Not the LORD'S SUPPER

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39%

In South Africa about 39% of our people suffer from malnutrition.
Our visits to the grocery stores over the last few years have continued to shock us...
I’m a fortunate somebody - I treat myself (and my family to braaied steak around pay day).
A few years ago - it might have been 2 or 3 times a month.
Our diet changed gradually - from beef to chicken and pork...
And as you can see - I’m still well nourished.
But for many - who used to only afford some afval on occasion to mix a gravy for their pap...
The afval disapears - as does the pap.
Many find themselves with nothing to eat.
In 2020 - parents in Dunoon were interviewed about the diets they were able to give their children:
"Children eat the same food every day. Starch every day. Starch every day. Starch every day. People are not okay. It is not healthy to eat starch every day. We do want to eat right but we don't have a choice. We can only buy the basic foods now. We buy the same things over and over again. We have no choice; we have to survive."
Du Noon, Cape Town, November 2020
Worldwide enough food is produced to adequately feed every human being.
But about 1/3rd of the food produced is discarded or wasted.
And I have to confess that not that much - but some of my food is also wasted.
We complain about people scratching in the bins of Table View...
But that is because lots of us throw away valuable calories - and valuable recycleables.
The problem existed in Jesus’ time; and about a generation later in Paul’s church planting time - just as it exists today.
So we have two scriptures today - Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew’s gospel.
Matthew 14:20 NRSV
20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
And a reprimand from St Paul to the church in Corinth.
With a very harsh critique...
1 Corinthians 11:20 NRSV
20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper.
1 Corinthians 11:27 NRSV
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Early Church - Table Fellowship

I’ll start with the early church and what Paul had to say in 1 Corinthians 11.
And perhaps a word from 1 Corinthians that scares us a bit.
1 Corinthians 11:28–30 NRSV
28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. 30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Examine Yourselves (1 Cor 11:28)

Some of us respond to this instruction by making special confession before coming to communion - preparing themselves especially for this meal.
Realising that we truly are not worthy of this meal - and asking with the Psalmist:
Psalm 139:24 NRSV
24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Realising that we aren’t worthy of this meal - we eat it in a way that says Lord I need your grace and forgiveness - I eat it because I am not worthy.

For this reason (1 Cor 11:30)

I’m skipping verse 29 right now - I will come back to it. Paul has given a reason - a cause for these effects - but he says - because you have eaten the bread in this way:
1 Corinthians 11:30 NRSV
30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
That is terrifying. Could this bread and wine be so poisonous?
Is this what God is like? Afflicting us in our bodies for not eating the sacrament in a worthy way?
This fits in with the belief that the people of that time had - and their own experience. Remember back in Acts - there was a story about Ananias and Sapphira -
Acts 5:4–5 (NRSV)
4 ...How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!”
5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.
They cheated the body of Christ - the church - saying they had given their all - but having held something back - lied to the apostles. They fell down dead.
Just as entering into the Holy of Holies came with the danger of death in the presence of the Holy God - just as Uzzah died when he attempted to steady the Ark in 2 Samuel 6:6-7
2 Samuel 6:6–7 (NRSV)
6 ...Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. 7 ...and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.
Paul argues that members of the community are falling ill and even dying - because of their conduct around the Lord’s table.

Falling ill and Dying

There are two possible explanations for the illness and death in that Corinthian community -
1 - The wrath of God against people who are simply irreverent and fail to appreciate all the good that God is doing. This is a sacred meal - remembering the death of Jesus - God’s own son.
2 - Another explanation - just a simple ‘epidemiological’ explanation. Where people are malnourished - diseases will flourish.
The rich are eating - the poor are starving - even at the table of the LORD.
Unfortunately - no matter how far apart we live - or sit at the table - our lives are mixed up in each other.
Death and Taxis
I don’t care much for SANTACO - I’m not sympathetic to their crying foul about the impounding of taxis. Their operators / drivers / bosses put us all at risk - running red lights, overloaded, un-road worthy… The law must apply to each and every one of us.
But I do believe that our country continues to disappoint its people - Public transport is a service delivery issue. And we are failing to find (and support) creative solutions for our people.
We should have safe and quick rail transport - subsidised / private partnership taxi transport. All of these things - and our lack of love for each other means there is no middle ground to be found.
Inequality - poverty - anger - will all lead to death and illness all around.

Without Discerning the Body (1 Cor 11:29)

So I skipped 1 Corinthians 11:29
1 Corinthians 11:29 NRSV
29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
Verse 28 - Examine yourselves. Verse 30 - Condemnation / Death and Dying. Verse 29 - Eating and drinking without discerning.
Interesting thing happens to most of the complicated or challenging texts of scripture - they tend to have a lot of variants.
Variants mean that our most ancient copies of the Bible - or of the letter to the Corinthians don’t all have the same words here.
Those who produce the Bible we have today have to choose from 3 different forms:
1 Corinthians 11:29 “29 For all who eat and drink a - without discerning the body, b - in an unworthy manner c - without discerning the Lord’s body eat and drink judgment against themselves.”
On version - says just ‘without discerning the body’ - another says ‘in an unworthy manner’ and the third - more specific ‘without discerning the Lord’s body’.
Bread is body?
For some - this has been about whether the bread is truly the body of Christ.
And there is a whole story behind that isn’t there.
And that is a part of it.
But in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 - and what Paul is talking about here. I think - ‘in an unworthy manner’ fits better in terms of understanding. And I think ‘discerning the body’ is probably the original.
And I think that ‘discerning the body’ points not to recognising that the bread is Jesus’ body. But rather to recognising that the people we share the bread with are ‘Jesus’ body’.

Unworthy Manner?

1 Corinthians 11:17 (NRSV)
17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse...
1 Corinthians 11:20–21 (NRSV)
20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.
When the church began - meetings were held in people’s homes. This was the case even in Table View - this community started with a Satellite Sunday School from the Milnerton Methodist Church . A house church - a cell group - meeting together.
Back in the first century the church would end up meeting in the homes of those who had big enough homes to host them.
A house with a courtyard - probably slaves to serve. And people who had such big houses could probably manage their own time.
But the church was not just made up of these middle class people.
It also included slaves.
They probably couldn’t get to church as quickly as the wealthy people.
So the wealthy - following the way other religions conducted their table feasts - would carry on and get drunk.
There would be nothing left for the poor.
1 Corinthians 11:22 (NRSV)
22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
This is what leads to Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s supper - about the need to examine ourselves - and avoid potential curses.
And in examining ourselves - to think especially about our relationships of love and care as a community.

Matthew 14 - Enough for all

I imagine - if Paul went to a church meeting - to try and figure out the issues of that early Corinthian Church and their partaking the meal unworthily.
And he noticed that not everyone was being fed - he might have told them one of the stories that Peter and the other disciples would have told often.
Maybe when the church gathered for communion.
Maybe when they had table fellowship and broke bread together.
About the time when the people did not have enough food:
Matthew 14:16 NRSV
16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
They might have told each other how angry they were with Jesus that day - how could he expect them to feed all those people.
Matthew 14:19 NRSV
19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
And then - in their ministry - when there were so many people they had no idea how they would feed them… They would have remembered this moment every time there was somehow enough to share.
Enough to feed everyone - just from:
Giving thanks.
Breaking.
Serving
Sharing.
And every time we read about Jesus sharing bread the reminder runs in two directions...
Backwards.
To Manna in the wilderness - food for the journey.
Forwards.
That final passover meal where Jesus broke the bread:
1 Corinthians 11:24–25 NRSV
24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

What Should we Do?

How can we do what Jesus got the disciples to do back in Matthew 14?
Matthew 14:20 (NRSV)
20 And all ate and were filled...
If we are to be a Jesus’ community - and if this table is to be Jesus’ table.
If this bread is to be Jesus body?
If this wine is to be Jesus’ blood?
Then we need to think a bit about the warnings and the commands we have received.
Examine ourselves (1 Cor 11:28) Be aware of the body (1 Cor 11:29) You give them something to eat (Mt 14:16)

System?

Well as a church - we have a ‘system’ in place - and not so many of us understand that system as well as we should.
Or use it as well as we should.
Communion Stewards and Geographical Circuits
Communion Stewards / Poor Fund
We have Communion Stewards
and a Poor Fund
We call it the ‘Love Fund’
7.56 The duties of the Stewards of the Poor Fund are:
7.57.1 to act as Communion Stewards by providing for the administration of the Lord's Supper and Love Feasts, by preparing the elements;
7.56.2 to arrange for the collection of funds for the needy;
7.56.3 to inform the Minister of any who are ill or in distress and to collaborate with the Minister in caring for them and in making disbursements from the Poor Fund;
7.56.4 to keep proper accounts of all receipts and payments from the Poor Fund, certify these as correct, and report them to the Leaders Meeting;
7.56.5 to attend the Leaders' Meeting.
Communion Stewards take up the role of the deacon of the earliest church.
First set aside in Acts 6 -
Acts 6:2–3 (NRSV)
2 ... “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.
3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,
We will come to call these people appointed ‘Deacons’ or servants - the first ‘Social Workers.’
They were tasked with caring for the widows and orphans - and making sure the collections for the poor were shared fairly.

Retiring Offering

So - on a Communion Sunday - we take a retiring offering - an offering for the ‘love fund’ or the communion fund.
And this fund is the fund from which we do our best to help those in need.
As a church we collect an average of about R1,700 per month in that love fund.
And on average we’ve spend about the same on putting together food parcels for those in need.
Those food parcels are really just the basics.
Spaghetti, some canned foods. Poridge. Maybe some milk. Some stock powders and soya mince. Just some basics.
But with that offering - we are also meant to buy the elements that we need for communion.
And even the furnishings for the table.
In a sense to make sure that that portion of our finances is set aside for the holiest of purposes.
Feeding the community - in Communion.
And by extension - making sure that that those food parcels etc. are a part of our communion table.

Geographical Circuits

The other thing we do as Methodist Churches - to make sure we do not receive this meal in a way that is unworthy of it - without recognising the body.
Is we minister in circuits.
We’ve heard a lot about Apartheid Spacial Planning - a system of town planning that kept black and white away from each other - and that keeps the poor away from the rich.
Well as a church we group our societies together in such a way that we cross those divides.
We have to share our accounting, budgeting and accountability with churches that are established in much poorer areas.
When we go to circuit meetings - we sit in churches built just like the shacks that surround them.
And we have to account for ourselves in community.
We are definitely not the community that we need to be… But we’re working on it.
We are (I hope)...
Examining ourselves Recognising the body Learning to Share
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