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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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“Communion in More than Bread”
Sermon, Year B, Lent 2, March 1, 2015
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Gen 17:1-7,15-16 and Mark 8:31-38

When we were having our soup and discussion time this last Wednesday, the thought came up that transformation often has a cost involved with it. To become something else usually means giving up another thing. Whatever that might be, there is some kind of cost that comes in transformation. And there is some kind of cost in following Jesus as we decide to forsake other ways and focus our attention on following Jesus. One thing Jesus says in this passage is “Take up your cross and follow me.” Which implies some level of discomfort. Even if there is great joy in it, some level of discomfort just simply in that to grow often involves some pain. To grow spiritually is to experience some discomfort. To let go of former thoughts and ideas. Especially if you really liked hem or cherished them. Letting go can have some discomfort, even when you are going to something really good.

There is a cost in that change. To let go of things that are harmful, that are not godly, or that are not, in some way, appropriate for the journey you are on. There is also the cost of entering a new kind of world, as you are transformed. To follow Jesus is to see the world as a bigger world. To see our connection to our neighbors. To see our connection with all of humanity. To see the communion of all of God’s creation together.

That, sometimes, can be uncomfortable. To see the world in such a radically new way, as a much larger place, and to see our responsibility to one another. One thing that came up Wednesday was how even something as simple as going to college can involve this, or joining the military and serving overseas. How having one’s world enlarged and have an experience of that. There is a cost in a change in relationships with family or friends who have not had that experience. I felt that when I went off to college and my friends stayed in the hometown. And then I moved to NYC, and then to Hawaii, back to NYC... and they stayed there.

There is a cost in following Jesus in giving up ways that are not his ways. Following Jesus takes time and money and more, and involves a changing relationship with time and money. Changing relationship with the idea of “Who is my neighbor, who am I in communion with?” You may have friends who say “Let’s go do something on Sunday morning” and you have to respond, “I go to worship on Sunday morning, so I can’t join you.”

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of saying that you go to church on Sunday and receive a weird look. But if you do get a weird look, that’s a good opportunity for extending an invitation to them. “Come with me, and experience what I experience about fellowship, love, being included. Experience it with me!”

I was listening to an interview with Alton Brown, the FoodNetwork star who does Iron Chef, and Good Eats, and other shows. In the interview he said that he travels a lot, but that even with all the travel, sometimes by himself, sometimes with his family, wherever he is he goes to worship on Sunday morning. It’s a non-negotiable for him. He talked about how he sometimes gets weird looks or surprised responses from his crew or other people he’s working with when they invite him to go party on Saturday night and he says, “No, I need to go to bed, so I can get up for worship.” Or if they invite him to something on a Sunday and he says, “Thank you, but no, I’ll be in church.”

To follow Jesus can be to give things up. There can be a cost in that. Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Dietrich Bonnhoeffer expanded that to “Jesus bids us to take up our crosses and die.”

Now, it seems that we often think that means we are supposed to suffer or be in misery. But I don’t think that Jesus calls you to intentional suffering on his behalf. As though if you are enjoying your life you are somehow failing a a follower of Jesus. He’s not saying that. But this cross, taking up the cross, is for us to give up our self-centered desires on behalf of the other. To take us away from focusing on ourselves to focus on others. And I think that’s what the cross for Jesus. Yes, it was an instrument of execution and shame. But it also a sign of Jesus’ willingness to take up a literal cross. But it also is a sign of Jesus’ love. A sign that Jesus was thinking of others, not of himself. Thinking of us. “How far will I go to show you my love? I will do this for you.” We can think of Jesus as saying also, “I will let you do this to me” to the people who were doing it to him. “I will let you do this to me. This is a sign of my love for you, that death on a cross is better than self-preservation.” Especially self-preservation through violence. That’s a sign of love.

Take up the cross, take up the way of love. Take up that sacrificial way of love.

We see that symbolized here at this table that is set for Communion. Jesus offering bread and wine, body and blood, for us.

But there is also the Communion that doesn’t happen just at this table. There is communion that comes in taking up the cross for others. Of being Communion for others. Other ways to think of this sacred moment of communion. To see our acts of charity, all the good things we do, rethinking why we do them or what is happening in that process of doing them. Not just acts of charity as being a nice or a kind thing to do, but what if we saw them as sacred acts of communion with the people for whom we are doing with them or for? Sacred acts of communion. If we saw visiting the sick not just as something we do to brighten their day, but as something that we do as a sacred moment of communion with them. Or offering a prayer for someone. Or listening to stories from people outside the mainstream. Listening to the stories of the poor, the homeless, the ill, the goth, the stories of women and children... not just listening as an act of kindness, but as an act of communion with that person. A sharing of one another, body and spirit, with the other person.

Maybe even more simple things. Perhaps you shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk. What if you saw that act not just as a way to help your neighbor, but as a sacred communion moment with your neighbor? You do that because you are connected to them through God, through Jesus, a spiritual connection with your neighbor. To transform a good deed into an act of sacred communion with your neighbor. So the act doesn’t change, but a change – a transformation – of our internal sense of the act. Of the meaning.

Jesus said to take up your cross and follow him. Part of the trick of doing that is that it doesn’t have to be distasteful. It doesn’t mean to do only things that you don’t want to do, or that you don’t like to do. That if you are doing something that you enjoy, then God doesn’t want you to do it. It doesn’t mean that at all. Though part of our spiritual growth is do some things that are uncomfortable or make us feel weird. That’s part of growth. But it doesn’t mean we can’t like what we are doing, or can’t enjoy what we’re doing, and have it be a holy act or have it be an act of communion with another.

I remember when I was a kid, we had a snowblower. For some reason, I’m coming up with a lot of snow imagery today. I’m going to end with a poem that involves snow as well. I don’t know why this is. It’s winter. Snow on my mind.

We had a snowblower when I was a kid, a big one. And it was fussy, so it didn’t work all the time, but every now and again we could get it to work. It was wide, and it had a tall chute that blow snow 10-15 feet in the air. I don’t know why, but I found it hilarious and fun as a kid to run that thing and see the snow flying out of that chute, and see where I could make it blow the snow. So I’d run that up and down the sidewalk. Not so much to help my neighbors, though that was part of it. It was good to help them, and I liked that. But mostly I just loved running the snowblower and seeing what I could do. “I’m going to do this until I run out of gas!” And then my dad pokes his head out and sees me halfway down the block, “Stop it, you’re going to use up all the gas!”

But dad, I’m enjoying it and I’m helping my neighbors.

You can enjoy what you are doing and still be doing ministry. Take up your cross doesn’t mean you have to not like the moment. You can be freely sharing with others because you enjoy it, and still be sharing a moment of sacred communion with someone else. It does not have to involve literal bread and wine, but a moment of sharing of yourself, of your body, your spirit. Who you are being shared with someone else. A moment of communion.

I want to read a poem, by Maren Tirabassi. It talks about communion, starting with communion of bread and wine (though a gluten-free and alcohol-free one) and then turns into a communion of a relationship with someone else.

Maren Tirabassi
Communion (read the poem at her blog - I won't reprint it here for copyright reasons)

My morning crumb of gospel hope, not just in the communion at church, but in the communion of the paw-friendly ice-melt used by the neighbor. The writer’s neighbor used paw-friendly ice-melt because she (the neighbor) knew that she (the writer) had a beagle and that she’d be walking on the sidewalk and she wanted to make sure the beagle would have a safe place to walk. She (the writer) thought of that moment also as communion. For the neighbor to have put out the ice-melt, that’s a cross-taking-up sacred moment of holy Communion that we can all do in the cost and in the joy of following Jesus.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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