Many years ago my wife and I were seated next to another pastor and his wife at a community fish fry. The other pastor’s Mom, a retiree who’d settled in the southern US, was visiting and at the table. The table-talk turned and the next thing we knew the other pastor and his Mom were talking theology. If I recall correctly he had to head to the office and go through the list to see who was eligible to take communion on Sunday. I still remember his Mom saying, ” Son, you may be a pastor, but you’re not qualified to say who can take communion. Only Jesus knows what’s in the heart.” The son retorted. The Mom said, “You know, the church I go too doesn’t do that anymore. It’s still the same denomination; Son, times are changing. You need to adapt.” I smile every time I remember the two of them–Mom breaking with generations of tradition, and the son holding fast to the past.
Within the United Methodist Church there are two sacraments (visible expressions of holy spiritual truths) that pastors are placed in charge of: baptism and communion. However, in the United Methodist tradition pastors are placed in charge of baptism and communion to make sure both remain open to all who reach out to experience God in the moment. Babies who can not affirm their own faith are baptized to remind us God chooses to love us even before we can respond to that love. Even when adults is baptized, the fact that we baptize babies reminds us part of baptism is surrounding and nurturing one another with Christ-like love. Likewise, pastors in the UM Church are placed in charge of the sacrament of communion NOT to decide who gets to take communion. Instead, we are charged with keeping Christ’s table open to all who seek–including young children mentally-impaired, those with dementia or any who may not fully understand. I like to say, “if we had to understand communion fully to receive it, none of us could receive. There is always more to learn and room to grow.”
This Sunday I will be part of a Healthy Church Consultation Team for Hillcrest, UMC in Bloomington. But, Grace will still have communion. The youth will serve. Tonight (Wednesday) I will bless the bread and juice–and use that time of blessing as a teaching moment with the youth who will serve on Sunday.
No doubt I will tell them that if I was asked to name three things I love about the United Methodist Church, always in the top three would always be: 1) the open communion table where all are welcome who seek to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbor. 2) the UM affirmation that God loves us and says, “Yes” to us before we can even say “Yes” to God. The theological term for God loves us before we even know it is “prevenient Grace.”
The devotional challenge of the open communion table and prevenient Grace is two-fold. First, we ask ourselves if we are blocking God’s grace in our own lives. Any day we ask if we are “good enough” we need to step back and remind ourselves God chooses to love us before we measure up and in spite of the fact that this side of heaven we’ll always be flawed. Second, we examine our attitudes to see if we are asking others to “measure up” before receiving God’s love. If so, we ask God to help us grow in grace and hospitality–and remind ourselves that God has chosen to love us before we “get it right” or “understand it all.”
That is “Grace” and it is “amazing” indeed.
Blessings, Pastor Roger