Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Do you expect to receive something for nothing? Or do you expect to pay for what you get? Do you remember the commercial used by a brokerage house some years back that went something like this: "We make money the old fashioned way; we earn it." It's a commendable ethic and we applaud it.

But aren't there some things we cannot earn? Don't we receive gifts that are completely free, even undeserved every day? Men, how about that time when you tracked mud over your wife's just cleaned kitchen floor, and she let you stay in the house anyway? Or what about a bird's beautiful solo in the early morning (although I could do without that raucous crow)? Or what about the other gifts of God's creation -- beautiful fall colors, brilliant rainbows, and bountiful harvests? Did we earn them? Aren't they in some way simply unearned, even undeserved gifts?

That is the meaning of "grace". The classic theological definition is "unmerited favor," receiving God's favor even though it is totally unearned and undeserved. The word translates the Greek word "charis" which means simply a "gift". At the center of our world is a God who gives gift after gift after gift. Paul understood how important grace is in our lives and said in Romans 3:23-24, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [but we are] justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus."

Paul uses a legal term, "justified," in this text. Thomas Long, professor of preaching at Emory University commented on this when he said in a sermon that in one of his courses in seminary he was assigned to spend some time in criminal court, simply observing what was happening there. He quickly learned that criminal court is not like Judge Judy or the People's Court or Perry Mason. In a real criminal court, most of the defendants have been there a number of times and the real question for them is not will they be found guilty or innocent -- most of them are expecting to be found guilty. The question for them is, 'who's the judge in court today?' Some judges are hard and tough and some are compassionate and kind, and they're hoping for a judge with some mercy.

The apostle Paul is using the language of the court in this text and he seems to see us standing there, knowing that we are guilty and wondering, 'who's the judge today?'. And then the door to the chambers opens and the judge is none other than Jesus Christ, who died for us and loved us to the end and loves us still and is our advocate. And the verdict that day is a surprise. We know we are guilty but the verdict is, "innocent!"

So we come to the communion table, this table of grace, with thanksgiving as it reminds us of the verdict made possible through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. At this table we understand why John Newton wrote, "amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." We come to this table as sinners, but we leave with Paul's words in Romans 8:1 ringing in our ears: "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Longest Table

Matthew 26:20 says, "When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve."

The table Jesus and his disciples used in the upper room was probably quite low, u-shaped, and they reclined on cushions. Through the years you can imagine how many different kinds of tables have been used. Many are like ours -- plain, simple, just large enough to do the job and with "In Remembrance of Me" on the front to tell us that this table is different.

Curious about table styles, I looked on the Internet and found a wide variety. One that caught my attention because it was designed by a famous Scottish architect, Rennie Macintosh, whose work we saw while in Glasgow, is in a Church of Scotland he designed. It is of moderate size, somewhat plain, with a rather stark but beautiful simplicity and easily identified as his design by its distinctive lines.

On the other hand, I have had communion in the ruins of ancient Corinth and in mountain youth camps where only what nature provided, a rock, a stump, even the ground, served as our table.

Our son and family attend a church in Spokane that has a unique table. It is rather long because there is indented across the entire front of the table a carving of the last supper. It is one of the longest tables I have seen.

Lee Magness points out how appropriate a long table is. He begins by describing his grandmother's Christmas dinner table. He says, "It stretched through the dining room to the living room of her old farmhouse. It was so long there was a place for all her children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It was so long that there was room for folks far from home -- Ireland, Germany, even Tennessee....That table was so long that it was never full until family members who sat there in years gone by were brought back by a fond remembrance or a hilarious memory of Christmases past. It was Christmas at grandmother's house, and it was the longest table I had ever seen." Then he adds, "But I came to know different, or better. The Communion table is the longest table in the world. And I know just how far it stretches" (Lee Magness, Christian Standard, June 10, 2007).

Yes, we know just how long this table is. It stretches from here to the poor in Calcutta's slums, to the affluent in Anglican Cathedrals, and to the weary warriors in Iraq. It has room for the peasant farmer of Brazil, the beaded Maasai woman of Kenya, the immigrant laborer from South America, and the socialite from New York. There is always room for more at this table, and all of our relations in Christ are welcome. It is the longest table in the world.

It certainly has room for us and Jesus invites us to come, to eat this broken bread, his body given for us; to drink this cup, his blood shed for us. Come to the Thanksgiving Table, the longest table in the world.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Forgiveness is such a hard thing sometimes and yet Jesus was clear on its necessity when he said that God would forgive our sins if we forgive others and would not forgive us if we did not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked, "how many times shall we forgive? Seven times?" Jesus answered: "Seventy times seven!" (Matthew 18:21-22). Think of how many times God forgives us. Our accumulated sins would add up to much more than 490 and yet, every Sunday, at the Lord's Table we remember his words: "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).

A rabbi was scheduled to speak on forgiveness, says Rachel Remen in My Grandfather's Blessings, "but instead he walked out into the congregation, took his infant daughter from his wife, and carrying her in his arms, stepped up to the podium. The little girl was perhaps a year old and she was adorable. From her father's arms she smiled at the congregation. Every heart melted. Turning to her daddy, she patted him on the cheek with her tiny hands. He smiled fondly at her and with his customary dignity began a rather traditional Yom Kuppur sermon.

The baby girl, feeling his attention shift away from her, reached forward and grabbed his nose. Gently he freed himself and continued the sermon. After a few minutes, she took his tie and put it in her mouth. The entire congregation chuckled. The rabbi rescued his tie and smiled at his child. She put her tiny arms around his neck. Looking at us over the top of her head, he said, "Think about it. Is there anything she can do that you could not forgive her for?" Throughout the room people began to nod in recognition, thinking perhaps of their own children and grandchildren. Just then, she reached up and grabbed his eyeglasses. Everyone laughed out loud.

Retrieving his eyeglasses and settling them on his nose, the rabbi laughed as well. Still smiling, he waited for silence. When it came he asked, "And when does that stop? When does it get hard to forgive? At three? At seven? At fourteen? At thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of God?" (p 99).

Does God ever forget that we are his children? When does God stop forgiving? At a certain number of sins, or at a certain age? Of course not! If the Lord's Supper says anything at all it says, "come as you are, co0me with your sins and guilt, come at any age and at any time with faith and repentance, and receive this cup and hear again his words, "this is my blood ... shed for the forgiveness of sins."