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October 7, 2012
Sermon:  A Meditation:  The Lord’s Supper
Text:  Isaiah 55


This is World Communion Sunday, a good time not only to have the Lord’s Supper here at Morningside Baptist Church but also to have the Lord’s Supper across boundaries.  Therefore, I have invited the congregation of New Day Baptist Church to join us today.  We have worshipped with our friends at New Day on previous occasions.  It is always a pleasure to have their members in our midst but today especially, as we celebrate Communion together as a symbolic act.

I invite you to turn with me to Isaiah 55:1-11 for our Scripture reading this morning.  Hear now the Word of God.

 Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

The book of Isaiah consists of at least two books, possibly three.  We can see a clear division between Chapters 39 and 40.

Isaiah, the author of the first thirty-nine chapters, is a prophet of the eighth century.  The author of Chapter 40 forward is a prophet who writes at the time of the Exile.  The two prophecies fit together into one book.

Clearly, we must read this beautiful poem in its historical context.  It is important to remember that the author is writing to people who have been in exile, in captivity, in Babylon for at least seventy years.  Life has been hard for them.  Psalm 137, for example, tells us that people there felt as though they could not worship because the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed.  Others had decided that God is everywhere, that God can be worshipped in any location, as in Psalm 139.  The book of Isaiah recognizes the difficulty experienced during the Exile, yet we see here words of enormous hope through an invitation to a meal.

How odd to use an Old Testament passage on World Communion Sunday, an Old Testament poem to invite us to the Table of the Lord.  Isaiah does exactly that here, inviting us to come to the feast table that God has prepared.

In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the task of the Old Testament prophets and even modern-day prophets is to find an alternative way of looking at life, even when life is very hard.  He claims that prophets must not deny the hardships but look at life through the eyes of faith and hope.

That is exactly what Isaiah does here.  He does not deny the reality of the Exile.  He acknowledges that difficulty but also offers words of hope:  “You are spending a lot time, energy, worry, and money on matters that do not amount to a row of peas.  You are filling your lives with things that do not nourish.  It is as if you are eating Styrofoam, which is filling but not nourishing you.  God has something better in store for you.  Come to the feast that God has prepared, the feast where you will receive nourishment and strength.”

This banquet imagery resonates throughout the teachings of Jesus.  We see it perhaps at the wedding of Cana and at the feeding of the 5000 by the seashore.  We may even see it in the Passover meal Jesus shares with his disciples in the Upper Room.  Somewhere behind those events of eating a meal, Jesus must have thought about this Scripture from Isaiah.  He was certainly familiar with the content of this passage.  We see in these poetic words an invitation to a table, a banquet, when times are really hard.

World Communion Sunday means that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the same day, at the same time – taking into account the various time zones – with Christians around the world.  What does that mean?  It means more than we could possibly imagine.

Let’s consider some of the countries that have been so much in the news recently, those Islamic countries that have been called a part of the Arab Spring.  Why would we mention those countries of the Middle East and North Africa on World Communion Sunday?  About four percent of all the people who live in those areas are Christians.  I learned when I visited Israel that when we talk about the Palestinians, we so often think in terms of the Muslim population.  Actually one-third of all Palestinians are Christians, primarily refugees who have been dislocated.

Christians seem to dominate in many countries.  They represent a majority in 158 countries around the world.  We tend to forget about the ten percent of countries where Christians are in the minority.  For example, more Christians are in Indonesia, an Islamic country, than are across all of North Africa and the Middle East.  Nigeria, also a country strongly influenced by the Islamic faith, has more Protestants than the country of Germany where the Protestant Reformation started.  Brazil has twice as many Christians as Italy, the center of the Roman Catholic Church.  Christians comprise about a third of the world’s people; but in many, many countries, they are the majority.

Let’s look at countries that we ordinarily do not think of as having Christians as a part of their population.  Consider Syria, for example, where horrific bloodbaths have occurred.  About ten percent of the population, nearly 1,000,000 people, were counted as Christians before the atrocities began.  The city of Aleppo, which has been in the news recently, has the largest concentration of Christians.  Three percent of the population of Iraq is Christian, about 600,000 people.  Christians are basically illegal in Afghanistan.  Many sources, however, tell us of a secret underground church there.  The State Department estimates an underground church of 8000 individuals.

Late in the year 2004, a publication entitled Voice of the Martyrs stated that in North Korea an army general, a person of great stature, had been arrested and then executed.  He was a Christian being persecuted for trying to evangelize his troops.  Being a Christian in North Korea is dangerous.  If one general in the country was trying to evangelize his troops, could others also be there?  Assessing the Christian population in some of these countries is difficult, but estimates are that about ten percent of the population in North Korea alone is Christian.  The numbers are growing.  Christians are meeting today in secret to observe this meal.

World Communion Sunday is not just about Baptists getting together to observe the Lord’s Supper.  It is not just about Methodists and Presbyterians down the street taking the meal.  World Communion Sunday is about Christians all over this world meeting together, in whatever way possible, to hold before them the cross of Jesus Christ.  We do not all have the same doctrines.  Nor do we all have the same beliefs about the Lord’s Supper.  If those people affirm, as we do, that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the cross of Christ is central, they are not just strangers.  They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

On this World Communion Sunday when we gather here to take this meal, we might well say that many strangers are at the table.  That is as it should be.  We do not know the people around the world, but they are people with whom we have a bond because of our common faith in Christ Jesus.  Even here in this congregation today, we are taking this Supper with people we do not know, with people who look a little different.   Remember that Samuel said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).  The content of the heart is what matters to God.

We all know that our world is in a mess.  Political parties are fighting with each other.  The world is living in fear of terrorism and war.  People are suffering from starvation, from deprivation.  The world is in a mess, but the prophetic word of God is, “Look, there is hope.”  Our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our hope is in our common bond with those who share our faith.

God says, “Come.  Come and eat.  Take this banquet, this feast, that is prepared for you.”  He asks us a hard question, “Why do you spend your valuable resources, your money, your time, your energy, your worry, on things that will never nourish you?”  Then He advises, “Spend all of your resources on matters of real importance – on trying to make peace.  Be ministers of reconciliation.  Make a difference where you are in this world.”  It is for this world that “God sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Possibly the most important experience of Communion I have ever had occurred in London, England. Our son Kris and I had traveled to England one particularly rainy Wednesday.  After visiting the British Museum of Art, we discovered that an Anglican church across Trafalgar Square, St. Martin of the Field, was observing Communion.  What we did not know, however, was that the church had the largest out-reach ministry of any other church in that area to the homeless people of London.

St. Martin of the Field was packed with homeless people, cold and hungry.  I felt as if I had been dropped into a Charles Dickens’ novel.  Kris and I were at the end of the line.  He did not bat an eye when the common Communion cup reached him.  We took Communion with perfect strangers, but they were our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today as we take this meal, people in Korea and China, Syria and Iran, Egypt and the Sudan, Venezuela and Columbia, prisons and mental hospitals will also take this Communion.  We find grace in the invitation of our Lord.  Grace and compassion are here at this Table.  We dare not take these elements for granted.  People across the world would never do that; they take these elements at risk to their lives.  As we take this Supper, we must keep them in mind.

This table does not belong to Morningside.  It is not a Baptist table.  It is the Lord’s Table.  If you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are invited to take this meal as we celebrate the meal together.

It was on the night when he was betrayed that the Lord Jesus took bread.  He blessed it and broke it.  He said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Prayer of Blessing for the Bread:  Dear Lord, thank you for the opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, to come to this Table, united because we are in your family.  You have adopted us.  Thank you for the sacrifice of life, represented by this bread.  Amen.

I am so wondrously saved from sin,
Jesus so sweetly abides within;
There at the cross where he took me in;
Glory to his name!

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, given for you.”

Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him.  Eat all of it.

Prayer of Blessing for the Cup:  Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this day, this time to remember the many blessings you have given to us.  Let us come before You with thirst for your love and righteousness.  As we take of this cup, a symbol of your blood, let us be filled with an awareness of the sacrifice that has been made.  We long for your presence here, Lord.  Let us share your love this day.  It is in Your Son’s name that we pray.  Amen.

Down at the cross where my Savior died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried
There to my heart was his blood applied; 
Glory to his name!

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

So we extend the invitation of the Lord Jesus to two churches this morning.  If you do not know him as your Savior, I cannot imagine a better day to settle that, to make a decision to accept him as the Lord of your life.  Some of you perhaps have another decision to make.  We invite you to respond to His invitation.


Kirk H. Neely
© October 2012




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