Sunday 27 • 2 Oct 2016

Lamentations 3:19-26
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

Rev. Chris Udy

Last Sunday the Annual meeting
of a group called ‘Anglicans Together’
sent a letter to the Archbishop of Sydney
expressing grave concern
at his decision to withdraw the licence for ministry
from the Reverend Keith Mascord.
Keith is an Anglican priest from Dulwich Hill
who, until fairly recently, was also a lecturer
in philosophy and pastoral theology at Moore College.

The Archbishop withdrew Keith Mascord’s licence
because of Keith’s views on same-sex marriage
and that means Keith can no longer preach
or celebrate the sacraments – baptism and communion.
‘Anglicans Together’ is a group
of Anglican members and ministers
who want to promote “an inclusive expression”
of their faith and their church
and they believe
that withdrawing Keith Mascord’s licence –
banning him from preaching
and celebrating communion –
doesn’t sit well with their church’s call
for a respectful and open community debate
on same-sex marriage,
or with the mission of the Church generally.

Today is World Communion Sunday,
but Keith Mascord won’t be celebrating communion
because his Archbishop disagrees
with the way he reads the Bible
and the people he welcomes to the table.
It’s the Apostolic tradition – the Archbishop would say -
that authorises leadership in the Church,
and he says Keith no longer fits within that tradition.
The first apostles might have told lies,
and cheated their neighbours,
and deserted their friends
and even led and encouraged riots and murder,
so it’s a pretty flexible and forgiving tradition -
but what matters most, apparently,
is that they didn’t support same-sex marriage.

Please understand,
that this is not a sermon
about the rightness of one denomination
and the wrongness of another
That kind of division has already caused
more suffering and bloodshed
than it could possibly deserve -
and certainly the Uniting Church
has its fair share of awkward leaders
and questionable decisions.
There is one body of Christ,
and the members of Christ’s body
sit in all kinds of different services,
Protestant and Catholic,
Pentecostal and evangelical
orthodox and liberal -
in congregations all over the world.
This is a sermon
about who we are when we share in worship;
it’s about what Jesus offers
when he invites us to the Lord’s supper,
and it’s about what God does
when we celebrate communion.

When we celebrate communion
all the disciples of Jesus
are gathered at his table.
We gather across time,
across race, and language and culture,
and we gather across gender, politics and theology,
to eat his broken body and drink his cup -
but right from that very first communion
the people of God have been divided.
Judas had an understanding
and a strategy for action
that was different from the one Jesus had chosen.
But he wasn’t the only one at that table
with different ideas.
Peter was convinced he was right about most things,
and he strongly and loudly disagreed with Jesus
on a number of occasions.
Hours before the meal
James and John had been arguing on the road
about which of them was the greatest,
and who would sit in the place of honour
at the celebration feast of the kingdom.
So - when Jesus tore the bread apart
gave them each a piece, and said
“This is my body - given for you”
one of the threads of meaning in his action
was that the bread was a symbol
of their division and separation -
and that their division -
their betrayal, and denial, and desertion -
would lead to his body broken in death.

Every time we break the bread
we confess that the divisions that killed Jesus
are still real and raw -
the body of Christ is still being torn apart,
and every one of us contributes to that pain.

There’s a prayer we used to say
every time we celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
It said “We do not presume
to come to your table, merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy
so much as to gather up the crumbs
under your table.”
None of us have earned a place at the table -
and if we had to wait
until we understood and lived by
everything Jesus taught -
this would be the loneliest meal in the world.

Today’s reading from Luke’s gospel
takes up the same themes.
The disciples had come to Jesus
and asked him to increase their faith -
as if faith was a substance
they’d already found -
and all they needed was to make it grow.
But Jesus said
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,
you could say to this mulberry tree -
‘be uprooted, and planted in the sea’ -
and it would obey you.”
And then he continued -
“Who among you
would say to your slave
who has just come in from ploughing
or tending sheep in the field
‘Come here at once,
and take your place at the table’?
Would you not rather say to him,
‘Prepare a meal for me,
then put on your apron and serve me
while I eat and drink,
and then, later, you may eat and drink.’
And do you thank the slave
for doing what was commanded?
Well - so it is with you.
When you have done all you were ordered to do,
you need to say
‘We are worthless slaves;
we have done only what we ought to have done.’ ”

Most of us would be uncomfortable
using the relationship between a slave and a master
to describe our relationship with God -
but the point’s pretty clear.
We have no privileges or rights at law
that we can use with God
to demand a place at his table.
We aren’t equals -
we aren’t partners in ownership -
there’s nothing in our world or universe
that doesn’t come from and return to God -
and that even includes us.
We are God’s creation;
we belong to God -
and everything we touch and taste
and see and smell and hear -
also comes from God and belongs to God.
We are completely dependent
on God’s creative generosity
for everything we need in life -
for the food on the table,
for the table it’s on,
for the company around it,
for the roof over it,
for the society that distributes it,
for the land that grows it,
for the weather that sustains it,
and for the world that makes the weather.
Ultimately nothing we enjoy or use
or eat or need or live in is ours -
even life itself is God’s to give -
and life includes the gift of faith.

Faith isn’t a magic substance
that we use to make God do tricks -
like providing miraculous healings
or prophetic revelations
or moving mountains
or planting mulberry trees in the sea.
Faith isn’t something we have;
it’s an attitude:
it’s that open, trusting dependence on God,
like a gateway -
through which God can deliver
everything we need to live.
And through faith - that open gateway -
God delivers -
not only life and everything we need for life -
including faith -
but also something that transforms us
from unworthy slaves -
people with no privileges or rights -
and no place at the family table -
into daughters and sons of God,
children of God’s grace,
with an invitation to share
in the celebration of the kingdom.

Through faith we also receive
something more than bread and wine
when we come to the communion table.
When we come in faith -
with that open attitude of trusting dependence -
something of the spirit and character of Jesus
feeds us and grows in us.
Just as the bread and wine
gives us nourishment,
and becomes part of us,
something of Jesus lives in us.
Just as the bread and wine
become part of our bodies,
we become flesh of his flesh -
one blood with him -
sisters and brothers of God’s much-loved son -
with a place at the family table.

But all of this is gift -
and it’s a gift
that needs to be constantly received.
It can’t be stored up,
or bought and sold,
it isn’t marketable -
the supply can’t be turned off and on
like water or gas or electricity.
The gift comes direct from God,
and it comes no matter who it is
that breaks the bread
or says the words of blessing.
It comes despite our divisions,
and our separations,
and our unworthiness.
Even more than that,
it’s the way that God in Christ
heals our divisions
and overcomes our separations,
and makes us all - every one of us -
worthy and valuable members of his body.
Communion isn’t a prize
reserved for those who achieve perfection -
it’s the way God heals us -
it’s God’s therapy - God’s medicine -
and thankfully no-one
has either the right or the power
to deny God’s healing to anyone.

One of the truly miraculous things
about the history of the Christian community
is that every time we try to contain or restrict
the healing work of God,
God jumps the fences,
and escapes the guards,
and continues in a new way,
among new people.
When James and Peter tried to keep the faith in Israel,
Paul took it to the gentiles.
When it’s been attacked and persecuted,
it’s gone underground, or into the deserts.
When the church served the rulers,
and grew rich and corrupt
people like Francis and Ignatius
chose poverty and purity,
and Luther and Calvin looked for reformation.
When it was closed up, comfortable and respectable,
Wesley preached in the open,
and reached people who worked on farms
and in factories and in mines.
When it was white and western and dying,
it burst into life in Asia and Africa and South America.

The sun will never set today
on Christians celebrating communion.
We’ll sing in hundreds of languages;
we’ll break bread made from corn and rice -
not only from wheat.
We’ll pray for leaders and rulers and governments
of all political colours -
and we’ll find that the love and grace of Jesus
is as transforming and powerful in a Korean suburb
as it is in an Indonesian village,
or in an Australian town.

There are still serious divisions and separations
in the body of Christ -
and some Christians believe
that the table they’re around today
is closed to people who don’t sing their songs,
or say their prayers,
or follow their leaders -
but that’s just a trick of the shadows,
and in reality,
everyone who loves the Lord
and comes to the table in faith
shares one bread,
and one cup,
and is one in the body of Christ.