Friday, October 21, 2016

Who is Welcome?

An Australian pineapple farmer out, standing in his field
Tropical Pineapples, Yeppoon, on the tropic of Capricorn in Central Queensland

When you consider who should be on the guest list for the meal we share each week, are there any restrictions? Holy Communion, one of the sacraments of the church, is the meal of Christ's Body and Blood. It is by Christ's invitation that we come to the table. No one is coerced. But are there limits?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is considering this question in discussions like the one we are initiating in this series of Faith Formation classes this month. 

Included in the introductory material for this emphasis are the following paragraphs:
For most Christians  through many centuries, Holy Baptism has been considered the sacrament of initiation or entrance into the church, while Holy Communion is the sacrament that nourishes and sustains Christians week by week. This remains the recommended practice in the ELCA. Our church's statement on the practice of word and sacrament, The Use of the Means of Grace states: 
         Principle 37
Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized. 
Increasingly, in many congregations of this church and our ecumenical partners, the invitation to receive communion is for everyone, not only for those who have been baptized. For some, this is a simple matter of hospitality. If this is Christ's table, then all are welcome. Period. For others, the initiatory nature of baptism into the body of Christ is critical. Becoming a baptized and communing Christian involves serious commitment and even risk. The invitation, therefore, must be gracious yet clear: Holy Communion is for the baptized; the call to Holy Baptism is for all. Still others find some middle ground in this important conversation.
Like much of the material that comes to us from the churchwide expression of the ELCA, these paragraphs are long on explanation and short on direction. In other words, we are invited to acknowledge and embrace the need for conversation while wrestling with the matter together. Luckily, for this wrestling match we have rich theological and confessional resources as well as the witness of scripture. 

On Sunday morning during our class session, following an introductory presentation, I will attempt to facilitate such a conversation with and among you. Together we will reflect on past experiences that we have shared and ones that we may have had individually when we visited other congregations. Questions we will entertain include these:

  • What does "hospitality" mean? 
  • When and where have you experienced hospitality? 
  • When did you begin to receive Holy Communion?
  • How have you extended the invitation to others?

The Lamb of God (detail)
15th century "Ghent Altarpiece"

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 23, 2016

Prayer of the Day
Holy God, our righteous judge,
daily your mercy surprises us with everlasting forgiveness. 

Strengthen our hope in you, 
and grant that all the peoples of the earth 
may find their glory in you, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84:1-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

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