communion, rice pudding, and a pot of tea

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After taking the bread and giving thanks, [Jesus] broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.” – Luke 22:19-20

IMG_8942Thursday evening’s communion service, celebrating Christ’s Last Meal with his closest friends, is typically one of the quietest and least well-attended on our church calendar. At the same time it’s one of the most intimate and meaningful gatherings of the year.

For me, sitting with my church family around the table, thinking specifically about the way Jesus walked from that meal to the Garden of Gethsemane and his arrest, always give me pause. If the Master had passed the cup to me that evening, and said, “Dip your bread in here to show me that you’re all in, Derek…” then how would I have responded?

It’s an ongoing invitation:

IMG_8950Yesterday evening, I happened to end up seated directly to Rebekah’s right when it was my turn to come to the table. She handed me the bread, and I tore off a big hunk; “This is the body of Christ, Derek,” she said, “broken for you.” So I turned around, and I did the same to my neighbor: “Ray, this is the body of Christ…”

Then Rebekah passed me the cup, holding it for me while I dunked my huge piece of bread; “This is the blood of Christ, Derek, shed for you…” It tasted so sweet, so satisfying.

What I experience when I take communion is a visceral sense of assurance. “This is enough!” is what Jesus says to me. “Be assured, be confident, be at peace, be satisfied that what I have done for you is always enough.”

“This is enough! Be assured, be confident, be at peace, be satisfied that what I have done for you is always enough.” – Jesus

I guess it’s kind of God’s equivalent of shepherd’s pie and rice pudding and a pot of tea when I’d go home to my parents’ house in England. “This is it; you’re home now; everything is taken care of; be at peace.”

I took the bread from Rebekah, and I took the cup too. But am I willing to take on everything that Jesus invites me to share?

In love, and because of love – DEREK

“Always give us this bread!” – no substitutions, only the best

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Logan’s – my happy place

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:32-35

IMG_8633Friday after lunch Rebekah and I followed through on the final gift of my “birthday week” by heading into Logan’s Trading Company to select the spring herb garden my parents had planned as my gift from them.

However, because I’m a cook and not a gardener, Rebekah not only came along to make sure I was picking healthy plants, but she took care of potting them once we got home. So now, if all goes well, the spring and summer flavors in my kitchen will be all the richer.

I chose sweet basil, English thyme, Italian oregano, three sage plants (sage, purple sage, and tricolor sage), Italian parsley, dill, and rosemary. I’m very excited, because fresh ingredients make all the difference, and – well – we all know how much I love to eat.

IMG_8636Fact is – and the success of the “Farm to Table” restaurant movement will confirm this – what makes great food great is often as simple as the quality of the essential ingredients.

In my book “Ten Life-Charged Words” I wrote about how we lose our bearings when we attempt to satisfy ourselves with what is counterfeit, false, and fundamentally unsatisfying. Here in the west we’re trained in excess, instructed to consume more, and misled by advertising designed to facilitate profit to the extent that we double down on the “more is better” philosophy. In consequence, we load up on what cannot satisfy, hoping that sheer volume will make the difference. But it never will.

We lose our bearings when we attempt to satisfy ourselves with what is counterfeit, false, and fundamentally unsatisfying. Here in the west we’re trained in excess, instructed to consume more, and misled by advertising designed to facilitate profit to the extent that we double down on the “more is better” philosophy. In consequence, we load up on what cannot satisfy, hoping that sheer volume will make the difference. But it never will.

IMG_8647You could eat fast food chased with sugary colas and milkshakes all week long, gaining weight and adding triglycerides while increasing both blood pressure and cholesterol – but you wouldn’t be really satisfied. Alternatively, I could  serve you a five-ounce salmon fillet, along with a few small roasted potatoes and some asparagus spears, seasoned with fresh herbs from my garden, and you’ll be well satisfied because you’re providing your body what it longs for.

What we are hungry for, and I’m talking spiritually here, is never going to be satisfied outside of what we really need, and that’s a personal relationship with Jesus, nurtured in a faith community where we experience substance, not glitz.

What we are hungry for is never going to be satisfied outside of what we really need, and that’s a personal relationship with Jesus.

IMG_8644Tomorrow at WFPC we will be celebrating the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper, encapsulating what ultimately satisfies in a simple meal of bread and wine.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Take, eat, and be satisfied – DEREK

World Communion – in remembrance and in practice…

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Communion at WFPC

This do in remembrance of me:

I searched around my poorly organized image collection Saturday evening until I found a communion photograph where the words on the table are clear enough to read: “This do in remembrance of me.”

It’s something Jesus said when he was teaching his disciples about the meaning of the bread and the wine. And I believe it is crucially important that we follow Jesus in this, especially on a day known and practiced in all 24 time zones as, “World Communion Sunday.”

We too are disciples of Jesus, and the Lord is talking directly to each one of us. I am convinced that eating the bread and drinking from the cup means next to nothing if we fail to remember, and to honor, the spirit in which Jesus offered these remarkable gifts.

Jesus served the bread and the wine as himself. “This is all of me,” he was saying; “this is one hundred percent of who I am; I am giving it away without reservation, and I’m giving it for you.”

  • Not as a guilt offering, to leverage our compliance;
  • not as a magic pill, swallowed to make everything okay;
  • not as a formula, to follow religiously and cash in;
  • not as a free pass for later;
  • not as empty ritual;
  • not as a way to keep us safe from a fuming mad God – Jesus is God, and his eyes were blazing with light, and compassion – not anger, when he first served his followers the bread and the wine…

Honor Jesus in our response!

Jesus was giving himself – God is giving God’s self – to me, to you, because of love. Overwhelming, overflowing, uncontainable, pure love. A love Christ commanded us to cultivate for, and to practice on, one another. This is not an individual sacrament, hence the “world” in World Communion; hence our need – our imperative – to remember Jesus; hence our responsibility to honor the love he teaches, when we partake of this Holy Meal.

When we get that; when we take the bread and the wine in the spirit of this amazing love, then we cannot be divisive, we cannot judge, we cannot be fractious, we cannot promote factions; we cannot be impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, or dishonor others; we cannot take communion and remain self-seeking, or angry, or keep a record of wrongs, or celebrate dissension….

I believe that list was beginning to sound familiar:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

World Communion Sunday. It’s about being the church. It’s about taking in, and committing ourselves to, and actually practicing the Jesus quality of love….

World Communion Sunday. It’s about being the church. It’s about taking in, and committing ourselves to, and actually practicing the Jesus quality of love…

– DEREK

fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up…

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?

 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people. – Psalm 116:5-14

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Rebekah Maul at WFPC

Today’s photograph is not the best image I’ve ever captured at church. But it is Rebekah preaching this past Sunday – June 5 – and I wanted to root this story in real time.

Being the first Sunday in the month, we shared communion. Taking the bread and the wine is always deeply meaningful for me, even more so when I am part of a community of people we have come to love so much.

Rebekah said as much in her message. She was talking about the consummate sense of gratitude that defines her life, and the beautiful faith community here in Wake Forest has captured her heart.

“Oh my goodness, you’re just wonderful,” she said, gesturing to the congregation; “You have been so faithful, striving to move forward with the Good News, and  I just love you.”

“It’s what hope and healing tastes like,” she went on to say later. “If there’s a flavor to it…”

Some preachers – and family – cultivate a carefully calibrated “professional distance” from their churches. But not Rebekah, and not me; for almost 35 years now we’ve found that holding back in the love department is something we simply cannot do.

for almost 35 years now Rebekah and I have found that holding back in the love department is something we simply cannot do.

The sentiment was a great introduction for the second scripture reading, which started like this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray…'” (Luke 18:9-14).

The first man told God – essentially – how grateful he was for his own righteousness, and for the fact that “I’m not like those other people…”

Then Rebekah read from a letter written by pastor she knows – he said the same thing about the Presbyterian Church, and how he thanks God he has now separated from, “such a sinful body…”

“I want you to know right now that I’m grateful to be part of such group of miserable sinners,” Rebekah smiled, looking around at the congregation. “Because I’m a sinner too, and I love hanging out with other sinners. Together we have the opportunity to experience God’s amazing grace, and compassionate mercy – and that is transformational, and life changing at a deep level. It’s a witness to the world around us – all cruddy people welcomed! Of course, if we choose to be honest we can all be Pharisees from time to time…” Click here for the complete message…

I love the way Rebekah concluded her sermon. She picked up the cup, and held it high in the air:

“So how do we respond? Do we fast twice a week, do we bring sacrifices? Do we tithe everything we’ve ever owned? What do we do to respond to God’s love to us? The answer is, ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord to fill it...’ Give thanks by asking God to fill our lives with his merciful salvation, every day! That’s remarkable! The acceptable means of thanksgiving is to simply receive the Good News, the grace found in Jesus Christ. Where else but right here at the table… Our gratitude for everything begins right here…”

Right here at the table. Grateful; forgiven; free.

– DEREK

You can listen to Rebekah’s complete message by clicking on this link – Audio Sermons at WFPC

surely the presence of the Lord is in this place

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Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” – Luke 22:19-20

Maundy Thursday:

IMG_1068-001One in a while all the elements fit together in just the right way, and the result is something memorable.

That’s how it was for our Maundy Thursday worship service yesterday evening at WFPC. We met for supper, we went up into the sanctuary, we worshipped together, and we shared communion literally around a long table.

Oh, and this is important, Jesus showed up.

I’m not being flippant. It’s just that the presence of the Lord was so evident – so remarkable – that the fact of it could not be overlooked.

Not that Jesus isn’t with us every time “two or three are gathered;” it’s just that we don’t pay enough attention so much of the time. But this worship experience, this breaking of the bread, was designed in such a way that we couldn’t help but pay attention.

IMG_1075-001The WFPC worship ministry team set out a long table down the center aisle of the sanctuary. Then, after Rebekah shared a deeply thoughtful message about the bread of life, the pastors hosted a series of seatings where we served one-another the bread and the wine.

Finally, silently, Rebekah and John would stand to dismiss the table, and people walked quietly out into the night as the next group came to be served.

It was simple, powerful, and moving. The presence of Jesus was full.

Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place – DEREK

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place;
I can feel his mighty power and his grace.
I can hear the brush of angels’ wings,
I see glory on each face;
surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. – Lanny Wolfe, 1977

Great is Thy Faithfulness

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations:22-24

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playing at fpcBrandon

This morning, at WFPCs 9:00 Praise Service, I’ll be playing guitar while the elders serve the communion elements.

This is a great privilege for me. Communion is one of those times where I always have high expectations, and I am never disappointed. I believe – and experience – that “the communion of the saints” is more than just a catchy phrase, it’s something that actually occurs.

When I take the bread and the wine I am literally sharing it with not only our congregation here in Wake Forest, but also our friends in Brandon, and at Trinity Presbyterian in Pensacola; I’m participating in one body with the members of Wake Forest Baptist Church, with the Disciples of Christ, with the Episcopalian community, with the Lutherans, with Methodists all around Raleigh, and with my brothers and sisters at Trinity MCC in Sarasota; I’m sharing The Lord’s Supper with Naomi and Craig in Richmond, with Andrew and Alicia in Italy, and with loved-ones all over the world.

Not only that, but in this supper, this celebration of love and grace, I’m also sipping from the same cup as my late brother, Geoff, Rebekah’s mamma, Nell, and her dad, Bob, as well as generations of believers who have preceded us in death.

GUITAR & PIANO: In Brandon it was my communion tradition to play guitar along with my friend Mark Prater, who played piano. We’d take a simply hymn, reduce it to a handful of chords, then elaborate on the essential outline as the Spirit led us along.

It was a real treat to play with Mark, because he was exceptionally sensitive to both God’s leading and my guitar playing quirks. The result, always, was a rendering that both honored God and helped the congregation to experience the presence of God in the passing of grace.

Today I’m playing Great is Thy Faithfulness, the traditional hymn written by Thomas Chisholm (words) and William Runyan (music). May the sentiments of this wonderful prayer be your experience in church today:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

(Refrain):
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

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Blessings be on each one of us – and ten thousand beside – DEREK 

this astonishing wine…

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If you read this space with any kind of regularity you already know how much I love our church home at First Presbyterian of Brandon. We’re a medium-sized church that is convinced we’re a large church and we’ve pretty-much got ourselves fooled.

Consequently, we enjoy the attendance numbers of congregations more than twice our size and the place is always buzzing with life and activity. You know the loud “hummm” you can hear when you get close enough to high-voltage power lines? Well, that’s what people hear/feel/see when they hang around First Presbyterian. It’s alive; it’s palpable; it’s electric; it’s the Spirit at work.

WORD: Preaching at our church is always both challenging and interesting. Yesterday Rebekah’s message contained a word within The Word that became THE WORD for the morning. That word is “astonishing.”

She preached from both Psalm 60 and Mark 1, and before church Tim (another pastor on staff) said he had no idea how she was possibly going to be able to bring the two texts together.

  • Psalm 60 is all about trouble, hard times, and God’s displeasure. But it’s also loaded with hope, restoration, healing, salvation, the banner of truth.
  • The Mark reading contains this familiar passage:  “When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:21-22)

Rebekah said the notation at the beginning of Psalm 60 caught her attention. The writer suggests the Psalm should be sung “To the tune of The Lily of the Covenant...” And, because of that reminder, she read – and understood – the passage in the context of God’s constant faithfulness to the Covenant.

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AMAZING! Jesus came along and also spoke out of the context of that same Covenant. Only when they heard Jesus talking the people could tell that something was qualitatively different. “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! (verse 27)”

Echoing back to the Psalm 60 passage, the King James Version translates verse three as follows, “Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.”

When Jesus came along everyone was amazed at his teaching. Nothing bland or boring; no “blah, blah, blah another sermon…;” no half-measures when it comes to the Good News of the Gospel!

And this is the covenant that we still have; Jesus referred to it as, “The new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you… (Luke 22:20)”

Rebekah drew a very helpful connection between what the Psalmist referred to as, “The wine of astonishment” and the New Covenant offered by Jesus, the one who speaks with an authority that is so astonishing.

ASTONISHING WINE: Tim had been paying attention too (always a good thing when the other pastor is preaching!), and the connection between the two passages was beautifully etched in our corporate experience when we shifted into the communion service. And so, when Tim held up the cup and the bread, he invited all of us to come and to share in “This astonishing wine.”

Vibrant Community of Faith

This is why I always say that Sunday with our faith community is the best possible way to prepare for Monday and the balance of the week.

God’s love in Jesus really is astonishing!

Peace and blessings – DEREK

Communion, and conversations with Jesus

The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – CEV)

The fpcBrandon Choir, singing at the 11:00 worship service

CHURCH ROCKS! It was so great to spend a routine Sunday with my church family this weekend!

I’ve been on the road a lot, and consequently missed the past three weeks in succession. There’s a spirit in our faith community that is vibrant and authentic; First Brandon is a unique witness to what church can be/should be wherever God’s people gather to worship.

I captured this image during the anthem at the “traditional” 11:00 worship service. That’s my guitar, front and center. We serve communion the first Sunday of each month, and I play acoustic guitar – along with Mark on piano – as background music while the elements are being passed.

Pastor Tim in "disguise' for the children's moment!

Sharing the bread and the wine felt exactly right, especially as I’ve been gone so much recently. Communion puts the idea of the Body of Christ into context. When we pause to serve one another we make a strong statement that the unity we experience is possible because we all have the same standing in relation to Jesus.

We’re all equally forgiven and we’re all equally free. It’s for no other reason than because of Christ. Communion is spiritually nourishing and communion is relationally unifying. Jesus doesn’t serve us his body and blood because we deserve it; Jesus serves us exactly because we don’t.

Communion Continued: When my small group met that evening we had one of the best conversations ever around a couple of questions I posed. The first was, “Given the opportunity, what event in the life of Jesus would you like to attend?” The answers were varied, but the common theme was more about relationships than events. My friends were more interested in the opportunity for intimacy with Christ than the chance to witness something spectacular.

The second question settled in around the idea of sharing a meal with Jesus – he always seemed to be at some kind of a dinner party. “Imagine we’re sharing one of those dinners with Jesus,” I said. “If you were there, what question would you ask?”

I was blown away by the depth and the wisdom of the conversation.

  • “I’d ask, ‘Why Me?'” one person said. And it wasn’t “Why?” in terms of the unfairness of life, but a “Why?” of gratitude in relation to God’s amazing love. “I’d ask Jesus what makes me so special, and why God cares for me so very personally,” she said. “I understand that other people have this assurance too, but I feel God’s love and care – I always have – and sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the truth of it. So I’d ask Jesus, ‘Why? Why do you love me?'”
  • Someone else said they’d ask Jesus to heal his father’s troubled heart and mind. I was immediately reminded of how many people in the Gospel stories came to Jesus on behalf of someone else. All the needs of their own lives and, when they finally got to meet God face-to-face, they asked Jesus to intervene with someone they love. Jesus was always impressed and moved by such people, and I believe he still is today.
  • Then there was the man who said, “I’d just ask Jesus what is it that I can do to help…?” Wow! Such selflessness. Not even an attempt to wring a nugget of wisdom from the Master, simply an offer to be a servant alongside Jesus.

There were more insightful questions, and there was additional wonderful discussion. But I believe that’s enough for a Monday morning.

Meeting in small groups over a meal, sharing life together, is another form of communion (our "Family Group" in Athens).

DINNER WITH THE MASTER: So what would you say, given the opportunity to sit at table with Jesus and participate in the conversation?

This is where being an active participant in an authentic faith community is such a key element in this “Life-Charged Life” we continue to talk about. Because Jesus does share the table with us whenever we meet in his name.

What would you say to Jesus?

– DEREK