given on Sunday, October 2, 2011–World Communion Sunday
Exodus 20: The Ten Commandments
1-2 . . . I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. 3 No other gods, only me.
4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, . . .
7 No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter . .
8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . .
12 Honor your father and mother . . .
13 No murder.
14 No adultery.
15 No stealing.
16 No lies about your neighbor.
17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. . . .
Imagine yourself living your life right there with Jesus and his Apostles. The daily grind meant physical labor where horsepower was more frequently manpower. The details of daily living were basically the same—sleep, dressing for the day, breakfast, going to work (more like doing the work), taking a break for a noontime meal, returning to the work, ending with a final meal and rest.
Not much variety in the days filled with the business of living, eating and resting. Laundry still had to be done and not with the conveniences of a washer and dryer. Food had to be cooked, but not on a stove much less with a microwave. These daily chores did not include the trades and crafts of the business world, nor the farming chores without the tractors and implements we have today.
Life was immensely different, yet so much remains the same. The Old Testament Scriptures we read were the basis of the faith, they served as the civil law as well as the religious law. The scriptures were the basis for education, too. The Ten Commandments read today are the entire foundation of the Jewish community.
We can read these same commandments and realize that they continue to provide the sound foundation of a community’s well being. Yet, as we listen to them again, we may find our thoughts wandering off into today’s application of those laws. We know that today’s courts have found a wide-range of methods to interpret those ten laws.
The Apostles who sat in the Upper Room that final night with Jesus, followed those laws. Their lives and the hundreds of others around them were connected by their faith solidly united by the Old Testament laws and stories. At least, they had been connected until Jesus began his ministry calling them to follow his new law—one law—to love one another as you would have them love you.
Using the story of the mustard seed was a teaching method—a metaphor that the community could understand. A seed, so tiny, was a concrete means to understand how little effort it takes to have faith. A tiny seed represents the small amount of faith needed to receive the ultimate gift of life eternal.
Imagine the Apostles hearing this story and having the confidence in Jesus, their teacher, to leave all that they had as contemporary, productive workers in their neighborhoods and follow this one man. Their faith grew so much richer from devoting their entire lives to learn more of the new law. Can ours grow so productively?
Psalms 19: A hymn and/or prayer of the times
The Old Testament includes the Psalms. The psalms make up the worship materials the Jewish people used in their services. The Apostles knew this material well, as did Jesus, so the words were like hearing a heart-warming hymn for us.
In Psalm 19, there is an echo of Exodus 20. The 10 Commandments are not restated, but the reference is there:
The signposts of God are clear
and point out the right road.
The life-maps of God are right,
showing the way to joy.
The directions of God are plain
and easy on the eyes.
Imagine how the Apostles and the other curious Jewish and others were when Jesus began his teaching. They were worn down waiting for the Messiah. They were frustrated by the conditions around them. They were hopeful that they would see the promises outlined in the psalm within their lifetime. What Jesus was telling them gave them courage to follow. Their faith began to grow.
That last night with Jesus must have seemed no different than others. They were accustomed to the routines of Passover. They had been in and out of the different communities and knew the message was being heard by some and rejected by others. The good days may have been outnumbered by the bad days; or the bad days may have been outnumbered by the good days. Still that tiny little seed of faith the Apostles were nurturing began growing roots and sprouting.
The crowds were getting larger. The days seemed longer. The need for rest was overwhelming. Jesus kept them going. His promises seemed so close. His energy level never lessened. And on that Passover evening, he had them eat and relax. The seedlings were growing, but what was going to happen next could be devastating if the Apostles were not strong enough to continue growing on their own. What could Jesus do to provide that final incentive for the young church to continue growing?
Philippians 3:4-14 Paul’s ministry
The supper was over, but the work was not. After the Apostles shared that one last bite of bread and that last sip of wine with Jesus, the events spiraled out of control. We know the story—the prayers in the garden, the betrayal by Judas, the soldiers taking Jesus, the trial with Pontius Pilate, Peter’s denial, the crucifixion, the burial and the days after in which he appears, in which he walks with them one more time, and the final visit now called Pentecost.
The Apostles’ seeds of faith continue to grow. The church continues to grow. The tiny little seeds planted over 2000 years ago continue to grow. The cycle of life allows the message to spread, the faith shared, and the work continues. Even Paul, who as Saul tried to weed out the tiny seeds of the early church, learned that his own seed of faith had been planted along the road to Damascus.
In his letter to the young church of Philippi, he testified how wrong he had been and how much more fruitful life with Jesus can be. His words fully explain his fervor:
Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. . . . Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung
10-11I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
Paul’s intensity in his ministry has nurtured the tiny seeds of the church to reach around the world today. If Paul and the Apostles had not identified their own seed of faith and nurtured it, fed it, shared it, would we be celebrating World Communion Sunday today?
Stay focused on the goal. Work to learn more about your faith, share your faith, and nurture your faith so that tiny little seed within you grows and grows and grows. You, too, can be as fruitful in your own community as the Apostles and Paul have been in the world community.
Paul’s words are strong encouragement for us today:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Dear Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,
Help us to keep focused on the goal of eternal life.
Guide us through your words
As we take our own tiny seeds of faith
And nurture them into a mature, productive faith.
Help us to keep focused on the needs of our world.
Guide us to use your words
As we step out to make disciples of others
And nurture them in their own faith.
Help us to reach out our arms around this world.
Guide us to hear the cries of those in pain,
To wipe the tears of those alone in the multitudes,
To feed those with pangs of hunger,
To clothe those shivering in the cold,
To provide hope for those who are hopeless.
Let us be the church for those with tiny seeds of faith
Who are not lost but need tending in order to grow.
In Jesus’ name, we pray,