Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Table Talk 2 -- Lord's or Servants? Luke 22:14-20, 24-27

The "words of institution" are often used with the Lord's Supper but they are seldom used in context. That is, no attention is paid to what else Jesus said at the table that evening. I mentioned previously that part of the table talk that night focused on betrayal and failure. The next topic Jesus found necessary to address was whether his disciples would be Lords or Servants.

Most of Jesus' teaching during his ministry focused on the Kingdom of God -- its nature and purpose. His disciples were interested because they, like most Jews, longed for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. They saw in Jesus a Messiah who could free them from Roman oppression and lead them to the glory and power of the Kingdom. Then, one day, Jesus began to tell them that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed. The Gospel writers make it clear that the twelve disciples, prior to the resurrection, never understood this. A crucified Messiah did not fit with their kingdom expectations.

These two subjects, the Kingdom and his death, came together in Jesus' table talk at the Passover meal. First, Luke tells us he spoke of the kingdom: "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (22:15-18). For emphasis Jesus said it twice. Then he spoke of his death: "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' Likewise He also took the cup after supper saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (22:19-20).

Again, they completely missed the point. He had hardly finished speaking before a debate broke out among them. Thinking only of the coming Kingdom and their place in it they began to argue, not for the first time, about which of them was the greatest. And again, he had to remind them that "the leader is like one who serves ... and I am among you as one who serves" (vs 27).

We know that in the world of politics even the greatest leaders spend much of their time and resources on getting re-elected. Position, status, power, and authority are all that matter. But, Jesus points out, it is not that way in God's Kingdom. The only way up is down. The only way to lead is to serve. The only way to greatness is through lowly servitude.

Is Jesus speaking to us in his table talk at the Passover meal? Is he speaking to us at the communion table, wanting us to forsake our status seeking, our lordly ambitions, and like him become a servant of all? Is he asking us to make that kind of sacrifice? There was a cross in his future. Is there a cross in ours? If we take him seriously, there may be, for did he not say, "If any want to become my disciples let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 8:23).

When we use the words of institution it would be well to keep in mind what else Jesus said at the table.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Janice Lemke, with her husband Corey, is a missionary in Ukraine. She is always looking for a good story and she found one in a church in Kirovskaya, and then shared it in her weekly email update. In her words:

Cory likes to be early (his definition of "on time") and while waiting for things to get going, I decided to talk to an old woman who sat alone in the sanctuary. She greeting me warmly and I figured she might be good for a story or two to pass the time.

She's 89 years old, but details about World War II were just as clear to her as though it happened last month. It was a time of fear and hunger. Even though her father was a Christian, he had a position of authority on a collective farm. And even though Christians were supposed to keep their faith to themselves, he said one day, "Anyone who knows how to pray, you may go to the church and pray today for an end to this war." She recalled how they walked to the village, got down on their knees, and prayed with weeping. The next day, they heard no planes or bombs. The war was over.

When she was 40, she was expecting another child. The doctors told her she was too old and must have an abortion. She told them, "I have never even killed a kitten. How can I kill my own child?" Her daughter grew up to be a sweet and gentle woman who has a daughter who attends Bible college.

Her son lives in Germany. Her daughter does too. "They all do," she said. They wrote to say that life is easier there, and they wanted her to move there with them. She refused. "I have everything here I need," she said. "I have a garden and some chickens. I am very rich. I don't need anything more."

Her words challenged me more than any sermon I heard that day. Her clothes obviously came from some humanitarian aid box. On her feet, she wore dirty sandals with baggy boy's athletic socks with a red stripe and a hole in the heel. And her smell, frankly, told me she doesn't have hot water or a washing machine. Yet, Janice concluded, she says, "I have everything I need. I am very rich." (Lemke Update, 7/23/2005).

Reading this story led me to Proverbs 10:22, "The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it." As we come to the Lord's Table we can be thankful for the riches we receive here. As Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 8:9, For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich."

At His table we both celebrate and receive the richness of His grace. His love, and His forgiveness. No wonder the Lord's Supper is called "eucharist" in Greek -- it is the Great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Table Talk 1 - Jesus Knows Our Failures

Every Sunday at communion time we hear the words of institution from Matthew, Mark, Luke or 1 Corinthians but Jesus had much more to say than that. His table talk that Passover evening, according to Luke, included both challenging and puzzling words. Luke 22:19-23 says,

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

These words are puzzling because Judas, who was sitting right there, had already made arrangements to betray Jesus and Jesus knew it. Why didn't Jesus just name him? Instead, he made all of them wonder which one of them could do this. Matthew shows us how personally each of them took this as he says, "And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, 'surely, not I Lord'?"

Jesus knew, of course, how they would respond when the test came. Peter would deny him three times and the others would flee in fear. Jesus knew that it was not Judas only who would leave that covenant meal and go out to abandon the sacred loyalty involved in that meal. They were all capable of fracturing the sacred trust and forsaking the loyalty that they pledged in eating the bread and drinking the cup with Jesus. Jesus knew that they were all capable of this and that is why he did not simply name Judas as the culprit -- it was something all of them faced.

And so do we. We will face many tests when we leave this table and go back to life in the world.

We will be tested on how we handle this world's wealth -- will we serve God or mammon. We will be tested on our relationships. He taught us to love unconditionally -- will we allow hatred, or prejudice, or hurt feelings to crowd out that love? We will be tested on our priorities. He taught us to seek first the Kingdom of God -- will we seek first the fulfillment of our own desires?

Jesus knows the answer about us as well as he knew it about Peter and the others. He knows that we too will fail him. We can join in Paul's confession in Romans 7, "I do what I don't want to do and I don't do what I want to do."

Just as He sought Peter and the others after the resurrection and sat down to eat with them again, so he seeks us. He knows our failures but he still loves us. It is precisely because we fail that we need to meet him here again each Lord's Day and hear him say, "this my body given for you ... my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins." The Lord's Supper is our great ritual of renewal, our act of re-commitment. It is our chance, once again, to express our loyalty and receive his forgiveness and thus experience renewal. Will you express your loyalty to Him now by saying with me our confession of faith?

A communion meditation for Twin Oaks Christian Church, November 4, 2007.