Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sermon Series, Good Shepherd and Mother's Day

Do you hear that calliope music playing?  Is it just me?  This weekend, there is a lot to juggle in this sermon: Scripture (as always), the sermon series, Mother’s Day, and endings.

In our readings this weekend, we have the pastoral images of Jesus as shepherd – the one who calls us each by name – who calls to each one of us to hear and follow him wherever he may lead us.

In the Acts reading, we have the report of the earliest church – the birth of a new thing as people heard and followed the voice and teachings of Jesus leading them to create a Christian community in the world, breaking bread often together. 

The breaking of the bread is the focus of our sermon series this week.  We use bread and wine, as we believe Jesus did at that very first Eucharist which we celebrated on Maundy Thursday evening.  “This is my body – do this in remembrance of me.” “This is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.”

How many different elements are there on the altar?  Is it only bread and wine?  Is it only body and blood?  Is it all four – or only two? Which two? 

We are Episcopalians, so I’ll bet if I stopped and took a straw poll right now, we would have all kinds of answers.  And that’s how we like it. You and I do not have to believe the exact same way about what happens during our Eucharistic prayer.  Our Prayer Book leaves a wide breadth of meaning for this great mystery.  Basically there are four ways to believe about what happens:
            Transubstantiation is the most extreme on one end.  This tends to be the Roman Catholic view: the wine and bread become the body and blood. Two elements continue as Two elements totally transformed. 
            Consubstantiation is almost-but-not-quite the same idea.  Luther proposed that the wine and bread are not completely transformed, but that in a mysterious way Christ is in the bread and wine as promised.  Two elements become Four.
            Real Presence is the belief Wesley held – that somehow when we share bread and wine and prayers, Christ is present with us and among us, but not necessarily in the elements. Two elements stand as Four here also.
            Remembrance is the most protestant belief that we do the act of Eucharist as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s actions past and present in our lives. Two elements remain Two elements.

Depending on how and what we believe, affects how we proceed.  With the belief that the elements become the body and blood, then we treat those elements as special after the prayers have been said. Body and blood are treated differently than bread and wine.  We do that here and in every Episcopal Church I have served.  Look at page 873 in your BCP.  These are the Articles of Religion that guide our thinking about who we are and what we do as an Episcopal Church.  Article XXVIII – 28 for those of y’all who don’t speak Roman – states that “Transubstantiation…cannot be proved by Holy Writ…[&]…is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture…hath given occasion to many superstitions.”  It goes on pointedly to note that “the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped.”

Hmmmmm. So I guess that as a church, we officially believe in consubstantiation?  We do reserve the elements in a special place and treat them differently after the Eucharistic prayer.  Now I have other friends who are ministers in other denominations, who also believe in consubstantiation, who do not reserve or treat the elements any differently afterwards.  They will say, “If Jesus is smart enough to get himself into the elements, he’s smart enough to get himself back out.”  So even within these broad categories of belief, there are different practices.  None is wrong. 

Even the way we deliver the elements vary: paten and chalice, rip and dip, tear and share, shot glasses on a hubcap.  If you have been to different churches, I’ll bet you have participated in all of these ways. We are all doing our best to “Do this in remembrance of Me.” None is wrong.

What do you believe?  The Episcopal Church allows you to settle in somewhere with your own theory of what is happening here.  As Mike said last week in the sermon about the Eucharistic prayers, read them – each says something different about what is happening.  Each one of the 6 full prayers has a different stance about how we celebrate and remember.

This is my last weekend to preach here among you.  I will be out of town next weekend, and then I will celebrate on May 25 at the 1030 service and at all three services on my last weekend, May 31-June 1. I am already doing the work of remembering and celebrating the work and worship time we have had together here over the last five years.  I entered this space as a newly minted Seminary graduate and I leave as a slightly seasoned Episcopal Priest.  I was ordained in this space twice. You all have mothered me in the most loving way over the last five years – raising me up and now sending me off.  This church and each of you will always be beloved to me and I will continue to give thanks to God for you as I listen and follow our Good Shepherd out through the gate from this place. Amen.

Audio  of this sermon can be heard on the PodBean Player on the right column.