I visited a new church this morning. It is a Lutheran church, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which is a more liberal branch of Lutheranism. The worship service was a blend of contemporary and traditional. I found the holy roller church that I attended last week to be a little pushy, or at least one of the people there was. At the church that I attended this morning, by contrast, it is easy to be anonymous, which is both good and bad. Still, I did meet the two pastors and the vicar who gave the sermon. The senior pastor was familiar with the small town in Indiana where I went to college.
The sermon was interesting because it was about the “if” clauses in
John 15:9-17. Jesus told his disciples that they will abide in his love
if they obey his commandments. He said that they are his friends if
they do what he has commanded them. What does that mean? That Jesus
only loves us if we do what he says? Or that, while Jesus loves
everyone, he has a special love for those who obey him?
The vicar did not seem to me to tackle this question head on, but he
was aware of it. He was saying that, in this world, there is so much
conditional acceptance—-whether we are looking for a job, or even having
friends. The vicar asked if we see the same thing in John 15. The
vicar’s main point seemed to be that Jesus loves us unconditionally, but
that we show that we are a friend to Jesus when we then go forward and
love others unconditionally. Jesus is already our friend and loves us,
but the question that John 15 addresses is how we can be a friend to
Jesus and love as Jesus loves.
The theme of unconditional acceptance appeared a few more times in
this morning’s service. One of the people who greeted me at the door
told me that the communion is open—-anyone can take it. He said that,
when Jesus distributed the loaves and fishes, he gave them to everyone
who was there. The senior pastor made a similar point during communion:
Jesus’ gifts are for everyone.
One can ask questions about this. Was Jesus’ feeding of the
multitudes relevant to communion? Maybe not on the surface, but Jesus
in the Gospel of John did use his feeding of the multitudes as a
springboard to talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which
is relevant to communion. What about Paul’s discussion in I
Corinthians about not partaking of communion unworthily, and his
statement that people should discern the body and blood of the Lord?
Does this not imply that communion at least should be restricted to
believers, people who somehow see Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and
the wine (even if symbolically)? Well, maybe. But who exactly is a
believer? There were times when I took communion and did not know what I
believed, and God did not curse me on account of that. Still, I
respected the sacrament even then as a symbol of Jesus’ body and blood.
I may visit this church again next week. Or I may visit a small
United Methodist Church that I passed on the way. While I did not take
communion this morning, there was something that I liked: grape juice
was an option. I do not drink alcohol, and I was wondering how I would
handle communion, especially since I have heard that Lutherans use
actual wine. I was glad that they offer grape juice as an option.