Sunday, October 07, 2012

Discerning the Family

AN INVITATION TO THE LORD'S SUPPER
For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 
—Hebrews 2:11
I. The Letter to the Hebrews
We don’t know exactly who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. The early and medieval church assumed it was the Apostle Paul—even though the letter itself doesn’t claim this—but by the time of the Reformation it was generally accepted that Paul didn’t write it, but that it was probably written by someone closely associated with him.

The reason for this is that the language of Hebrews is very different from the language we read in Paul’s letters. There’s a different style, a different vocabulary, and a different set of emphases. And one of the places where we first notice these differences is in today’s New Testament reading. The writer of Hebrews has a different way of talking about the relationship between Christ and God, and the writer of Hebrews (I can’t say “he” because it not only could have been a woman, but some very early scholars were the first to suggest that Priscilla was the writer) used different imagery for the church as well.

Paul’s most famous image for the church was that of the body of Christ, and that’s probably the contemporary church’s favorite image. But Hebrews gives us just as beautiful an image, and that is that the church is a family. God is the Parent and Jesus is the Firstborn Son. All the members of the church are therefore children of God, and younger siblings of Jesus, our Elder Brother.
II. Discerning the Body
In his First Letter to the Corinthians (the letter in which Paul perfected his body of Christ imagery), Paul also talks about the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion). He tells the Corinthians that the Supper is not a meal at which individuals satisfy their physical hunger. It’s a meal at which the community has its spiritual hunger satisfied... together.

Paul therefore has some pretty harsh words for the church’s wealthy members who arrive early (after all, they don’t have to work overtime) and eat all the best food, which meant leftovers for the laborers who arrived later. “If you’re that hungry,” Paul said, “eat at home!” [11:20-22, 34] Instead, at church, he told them that they needed to “discern the body.” What has often been interpreted as Paul condemning people as unworthy because they’re sinful is actually Paul telling them that they’re condemning themselves because of their insincerity and greed [11:27-32]. Instead of judging others by outward appearance or material resources, he invites them to discern: To discern the presence of Christ in the shared meal, and to discern the presence of Christ in the gathered community: rich and poor, male and female, Jew and Gentile, citizen and foreigner, those who were free and those who were in bondage.
III. Discerning the Family
Whoever wrote Hebrews would probably have agreed with Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians, because this letter is also concerned with equality. It reminds us that the only Child of God that has preëminence over the others is Jesus. The rest of us are secure within the family as equal sons and daughters of one heavenly Parent, little sisters and brothers of the Firstborn. It’s also in Hebrews [13:2] that we’re told to be kind to strangers, because for all we know the stranger we meet might be a messenger of God.

And so it is in the spirit of this letter, in the spirit of the apostles, and in the Spirit of God that I extend an invitation to the Lord’s table.
  • It is not intended for those who are perfect, for Jesus does not wish to eat alone. The places are not reserved only for those whose documents are in order, for our citizenship is in heaven [Eph. 2:19, Philip. 3:20]. 
  • With Christ at the head of the table, no one need jostle for position based on money or job or pedigree or marital status or ethnic background or language or age or gender or orientation or gender identity or education or physical ability: All of us are seated next to Christ, and no one is farther away than anyone else. 
  • No one is invited despite of who they are. God doesn’t just know us, God made us. Others may disapprove of your identity or mine, but God loves us as we are. Those who feel sorry for us are themselves in no less need of God’s mercy than we are, do not stand an inch taller than any of us, nor will they wear a cleaner robe in the choir of heaven. 
No matter who you are, the table is set and there’s a place reserved for you. No matter where you are on life’s journey, this is not your rest area, this table is your home. You’re welcome here.
—©2012 Sam L. Greening, Jr.

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