Perhaps my favorite series of books—is C. S. Forrester’s adventures of Horatio Hornblower. I’ve read every single one—and seen all the BBC movies. Any other Hornblower fans present? One of the cool things about Forrester’s stories is that by reading them you can pick up a thing or two about sailing back in the days of wooden ships. For example, I remember reading that several times a day the officers would use their sextants to plot their position—so as to make sure the ship was on course. These course checks were especially important after the ship weathered storms—storms that could last for days. After all that time without being able to see the sun by day or the stars by night they would have invariably drifted. So as soon as the clouds parted and the sun came out—the sextants and maps came out as well. Then, based on their findings, they would make mid-course corrections.
I share this because as Christians we are on a voyage of sorts—a journey toward Christlikeness— and since we are sinners prone to go astray we need regular course checks and corrections. Communion provides that for us. It helps keep us heading in the right direction as it functions as a SPIRITUAL sextant that enables us to stop and get our bearings by encouraging us to look in four directions—backward, inward, forward, and outward.
This morning, as we share the Lord’s Supper, I encourage you to join me as I check my own course.
(1) And let’s begin by using communion to help us LOOK BACK.
In 1st Corinthians 11:23-25 Paul writes: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread—and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
These familiar verses about the FIRST communion—remind us to look back to the Cross whenever we observe the Lord’s Supper. And—this backward look is vital for Christians because when we look back we see Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. I mean, whenever we partake we ask the same question that famous old hymn does: “Alas, and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I? Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree?”
Communion gives us the answer to these questions: YES—in fact, sing the chorus with me: “At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” Regular observances of Communion are important for they give us a time to LOOK BACK and remember that Jesus died for OUR sin—YOUR sin—MY sin.
This year the citizens of London witnessed a spectacular scene when a giant wooden replica of the city ignited and burned brilliantly to the ground. The conflagration was planned—planned in honor of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. The original fire began on September 2, 1666, in the early morning at a bakery on Pudding Lane. The surrounding structures were soon engulfed, and the fire spread to the rest of the city, lasting four days. The purpose of the modern-day festival is to remember the disaster is known as “London’s Burning” and contains four — F O U R — days of free art events—concluding this year with the grand burning of the replica of medieval London.
At first glance, it seems a bit odd to celebrate such a catastrophe—especially with another fire. However, as gruesome as the Great Fire may have been, it now has its place firmly etched into the city’s history as a TURNING POINT—the beginning of a time of regrowth and resurgence for London—a rebirth.
As Christians we perform the same “odd” type of ritual when we take communion. In this way we not commemorate the brutal murder of Jesus. We also adorn our worship center with the murder weapon: the cross, one of the most widely known torture devices of that time period. And yet it doesn’t seem strange to us—because we know that what Satan intended to be the ultimate act of evil, God turned around to be the ultimate act of love. I mean, talk about turning points—Jesus turned the cross from a tool of death—to a symbol of life and victory over sin! Communion reminds us to look back and remember of our need for the forgiveness that Jesus alone made possible. Then we correct our course by steering away from pride—and toward humility and gratitude.
Now look at verses 27-29 of 1st Corinthians 11 where Paul says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner—will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”
(2) With these words, Paul reminds us that the Lord’s Supper calls us to an INWARD LOOK.
It’s a time for Christians like you and me to examine ourselves so that we can see anew our NEED for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. As many of you know—it was through the Lord’s Supper that I was able to first LOOK inside MY life and see that I was a sinner. I was seven years old. And—as a “P. K.” — a pastor’s kid—I had been taught all about Jesus’ death on the cross. I believed what I had been taught—believed it sincerely. But after talking about the Lord’s Supper with my father—I was able to SEE my NEED for Jesus for the first time. I realized that being a P.K. was not enough to get me into Heaven. Looking inward I saw that I NEEDED Jesus’ forgiveness just as much as anyone else.
Remember, belief is not enough. As James 2:19 says, “The demons believe and shudder.” We have to act on that belief. We have to see our NEED for Jesus’ sacrifice. That “SEEING” leads us to put our faith in Him.
And to stay on course toward Christlikeness we need to regularly look inward—we need to regularly confess our sin.
Listen fellow Christian! God can speak to us through this observance. He can help us get back on the path in our journey toward Christlikeness. But, before this can happen, confession must occur. So, as we take communion this morning let us all look INWARD. Let’s reflect on our thoughts, words, and deeds and then acknowledge to God that we HAVE sinned. This is a time for us all to take a moral inventory of our lives and see where we have fallen short of God’s standards. These are moments in which we must be honest with God and take responsibility for our actions. I’m referring to sinful thoughts and actions—especially when we do things that harm our unity as Christians—times when like the members of the church in Corinth we exclude others. I hate to hit the “election drum” again—but I’m thinking of Facebook posts where Christians allow their opinions of presidential candidates to prompt them to post things that are divisive. Many Christians during this election cycle need to confess that sin. Remember we don’t follow the flag—we follow the cross—and our King is not up for election—EVER. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords—and His kingdom lasts forever. I want us to have a time of confession—and as we do this—as we all confess our sins to God, I encourage you to be specific in your prayers of repentance. This is not a time to be vague and simply say, “God I have sinned.” but to be precise in listing the ways we have sinned.
I would also remind you that we need God’s help in this INWARD LOOK. You see, due to our sinful state we are not capable of looking at our lives from His holy, perfect perspective. Psalm 19:12 says, “Who can detect our errors? God, clear me from hidden faults.” We need God’s help because living in a sinful world tends to desensitize us to evil—and as a result we have a very hard time seeing sin as sin anymore. In his book, Not The Way We’re Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga writes, “The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it, grieved over it. Some of our grandparents agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still go to Holy Communion. In today’s confessionals it is harder to tell. Where sin is concerned, people just mumble now.”
This is not a time to mumble but rather to use the words of the Psalmist (139) and pray, “Search me Oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me.” In these moments let us ask God to help us understand why we sinned and what happened as a result of our sin—a time to feel the pain our sins caused others—and God. Now—with God’s help let us each examine ourselves—and ask God’s forgiveness for the many ways we fall short of His righteousness. Feel free to get on your knees if that helps. But let us each pray silently and after allowing time for this LOOK INWARD, I will close our prayer.
CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Now as we share this meal—I invite all Christians to join us—even if you are not a member of this church for—if you are His—this is yours.
ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION
So, the communion meal we just shared helps us stay on the Christian journey by giving us a backward look, and an inward look—
(3) —but it also gives us an FORWARD LOOK.
Do you remember what Paul writes in verse 26? He says, “For, whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Communion is a reminder that our journey will end one day—that glorious day Jesus comes to take us home. The Lord’s Supper helps us to look forward to this day—the day we will all be together in Heaven—no more death—no more sin—no more elections—no more pain—no more separations. But, this FORWARD look ALSO reminds us to always live in such a way that we are READY for Jesus’ return—for the Bible tells us He could come at any moment.
Jill Jones wrote about a fabulously wealthy American newspaper publisher named James Gordon Bennett. In 1835 Bennett started a famous newspaper called The New York Herald. He had two lavish apartments in Paris, plus a French country estate and a yacht harbored in Europe. He also had three homes in the U.S. even though he hadn’t lived in the country for over ten years. But the servants in each of his homes always needed to be prepared for Bennett’s unexpected arrival. Jones wrote: “Each [house] was fully staffed, ready to serve Bennett should he stride in the front door unannounced—the wine cellars were kept stocked, fires always roared in the grates—and sheets were turned down nightly.”
Communion’s look forward compels us to always be ready—much like Bennett’s servants. The Lord’s Supper reminds us to always live our lives in such a way that we will not be embarrassed or ashamed at our Lord’s sudden appearing.
(4) Finally, the Lord’s Supper prompts us to have an OUTWARD LOOK.
As I have inferred, communion is a time when we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith.” It’s a time for us to remember that, “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Well, the more we look at Jesus—the more we see His act of love and sacrifice—the more we begin see the world around us through His loving eyes. And the more we do that—the more our hearts break for lost people, hurting people. This OUTWARD LOOK prompts us to change the course of our lives—-such that we stop thinking of our needs wants and spend our time helping others.
I was in the living room of my uncle’s house in Florence, Alabama when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface and uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” I imagine all of us “older” people remember where we were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I mean, we all know about that first STEP on the lunar surface—but not many know about the first MEAL that was shared there. You see, Buzz Aldrin had brought aboard the spacecraft a tiny Communion kit provided by his church. As he partook he sent a radio broadcast to Earth asking listeners to contemplate the events of that day and give thanks. Then, in radio blackout for privacy Aldrin read these words of Jesus from John’s Gospel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” Whenever we partake like we did today we are inspired to LOOK OUTWARD to the people around us—inspired to abide in Jesus—so we will be empowered to bear fruit for His kingdom—as we share our faith with lost people—and act as Jesus’ hands and feet in meeting physical needs.
We have looked closely at the Lord’s Supper this morning. We have looked backward and in so doing remembered Jesus’ death on the cross. We have looked inward and seen our need for Jesus’ sacrifice.
We have looked forward, remembering that this supper is a way of marking the time until Jesus’ return.
And we have looked outward and in so doing have been reminded of our need to let the grace-filled message of this supper to motivate us to minister to the needs around us—and share the love of Christ with our grace-needing world. But looking at Communion today may have allowed you to see other things. Perhaps in this meal God has told you of your need to be a part of His work in this community by joining this church. Or maybe this object-lesson from God has shown you of your need to have Christ in your life. And today you want to make a public commitment to follow Him as Savior and Lord.
You may have other decisions that you feel led to make public. Whatever they may be we invite you to share them with all of us by walking the aisle and talking with me or Kevin as we stand now and sing.