|September 4, 2005|
|First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct 06776|
|Rev. Michael Moran|
|Write to Rev. Moran|
Matthew 18:15-20 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This morning our order of worship is a little different from what it has typically been on the first Sunday of the month, and I’d like to take a minute to explain the reasons for the changes.
But first let me offer a little background. The worship of the Christian church follows a pattern set by the earliest Christians as described in the book of Acts in the Bible. These descriptions are pretty simple – for example very early in Acts it says that the believers in Christ devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. It also says, (Acts 2:45) they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
There it is – that’s the pattern set down and still the pattern we follow. Over time the breaking of bread became the sacrament of holy communion and the central focal point of the Christian liturgy.
Liturgy, which we tend to think of as our order of worship, has a broader meaning as rendering a service, either to the common good, or in a religious sense a service to God, especially in worship. In worship the liturgy is the service or work of the people – of the congregation.
But as the church developed a strong hierarchy and modeled it’s government on the political model of an empire with a Pope and Cardinals, and Archbishops and Bishops and Pastors, the liturgy was taken out of the hands of the people and put into the hands of the Priests. The average believer no longer had free access to God through Christ, but received Christ at the hands of the Priest in the sacrament of holy communion.
This was one of the developments that led to the Protestant Reformation, and during that time of revolutionary change there were some who thought you could not overcome the power of the priests without removing the sacrament of communion as the central focus of worship.
And what did they want to put it it’s place – going back to the early Christian community described in Acts – they put devoting themselves to the Apostle’s teaching – a teaching now contained in Holy Scripture – Scriptures, by the way, that were now being translated into languages that people really spoke in the street and being duplicated and made available through the revolutionary technology of the printing press.
That is why, at the center of our church, what you see is a Bible – that is why the focus of our liturgy is the sermon – an act of devotion to the teaching of the Apostle’s in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The sacrament of communion was not abandoned altogether, but in many traditions it was greatly downplayed. In my church growing up we celebrated communion four times a year, and you were not allowed to participate in it until you had gone through a course of study and, supposedly, understood the meaning of the sacrament.
When I arrived here communion was celebrated on the first Sunday of each month, but after the second hymn when the children left for Sunday School. As part of a broader movement in Protestant churches, people began to reexamine the place of the sacraments in the life of the church and realized that “understanding the meaning” might not be the only reason to allow people to participate in communion.
For example, in Vermont I used to conduct worship at the state school in Brandon for profoundly retarded adults. This was a congregation that could not understand a sermon but they could thoroughly enjoy singing and could appreciate the visual and communal nature of a ritual such as communion. They might not understand the theology of Christ’s substitutionary, atoning, sacrificial death on the cross, but they could grasp that they were joined in a special kind of fellowship when they participated in the ritual, shared the bread and the cup, and were permitted to join in the circle of solemn observance that a dignity of its own and granted them dignity as persons worthy to partake,
Children, of course, are a different kind of challenge to reach and teach, but in line with most Protestant churches today we are making an effort to integrate them more fully into the life of our worshipping community and so we will move the celebration of common to this position before the second hymn and invite all who are present, without regard to age or understanding, to partake in the full worship of the church, in the complete work of the people, in the liturgy that was set forth in the book of Acts and has been kept faithfully by church through all these generations.
To devote ourselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers; to bring our offerings from our possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any have need.
We celebrate an open communion. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people. Christ welcomes you. Christ recognizes you. Christ invites you into the circle of fellowship in his name. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
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