FRESH FAITH: Come to the Table of the Lord

Psalm 23
1 John 4: 7-14

September 5, 2021

I purposively chose a hymn that no one other than myself knows this morning for our song of praise. ‘Our Times are in Thy Hands’ was written by a friend of mine, Pastor Harvey Van Sciver. A friend with whom I have had frequent disagreements about a variety of things but a friend who gifted me my hymnal. He didn’t like my ties and when he pastored he chose the high pulpit; he would never preach close to his congregations. A man of great faith who was the classic example of traditionalist. And, to the surprise of every one of his children …. I am the only person on earth who could ever have gotten Harvey to sing a modern praise song in public. And, I am proud to say I convinced him to sing it at two services with my church’s praise team shocking every person in the congregation who disliked upbeat drum driven songs of faith when they saw him stand up tall to sing the lead male vocal part. Harvey has a great tenor voice but traditional choirs are his essence of music of faith.

But, he penned these words, obviously reflective of his traditional nature but also of his great faith in God and in Jesus Christ, “Our times are in thy hands, our lives belong to thee, thou God of now and yesterday and all that still shall be.

And, friends as we consider our collective need to be connected to God and to love God and to truly begin to treat Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord … it is time to state clearly that our lives belong to <<TURN UPWARD>> You, our God! God of all times.

As John writes in Revelations, “Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.”

Our essential decision in life comes down to whether we choose to come to the Table of the Lord. Whether we choose to freely and completely accept God’s gift from the life-giving spring. Whether we allow “God to remain in us where God’s love can be perfected through us.” You will know you are connected to God … I will know if I am by “the measure of God’s Spirit that remains in us” and is in active through us. Through our love for each other knowing that love is from God.”

We have so many options … just like a diner’s menu tempting us page after page with an amazing array of tasty choices … life in the year 2021 even amidst the sadly more evident and deadly pandemic gives us so many choices. Choices that many people traditionally connected with the church of Jesus Christ are making that forgo God’s life-giving spring of refreshment. Instead, they eagerly swallow up cup after cup of the world’s polluted streams because of friends or a desire to fit in or just excellent marketing by the world’s powers.

Somehow the Christian church has failed to share the message of Christ perhaps because we don’t want to talk about God in public with a loving approach to our neighbors … we don’t want to celebrate Jesus except when associated with presents under a tree and we don’t want to be led by the Holy Spirit at least not in front of your neighbors, co-workers and perhaps not even giving a hint to our family that the Spirit’s call to us matters. We have become worn down trying to hold true to our faith while also doing our best to hide that faith so we fit into the world.

These last four weeks I have been attempting to redirect my life with God and yours by bringing a renewed freshness in our faith walk. I have been using Jim Cymbala’s ‘Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire’ as my reference point. I have talked about our need to escape to our own quiet places to bond with God again, to pray with deliberation, to rediscover the sacrifice of time for worship, to shake up our lives by actually reading Scripture every day, and today … today when the Table of the Lord is set before us. A day when those of us in church have the elements of transformation with us and hopefully those of you worshiping online also have set aside a piece of bread or a cracker along with a cup of juice or water … today are you ready to commit your life to one where you come to the Table of the Lord with eagerness, energy, and true faith build on your love of God?

The prophet Jeremiah states the choice made by people of faith quite succinctly, “You will seek me and find me WHEN you seek me with ALL of your HEART you will find me.” Because friends, to come to the Table of the Lord requires a commitment not a casualness. To live as a person of faith it requires a change in activity, attitude, and approach to the waking hours. To fulfill the two commandments of God that are clear in the Old Testament but made absolutely evident to any individual who hears what Jesus says we must do … well, you can’t fake it … “You MUST love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind.” ALL your heart … wait Jesus said must and Jeremiah shares God’s call that we will find God when we seek God with all of our hearts. And, the second commandment is that we love all of our neighbors as we love ourselves and I am pretty sure we all understand how to love ourselves.

And, people come to me frequently saying that they do not understand why they can’t sense God’s presence. Like me all too frequently, they need to refresh and reassess their faith walks so that ALL means ALL.

Cymbala has two profound thoughts that struck home with me this week. He wrote this book long before COVID 19 would be ingrained in our brains but he could have written these words this morning. His first statement printed in bold in his book reads, [1]“Today, we have an anti-authority spirit in America that says, “Nobody can tell me I need to change. Don’t you dare.” Let me repeat that <> and then he writes “Showing up at church is such a burden that soon people will be faxing in their worship.” He then tosses in the question, “What has become of standing unashamed for the gospel of Christ? No one is smarter than God. When he says to do His work in His way, we can be assured that He will produce His results for His glory.

And, that brings us back to us … are we part of that I will not change for anything group even if the change is something that Jesus teaches we must do? Are we so focused on our time for us that we don’t want to sacrifice our time to worship God? We sang, “Our times are in thy hands; our lives belong to Thee” but do we want that to be our reality or were those merely nice inside church words to sing … Pastor Harvey meant them. And, then do we not want to follow what Scripture teaches us … if the teaching of Jesus counters the message people we like following tell us to do?

And, today as I finish up this series of sermons fully aware that on Rally Day next week there will be families not even considering coming back to church from their long standing no-church vacations with their kids … I want to call us to come to the Table of the Lord. I want each of us to truly feel and sense the connection of God that comes through the Holy Sacrament of Communion but it goes deeper than this meal.

The Twenty Third Psalm we said this morning is a call for us to readjust, reflect, and to allow God in. When we do that, God will make us to lie down in green pastures next to the still waters so that our souls can be restored. You see when we give our love to God … God knows we need to be refreshed and God will make us lie down for our sake so that we can be restored. Restoration is not about giving us extra sleep so that we each can go out and live our way with God returning to a role as an incidental thought or presence but God restores our souls and then leads us on the paths of righteousness for God’s name and it is then the goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will live in the house of the Lord forever. God loves every human … God wants each human to be in a full loving relationship with God so that we can get home with God one day but also so that we each do our part to shine the light and try to bring some heaven to earth rather than joining the crowds making hell on earth the daily reality.

I find it hard to explain to others the blessing, the restoration, and the renewal of my faith that I get from a simple piece of bread and cup. On more than one occasion I asked my pastor of my life, Pastor Stanley Lewis, who gifted me Cymbala’s book … what did you teach me that has made Holy Communion so powerful in my life. He never had an answer other than to say that he needed to take the bread and cup so that he could maintain the direction of faith in his walk.

So, as we conclude this series and prepare for a new church year and yes as we approach the table of the Lord it is my hope that you want to refresh your faith along with me. In the moments ahead I hope you focus on God, Christ, the Spirit, and your need to receive forgiveness so that you can put your life in God’s hands. We offer weekly Holy Communion on Wednesday mornings so that you can get this renewal every week.

Mother Teresa wrote, “Jesus has made Himself the Bread to give us life. Night and day, He is there. If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to the Adoration.”

Friends, do you want to grow in love knowing that love comes from God? There is no fear in love. Are you willing to love God because God first loved us? Do you want to be refreshed in your faith … I know I do.

So, starting today treat the Table of the Lord as an essential part of your life that you can’t live without. Come to the Table of the Lord to be refreshed. Find a quiet place to just have for you and God. Pray with deliberation out of love. Sacrifice your time with joy to worship God, and read the Gospel lessons anxious to discover a new truth or lesson for your life.

Cymbala wrote, [2]“Anytime truly know the Lord, the Holy Spirit quickly puts a shovel and a broom into their hands.” Harvey Van Sciver wrote, “O God, Thou God of now, we hear thy voice and heed. Thy call to serve in such a time of hopelessness and need. Our times are in thy hands!”

Rally Day is next week … but God’s day is today, tomorrow and the next day. We live in a time of hopelessness and need and we each need to decide if our times are in God’s hands. If they are we will be refreshed and renewed and there will be a place for us at the end of our days …

And, as we move closer to the Table of the Lord here again the Twenty Third Psalm but this time from Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE ….

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”

My prayer is that we all are revived and able to catch our collective breaths we can can be living in the right direction as the people of this church we call St. Paul’s. AMEN

[1] FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE by Jim Cymbala published by Zondervan Publishing

[2] Ibid

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