Monthly Archives: October 2014

10-26-14 LOVING MY NEIGHBOR

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

 

 

We have all heard this verse, haven’t we? We’ve learned it in Sunday School and in vacation bible school and heard sermon after sermon on this subject. Love God and love others. We’ve heard it so much that I think it has started to become a kind of white noise. Yes, I should love God with everything and love my neighbor. Got it. What else is there?

 

 

Well, there’s lots more, but this verse deserves another look. There is a reason we have heard it so many times: it really is that important. Let us try to look at it with fresh eyes this morning.

 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. That’s how Jesus answers this trick question from the Pharisees. He is quoting the Shema here, the passage every good Jew recites by heart. Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. But that isn’t what he says, is it? Jesus misquotes this famous passage deliberately. Instead of strength, Jesus tells us to love God with our minds.

 

 

As a Presbyterian, I love this part. Jesus tells us that we love God by thinking. By questioning. By striving to study our scripture and God’s role in the world and our lives. Far from being called to check our brains at the doors of the church, Jesus calls us to think about our faith.  Loving God requires use of our brains as much as our hearts.

 

 

This second commandment is also a quote from scripture. Leviticus 19:18 says: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus is probably one of the least read books of the Bible, full of obscure laws and statutes. Yet this passage is one of the most often referred to passage in the Gospel of Matthew.

 

 

Now let’s look at the order Jesus placed the commandments here. Love God first. And then we are called to love our neighbors. He calls both essential, but the order is important when we are trying to follow the commandments. Because some other people only become lovable when we love God. After all, we don’t like everyone we meet. And we’re not going to. But all people are made in the image of God and it because of this that they can be lovable. When we love God, we strive to love all of God’s children.

 

 

Yet this love isn’t the kind of love that you feel deep in your chest. It isn’t the rush of excitement of a new relationship, or the comfort of years spent with another. It isn’t the affection of friendship. This kind of love Jesus calls us to here isn’t a feeling at all. It is an action.

 

 

Jesus is talking about agape, which a love that is marked not by warm feelings  but by rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. A decision to treat another as though they were as important as ourselves. By this definition, we don’t have to like someone to love them. Which is good, because there will always be people in the world that we don’t like. People that we don’t get along with. We don’t have to like them. We just have to love them.

 

 

Jesus isn’t calling us to pretend to have feelings we don’t. Jesus is calling us to treat everyone else as though they matter as much as we do. That they are equally loved as a child of God. Because they are. That person who cut in line at the grocery store. The friend who betrayed my trust. The guy who hit my car and drove away. All of them are just as beloved of God as I am. I don’t have to like them, but I do have to treat them as well as I treat myself.

 

 

Some days this can mean no more or less than smiling at the people you see. There is a quote by Leo Buscaglia that I have always loved. “The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our encouragement, who will need our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.” We don’t have to have warm feelings about someone else to offer words of encouragement. To smile at the people we meet. To honestly listen to their troubles.

 

Yes, but what about those people I really dislike Lord? It is really hard to try to smile at them let alone love them. What about that person who betrayed me? I am not about to offer him a word of encouragement. Sometimes the best we can do is not to look for vengeance or pursue grudges as Leviticus tells us. One of the best prayers I know for those times is “God, I am having real trouble loving this person right now. Please love them for me and I’ll work on getting better at it.” Then I follow it with striving to do the best I can with treating them well.

 

That being said, if you spend enough time striving to treat someone else as well as you treat yourself, you may find that your feelings towards them will change as well. When we decide to set our hearts in a direction, toward something or someone, and when we do the things that fulfill that commitment, our feelings often follow afterward.

 

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

 

But we shouldn’t try to love everyone for us. Allison and Davies write this about this passage: “Jesus’ words fulfill the law and the prophets; religious duties are to be performed not for human approval but grow out of the intimate relationship with the heavenly Father, out of love for and devoted service to him; and the neighbor is to be loved and treated as one loves and treats oneself.” In other words, we don’t love others to get them to like us. We don’t love others for a warm and happy feeling, though both of these are nice when they happen. No, we are called to love others, because that is one of the ways we love God.

 

And let’s not fool ourselves on the definition of neighbor. Our neighbors are every one whose life intersects with our own. My neighbors are the people I see each day. The lives I hear about on the news. Those I have known and will know. Those whose lives are just like mine and those whose life I will never really understand. My friends as much as the people who don’t like me. The people who agree with me and those who think I am dead wrong. All of these people are my neighbors and Jesus tells me to love them all.

 

When Jesus says “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” he’s talking about the hanging that a door does from a hinge. These two commandments act as a hinge that everything else rests upon. That hinge must have both sides to it in order to work. If we love God but not people, we are just wrapped up in our own heads. We attend church but fail to see God in the world the rest of the week. If we just love people and miss out on God, we are missing out on the great gift of grace. And we will eventually burn out on people, running into some that seem absolutely unlovable without seeing God in them.

 

Yes, in many ways, this is a very simple commandment. Love God and love everyone else. But simple isn’t easy. In fact, it is so difficult that none of us will get it right all the time. But that is the goal Jesus sets before us. If we can get this part right, then everything else will come into place. It would be easier if God just gave us a set of strict laws that would tell us exactly what to do in any given situation. But instead Jesus gives us these two and allows them to influence our every action. If we can strive to get them right, we will be on God’s path.

 

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” It really is a passage that bears repeating. It is a passage that deserves study and fresh eyes and our full attention


We are called to love. Go out and do so. Amen.

10-19-14 UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S

UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S

Matthew 22: 15-21

 

It took thirty-three years; just over the number of years Jesus walked the earth. That’s how long I have sought to not talk about money in church … until this year! Last March I told you that we did not have enough money to function, and you responded generously! Since then my heart has been filled with joy as we’ve restored the ministries Jesus called us to do! Money for the Lord’s work is always needed, and your gifts make us grateful!

Thank you!

Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined.

Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables talk about money and 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money.

The word money is actually used in connection with Jesus (whether He uses the word or it is used in connection with Him) approximately 25 times throughout the 4 Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

 

So I’ve known that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!”

In spite of that, I didn’t talk about money. And of course, people bought into my reticence. They would say, “Preacher it is good that you do not know what people give; that’s between them and God.” Dr. Clif Christopher, author of Whose Offering Plate is It? says people who say that mean: “Preacher, I’d rather not have you see what I give!” Hmmm. Over the years until 2008 we were able to create a church budget based on people’s “secret amounts” that they gave. But now I wonder how much more ministry we could have done had we challenge one another to give more generously! As of 2012, there were 1,500,000 tax-exempt corporations in our country; every one of them asks for and depends on the dollars of others. But mainline churches, including our own, have done a poor job of showing others how we are changing lives with their money, how we are living within our means, and what we could do with more. We have been especially poor at showing you how your gifts of tithes and offerings are changing lives.  Peter F. Drucker, author of Managing the Non-Profit Organization writes this:

A business has discharged its task when the customer buys the product, pays for it, and is satisfied with it. Government has discharged its function when its policies are effective. The ‘non-profit’ institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its ‘product’ is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being.

 

Our ministry is, yes, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. But our mission, our task, is now changing lives for the better. Our theme this year is: “Changing Lives, Shaping Hearts.” That’s what we do really well. But we only started reporting our changed lives in May! We don’t sell groceries; we don’t fix cars. But what we do we need to do well. And if we do it well, you might join me in thinking that this ministry, this life-changing ministry, deserves your support. United States donations to non-profit groups went from 239 billion in 2002 to 316 billion in 2012, but mainline churches have received less and less of that pie. People may instead give online to a child who has a disease or to a family whose house has been burned; they may give to an organization advertised on television that helps children who need food, or they may give dollars to their alma mater. All good caused. But I propose that if we are in the business of changing the hearts of people, feeding and re-directing their souls, inviting them back from the cliff of temptation or addiction, and sending forth missionaries to do what Jesus would do there is no better ministry to support. So today I ask you to support the ministry of Jesus Christ here at our church. You have a right to know if I support our church, because, as you know, we have gone more than 29 years without telling each other! Mary Ann and I tithe from our gross income because we believe God asks us to do and our hearts are invested here!  In 2015 we have pledged just over $10,000 to Westminster-By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church. We are not wealthy but we believe in changing lives the way we do! In addition to that we have made a three-year pledge to our Building Fund, but we’ve paid it all up front since we know contractors will want payments in the next 6 months. This is not to brag; this is to show that my family is “all in” for this ministry we share. We also give to church or neighborhood youth and children car washes or cookie sales and the like as we choose to do so. But when other charities call, it is so easy to say: “All our charitable giving goes to our church.” And that’s what we do. I give because I love to help pay for our music leaders and to buy the music for our wonderful choir. I give because my money helps allow youth to have a class every week, to meet as a youth group on many weeks, and to take a mission trip every summer. Lives are changed there. I can tell you many formative things that my own Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and pastors taught me. My giving and your giving pays for Bibles we present to third graders. My giving and your giving pays for Dutch cradle crosses and certificates when a child is baptized; and we mail a year of lessons in faith formation for children ages two and three. My giving and your giving help us to get poor or broken people back on their feet. And my money and your money has created a beautiful lighthouse of faith on the south peninsula that will call people toward it on every darkened night. Your pastors will come to your home, or your hospital room or your nursing home to see you, counsel you, or pray with you. You will never get billed for those services. We even take communion to people in the home: it’s a concierge-type service that health care is only considering again.

 

When Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” it was not a 50/50 split. Tithing is about giving 10% of God’s money that we get to use, back to God as a thank you note. That’s what tithing is: giving 10% of your gross income back to God to say thanks. Governments, we know, force citizens to pay taxes. The Romans did that in New Testament times, and Americans do it today. No one likes it. And so we tend to tighten our grip on what we can control. Governments take some of our money through taxes. But the rest of it is God’s. The rest of it is God’s, and God gives us as much as 90% of it so that we can have life and have it abundantly! Yes, some spend it foolishly and run short of money; yes some have limited incomes and have trouble making ends meet. But anyone, no matter if they are rich or poor, can strive to give what God asks to be given, and to be generous with their gifts. (10%) is a tithe; more than that is an additional offering. If people use God’s 90% gift for what they need, and give their tithe to their church, they will be “giving unto God the things that are God’s! “ If people that, as many of you did in March this year, then we could not just dream about new ways to reach others, we could do them! I believe in this church’s ministries, this “investment in guiding the souls of others.”  The best agency for guiding the human soul is the church, if the church knows what it is supposed to be doing and practices it: “preaching the Word of God rightly, teaching Christian Education, reproving vice and encouraging virtue, and going into the world as Christ bearers.” No other agency is charged with doing that. But we are; and so we do. We have a staff that is beyond compare and they are not just “overhead expenses!” They carry out ministry! Look at the back of your bulletin: our secretary in our front office has helped hundreds of people have hope again with bus passes, grocery store gift cards, and the like; she is very careful but gracious … with God’s money! Our music director and organist work every week to bring music that lifts up our hearts and feeds our souls. Our Christian Education Director and her committee have reached every age of people with classes, Inspired Together Dinners, and Bible Studies. I am the envy of our presbytery for having the Webmaster that we have; he sees that visitors and those who cannot attend get the good news of any particular week! Our Congregational Life group creates countless Christian fellowship opportunities. And as our housekeeper has been working through cancer and our custodian working with a back injury, our facilities are cleaned and tables are re-set daily in fellowship hall. Each elder pours his or her heart and mind and strength into honoring God here with their caregiving, fellowship, maintenance, and mission.

 

Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Taxes will always demand that. But everything else is your choice. This year since March, your extra gifts have made this time the most joyful months I’ve had in recent years, not because extra gifts came to me, but because extra gifts came to God; enough to do what I think Jesus wants us to do! Thank you!

 

Where do you see God? As I told the children: I see God in our sweet-faces of children; in the inquisitive faces of our youth, the hopeful faces of our young adults, and the wiser faces of older adults. I see God right here!

 

Will you join me in tithing, or giving more, like some of you did last March, so that we can keep making a difference? For the first time in a decade, we weren’t crippled by a deficit over the summer! I’m giving more because I can tell how we changing lives for the better! Almost every week we have verbally or in writing told you another story of the lives we’ve changed.  From the youngest in pre-school to oldest members, we are changing the lives of children, youth, and adults. In God I trust, but in the way we are reaching out, I believe. 2015 will be the 60th year of Westminster By-The-Sea Presbyterian Church! Will you join others who have already decided to give more and give to the best place I know for the careful use of money and for lives that are being changed daily?

I will “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” Will you join me?

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                  October 19, 2014

10-19-14 PENINSULA HALL GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY

We had our groundbreaking ceremony for the Peninsula Hall on Sunday, December 19th with many special guests helping open this wonderful new chapter at WBTS.  Due to the size constraints of our pod-casting server, we had to break the video into 4 separate parts … if you have any trouble viewing the videos, please e-mail webmaster@wbts.org.

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To watch the videos, simply click on the links below:

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THE SERVICE OF GROUNDBREAKING

Introductions:  Daytona Beach Shores Representatives

Professional Services

Those from the Presbytery or Community

 

ONE:  In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. ALL:  Today we honor Heaven, and break ground on this patch of God’s      good Earth!

ONE:  In the House of God are many rooms.

ALL:  Today we begin to add new rooms onto the House of the Lord!

Groundbreaking Prayer:                                                        (Unison)

Dear Lord Jesus: this church has been founded with you as our Head and Cornerstone.  In spite of the sands of Florida, we build on the solid rock of the proclamation of the faithful: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”  Now we ask you to bless this building, bless those who have supported this work with prayers and means, and bless those who will eventually visit this building to learn about your love, to care for one another, and to grow stronger in body, mind, and soul. We honor and serve you, Dear Lord Jesus, today and forever. Amen!

Declaration:

This congregation was founded in 1955 at the Wilbur By-The-Sea Clubhouse. In

1958 the congregation moved to the present location, with the land given by Laura Ferran. They met in what is now the Fellowship Hall. In 1959 the hallway at the south end of that building became the Sunday School wing. In 1964 the Sanctuary was dedicated. In 1982 the room at the end of the Sunday School Hallway became the Rose Chapel. Also, in 1982, the house next door was bought and renamed “ The Peninsula House.” In 1986 the covered walkway from the Narthex to the Chapel was completed. In 1996 a New Sunday School wing was completed. In  2001 the Sanctuary, offices, and Old Sunday School wing each were part of expansion programs. In 2006 the house owned by our Clerk of Session, Shirley Julis, was purchased and is currently the residence for our Associate Pastor. Today we will be replacing a beloved but small house that had 1190 square feet, and on the same land, we will build Peninsula Hall with 4,407 square feet of building! It will be connected to our Sunday School wing! To God be the Glory!

The Groundbreaking :

Those who joined Westminster By-The-Sea in the 1950s

Pre-School, Elementary, Middle School, High School, Young Adult, Adult

Dignitaries from the City; Building Engineers, Architects, and Contractor

Representatives: Body, Mind, and Soul, Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Men,

Library, Youth Group, CE Director, Pastors Others:

Closing songs:

‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!

Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong!

Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so!”

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Praise Him all creatures here below!

Praise Him above ye Heavenly Host!

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen!

(All are invited to a reception held in Fellowship Hall)

Building Committee:

Tom Arbogast, Steve Timbs, Mary Ann Sumner, Carl Johnson, Pete Zahn. Ex Officio: Cara Gee, Jeff Sumner

Marketing Committee:

Marcia Carlson, John Carlson, Irene Noden, Matthew Smith, Tina Buck, Tom Riddle, Cathy Bauerle, Lloyd Griffiths. Ex Officio: Jeff Sumner.

Architect: Djdesign, Inc.

Engineer:  Zahn Engineering

10-12-14 WEDDING CLOTHES FOR THE SOUL

WEDDING CLOTHES FOR THE SOUL

Matthew 22: 1-14

 

Whether we see it in the new television show called “Tyrant,” or we hear about it on the news or on news programs such as “60 Minutes” or “Dateline,” we have heard about rulers of countries who are not only unreasonable, they can also be ruthless and unpredictable. Over the years there have been such rulers in Germany, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and in other countries. Certainly history points out that such rulers—I hate to call them leaders—could be time bombs of instability and prime examples of paranoia.

 

Our Bibles are places where we can find answers to many of life’s questions, but today Jesus again holds a mirror up to certain figures in his society and lets them know what he sees. By using the same parable that Jesus used in Matthew 22, our Bibles can give us a parable that applies to our world today too. Let’s look at this puzzling parable.

 

First, although many parables are read with meaning of their own, this parable is more like an allegory, that is, the characters could describe any number of real persons.  The mistake some make is to call think that the king is God; the king is not God in this parable! That takes some mental readjustments from the way many people hear it. They hear this parable, scratch their heads and say: “Why would I worship a god who does that?” And I say to you: “You wouldn’t.” So instead, picture a paranoid king. Professor Stanley Saunders of Columbia Seminary describes him this way: “This king is a demanding and venomous fellow, cast in the mold of …potentates like Herod. The king may also be losing his grip on power. The people he invites ‘make light of it’ and go about their business (22:5-6) Some of them even mistreat and kill the king’s slaves, which elicits a response in kind from the king. He sends troops, destroys the murderers, and burns their city.”

 

So first, this is an allegorical parable. Second, this king is not like King Arthur in Camelot or the kind of kings one finds in children’s stories. This is an emperor whose actions make him mostly a tyrant; one who is ruthless and paranoid. I need not name the men currently or recently in the news who fit this description. Although there may not have been actual kings in Jesus’ audience, Herod certainly fit the description and so did the Roman emperors known as the “Caesars.”  The writers of our DISCIPLE I book describes the situation this way:

Gone were the tolerant days of the Roman Republic (500 B.C – 60 B.C.) Gone were the open progressive days of Caesar Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A. D.) Now each succeeding emperor seemed more dictatorial, more self-inflated, more insecure, and more paranoid than his predecessor.

 

Jesus was calling out such ruthless men as those in this parable, and Jesus still does so.  Jesus would say that the true Kingdom of God has no place for such self-centered and destructive persons. Short-tempered, paranoid, and murdering leaders of today do not serve the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Let those who have ears, hear. This parable does not describe our loving God, but describes the antithesis of our loving God. One power of a pulpit or a Bible study table is receiving this kind of clear explanation, rather than trying to stay home and read a Bible unaided.

 

Third and finally, we must address the one who attended the wedding without wearing wedding clothes.  “Friend” the tyrant says—and we must conclude it was done in a truly menacing tone—“How did you get in here?” What could this mean? If the Chief priests and elders believed that they were “clothed in all righteousness,” by their keeping the right laws, they would be mistaken. This isn’t a lesson about right laws; it is a lesson about right attitudes! Being clothed in righteousness is not about outer garments; it’s about inner garments! The one who comes to the party, or to your wedding, or to school, or to a business meeting resentful, manipulating, jealous, pouting, has not come with the right spiritual clothes! Those may people try to kill you joy or distract you, and sometimes their actions can almost can overwhelm you. Yet they are there in you meeting or event. Those people are depicted in the buffoonery of the movie “Wedding Crashers,” in the jealousy of the movie “Bridesmaids,” and in the biblical example in Luke 15 of an older brother ruining his father’s dinner when the father discovers his younger son is alive. Anyone who tries to break into your event or your life to “rain on your parade” and more, leting attitudes of jealousy, envy, or covetousness rear their ugly heads are the Matthew 22 wedding crashers. Their presence spoils weddings.

 

You know these kinds of people, don’t you? In the world they might be called ruthless; bosses or co-workers who always add cutting comments or attitudes. In school these people might be called bullies or bad friends. Jesus wants no part of their actions; what Jesus wants to change their hearts. God wants their hearts, but not the ones that are currently entwined in sin.

 

Hold this parable up to your life. If you are the victim, Jesus wants to comfort you and stand by you in the face of other cruel people. You are not alone. Our amazing God is not stuck in Heaven, but is everywhere and sees everything the other people do and knows that ways you have been victimized. Lift up your hearts; Jesus loves you and we stand with you.

 

On the other hand, if you hold this parable up to your life and decide that you are the one who is paranoid, cruel, or destructive, Jesus condemns your actions and God sees them. There is no place in God’s world for such activity. God is ready when you are ready, to let the powerful Spirit of the Living God change your heart. It has to be your decision; God never breaks down the door of our hearts. But if you invite the Holy One in, and say “Change my heart, O God,” God will gladly get to work! You can have joy in this life and hope for the next life. It’s up to you.

 

I’ve chosen to help you form words to guide your own soul and to pray to God if you want to live and act differently. The first words I commend to you we will sing in a moment.  “Soul, adorn yourself with gladness! Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness! Come into the daylight’s splendor! There with joy your praises render!”

And then to close our service we dip into a praise song and you can choose to sing these words to God: “Change my heart O God; make it ever true. Change my heart O God, may I be like you. You are the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray: Change my heart, O God.”

The choices are yours.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                            October 12, 2014

 

10-05-14 A WORLD ENTRUSTED TO OUR CARE

A WORLD ENTRUSTED TO OUR CARE

Matthew 21: 33-46

 

In spite of the incredible ways that technology lets us stay connected, I still hear people of varying ages express how lonely they feel. For some people, having a network of Social Media contacts is enough; or sitting at a keyboard keeping in touch with 50 email contacts. But some still long for human relationships. Some don’t have calls from their children and some don’t have someone with whom to share their lives.  In the hot weather we mostly have in Florida, many people don’t sit outside or visit with others as much as in other cooler places; some just leave their home to walk to their mailboxes. We generally have our windows closed to keep the air conditioning in. We drive to stores or to school with our windows rolled up and often the radio on, some with Bluetooth in their ear. Our contact with others, real contact where we sit next to others or stand near others, often has to be planned. For some, even evening meals are eaten alone or, for young families, on the run with their children. A week ago Matt, Vicki, Shane, Mary Ann, and I went to help Jenny and Brian move to a new house. We sat as a family in a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. The service was terrible, and the manager tried to justify why it was terrible. But while we waited a long time for food, we just enjoyed being with each other; we talked about Jenny and Brian’s new house; about the upcoming arrival of our third grandson; about sports, about Shane, one of our grandsons. Sitting at the same table has a different feeling from texting, calling, or emailing. The table; it has always been a symbol in families and in faith, whether an actual table is used or not. Mary Ann and I watch the television show “Blue Bloods” and like the way they wrestle with moral issues even when there is disagreement. And I think by design, there is always a scene with the family at their dinner table together. That is not easy to do in our world! But today we will talk about a special table: a Communion table, and a world entrusted to our care.

 

This week Jesus continues to address chief priests and Jewish elders in Matthew 21; we cannot first hear the parable as if he’s talking with us. Jesus’ own people, the Jews, were ones who honored Holy Days: days like Rosh hashana last week: (their New Year,) and Yom Yippur this week, which is their day of Atonement, a day of receiving forgiveness from God. Then at Passover, there is not only food, there is also ritual, remembering why they continue to honor God. And the obvious answer is because God delivered their ancestors ages ago, and they pledge to never forget and always remember it. The liturgy prompts a boy in the family at a Passover supper to ask his father: “Why is this night special above all other nights?” And then the father explains what God did for His people ages ago. The ritual continues like someone who never forgets 9/11 or December 7th, 1941. On a day like this it would be right to have one of our children ask “Why is this meal special among all our meals?” But the Lord’s Supper is symbolic meal, a reminder of the Last Supper, and a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet that awaits us. The Passover Seder, by contrast, is an actual meal. In the Seder God is acknowledge as “King of the Universe.”  Today’s parable poignantly describes people who forgot how to care for the land God gave them. The tenants of the vineyard do not take care of the vineyard the way the owner would. Do you know situations when renters do not care for a place as well as the owner does?  This situation is like that. But it gets worse; here again this is not just about a vineyard; it’s about the world, and specifically a foreshadowing of the rejection, denial, and death of Jesus at the hands of some of his listeners to this parable! But before any of those things happen, Jesus gathers his disciples in an upper room to receive special instructions during their modified Passover meal. “Go prepare the Passover meal for us, that we may eat it” Jesus told Peter and John in Luke 22: 8. And so they did. They shared with one another as Jesus passed them the food. It was a special meal. In those days “at table” meant sitting down together, not usually in chairs, but reclining on the floor. In our day some congregations come in groups to an altar rail to receive bread and cup from a minister; others step forward to receive them from a priest; in one service at Westminster people come to the table to partake; in the other service we treat the pews as if they are around the Communion table. And then people serve on another. It is a great example of what we are to do in the world.

 

Today is called World Communion Sunday as we imagine people in pews, in chairs, and those standing around the world gathered around one table. It is a grand vision, one that we may experience as a Heavenly banquet some day! This world is entrusted to our care; we are called to think about and pray for those who live across the country and around the world; and those those who have died at an earlier time but who loved their Lord Jesus, are joining us in “mystic sweet communion!

 

As I close today, Professor Ronald P. Byers of Union Seminary in Virginia shares the beloved ending of the film Places in the Heart which we saw recently in our church “Dinner and a Movie” program. He writes:

In the film Places in the Heart the final scene takes place in a small country church. Those gathered there belong to a community that has experienced several acts of violence. There are [in that closing communion scene] Klansmen, and the African-American man they had lynched, and a sheriff who had been murdered in the line of duty, and people who have loved them or hated them or feared them. The camera follows the action as those assembled pass a tray of cups filled with grape juice from hand to hand. Drawing back, we can see faces. We see faces of those who have suffered grievous losses, and those who have inflicted them. We see the faces of those who had lost their lives. The dead sit peacefully in the midst of the living, as each receives and hands on the sacred cup. There is not voice overlaying the soundtrack to explain what is happening. There are no words printed on the screen to clarify this astonishing communion of the living with the dead.

 

As I said when we showed that film, it is the most powerful cinematic communion scene I had experiencd. But here, in the flesh, sitting side by side with others, not on a movie screen, or a television screen, on in individual cars, we are next to others. We are near one another. We can hear them talk; we can feel their presence; and we are asked by our Lord Jesus to partake with them; to be at table with them. This is such a day, when we think about caring for the world, and it all begins by being spiritually fed at the Lord’s Table.

 

In 2008 I visited the very first Presbyterian church in America. It’s in Philadelphia. There I learned that in the early days church deacons would go to member’s homes and see if they were choosing to take communion the following Sunday. If they were, deacons would urge them to pray to God to forgive their sins and to prepare their hearts. Then they would give them a token that they were to bring to church on Sunday, indicating to the minister that this person is prepared to receive the sacrament. Today we haven’t done that, but I do ask you to prepare your soul for this special meal.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          October 5, 2014