June 3, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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An Invitation to Communion

This morning I would like to invite you to our celebration of communion.  We
always say that we celebrate an open communion; that this sacrament is for
all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of
God's people.  That may seem such an all-purpose sentence that the
importance of it could easily be lost.  And the importance is not so much in
what is says, as what it doesn't say.

If any of you have read our newsletter for this month, you know that in the
early years of this church there was a two-tier division of membership.
There were members who had been admitted by baptism and were welcome in
worship but were not included in the celebration of the Lord's Supper or
permitted to vote at church meetings.  In order to receive communion, a
baptized member had to confess a personal experience of conversion - a
radical break with the past and a beginning of something new.  After, and
only after, such an experience, was a person ready for full church
membership and welcome at the Lord's Table.

The idea was this, as one writer put it: "Congregations were composed of
true saints, and saints were not true saints unless their hearts had been
wounded for their sin and they had been forgiven and healed by God's grace."
And, we might add, they were willing to share all this with the rather stern
men who ran the church.

I described all this in the June newsletter in relation to the big media
push for the Luis Palau Crusade, which is based on a similar emphasis on a
discernible powerful emotional moment of conversion.  And my point was
simply that this kind of experience relates more to temperament than to true
faith.  It certainly is not the only way or even the most reliable way for a
person to come to an experience of God's grace, nor should it be used as a
test for an invitation to the Lord's Table.

People experience their need for forgiveness and grace in different ways,
and whatever way we come to that experience, the important thing is that we
all agree that God's spirit of hope and encouragement is alive and active in
the world today; that it was made visible in Christ; that it is available
here and now for those who humbly seek it.

All the great teachers and all the great faiths spend considerable time on
the subject of the importance of humility.  They sense how easy it is for us
to slip into self-righteousness and false judgment of others.

In Buddhism it is written: The faults of others we see easily; our own are
very difficult to see.

The Sikhs have an interesting way to putting this: They who quarrel with
others, instead of quarreling with their own hearts, waste their lives.

And Jesus said quite bluntly:  First take the log out of your own eye, and
then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

In the Roman church, before you receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, you
are expected to make your confession to a priest.  In our tradition we do
not have penance and reconciliation as a separate sacrament, but have
incorporated it into the worship life of the church.  For many years it
would have been a normal part of any Congregational communion service to
have a unison prayer that went:

Almighty and most merciful Father: We have erred, and strayed from thy ways
like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our
own hearts.  We have offended against thy holy laws.  We have left undone
those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things
which we ought not to have done.  But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.
Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore thou those who
are penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ
Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we
may hereafter live a godly, righteous and sober life, to the glory of thy
holy name.

That prayer would usually be followed by an invitation to the Lord's table
with these words: Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins and
are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life,
following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy
ways: Draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.

"Saints were not true saints unless their hearts had been wounded for their
sin and they had been forgiven and healed by God's grace."

As much as the Catholics or the Fundamentalists, we felt the need to qualify
the invitation of God to receive grace in Jesus Christ.  In different ways
each tradition took  on the character of the religious authorities who
criticized Jesus for sharing his table with "the wrong kind of people."

As we read in Matthew, chapter 9: And as he sat at dinner in the house, many
tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your
teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"   But when he heard this, he
said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are
sick.   Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I
have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

I don't know how many here count themselves among the saints and how many
among the sinners.  I know that there are times when I'm pretty disappointed
in how I handle situations, how I treat people, how I neglect
responsibilities or squander opportunities, how I judge others.  Last week
Virnette spoke about the need to pass on the good news of God's love from
generation to generation.  I don't know if I've been able to pass along
hopes and virtues as easily as I've been able to pass along fears and
faults.  It certainly is a struggle that goes on in the workplace, in the
life of the church, and around the family table.

But now we gather at the Lord's table.  And Jesus welcomes us not with a
word of judgment, but with a word of peace, not with a test for admission,
but with a generosity of spirit that is greater than our minds can grasp.

This is not our table, it is the Lord's table.  We celebrate an open
communion and this sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of
Christ and to share in the community of God's people.  Saints and sinners,
come - for all things are now ready.