Summary: Christ is really present at the Table, and this Real Presence infuses us with his power, so that we may become what he calls us to be.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
June 5, 2011
THE TABLE AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH
John 6:53-59 (NIV)
53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Two weeks it’s been since Mary Poplin was here. It’s hard to believe the time has passed so quickly. Mary had an effect on me – I don’t know how else to put it – something I didn’t expect, actually. It only took me a few minutes being in her presence, and I knew. The Spirit of God was upon her. In a unique way.
The signs of it were subtle. I first noticed it during worship when I tried to introduce her. She rose to her feet so as to prevent me from going on about her. She had no need for anyone to know her credentials, her achievements, her importance. She was on a mission, and the mission wasn’t about her.
I saw it, too, in the way she absorbed the rigor of the morning: three worship services and a presentation during Sunday School. During that four-hour stretch, she never took a break and never missed a step. She remained gracious and focused. She was here for us, not herself; and, more important, she was here for God.
And then, too, there was what she talked about. It might have been Mother Teresa, and, of course, she spoke of her and told stories about her. But the nun from Calcutta wasn’t her message. Her message was the same as Mother Teresa’s. It was Jesus. And when Mary talked about Jesus, you knew she knew him.
So, what was the effect she had on me? It was this: She inspired me to want what she had. She made me want to be closer to Jesus. Gary Thomas, in his book Authentic Faith, describes a friend of his named Mike. He met Mike when he went to college. Mike was a leader among students. He had everything: a contagious personality, athletic ability, good looks, and natural appeal. And everybody wanted to be around Mike. Everybody wanted to be Mike.
But a few years after college, Mike suffered a brain hemorrhage, and, as a result, he lost everything: his handsome appearance was gone, his voice was slurred, he couldn’t teach any more. Everything that others admired in Mike was now taken from him.
His treatment required months of grueling therapy, but eventually he was able to function again. The devastating effect on his body was paralleled by an equally powerful change in his spirit. He still attracted followers, but he was no longer focused on himself. He was focused on God. Gary Thomas says, ‘In college, when I was around Mike, I wanted to be like Mike. Now, after spending time with Mike, I want to be more like Jesus.’
That’s the effect that Mary Poplin had on me. And, if people like Mary and Mike can make us feel that way, how much more does Jesus have that effect on us?
Becoming more like Jesus is simply another way of talking about spiritual growth. As we grow spiritually, that’s what happens. We become like our Lord. And what I want to suggest to you today – today, as we gather at the Table and break the bread and share the cup – as we do that, I want to suggest that the effect could be the same. We could find ourselves drawn to Jesus in a powerful way, so that we want to be like him. And I say that because, when we come to this Table, Jesus is here. It’s what we sometimes call the Real Presence.
The truth is: Christians have argued among themselves for centuries about the potency of Lord’s Supper. Some have said that communion conveys the life of Christ to us automatically. And it does this apart from hearing the Word and responding in faith. The elements of the Eucharist have a power of their own. Those who believe this say that the bread actually becomes the body of our Lord, and the wine actually becomes his blood. They quote Jesus’ words at the Last Supper -- you know, when he said about the bread, ‘This is my body.’ And they take him literally.