jesus completely turns Passover on its head. The Passover meal celebrated that God passed over Israel to rescue them to destroy the houses of Egypt who were judged. But the meal Jesus institutes shows that God has passed over us who deserve judgment to destroy His One True Son so that we may be rescued. This the remembrance we are called to each time we take the Lord’s Supper.

COMPONENT 3 – PROCLAMATION: And while we wait, while we hope for Christ to return, the Lord’s Supper has yet another component - proclamation. Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Again, it’s good to say what this isn’t. By proclaim, Paul is not merely referring to us being broadcasters of the news, where the Lord’s Supper serves as a means for us tell of the event of Christ’s death while we remain detatched from it. We are in a sense broadcasters, but we must see it on the heels of the robust remembrance of the meal. So, we are not only broadcasters, but participants in Christ’s death who also share in His life. This is where each one of us is the preacher who announces to each other and to the world all Christ has done for us, continues to do for us, and will do for us until he comes! This is where each one of us gets the joyful opportunity to tell people about Jesus, his gospel, and invite them to this meal he’s prepared.

So the Lord’s Supper has at least three major components to it: tradition, remembrance and proclamation.

Now in vv. 27-29, Paul moves to make offer some thoughts based off of what he just said. Let me read these bad boys. The major conclusion that I see in these words is that this is not a meal of strife but of unity.

THE MEAL IS NOT ABOUT STRIFE, BUT UNITY
Almost nothing can ruin a good meal like strife. Spouses may be able to forgive a hot pasta gone cold, tasty bread gone burnt, or a delicious recipe just gone plain wrong. If the relationship is good and thriving, the meal will still, in some small way, be good. You’ll be able to have conversation. To smile at and enjoy each other. But a meal, no matter how good, can become tasteless and pointless when there is strife or bitterness or anger at the dinner table. I think we’ve all had this experience before. Eating dinner right after a big fight. Attitudes are cold while the hot steam of a well-prepared pot roast wafts through your nose as it comes up before your eyes, ready to be eaten. The problem is you can’t look at each another and it’s almost as if each mouthful functions as an excuse to remain silent and unforgiving. The meal then only becomes utilitarian, its only purpose is to fill up the stomach and provide energy. This is why we “examine ourselves” and “discern the body” because, like I said, it’s not a meal of strife but of unity and we see this unity in two ways. The first is unity with Christ.

UNITY WITH CHRIST:  What does Paul mean by “an unworthy manner” and being “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord?” Paul is concerned with the attitude and heart of the believer here in light of what he just said regarding the Lord’s Supper. We stand before Christ guilty if we come to the able as one’s who claim identification with him, but have no regard for what this meal actually proclaims. Now most people who come to the table do claim identification with Christ; pretty much every week most, if not all of us, approach the tables in this room and eat the bread and drink the cup. So how then can we still profane the body and blood? I think by sheer unbelief, because while we may claim identification with Christ on the surface, we lack the firm conviction of our identity in Christ Every week there’s a point in the service where we individually take time to confess our sins silently in our hearts. We also confess church. But I know there are times where some of us:

Come to the table with the lax attitude. We are distracted in the moment or we do not see how this aspect of the service relates to the rest of the service or our lives throughout the week.

Come to the table with heavy hearts. We are overwhelmed by our own guilt. We come to church struggling and try to hide it. We think that there’s no way we can be forgiven our sin and not even taking the bread & cup can change that.

Both downplay Christ’s work. What is common between the lax individual and the burdened individual is that both downplay Christ’s sacrificial death and what is offered at the Lord’s Supper. Here, you must know that Jesus is at the table extending his hand of love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance.  “This is my body which is for you.” Now this is combated by genuinely “examining ourselves.” There are at least two ways I can think of for how this can be done.

First combat: The first combat is to just come to the table! In short, an “unworthy manner” can simply mean that we are believing Christ is not “worthy” of us to receive the bread and cup. Wherever your heart may be this morning, whether you’re distracted and don’t care or if you feel too guilty to go to the table, that’s for you to genuinely examine in your heart. And when you do, confess that to Christ who is truly worthy because of who he is and what he’s done for you and come.

Second combat: Second, examine yourself not just here on Sunday, but throughout the week. Here’s a question to ask yourself each day: Am I holding fast to gospel truths? The truth that Christ died and was raised from the dead to forgive my sins; that I stand before God declared “not guilty” because of Christ; that his goodness and righteousness cover me; that I am not condemned; that God’s Spirit dwells in me just as much on Monday as on Saturday; that I am a child of God? The Lord’s Supper on Sunday serves powerfully to reorient us to focus on these truths Monday through Saturday.

UNITY WITH ONE ANOTHER: So the first unity is with Christ. The second is with one another as we consider what “discerning the body” means. It may also seem a bit ambiguous, but it has major ramifications. Paul’s words should not be taken lightly. More specifically we should be asking “what exactly is ‘the body’ that we are to discern?” Well Paul provides the answer earlier in this letter when he writes, “I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The body, then is two-fold, but can’t be separated. When we come to the table we are participating in the body of Christ – more specifically the person and work of Jesus as we’ve talked about. But also, and here is what I want to emphasize, we are participating as the body of Christ – meaning that we are all together united to him as one body. Paul writes elsewhere, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” As one contemporary author puts it, this meal has “community-making power.”

This is in part why we’ve switched up the liturgy a little bit during communion. We realized that by going to the table alone with just the bread and the cup before you, it was still in some sense an isolated event. We have chosen instead to have Cord members serve the bread and the wine or juice to reflect more accurately our desire to show that this meal has community making power. It is a beautiful thing to look at your brother or sister in Christ as you hear them say to you, “The body of Christ broken for you” and “The blood of Christ shed for you.” We are truly blessed to share this meal each week together as a family. But what about when we’re in conflict with one another?

Let’s go back to the original analogy. You’re at the table with someone you care about deeply, but even as the meal is before you, it is hard to eat properly because of the hurt, pain, and sin and you can’t even look each other in the face. So let me ask this, if we’re about to claim our unity with Christ as I just talked about and fix our eyes on him during this Lord’s Supper, does it not follow that we should be seeking to do whatever it takes to seek unity with one another so we can look each other in the eye? In the words of Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. The gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives makes us individually God’s chosen ones, makes us holy, makes us loved by God. It unites us to Christ and we see this in the Lord’s Supper. But we also see that this supper is community-making with each other and can help to resolve conflict!

There is no division in this meal. If you’re bringing unforgiving hearts to church this morning, the Lord’s Supper beckons you to forgive one another and be reconciled. If you’re not loving one another, it calls you to love. If you’re fighting with one another, it constrains you to seek peace. Thus this meal is not of strife, but unity, both with Christ and with each other.

CONCLUSION: THE MOST AMAZING MEAL EVER
Let me end by going back to the beginning. I’ve looked back on that night at Next quite a bit. I am honestly still telling people about that meal and probably will for years to come. It truly was amazing. But as I prepared for this sermon I had to see that meal in light of an even more amazing one – this simple meal of bread and wine that we get to partake in today. It dawned on me then this fact: No matter how hard Grant Achatz or any chef works, no matter how innovate or creative they are, no matter how much they pursue making the perfect meal – this is the one meal none of them in their wildest imaginations could ever prepare. And on the flipside, as a lover of food – and by this I mean whether it’s Charlie Trotters or Chick-Fil-A, Graham Elliot or Golden Nugget, Moto or McDonald’s – no matter how many obscure or plain foods you’ve tried, no matter how many restaurants you’ve been to, no matter how refined your palate may be, this is the meal you’ve been longing for your whole life.

Now we get to celebrate as a close family, children of the Most High God, our Lord Jesus Christ and The most amazing meal ever prepared for us.

By His Grace.

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