Tag Archives: Holy Communion

Julia Foote and the Geography of Witness

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? History buffs might enjoy its distinct Y-shaped bridge or explore its history as part of the Underground Railroad or recall it for its well-known river and locks. If a spiritual pilgrimage were traced across the tilts and rolls of Ohio’s farms, rivers, and valleys, Methodists might mark a gentle circle around Zanesville. It’s not unique for towns that sprang up across the Midwest to have Methodist fellowships woven through their roots; but those Methodist fellowships in the mid-1800s were not without profound flaws. In the autobiography of Julia Foote – happily available for download through First Fruits Press – readers are confronted with this reality. On joining the local Methodist Episcopal church (in the state of New York), her parents, both former slaves, were relegated to seating in one part of the balcony of the local church and could not partake of Holy Communion until the white church members, including the lower class ones, had gone first.

Julia A. J. Foote (Public domain)

Eventually, Julia Foote would become the first woman ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church, the second woman ordained an elder. Before that, she was an evangelist, traveling and preaching in a number of places, starting before the Civil War. At times, congregational conflict emerged when she visited a town, sometimes because Foote was Black, sometimes because she was a woman. But the testimony of her visit to Zanesville is different.

Before arriving in Zanesville in the early 1850’s, Foote had been in Cincinnati and Columbus, then visited a town called Chillicothe. Her time in Chillicothe was fruitful but not without controversy. (The following excerpts retain Foote’s own original language, a reflection of the time in which she lived.) She wrote,

In April, 1851, we visited Chillicothe, and had some glorious meetings there. Great crowds attended every night, and the altar was crowded with anxious inquirers. Some of the deacons of the white people’s Baptist church invited me to preach in their church, but I declined to do so, on account of the opposition of the pastor, who was very much set against women’s preaching. He said so much against it, and against the members who wished me to preach, that they called a church meeting, and I heard that they finally dismissed him. The white Methodists invited me to speak for them, but did not want the colored people to attend the meeting. I would not agree to any such arrangement, and, therefore, I did not speak for them. Prejudice had closed the door of their sanctuary against the colored people of the place, virtually saying: “The Gospel shall not be free to all.” Our benign Master and Saviour said: “Go, preach my Gospel to all.” (Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, First Fruits Press: 102-103)

Whether or not the good Baptists of Chillicothe today know that their forebears ousted a pastor who objected to a woman evangelist, the Methodists may be unaware that their forebears invited a Black woman to preach – but only if people of color were excluded from the meeting. And yet, in spite of these local controversies, Julia Foote wrote that in that town, “we had some glorious meetings,” and “the altar was crowded.” Like John Wesley, Foote sowed grace outside church buildings, even if she could not sow grace inside church buildings. Like the Apostle Paul, she proclaimed the Gospel to those who would welcome her.

But then, she went to Zanesville. And here, readers see a different move of the Holy Spirit. What was the difference? Foote wrote,

We visited Zanesville, Ohio, laboring for white and colored people. The white Methodists opened their house for the admission of colored people for the first time. Hundreds were turned away at each meeting, unable to get in; and, although the house was so crowded, perfect order prevailed. We also held meetings on the other side of the river. God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings. I was the recipient of many mercies, and passed through various exercises. In all of them I could trace the hand of God and claim divine assistance whenever I most needed it. Whatever I needed, by faith I had. Glory! glory!! While God lives, and Jesus sits on his right hand, nothing shall be impossible unto me, if I hold fast faith with a pure conscience. (A Brand Plucked, 103)

Foote labored for any and all for the sake of the Kingdom when she arrived in Zanesville. While there, for the first time, Methodist worship was integrated. So many people came, hundreds had to be turned away. Despite the crowds, there was no controversy or dispute. And – “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings.” There was no segregated worship; the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest.

This is powerful testimony reverberating down through the soil, through the generations, through the Kingdom. Sitting today in a different part of the state over 150 years later, I read the words of Julia Foote and see the rolling hills of Ohio differently. I’ve been in Cincinnati, and Columbus, and Chillicothe. I’ve read those names on road signs. I’ve seen church buildings in those places. Through her words, I hear the voice of a mother of American Methodism, particularly the holiness movement, calling across the rivers, the years. She was pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Her eyes too saw this rural landscape in the springtime; heading from Zanesville on to Detroit, she also likely saw Mennonite and Amish farmers along the road. She sowed grace into this landscape before my great-grandmother was born. Before the Wright brothers followed the birds skimming along air currents, Julia Foote learned how to glide on the wind of the Spirit: “whatever I needed, by faith I had.”

Today, in the yard outside my window, irises are blooming that I did not plant; someone else planted, another watered, and I enjoy the deep purple unfurling from the bud. Reading of Foote’s ministry, I am given a window onto the grace planted by faith, the results of which would have shaped the spiritual life of a community for decades. But it does not let me rest on what came before; her labor calls out across the rivers, the years, questioning: how are you tending to what others planted through the Spirit? She endured great hardship to proclaim the Word of God in this landscape. I would not rip out or mow over the irises carefully planted by another; how might I help to care for what she was bold enough to sow? Decades later – and yet not so very long at all – where is the Spirit brooding, full, like a thundercloud full with rain, ready to burst?

Sister Julia issued this challenge: Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the Lord or using the gifts you have for the good of others. How much easier to bear the reproach of men than to live at a distance from God. Be not kept in bondage by those who say, “We suffer not a woman to teach,” thus quoting Paul’s words, but not rightly applying them. What though we are called to pass through deep waters, so our anchor is cast within the veil, both sure and steadfast? (A Brand Plucked, 112)

The gifts you have, for the good of others.

It is the Holy Spirit who transforms history into testimony, the same Spirit who was “powerfully manifest” now bearing down, laboring again. In the original introduction to her work, Thomas K. Doty wrote, “Those of us who heard her preach, last year, at Lodi, where she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, know well where is the hiding of her power.” (A Brand Plucked, 7)

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? That Julia Foote preached there in the 1850s, sowing grace? That Methodists there rejected segregated worship, joining together, and the Holy Spirit was “powerfully manifest”?

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, today? What do you know of those who planted and watered while God gave the increase, long before you saw the buds?

Sisters and brothers, we do not walk into ministry alone today. Wherever you are, someone has gone ahead, sowing grace ahead of you. If the rivers could speak, they might gossip to you about the ones who went before; who crossed rivers when no plane had yet crossed the sky.

What do you know of Zanesville, Holy Spirit? Hearts there once were soft.

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, Zanesville? Once, the Spirit was powerfully manifest in your midst.

Holy Spirit, where are you brooding now? Give us the grace of readiness.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Prayer for the Raw & Ragged

Breath of Life,
You humble us with the piercing memory of a man six years ago begging to be treated with dignity: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
He spoke the truth; we were busy.
And now we’re all struggling to breathe.
Some on ventilators.
Some in panic.
Some in stale rooms we didn’t choose, didn’t plan to inhabit
hooked up to the life support of Wi-Fi.
We need your Breath of Life.

We need your Breath of Life, your Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Breath of Life,
we wait and watch (what else can we do?)
gathered in our upstairs rooms
by ourselves
or with two or three
away from Dan or Karen or Dave
with them in worship
as we use our air to sing together on Sundays
while the internet strains to take it all.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on us gathered
and there
a mighty rushing wind,
a theophany of fire on the heads of women and men, young and old, day laborer and C-suite.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on these gifts –
what gifts are in our pantries?
What can we bring you from empty store shelves,
from online stores crushed from the weight of inventory of others’ worry?
Pour out on these gifts – what do we have to bring you?
Bread and wine? Juice?
It has not always been so:
some find you’ve made rice be for them the Body and Blood.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your mighty rushing gifts poured out on our scraps:
stale end pieces of dried bread; instant rice; canned biscuit dough near expiration.
We don’t want to give you this.

We wanted to give our best – our best foot forward, a good vintage, a rich bread.

We don’t want to give you this – a rigged ventilator adapted for two; cloth face masks needing nightly bleaching; Hefty bag hospital gowns.

We wanted to present our best side – our best foot forward, a royal tour of a new hospital wing, a display of how your major gift was put to use, your name on the gleaming building.

we believed we could breathe on our own
our own steam
our own will
our own can-do spirit.
we thought giving our best
was how the Wind came.

You’ve known otherwise.
You always have.
You have poured your mighty rushing gifts on
old technology
illiterate minds
stale bread crusts
empty cupboards.

It’s always been your Breath we borrowed.
It’s always been Breath of Life
infusing frailty
trading waste for life
one breath at a time.

And that is all we have, Breath of Life:
one breath at a time.
My bread will be here today, gone soon in hungry bellies.
I don’t know what store will have what goods – flour or yeast or bread, or not.
We can give you what is in our pantry
That is all.
That has always been all.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
prompting us, preparing us for the moment
when we would stare at crusts and apple juice,
at rigged ventilators and make-shift masks,
at rice and water
and say

we want to give you this.
It’s all we have.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
so that you could pour out Your Holy Breath
in sight of us all
on everything that embarrasses us in its stale dryness.

We believed we could breathe on our own. But our breaths do not belong to us.
We need your Breath of Life:
the Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Pour out your Holy Wind on us gathered
and there.
Pour out your mighty, rushing gifts.
Speak the truth; we are not too busy.
We need your Breath of Life.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Jackson Lashier ~ Seeing God’s Glory at a Feast

According to John’s Gospel, the first miracle Jesus performs in his public ministry is to turn water into wine at a wedding. John’s Gospel calls the miracles “signs” because through them we see the glory of God, a theme John introduces in the first chapter (John 1:14, 18) and carries through to the end (John 20:29). This sign meant seeing God’s glory at a feast – a wedding banquet. We have to admit, however, that this seems like a strange way for Jesus to start his ministry – and not only because we are currently in Lent, a season of fasting. This miracle seems to lack the drama and compassion of his other acts with which we are so familiar; no suffering person is healed, no demon exorcised, no tables overturned, no water walked on. Indeed, it seems the only result of this miracle is that a bunch of partiers get to keep drinking, not exactly something that immediately suggests God’s glory. John writes,

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’ What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:1-11)

When we read this account in the context of the entire story of scripture, which John has urged his readers to do by starting his Gospel “in the beginning” at the creation of the world (John 1:1), we begin to see the significance of the sign. Of all the metaphors used to describe Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament, none is more significant than the wedding metaphor. This metaphor starts in the Old Testament when God calls Israel’s ancestor Abraham into a covenant—this is marriage imagery. The scriptures continue to describe God’s love of his people as a jealous love like that of a spouse. And in the ideal picture, the people say of their God, in the words of the Song of Songs, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song of Songs 2:16). The nuptial metaphor is also used to explain sin; when the nation of Israel strays from the law it is described as unfaithful. When the people of Israel worship other gods they are said to be committing adultery.

From this perspective, Israel’s exile from God’s presence near the end of their story can be understood as a divorce, the sundering of that covenantal relationship, the ending of the happy marriage feast – instead of seeing God’s glory at a feast, everything has gone wrong. Isaiah draws on this image when he prophesies,

“The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth. . .the new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. No longer do they drink wine with a song.” (Isaiah 24:5-9)

Likewise, the prophesied restoration or return from exile often takes the image of a new wedding and new feasting. So the prophet Jeremiah says:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

This new covenant will be marked, Isaiah prophesies, with “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)

The setting of Jesus’s first miracle as a wedding is not, therefore, insignificant to its meaning. It brings to the reader’s mind this familiar ancient metaphor. And what springs Jesus to action in this story is specifically the occasion of the wine running out, the wedding feast ending prematurely. If we understand that image as a reference to exile, then Jesus’ miracle of bringing new wine for the new feast signals in his ministry, beginning in this moment, the inauguration of the new wedding covenant that occurs through him. That this marital union is new and, in the words of Jeremiah, not like the old one, is suggested by the words of the host to the groom: “you have saved the best till now.”

But how is this union new? How is it not like the old one? Put another way, why will this new marriage not fail as the old one had? Again, the imagery in this story provides insight. Jesus made new wine not out of just any water, but specifically out of the water in the stone jars that Jews used to purify themselves in preparation for, among other things, offering the sacrifice in the Temple. The water in these jars is symbolic of the old Jewish religion focused on the cult of animal sacrifice, a religion predicated to some degree on our actions and our sacrifices, which could never fully deliver us from our sin. In turning this purifying water into new wine, Jesus demonstrates that the marriage between God and his people in Christ puts an end to the old way of doing things. No longer will our relationship with God be based on the things we do or the sacrifices we make. But now, the marriage relationship between God and his people in Christ is based not on our actions but on what Christ, who is God himself, has done.

The image of the new wine points forward to a second time that wine will be the center of the Gospel story: that moment on the night before his crucifixion, that Jesus will take a cup of wine and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) It is through the sacrifice of Jesus, then, that the new marriage with God will be inaugurated.

But the story of the first miracle also reminds us that the death of Christ, necessary for our salvation, is not the last word, but rather is ultimately defeated in resurrection. The image of the wine at last points to the wedding feast, the celebration that is eternal life in the presence of the risen bridegroom. It is the feast of reconciliation which Jesus taught about in various parables. It is the feast the Father throws when his prodigal son returns home, the feasting the angels experience in heaven when a lost sinner is found, the feast of the banquet where the host throws the doors open and invites everyone in, with the host himself providing the appropriate garments. Perhaps a feast can reveal God’s glory after all.

Jesus, like the prophets of old, refers to this feast of restoration at the Last Supper when he says, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) When we celebrate communion, then, we are not only remembering what Christ did for us on the cross in the past, we are eating and drinking in anticipation of the great heavenly feast that awaits us. And God’s glory will be manifest at the heavenly banquet in our midst, just as it was seen in the wedding in Cana where Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation began.

Omar Al-Rikabi ~ Being a Waffle House Church in the Storm

“A terrible screaming began among the English,” John Wesley wrote in his journal, “But the Germans calmly sang on.”

Sailing aboard The Simmons from England to the American Colonies in 1736, John Wesley found his ship overtaken by storm after storm. Ironically, the ship sailed in October in an attempt to dodge hurricane season, but now here they were, with the wind and sea tearing the main sail in two and water flooding the boat.

Wesley, a minister starting what would be a failed missionary trip to Georgia, was scared of drowning and found himself in a crisis of faith, “ashamed of my unwillingness to die.” But also on board were 26 Moravian missionaries from Herrnhut, Germany, and as he worried they worshiped.

It’s fitting that the founder of our movement hoped to avoid hurricanes, because today the United Methodists are facing their own category 5 storm: General Conference 2020, which will make landfall in May and determine the future of our denomination (and for good measure, we’re also facing the other hurricane of General Election 2020) .

The thing about hurricanes is that we can see them forming out at sea a long way off, days away. The anxiety builds when the weather reports put all the different “spaghetti model” forecasts on the tv screen showing all possible trajectories, turns,  landfall locations, wind speeds, and flooding.

But no one really knows where a hurricane will hit and how bad the damage will be until it actually gets here. And if you’ve ever been through a hurricane, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare or even if you’ve been through one before, when they hit they’re still a shock and they do some kind of damage. The issue is how much, and what it will take to recover.

No matter what “side” you’re on in General Conference (or the General Election), we see it on the map, and anxiety is building. There will be shock and damage. But nobody knows what will actually happen until it gets here, and so we’re left with doomsday forecasts for months.

So what are churches to do while we wait, and who are we going to be in these storms?

What’s our plan? Breakfast. Our plan should be breakfast. Stick with me on this.

In Acts 27, the Apostle Paul sets sail for Rome, and along the way “the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a ‘northeaster’) burst across the island and blew us out to sea.” (Acts 27:14, NLT) The crew panics and starts heaving cargo overboard to lighten the load. They lower the lifeboats, but Paul convinces them they’ll all drown if they jump ship, so they cut the boats loose. They can’t see the sun or the stars, so they can’t navigate. And in dramatic fashion, the Scripture says, “at last all hope was lost.”

All fear and no hope. Sound like anything some of us hear from the pulpit or the pundits?

Finally, after two weeks of fearfully trying to outlast the weather, Paul’s had enough and offers them…breakfast: “Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board.(Acts 27:33-37 NIV)

Did you catch it? It wasn’t that the sailors couldn’t eat because the storm left them with no food. They had plenty of food but were too afraid to eat because of the storm. And what did Paul serve first? The Eucharist. Holy Communion. The body of Jesus Christ: “[he] took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat.” That’s the Lord’s Breakfast he started with right there, and the crew had so many seconds and thirds that they were throwing food overboard!

As our hurricane approaches, how do we do the same? How can pastors and congregations learn from and lead like the Apostle Paul?

By looking at the “Waffle House Index.” The Waffle House Index is an informal metric FEMA has used to determine how bad a storm is and how long recovery will take. You see, the folks at Waffle House have a whole system for keeping restaurants open in a storm. They know how to do natural disasters. The index is three colors based on what they can offer: green means Waffle House is still serving the full menu; yellow means they’re serving a partial menu because there is no power or water; red means no menu and the restaurant is closed, so you know the damage is bad – really bad.

We need to be a “Waffle House church,” first offering people the body and blood of Jesus Christ, then offering a full menu of the faith even in the midst the storm.

How? Well first, we need to know our menu: the full story of Scripture and the robust depth of our theology, not just our favorite orders (the items we like to pick and choose). How do we learn (or re-learn) it? Maybe we need a congregation-wide confirmation class, a deep dive into the Apostle’s Creed, maybe a renewed form of class meetings and banded discipleship. Whatever a Holy Spirit imagination gives us for preaching and teaching, we can’t know our menu just for the sake of more information, but for the sake of transformation into being like Christ.

Second, we need to become better customers. Yes, there’s a lot of talk about how Christians shouldn’t be consumers, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you’ve ever waited tables, you know customers are most known for one thing: complaining. Maybe it’s because “the customer is always right” even when they’re wrong. I get it, because if you feel left out of the preparation process (not in the kitchen, so to speak), or your expectations haven’t been met (“This isn’t what I ordered!”) it’s easy to become disenfranchised. But we’ve got to move away from all the grumbling, criticizing, and fear-mongering. In other words, we’ve got to stop screaming.

Finally, we need to move from being customers to being waiters. Theologically speaking we’re supposed to be “servants,” because Jesus says things like, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life.” (Mark 10:45, NLT) And of course, one of our mandates is to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ who took the position of a servant. (Philippians 2:5-7)

Consider a story from last November of a Waffle House in Birmingham, Alabama. Because of a glitch in scheduling, just one cook was on duty after midnight to manage about 30 hungry and inebriated customers. He couldn’t keep up, but then one customer got up, put on an apron, and started washing dishes. Another started cleaning tables and serving coffee. With the two customers-turned-waiters at work, the lone employee could keep cooking.

To be this kind of servant in the storm evokes what Wesley wrote about later in his journal at sea: “There is something special about these Germans. They are always so happy! And, they do the menial jobs on this ship without protesting.”

Remember, we’re not a bunch of inebriated customers at one in the morning, we’re servant people filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This means our storm might give us the opportunity to creatively step up and serve the souls of some hungry and angry people (aka “hangry”). But like Paul, we’re serving them Jesus in the middle of the storm because Jesus is the one who created the very wind and waves (Colossians 1:16) and then later spoke to the storm and told it to calm down (Mark 4:35-41).

And isn’t it interesting that when he was in the storm at sea Wesley asked himself, “How is it that thou has no faith?” which is the same thing Jesus asked his disciples in their boat? Jesus is asking us the same question now. “You have one business on earth – to save souls,” Wesley said.

What does that business look like in our churches in this season of storms? It looks something like the way late chef Anthony Bourdain described a Waffle House: “Where everybody, regardless of race, creed, color or degree of inebriation, is welcomed. Its warm, yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered all across the south to come inside. A place of safety and nourishment. It never closes. It is always faithful, always there for you.”

Eventually, Jesus will return and there will be no more storms (literal or metaphorical). And when he does we know that, “The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, [Jesus] will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!” (Luke 12:37, NLT)

Until then, we might as well set the table.

Carolyn Moore ~ The Mystery and Glory of Communion with God

My sister, after years away from the faith, came home to Christ in the Lutheran church. The transition back into the church world, while it was welcomed, still had its moments. She’d dealt with a lot in her life and carried a lot of shame. As a Lutheran she took communion every Sunday but she noticed that communion just made her feel more guilty. She often thought as she’d go to the altar, “I’m not worthy.” But Lutherans take communion every week, so every week she had to deal with what it means to be invited to the table as a person with a past.

Then one Sunday, something shifted. She was at the railing to receive the elements, but the person with the wine was moving slowly so she’d gotten the wafer but had to hold it in her mouth while she waited for the wine. Kneeling there with that wafer melting in her mouth, a memory floated forward. It was a moment she’d had with our father when he was in his last days on earth. He was home with hospice care and she’d been with him for days but was about to go back home to another state. This was the last time she would see him alive and they both knew it. They told each other good-bye and she left crying but before she could get out of the driveway, someone waved her back into the house. Daddy had asked for her again. He wanted her to bring him two pieces of ice. My father hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days so this was sort of an odd request. My sister went and got the ice and took it to him and he took one piece and told her to keep the other one. And he said, “Now, you go on home but when you leave I want you to put your piece of ice in your mouth and I’ll put my piece in my mouth.”

That was it. He didn’t say any more than that but as my sister left the house with that ice in her mouth, she said, “I knew exactly what he meant. He meant that even if we were separated, if we were doing the same thing at the same time then we were still connected.” So it seemed to my sister that her daddy was saying, “Here’s something tangible to hold on to, and when you do this I will meet you in this act.”

That whole memory came to my sister while she knelt there at the communion rail with the body of Christ melting into the roof of her mouth. “That’s when I got it,” she told me. “Because if I’m holding this in my mouth right now, then Jesus must be saying to me that he’s here and I’m here in the very same space. The real Jesus. I’m in his presence and he is in mine. He’s saying, ‘I’m not leaving you. It might look like I’m leaving, but I’m not leaving. This is not the end.’”

Ever since, my sister tells me, she revels in the opportunity to take communion. Because she so wants to see Jesus.


Read more from Rev. Carolyn Moore at www.artofholiness.com.

Jeff Rudy ~ To Be the Body of Christ

Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.

–  The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian

Several weeks ago on a Sunday morning I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching. My daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier. So when I woke up feeling unsettled, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”

Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. My body has never felt that bad in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.

Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected, to such a degree that when one part hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times; even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking to stay hydrated and get some nourishment to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery.

And then there’s the first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? It’s not like you’re able to eat a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back; it’s so refreshing to eat and know it’s going to stay down.

To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. When my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.

When our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its purpose – vitality! Life!

There are times when the body, that is, the church, is out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more tend to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn or to break bread. There are times where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”

But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering: putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore fellowship, to practice the presence of God and to be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another haven’t made it to the table yet.

We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we, that is, the church, might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Visible Tokens: Communion through a Chain Link Fence

Migration, borders, citizenship. These are ongoing topics of emotion and debate. Yet, people live at the heart of most weighty issues: men, women, and children whose lives demand that conversations move beyond the hypothetical. That’s what I experienced while in Tijuana, Mexico, teaching at an evangelism seminar with our WME Institute.

**Take a deep breath, this is not a post about policy or politics. It’s a post about people. And the Holy Spirit.

While I was in Tijuana, I had the opportunity to visit the wall that separates Mexico from the United States. To the west is the Pacific Ocean – a beautiful sight from either side. Jutting inland from the Pacific is the border wall, brightly painted with wonderful, urban art. A garden runs beside the wall, edging a plaza with steps leading down to the ocean. A wonderfully cheerful atmosphere until you begin to gaze more deeply.

If you look closely, you’ll notice a locked gate. It leads into a “no man’s land” about 30 yards wide between the barriers that separate the two countries. Once a month, the Mexican government opens the gate and allows families to enter. They cross those 30 yards where others – family members or friends – wait beyond the US barrier.

There is no gate on the US side. But for a while, though separated by wire and watched by US border patrol officers, families can talk, clasping fingers through the small gaps, connecting across the barrier that divides them.

Every month, on the day the gate opens, the Methodist Church is present – on both sides of the wall. There is conversation. There is prayer.

And there is Holy Communion.

Together, the pastor in Mexico and the pastor in the US lead people in an act that transcends borders and walls, division and separation. Simultaneously, they all share in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

I talk often about the importance of signs, all those visible tokens of unseen realities that are spiritually significant, all those things – sometimes miraculous, but often ordinary – that point to Christ and his healing, reconciling, redeeming love. I believe these Holy Spirit-infused moments, when the thin veil of reality billows ever so slightly and we gain a glimpse of something larger and deeper than ourselves, are the moments that form and strengthen and sustain us in faith and in life.

Jesus told us the poor would be with us for a long time. Because following Jesus is a long haul, full life project, it’s the same with the good work we do on his behalf. That is why signs are so important.

Though the issues encountered by a visit to the Mexico-US border in Tijuana are larger than any one person, as followers of Jesus we work for God’s justice in our world. And amid that work, we gather, month after month, open to power of the Holy Spirit to move aside the veil, as we embody through the bread and the cup our faith in the One who transcends all barriers and levels all walls.

Carolyn Moore ~ The Dog Ate the Communion Bread

I went to church on a Saturday morning to meet a group of folks who wanted me to offer communion to their group. The first person I saw was one of the leaders. She drove right up next to me in the parking lot, rolled down her window, and said, “the dog ate the communion bread.” I thought she was joking, but she looked at me with dead seriousness and said, “no, really. How can a miniature dachshund need that much communion bread?”

What a powerful analogy for what happens to so many people in this world. Good people, intelligent people who somewhere along the way got hurt by the church, or found such hypocrisy among Christians that they couldn’t see the point of it. It is as if the dog has eaten their communion bread. It is as if Satan or life or fallen human beings or something else in the world has stolen their right to be in communion with God. The terrible result for too many of us is that we no longer trust God. We are suspicious that maybe he does not have our best interests at heart. We secretly wonder if given an inch, God would try to make us walk a mile we don’t want to walk.

After all, if God is so good, why is life so hard?

This question baits the enemy of our souls. If he can get us to suspect God’s motives, he can yank us right down into misery and anger. All the anger, fear and loneliness we feel has a single root cause. It grows out of a basic distrust in God — in his power to provide, in his sovereignty, in his desire to do for us.

The antidote is in the names of God. We discover in his names the character of the One worthy of our trust. Yahweh: “I Am.” Emmanuel: “God With Us.”

Figuring out who God is is fundamental to how we relate to him. Thomas Merton writes: “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”

Jeremiah Smith says there is nothing more important, no higher priority in your life, than for you to figure out who God is. Knowing God affects everything else in your life. It affects your choices, your relationships, your outlook, everything.

The name El Shaddai literally means, “God Almighty,” but the Hebrew sages often translated this name as a statement from God: “I said to the world, enough.” This name of God is a precious promise to his children: “In the face of your great need, I am enough.”

That truth ought to be life-changing. The same God who brought you out of slavery to sin, who defeated the enemy of your soul, who made hope bigger than death, is enough. The same God who broke into our world through a virgin’s birth has power enough to be in the midst of your greatest struggles, defeating your enemies, reframing and redeeming everything. Because God is enough, nothing is lost in his economy.

To know God is the great quest. I believe that quest begins with the name that assures us God is enough. Whatever our sin, brokenness, problems, whatever else in our lives vies for our attention, God is enough.

El Shaddai. Enough.

Reprinted with permission from www.artofholiness.com.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Binary Eucharist

I like my smartphone. I like Facebook (sometimes), Twitter, and email. I like accessing directions while I’m driving somewhere.

You may be different, preferring a flip phone, cork bulletin boards and stopping at a gas station for directions. I understand that. Most of us live with one foot in both worlds, enjoying crisp Christmas cards in the mailbox and photos of loved ones on social networking sites on the computer.

The same is true in the church. Your congregation likely has both a website and some kind of printed brochure or bulletin or order of worship. You may send paper and digital newsletters. Most of us know that some things can’t be reduced to zeros and ones – the binary code behind what you see on your screen right now. The difference between a crumbling, decadent chocolate cupcake in your hand and the image of one on a screen is still vast.

And in the same way that Skype is great for communicating with loved ones far away – but that physical presence is better when possible – podcasts of sermons, broadcasts of Holy Communion and digitized “giving” stations (church lobby ATMs) are good when you can’t physically engage in worship. But the rich chocolate cupcake on the screen or in the earbuds can never be replaced by the bite of fudgy goodness in your mouth.

Of course podcasts, broadcasts, emails and recorded sermons are good. They can be a means of grace, communicating grace and truth to people in your community and farther away around your state, country and world. Of course we shouldn’t shun emerging technology. Of course it should be both/and.

But it should be both/and. The Body of Christ can’t be reduced to a series of zeros and ones. This is why a nursing home resident may watch sermons on their television but still ask to be wheeled down to the weekly worship service in the multipurpose room. This is why that same resident may request that their pastor bring them communion occasionally.

This isn’t just a discussion on the digital age and screen time (Lord save us from a parenting debate on screen time). It’s about the value of physicality in worship. The Orthodox church embodies this beautifully, and let’s consider a few examples from their liturgy – which is their theology.

Visit an Orthodox church, and more even than visiting a Roman Catholic church, you will be immersed in a sensory explosion. The priest doesn’t just speak about the Holy Spirit or read about the Holy Spirit: thick incense covers your clothes, the scent lingering in your hair after you leave. When’s the last time you felt like you smelled the Spirit of God?

Visit an Orthodox church, and you will observe the importance of procession. Procession is a physical act of proclamation more than a verbal act of proclamation. We march, we parade the Gospel, we practice walking it around, we turn our bodies toward it and humble ourselves in its presence.

Visit an Orthodox church, and you will be allowed to kneel for a blessing and to receive blessed bread – not the Holy Mystery of Christ’s body and blood, but a blessed gift for visitors. The spongy bread often absorbs the heavy fragrance of incense, and again, there is rich awareness of the Spirit of God.

Our Orthodox brethren – for Protestants can at least claim Catholic and Orthodox believers as kin, even if they cannot theologically return the favor – are keenly aware of the symbolism that drenches every aspect of worship. No act is wasted or meaningless: and it’s been this way for about a thousand years.

So when you consider the relationship between worship life and technology, reflect on a few of these things.

*Is there value in physically putting money in an offering plate beyond the consumer-related act of swiping a card in a lobby? Is there value in inviting members to physically bring their offerings forward?

*Is there value in extending the Communion table, celebrating Holy Communion more regularly, and regularly sharing it with those at home, in the hospital or in care centers?

*Is there value in the senior pastor serving on the nursing home, homeless shelter or prison ministry preaching schedule, not just a staff member?

*Is there value in shaping your worship space to allow for occasional kneeling for those who are able? What is the value of physically kneeling in worship?

*Is there value in congregational standing for the reading of the Gospel? Is there value in incorporating procession in your service – whether clergy, children or choir?

In some cultures around the world, Christian worship is a very physical experience, never meant to be reduced to the act of sitting still and listening. So keep the website, the podcasts, the prayer emails, the YouTube sermons.

But remember – some parts of ministry can only ever be done one on one. And some parts of the Christian faith can never be reduced to zeros and ones. No one wants a digital potluck.

So “taste and see that the Lord is good”…

Maxie Dunnam ~ I Am the Bread of Life

It is absurd to apologize for mystery.

Keep that sentence in your mind now because I will be coming back to it in the sermon today, and may be coming back to again and again in this series of sermons which we begin this morning. It is absurd to apologize for mystery.

Some of you movies buffs will remember an Italian film entitled Le Dolce Vita. As that movie opens, a helicopter is flying rather slowly and not very high above the earth. Slung from the helicopter is a kind of rope halter in which there is a statue dressed in robes with arms outstretched. Now and then it becomes rather amusing as the camera focuses simply on that statue, and it looks as though the statue is flying through the air alone. It passes a field where some men are working in tractors. They look up and see this sight and become very excited. They begin shouting to one another and pointing and then one of the fellas recognize who it is a statute of and says, hey, that’s Jesus. The others become even more excited. They throw their hats into the air; they wave and they scream, but the helicopter moves on. It comes into the edge of the city of Rome and is flying rather low over an apartment building, on the top of which is a swimming pool surrounded by beautiful girls dressed in bikinis. The helicopter does a double take as the men flying it see what’s going on there. It comes back and it hovers over the swimming pool and in an effort to attract the girls’ attention, the men began to shout down at the them, asking them for their telephone numbers, telling them that they’re going to finish their mission – taking the statue to the Vatican – and would be quite happy to come back when they finished that mission.

It’s a rather amusing thing to see and Frederick Buechner describes the kind of reaction the audience had in a college town where he saw that movie. At first it was an immediate reaction of laughter; laughter at the incongruity of it all. On the one hand, the sacred statue dangling from the sky; on the other hand, the profane Italians and the bosomy young bathing beauties. One of them cold, remote, so out of place, hanging there from the sky; the other made of flesh so radiant with life. When the thing comes on and the people begin to laugh, no one doubts as to what they’re laughing at and no one doubts as to whose expense it is. But when the helicopter gets on into the center of Rome, the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral looms up from the earth, and then for the first time, the camera people focus in just on the statue, and very soon this figure of Jesus fills the screen. And then the move on in, zoom on in, until only the bearded face of Jesus fills the entire screen and there’s no more laughter. All is quiet and still; there is complete silence, because it seems as though they are seeing their own face for the first time. A face that they may not have seen before, but a face that they somehow know belonged to them, or that somehow they know they belong to. It’s absurd to apologize for mystery.

And there’s mystery here; mystery in the way that Jesus comes to us; mystery in the way that when we, in his presence, in our heart of hearts, have to be still and quiet and look and listen and ask, what have you to do with me Jesus of Nazareth? Or, what must I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?

This is a season of reflection and assessment. The season when we focus our eyes in a disciplined gaze upon Jesus. The season when we position ourselves in relation to Jesus in order to receive his judgment and his grace. To facilitate this long look at Jesus, I’m going to preaching a series of sermons on the great claims of Jesus. Those passages in the scripture where Jesus says, I am, I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection and the light. In these sayings of Jesus, these great claims, he writes his autobiography. It is as though in words he is painting a self-portrait, and this is what we want to look at.

And we begin today, with that one word from our scripture lesson – I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst. Let’s put that verse of scripture in the immediate, as well as in the larger context of the scripture. Jesus has performed a number of miracles, miracles of healing. Just the day before, he has performed that miracle of multiplying the loaves and the fishes and feeding the multitude of 5,000 people. At the close of the day, the disciples take a vote and move across the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus goes off alone to be by himself and quiet and to renew his soul in relation to God. On the next day, the crowd, wanting to see Jesus again, decide to go over where they saw the disciples go, thinking that the disciplines may know where Jesus is. When they get there, Jesus is with them. They didn’t know it, but he had walked across the water and joined the disciples in that miracle that amazed the disciples themselves. And when they see Jesus there, they ask, when did you come here, Rabbi? Jesus didn’t answer their question, but rather he pressed the deeper issue of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. And he said to them, you’re really not concerned about who I am as the powerful Son of God, you ate your fill yesterday of the loaves and fishes, and that’s what you’re interested in. Then he laid his claim upon them, do not spend yourself, he said, for bread that perishes, but seek that bread which is God’s offer of eternal life. And then he made the connection between what he had done in feeding the multitude and what had happened in the wilderness when day in and day out Moses and the wandering Jews had received Manna from heaven.

Listen to those verses there, 32 and 33, “then Jesus said unto them, verily verily I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven, but my father giveth you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven and giveth life to the world. Then said they unto him, Lord ever more give us this bread. And then Jesus made his claim. I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me will never thirst.” It’s absurd to apologize for mystery.

So we’ll not bother to apologize or to explain or to rationalize, but simply nail these truths down as the core of our learning today.

One – life depends on bread. We can’t live without being physically nourished – life depends on bread.

Two – this physical bread is God-given. The anonymous poet stated it clearly, back of the loaf is the snowy flour and back of the flour the mill and back of the mill are the wheat and the shower and the sun and the father’s will. Physical bread is God’s gift.

Three – for all of God’s children to have this bread, we humans must corporately labor and share. For all God’s children to have this bread, we humans must corporately labor and share. Augustine put it a pithy sentence – without God we cannot, without us God will not. Get that. Without God, we cannot, without us God will not. God will not make a loaf without us, and we cannot make a loaf without God. So in a loaf of bread we have symbolized the fact that we are dependent upon bread, we’re dependent upon God, we’re dependent upon each other. So we need to remember that the way this world is constituted, there are those who will not eat unless we provide them the bread to eat; that is, unless we provide the necessary resources by which they can get bread. So, again, for all God’s children to have this bread, we must humans must corporately labor and share.

Now a fourth learning. While in its most elementary form, life depends upon bread, bread only nourishes life, it doesn’t make life all that God intended it to be. Now I wish I had time to talk about this at length. Parents, it is not enough for you simply to provide food and clothing for your children; it’s not simply enough for you to provide them a good education; it’s not enough for you to simply provide them the physical necessities of life. Husbands, wives, it’s not enough simply for you to share together in the parenting process; it’s not enough for you simply to provide sexual satisfaction for your mate; life demands more than that. Life demands relationship; caring and sharing, tenderness and affection, giving as well as receiving love. There must be shared values and commitments. I don’t believe people fall in love. People grow in love. And people don’t fall out of love, they cease to love because they cease growing in love. There is a quote with one great truth – “if thou hast two loaves of bread, sell one and buy lilies.” Now that’s the truth. Life needs more than bread; it needs lilies. It needs love and light and beauty and blessedness.

Now the fifth learning, the biggest truth. Jesus said it, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. That is Jesus’ answer to the devil when after 40 days in the wilderness, he had been fasting, and was terribly hungry, and the devil said to him, why don’t you turn these stones into bread in order that you might eat. And Jesus’ response was, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” For us Christians, we know that we not only live by the words of God as we find them in the scripture, we live by the word of God who is Christ himself.

Here it is in a story out of Great Britain. An old scrubwoman was taken ill. Her friends managed to get enough money to get her into the hospital. During her convalescing, she went up and down the corridors of the hospital meeting the other patients and visiting with them. She became very close friends with a 12-year-old boy across the hall from her. Johnny was his name, redheaded, freckle-faced, a kind of stereotypical 12-year-old. They became fast friends. The little boy was very sick. One early morning, a commotion awaken the old scrubwoman and very soon the mother of Johnny came rushing into her room saying, the doctors are here and they say Johnny has only 10 or 15 minutes to live – he loves you so much, won’t you come and say something to him. Well that was a tough task for a simple woman, but with the courage of a great Christian, she walked across the hall, sat down by the bedside of Johnny, took his frail hand between her calloused palms, looked him in the eye and said, “listen Johnny, God made you, God loves you. God sent his son to save you, God wants you to come home and live with him.” Johnny lifted himself feebly up on his elbow, a smile, a faint smile came on his face and he said, “say it again.” And the old woman repeated it. “Johnny, God made you, God loves you. God sent his son to save you.” And a big smile came on Johnny’s face and he said, “tell God thank you.” The old woman knew it, the 12-year-old learned it, man shall not live by bread alone, but by the words of God – more than that – by the word of God, Christ himself.

And that brings us to our focus today. The bread that will be brought to the altar in a moment, is symbolic of it. It is absurd to apologize for mystery.

This is the ultimate truth of the Christian gospel. The bread must be broken in order for us to be nourished by it. And that’s what this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is all about. The body of Christ continually broken, that the salvation and the continued life of Jesus Christ might come to you and me. That’s a mystery. It’s absurd to apologize for mystery, we simply receive it.

Go back to our scripture lesson – the crowd was thinking, if not saying, “wait a minute. It was Moses who gave our ancestors bread in the wilderness. Do you mean to tell us that you can do the same thing?” Jesus said, it wasn’t Moses. It wasn’t Moses who gave you bread in the wilderness, it was God. And God has sent down his bread from heaven to you. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst. And the crowd said, Lord, give us this bread always.