WHAT HAPPENS IN COMMUNION
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-18
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
There is a story that Jesus told in another Gospel- Luke- about a family. And the younger son in that family took his inheritance and left, and he went as far as he could go.
Now, he did not go all that way for adventure, or fame, or fortune, he went to rebel, and he made choices that were poorer than poor, and along the way two bad things happened: there was a famine where he went, and the people there were not generous.
So the young man was in dire straits. He was cold, hungry, and ashamed. So in the end, he went back home, and in the real end, he was taken into his father’s arms, with no questions asked.
He was still a son, part of the family.
And in another Gospel, John, there is a story told about Jesus- about how they brought to him a woman caught in adultery, and they planned on condemning her to death, and killing her with stones- something the law allowed for those who had broken the law.
But their plans were changed when their own sin was referenced, and after they left, when it was just Jesus and the woman in the circle, he forgave her, and gave her life back to her, made brand new.
She was un-condemned, fit to walk home in broad daylight without being shamed or whispered about or harassed.
And there is another story, told in Matthew, about a leper who came to Jesus.
Lepers were not supposed to come to anybody- they were supposed to stay outside of town, and there they were allowed to beg, but it had to be at a distance. But this leper was bold, and he was desperate, and he came to Jesus and he said, “If you are WILLING, you can make me clean.’
And we’re not surprised- Jesus was willing. But we should take note: Jesus was SO wiling that he TOUCHED the leper, and made him clean.
And that touch- it was rebellion. It was TAUNTING all the laws and customs, it was SPITTING on all of the fears and prejudices of all humankind.
People were shocked. And the result was, they either hated Jesus.
Or they loved him, with everything they had.
And the one who was touched- he was put back into community by that touch.
There is a series of mystery novels I am reading, set I Botswana. Every Sunday, the main character and his wife go to visit his parents.
There is a formal greeting that takes place.
They get out of the car.
The grown son first approaches his father and says, “Father, you are looking well.”
Then he extends his right arm, and touches his father’s right arm with his own left hand.
In return, the father says, “David, you are welcome at my house.”
Then, the grown son turns to his mother, and kisses her on the cheek. He says, “Mother, you too look well.”
It is a tradition that goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
It acknowledges that generations are destined to grow apart.
And yet it recognizes the deep significance of coming back together, in respect and ion love.
But the story continues when the daughter-in-law, who in this case was orphaned as a young adult, greets her husband’s parents.
She ignores whatever tradition there is, and hugs them each in turn.
And they are filled with love and joy.
She is welcome in their home because they have already welcomed her into their hearts.
And she is more than glad to be there. She is bound to them by a love that will not end in death. Her hugs are a NEW tradition, one that re-enacts her reception into the family every Sunday afternoon.
People were bring little children to Jesus, to have him touch them.
There is most definitely SOMETHING about being touched by another person.
If it’s the wrong person, it can terrify us in a way that might take a lifetime to shake.
And if it’s the right person, it can heal us.
I have a friend and colleague in ministry name Kyle.
He’s a Presbyterian pastor, but he grew up Catholic.
He had a priest, a priest who was really not very comfortable around children.
And one week Kyle did something- I do not know what, but whatever it was made Kyle very ashamed and afraid. So he stopped eating.
Kyle came from a big family, and nobody noticed that little Kyle wasn’t eating. There were too many mouths at the table, and too many hands reaching for food, and no food was ever left over.
But at the Catholic school, one of the nuns noticed that Kyle was not eating, so she told the priest. And the priest said, “Send him to confession.”
So Kyle went, and he poured out of his heart all his fear that he was going to hell.
And the priest- the priest who really had no clue about how to relate to children- that priest somehow did the one thing that could release Kyle from all his fears, and seal in his heart the certainty of God’s grace.
The priest stepped out of his side of the confessional, and came to where Kyle was, and hugged him, and said, “Nothing you could ever do will be bad enough to for God to send you to hell.”
The words were very important, but the hug is what sealed the deal.
There is a true story about an orphanage in Europe, during a time of war. It is filled with babies, and they are dying. But when the orphanage director hired women to come in and hold the babies, they stopped dying. And researchers have confirmed: the human touch is essential to life.
Now, those Jewish parents who were bringing their children to Jesus- they grew up knowing the power of a touch.
A touch conveyed blessing, compassion, mercy and love.
And a touch from a person who had been known to actually heal people with his touch-
That was considered a blessing beyond the power of their imagination to comprehend.
And Jesus insisted that none of them be denied.
Not one, no matter how pushy or obnoxious their parents were.
He touched them, and held them, and blessed them.
But he did something else when he did all of that.
He stepped into their circle, and became one of them, and one of us.
The thing is, he really is superior to the angels.
He’s more superior than I am to a worm, if I even am. The worms will have the last word, if I’m buried in a wood box.
In his light, we see our faults.
Yet, he is not now, and never has been, ashamed to call us family.
Sure, I think he does face palms once or twice a day.
But he loves us, he as plans for us. He believes we can do things that we insist on believing we could never do.
And he will never, ever turn us away.
So today, there’s a family reunion that makes the story told by Luke- the one about the son coming back home cold, hungry, and afraid- it makes that story seem like nothing.
Because the family reunion today is one of nations that hate each other, of religious traditions that mock each other, of political opponents that scheme against each other, of normal human beings that hold deep, deep grudges against each other.
But were al invited by no one less than the one who is far superior to the angels, because he would no more hold us back than he would one of those little kids back in Galilee.
Today, he steps out of the box we’ve put him in, and steps into ours, and hugs us and says, “I love you, and nothing is going to change that, not ever.”
Today, and every day, we are un-condemned. Today and every day we are forgiven, and we are given new lives to discover and explore, no matter how old we are or how much we’re convinced the old life we’ve been living is determined to hold us down.
Today, Jesus touches us because he is willing and compassionate and unafraid of what anybody will think.
So today, let the world be shocked and scandalized.
Today, let’s forgive each other and today, let’s forgive ourselves, and today, let’s join hands in love, and hope, and joy.
Today, let’s love him and each other with everything we have.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.