Complicating Communion

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
June 17, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30
Sermon: “Complicating Communion”

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

So, here we are. You, me, the Sanctuary, and the hanging stole. Week before last I had dinner with dear friend who is nearing 30 years of service in the military. She asked me how work was. “It’s complicated.” She said something like, “Cynthia. I work at the Pentagon. My work is complicated. How can the church be complicated?”

This past week, I met with four different couples who are getting married. The journey involved in planning a wedding can create immense stress. It’s amazing how an event that lasts less than my commute home can become so complicated. For those who have a Facebook account, you may have come across the options to describe your current relationship status: “It’s complicated.” I’ve come to the profound conclusion that Christianity would be much easier to practice if people were not involved. But here you are and here I am and things just seem complicated. Throw in all the rules of the Methodist church and (in my opinion) things just get a bit messier. If you thought the Bible was complicated, then try reading the Book of Discipline. In this interesting document, an attempt to define the responsibilities and duties of a pastor (para 331) reminds me of what the job description of the Captain of the Star Trek Enterprise must have looked like—we all have our ideas of how a pastor should spend their time and what the church ought to be doing. And it gets complicated.

Jesus was not a complicated guy. He really only had two requests—that we love one another and that we share bread and wine in relationship with one another. Not a complicated relationship, but a loving one. What would the church look like if we followed those two simple requests?

I think most here have experienced rejection. And being rejected by the church is a feeling that truly cuts to the core of our being. Feeling abandoned and alone while surrounded by a faith community creates a mysterious longing. But longing propels us forward. Longing indicates that something deeply profound is going on in our hearts, revealing an inexplicable desire for connection and that is why rejection can hurt.

Every time I hear someone express emotional pain attributed to the church, a memory is stirred. September 4th, 2005, was a Communion Sunday. I was in my fifth year as an Associate Chaplain at the beautiful gothic Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy. There were two other Associate Chaplains and a Senior Chaplain. One of my counterparts was a major in the Army and ordained by the Presbyterian Church of America. We took turns officiating Communion and September 4th I was leading Communion. After consecrating the elements, the practice was to serve the other ministers and then the ushers would pass out the wafers and juice cups to the congregation. I approached the major to serve him Communion, but he was deep in prayer. I served the other chaplains and returned to him, and realized that he was not going to receive communion from me.

One of the reasons the Presbyterian Church of America left the Presbyterian Church in the United States nearly 50 years ago was over the subject of the ordination of women. Interpretation of Scripture leads to quite a bit of theology that creates rules which affect how a community of faith practices its beliefs.

Jesus asks us to love one another and share a meal together. But with our human-ness, practicing those two simple requests gets quite complicated.

A month after my distressing Communion experience, our family was at our niece’s baptism in a Lutheran church in Minnesota. My son, Luke, was two years old. In a comical story for another day, we were late to the service due to miscommunication about the church service start and navigational challenges. In the hectic-ness of the morning, Luke did not get breakfast. Even when he was two-years-old, missing a meal could be catastrophic. When it came time for Communion, I carried Luke with me to the altar where we kneeled awaiting the priest to offer bread and the cup. I totally forgot that in the Lutheran church younger children do not receive Communion. As the priest came to us, Luke reached out for the bread and the priest denied him the bread. In the stillness of the church, a voice louder than the organ’s shrillest note wailed, “I want bread.” Frantically, my mind weighed the theological ramifications against a mother’s total embarrassment…I gave him my bread and in return received quite the admonishing look from the priest.

Our Scripture reads:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Learning to live freely and lightly—why is that so challenging? A few weeks ago I had a Bucket List experience. I’ve always wanted to go to the National Spelling Bee and it happened to be at the conference center I was staying. Lots of tired, worn out kids and parents. And the words these kids had to spell were very heavy and ill-fitting. The final two contestants were from neighboring towns in Texas—they were both very weary and tired. It was almost eleven o’clock when 12-year-old Naysa stepped to the microphone to hear her word, and I am not making this up: Bewusstseinslage (buh-voos-tines-lahga). A gasp came from the audience…like what obscure Webster dictionary word is this? Naysa misspelled the word and 14-year-old Karthik’s word for the championship: koinonia. I almost yelled out, “I know how to spell this!!!” Any minister can spell koinonia, tell you it is of Greek origin, and means “communion.” I guess the Scripps Spelling Bee committee believe communion to be so complicated that why not pick it for the championship word?

Koinonia also means Christian fellowship. You. Me. St. Paul’s in Lincoln to where Jane is going, and College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita who today say goodbye to their pastor, Rev. Kent Little. We are bonded in our faith and in our relationships. Christian fellowship can be compassionate, and it can be intolerable. As we gather here in our Christian koinonia, I wonder about the thousands of children separated from their parents at the order of our government. And I wonder about Ashland United Methodist Church in Alabama. Church gets complicated because some in our Christian tribe, our Christian community, cite the Bible to justify hate. Attorney General Methodist card holding member of Ashland UMC Jeff Sessions quoted from one of the most misused passages in the New Testament, Romans 13, which talks about obeying the law. Yet had he quoted the entirety of Romans 13, he would have read that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That love does no harm to a neighbor. And that the fulfillment of the law is love. Not separating families, or protecting one’s interests at the expense of others.

We’ve complicated community and communion and church and love. Mark Nepo, spiritual teacher probably best known for his book about awakening, just published a new book entitled More Together Than Alone, which is about discovering the power and spirit of community in our lives and in the world, and returns us to a very simple truth: We must love one another or perish. He offers that in the beginning, there were two tribes—each with its own way of meeting the world. One tribe, when meeting a stranger, would say, “You are different, go away.” The other tribe welcomed the stranger, saying “You are different. Come, teach me what I don’t know.”

The cover of the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine caught my attention as it asks, “Which World Are We Living In?” A very interesting article found in the magazine is entitled, “Tribal World: Group Identity is All.” We are tribal animals—we like to belong to groups. The author, Amy Chua, writes, “Political tribalism is fracturing the United States, transforming the country into a place where people from one tribe see others not just as the opposition, but also as immoral, evil and un-American.”1 Karl Marx recognized long ago how capitalistic societies thrive on alienating one another. To be simplistic, Marxism differs from Christianity in that Marxism focuses on material things, while Christianity is about the spiritual. But what has happened, I believe, in America is that we’ve complicated Christian community, koinonia, with capitalistic tribalism and that is why we are becoming a “Go Away” tribe.

When I was trying to serve Communion back on September 4th in 2005, the message I received was “Go Away.” When I took my son to receive Communion, the message he received was “Go Away.” When refugees desire to come to America, the message our government sends is “Go Away.”

Everything about Jesus and Christianity communicates we are to be part of the welcoming tribe.

Soon, we will share Communion together. We as Christians have complicated the explanation of Communion with words like transubstantiation and consubstantiation and instantiation. Maybe those words can be part of the Spelling Bee. When we as a koinonia join together in Communion, we are being strengthened. The grain of hope and the cup of blessing open the space time continuum so we can connect across the energetic realms to flow in us, giving us courage to remain in the welcoming tribe even though it is so tempting to join the tribe that reacts to fear. When you participate in Communion, you connect with the living reality of the energy of love Christ embodied.

If you are weary, burned out on religion, then come join in the meal no matter who you are, what you’ve done, what you believe, or what fears complicate your mind. All are welcome.

SALAAM SHALOM PEACE be with you.

1. Chua, Amy. “Tribal World: Group Identity Is All.” Foreign Affairs. July/August 2018. 32-33. Print.