Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Body of Christ...

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 15B, preached on Sunday, August 19, 2012.

If I say the phrase "the Body of Christ," it would be impressive to think how many ways it came be used. St. Augustine in one of his sermons famously pointed to the altar and said, "The Body of Christ." And there it is. The Body of Christ hidden in earthly bread, held in human hands, given into the mouths of the faithful, the bread of Heaven that feeds us until there is no unfulfilled hunger left. But the sermon went on. Augustine then pointed to the congregation and said "The Body of Christ." And so you are. You are the Body of Christ by baptism and faith. Christ has made You His body in baptism, each one of you parts of His Body the Church, wherein He dwells and through which He works.

In the grandest of all mysteries, we the Body of Christ the Church come to the Table of the Lord to eat the Body of Christ that we might become who we are. Now there is a lot to ponder. We come as the Body of Christ to eat the Body of Christ that we might become whom Christ has declared us to be. We are going to take a few minutes to ponder just this mystery – the Body of Christ the Church comes to eat the Body of Christ the Eucharist that we might become who we are...

The Body of Christ is in the Sacrament. Jesus insists this His flesh and blood are not spiritualized food but real food and real drink. His flesh given for the life of the world is given for us to eat in the blessed meal of the Eucharist. This is no virtual reality here but only reality and truth. His is not some spiritualized presence meant for the mind or heart but real food to be eaten and real wine to be drunk. It is the "realest" of real things. Whoever eats of this body of Christ and drinks of this blood of Christ will live forever. No idea can give this eternity; only the good that Christ gives, His flesh for the life of the world and for you and me. In its humble form, it is set apart by Christ’s own Word, held in my hand in the distribution, and placed upon your tongue to eat. It is wine, contained within this silver cup and drunk with your lips, the blood of Christ. Here is the holiest of the holy for You – God's holy people.

Who are you who come to eat? You are not some volunteer group of like-minded folks. Your presence is not accidental. You are the called, gathered, sanctified, and enlightened. You are the people of God, the people God has made, those whom He made members of Christ's body the Church through baptism. I do not make you Christ’s body the Church. Christ declares you this. You are whom He has made you to be by His death and resurrection. It is neither your achievement nor your choice. It is His work. You are what and whom He has made you to be.

We come as the Body of Christ to this table to feast upon Christ’s Body in the Sacrament. We come week after week. We come with our sins and failures, with our wounds and hurts. We come because Christ is here. Here He welcomes us as His own. He forgives us our sins and cleanses us anew. He restores us fallen and raises us up who have been made low. He does this not by planting an idea in us but by giving us His flesh hidden in the earthly form of bread – bread which He declares to be His body and wine which He says is His true blood. We are called to abide in Christ; this not as some mental exercise but the most practical abiding – the abiding of eating and drinking the food that is His flesh, His food that makes us who we are.

We Christ's body. Why? We are not here to live some trophy life for the world to envy. We are not here to look good against the backdrop of a bad world. We are here to do in works of mercy and service to our neighbors what Christ has done for us and set us free to do. It is not about me. It is not about you. It is all about Christ. It is the duty of faith that is the delight of our newly reborn hearts that we are privileged to do for others what Christ has done for us. This is not law demanded of us but the fruit of the Gospel’s work in us. It is out true, good, right, and salutary work on earth, a calling come to us in baptism and nourished and directed by this Holy Supper. The people of God are not random or chance. We are God’s own by God's design and purpose. We have a calling, a domain in which to do the works of light He has called us to do, and a future prepared for us as gift and blessing in Christ. Our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities are the arenas in which we live as Christ’s body in the world.

Now here is the great mystery. It begins here within the Lord’s House but it never ends here. It begins here. We are made into Christ's body the Church at this baptismal font -- by the word and promise of God attached to this water. We are nurtured and fed upon the body of Christ through the Holy Supper of His body and blood. That is what worship is. God speaks, we listen. His Word bestows what it promises. Faith hears and responds with joy – in words and actions here within the Divine Service and in the world in acts of mercy and in works of service. It begins here but it does not end here.

We see Christ here. At this altar. In this baptismal water. In the voice of absolution. In the bread and cup of this table. We meet Christ's body here – just where He has placed His body. We receive it here. But this is not where the world sees Christ. The world does not meet Christ first in worship but first in the life of the people are who Christ’s body in the world. Christ's flesh for the life of the world is see here by faith in this Holy Sacrament, and, by the world, in YOU. In YOUR words of witness. In YOUR works of mercy and service. What a wonderful way to look at it! We come as the Body of Christ by baptism and faith to receive the Body of Christ in the Supper of our Lord that we might be Christ’s body in the world. Come to eat that you may become who you are, not for your sake only but for the sake of the world, for whom Christ gave Himself as much as He gave Himself for you. Amen.

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