Monday, March 21, 2011

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, on the Second Sunday in Lent, "The Lord's Supper" part 4

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today we wrap up our sermon series on the Lord’s Supper. We’ve previously covered how we observe the Lord’s Supper at the institution and command of Jesus, how He taught that it is His true body and blood offered for us to eat and to drink, and what are the spiritual blessings and benefits of this blessed communion. Now we address the question of how we faithfully use that sacrament. Who comes to the altar to receive it, and how does a person receive the sacrament worthily—or for their good? The sermon talking points refer you to questions from the catechism and various Bible verses on this topic.

The text for today is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, where the apostle Paul addresses how the church had begun to misuse the Lord’s Supper:

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

Basic to our understanding of who rightly receives the Lord’s Supper is the teaching of the real presence, which we discussed in sermon 2. This is the Biblical teaching that the bread and the wine are Jesus’ true body and blood. This is part of the reason why we don’t practice “open communion.” As you just heard in the reading, the apostle Paul warns that there’s a danger in misusing the sacrament: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If we take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way, we sin not against bread and wine as empty symbols, but more gravely, against the very body and blood of Christ. So the spiritual danger of misusing communion is to have guilt counted to you, instead of taken away, and Paul says that if we eat and drink without discerning the body, we eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Of course this is not the purpose of the Supper, and when we receive it worthily it takes guilt away. But this is the most important reason why we practice closed communion, and that is to prevent someone from eating and drinking judgment on themselves, and being responsible for guilt against Jesus’ body and blood. I have to make an important side note here, because in the old King James Version that some of you grew up with, it read: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29). Damnation of course, is eternal judgment. So is one eternally condemned if they inadvertently misuse the sacrament, or what kind of “judgment” is it? First we should note that all the other modern English versions render it “judgment” rather than damnation. There are actually distinct words in the Greek New Testament to speak of judgment in a general sense or temporal sense, and then also an eternal and therefore more severe sense, usually translated condemnation.

What does this mean for us? Well, it doesn’t mean that a person is guaranteed eternal condemnation if they misused the sacrament, but it does mean that they received judgment in at least a temporal sense. And the two degrees of judgment are related, because if we receive judgment now in time, and are not warned and brought to repentance and faith, so that we are cleared of guilt, than the present judgment can lead eventually to eternal judgment. Paul explains this right in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, by saying that there had been weakness, illness, even death among the Corinthians because of their misuse of the Sacrament. And so he warns them to judge or examine themselves so that they won’t be judged, and that being judged by the Lord (now) is discipline for us so that we’re not condemned (eternally). So pay attention to God’s judging or discipline now, through His Word of Law that shows our sins. Then we will turn from our sin and receive the Sacrament to be forgiven and cleared of our judgment and guilt.

So you can begin to understand why the practice of closed communion is a loving practice to make sure that everyone receives Jesus’ body and blood for blessing and not harm. We should not knowingly give it to someone who may receive it to their harm, or whose faith is unknown to us. So what does Paul mean by judging ourselves before we come to the Sacrament, or examining ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the cup, or by “discerning the body?” These are some of the elements of our Christian preparation for receiving the Supper. First of all, it goes without saying that we must first have received Christian baptism and believe the Christian faith. The Supper was not instituted to be celebrated among unbelievers, but for and by believers. Then, we must also have faith in Jesus’ words about the Sacrament, that this body and blood was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. If a person does not yet believe this, they should not commune, but should study further and grow in their faith first. As Paul says, if they eat and drink without discerning or recognizing the body, then they eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Also, a vitally important part of our preparing for the Supper is that we’re knowledgeable and repentant of all our sins. That we’re not continuing to live in sin with no intention of changing our behavior. Of course as Lutherans, we recognize that Christians are at the same time saints and sinners. We recognize that sometimes the battle against our specific sins can be exhausting and overwhelming. Read Romans 7 to hear Paul’s own struggle against sin. While we don’t want to commit sin, we also recognize we will struggle against it until death, and that sadly we’ll often fail. So as Christians we make it our aim to change our sinful lives with the help of the Holy Spirit, never content to live in our sin or feel as though its “just ok” and we’ll be forgiven anyways. There is a big difference between a person who struggles with living a righteous life, and wants by the power of the Holy Spirit to do better yet stumbles, and a person who decides that God shouldn’t mind their sins, and makes no effort to correct their life.

Here we see how deeply the sacrament addresses us in our lives as sinners. Christ desires to take away your sin and give you His innocence. If you’re knowledgeable and aware of your sin, and have examined yourself to repent of it, then you earnestly need the sacrament and should receive it. If you are growing spiritually cold, and are losing the sense of your need for the sacrament, you earnestly need the sacrament to kindle and awaken your faith to a living heart. However, if you stubbornly cling to your sins, or don’t believe that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness, then you should not receive the Sacrament. If you’re unwilling to be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to forgive as Christ has forgiven you, then you may not be given the sacrament. This would violate the nature of the sacrament as a sacrament of love and reconciliation. You first must examine your heart, repent of sin, and be reconciled to your brothers or sisters in the Lord.

Because of the importance of making an examination of yourself before communing, we also do not give communion to our young children who don’t yet understand, or haven’t been taught the faith yet, and to those who’re unconscious or otherwise unable to examine themselves. As baptized Christians, they have the full grace and mercy of God, and aren’t deprived of forgiveness by not yet communing. Every child that receives baptism, and believes in the Word of God has the full promise of the forgiveness of their sins. This is one of the great blessings of the fact that God offers His forgiveness through these varied channels or means of grace. Once instructed in the faith and able to understand what they’re receiving, and they profess the Christian faith as their own, then they too receive the distinctive gift of the Lord’s Supper.

In addition to those who shouldn’t commune because they might come to harm, or not fully understand yet, there may also be visitors among us who are baptized Christians in good standing, that belong to another Christian confession of faith. Because the early example of the apostles was that fellowship in communion was also based on holding steadfastly to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:19), we ought not commune together with those of differing confessions of faith. While we may believe and confess the same Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, if we hold differing beliefs we should refrain from communing together, so that we do not falsely display a unity of faith that does not yet exist. When we come to the altar to commune, we’re giving public testimony to our Christian faith, as Paul says “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” If we believe that another church is teaching in error, on the doctrine of salvation, for example, we should not give the appearance of endorsing their belief by communing together with them.

Our disagreements over theology or the basic Christian teachings should first be resolved through God’s Word before we commune together. It’s not a judgment of other Christians’ faith, or denying that they also have salvation, when we don’t commune together. And it’s most certainly not that we won’t see those other Christians in heaven. Rather it is to recognize that we are not yet fully united in our confession of faith at present. Christians of goodwill and sincerity do disagree about things, and that doesn’t prohibit us from working together to accomplish social good, or from praying together and discussing our disagreements by studying the Bible. We can and should be engaged in these pursuits so that we can return to greater unity that is not just superficial. Then the unity that we express in that deep fellowship at the altar will be a true and meaningful unity—a unity in heart, mind, and spirit—a unity of confession of faith and practice.

So for those whose faith is unknown to us, we practice closed communion as a protection from giving them communion to their harm. If in fact they don’t believe or aren’t baptized, or may be living in sin unaware, or even don’t believe in Jesus’ words about what is offered here, they are not yet ready to receive the sacrament, and could be taking it to their judgment. That doesn’t mean that they are unwelcome, but simply that they first go through the same instruction and preparation for the sacrament that each of our church members go through. Also for those who may believe differently, when the time comes that they too profess the same faith that we do, and desire to receive those gifts Christ brings, they are ready to come to the altar.

It’s my prayer that each and every one of you may understand the Supper rightly, that by faith you believe what it is, and trust in Jesus’ words for the forgiveness of sins. It’s my prayer that you would all earnestly examine your own lives in the light of God’s Ten Commandments, and repent of your sins and strive to leave them behind with the aid of the Holy Spirit. For those who wish to have a guideline for examining themselves, you can find the “Christian Questions and their Answers” on page 329-330 in our church hymnal, or also in the Small Catechism. And also by knowing what we believe and joyfully making that confession of faith as you come to the altar, we can truly participate worthily. Here at the altar a great gift is given to us, and it requires discernment and right faith to receive it, but if our hearts are prepared by faith, we receive the great blessing and spiritual benefits that come with the forgiveness of sins. This is something we should crave and earnestly desire. In trial, sin, and struggle against temptation, we have a great and powerful help in the body and blood of Jesus. We’re not worthy because we’re “perfect” neither are we better than others, but worthiness comes by humble repentance and faith.

When we come to the table, we instead ought to have the attitude of Paul, who said: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15). We come to the altar as sinners—knowing that of all people we are most guilty and unworthy of God’s love. But the gracious and trustworthy truth is that Jesus came to save the likes of us. He came to bear our sin on the cross—to count Himself as the sinful one and pay the price for our punishment—although He Himself was without sin. Jesus did this because of His incredible love for us and desire to bring us out of the slavery of sin. He’s now made this new testament with us in His blood, and offers it to us here in the sacrament. So let us in unity of faith receive this sacrament to our spiritual and bodily good, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

IV. How to Receive This Sacrament Worthily
299. Why is it important to receive the Sacrament worthily?
It is very important because St. Paul clearly teaches: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).
300. Is it necessary to fast before receiving the Sacrament?
Fasting can be good training for the will, but God does not command particular times, places, and forms for this. 1 Tim. 4:8; 1 Cor. 9:24-27
301. When do we receive the Sacrament worthily?
We receive it worthily when we have faith in Christ and His words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
302. When is a person unworthy and unprepared?
A person is unworthy and unprepared when he or she does not believe or doubts Christ’s words, since the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
303. How are we to examine ourselves before receiving the Sacrament?
We are to examine ourselves to see whether
A. We are sorry for our sins; Ps. 38:18; 2 Cor. 7:10-11
B. We believe in our Savior Jesus Christ and in His words in the Sacrament; Luke 22:19-20; 2 Cor. 13:5
C. We plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change our sinful lives. Eph. 4:22-24.
As a preparation for the Sacrament, use “Christian Questions and their Answers.” (found on page 329-330 in the LSB hymnal)
304. May those who are weak in faith come to the Lord’s Table?
Yes, for Christ instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith. Mark 9:24; John 6:37
305. Who must not be given the Sacrament?
The Sacrament must not be given to the following:
A. Those who are openly ungodly and unrepentant, including those who take part in non-Christian religious worship. 1 Cor. 5:11, 13; 1 Cor. 10:20-21.
B. Those who are unforgiving, refusing to be reconciled. They show thereby that they do not really believe that God forgives them either. Matt. 6:15. Bible narrative The unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35)
C. Those of a different confession of faith, since the Lord’s Supper is a testimony of the unity of faith. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 11:26; Rom. 16:17
D. Those who are unable to examine themselves, such as infants, people who have not received proper instruction, or the unconscious. 1 Cor. 11:28.
Note: Pastors as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) have the greatest responsibility as to who should be admitted to the Sacrament. Some of the responsibility also rests with the congregation and the communicant.
306. What is confirmation?
Confirmation is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community.
Note: Prior to admission to the Lord’s Supper, it is necessary to be instructed in the Christian faith (1 Cor. 11:28). The rite of Confirmation provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise given in Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ. Matt. 10:32-33; Rev. 2:10

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission. www.cph.org.

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