Summary: The understanding of Holy Communion comes through experience more than rational thought.
GOING OUT OF YOUR MIND
TEXT: Luke 24:13-35
One of my favorite books for mindless reading is the Science Fiction parody, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, probably because it contains one of my favorite illustrations of being mindless. The people of the universe are burning to know the answer to the meaning of life. So, to answer that question, they consult the greatest mind in the universe--a computer called "Deep Thought." "O, Deep Thought," they ask, "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything"? Well, this is a tough question and Deep Thought takes a few thousand years to compute the answer. Finally, thousands of years later, the answer is ready. “Well?” they ask Deep Thought, “What is the answer? What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” Deep Thought answers, “42.”
At first they are stunned and think it is a joke. Then someone suggests that it is a profound answer that can only be understood by discovering what the right question is. They then go off on another wild goose chase after the proper question, which turns out to be--as you can probably guess--”what is 6 times 7?”.
I love that scene because it points to one of the great mistakes of our modern culture...the assumption that technical, scientific knowledge--the accumulation of verifiable facts--is the only sort of knowledge...the only kind of truth that there is. If you’re going to go asking a computer about the meaning of life, you deserve to get an answer like 42.
In many ways, we are a culture of the mind. I once heard a statistic that claimed that the most dreaded disease in our culture was Alzheimer’s--the disease that takes away the mind. When we think of smart people, we think of those with lots of technical knowledge--scientists, doctors, astronauts. Our generic term for a brilliant person is a “rocket scientist,” not an English teacher or musician. It’s a bias we have toward the technical and verifiable, and that cultural bias spills over into our faith.
Who are the heretics? The ones who do not think the correct doctrines. It doesn’t matter what they have done with their lives, if they express the wrong thoughts, we burn them at the stake. The debate over infant versus adult baptism is often a question of how much one has to be able to understand, and we say someone is a believer when they are able to tell us the right sort of doctrine about Jesus. Most important for our point today is that the battles over Holy Communion, also, have largely been fought over thinking--how do we think about the bread and the wine--are they literally or just figuratively the body and blood of Christ--and how is that rationally possible anyway?
This morning I would like to invite you to go out of your minds for a while, as I think this passage from Luke invites us to do. I don’t want to say that our minds have no value. Church should not be a place where you have to check your brain at the door. But neither should it be a place where only the brain gets to participate. There are other means of knowing, other modes of understanding.
The message of Jesus is not so much about how to think as it is about how to live. It is not so much in the thinking, but in the doing of things that we really understand. Most ancient cultures knew this. The smart people were who? The elders--those who had lived the longest--because they had real knowledge, the knowledge that comes from experiencing a lot of life. You know this. If I take a course in sociology, I might say I know about poverty. But that is laughable to those who lived in poverty every day of their lives--THEY know about poverty.
This message is especially important for Communion. Look at the story we read from Luke. Jesus walks all the way to Emmaus with two men, talking about Scripture--head stuff. It is apparently an interesting conversation, but it doesn’t allow them to see Jesus. They walk all that way with the Son of God opening the Scriptures to them, and they haven’t got a clue who their traveling companion is. When are their eyes opened? When do they see Jesus? When Jesus DOES something, when he breaks the bread. It is only AFTER they encounter Jesus in the action of breaking bread...the ritual action that preceded every Jewish meal... that they remember what he SAID earlier on the road.
Don’t miss this. For a long time we Christians have tried to talk people into faith. We quote Scripture to them, we explain about the Cross, and only after they tell us they believe these things, do we invite them to the actions, "Believer’s" baptism, or the ritual meal of Communion where God has promised to meet us. Well, suppose the road to Emmaus is telling us that this is backwards. Suppose we need to encounter Jesus in the waters of baptism and the breaking of the bread BEFORE we can even begin to understand Scripture or doctrine.