Tag: eucharist

Communion Sermon: You Should All Eat Together

world communion sunday

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 1, 2014. The point of the sermon was to address an issue in the way we were observing communion. Our children were downstairs in Children’s Church, and when communion was served, they all wanted to participate. I thought that parents should be involved in deciding whether or not their children took communion. So, in this sermon I address the history of communion from the early church in 1 Corinthians 11 through the Reformation and the formation of Baptist congregations. While I believe that you can make a case from Scripture for including children at the Lord’s Table, my point is that this decision ultimately is up to parents. If you prefer to listen to the sermon, the podcast is here

A Problem With Our Practice

This morning, if you have your Bibles, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. This is not the lectionary reading for today. But, I want to address a concern that I have because an issue has come up in our observance of the Lord’s Supper here. It particularly has to do with our children. I’ll explain more about that momentarily. But, let me tell you what has prompted this message, and why we’re having the children join us for the communion portion of the service today.

As you know, our practice has been that we do not have a children’s time on communion Sunday because Communion takes an extra amount of time in the service. In the past, our children have stayed downstairs during the entire service, where they have their own Bible study, activities, and snack. [However, the result was that both children and workers missed communion.]

A couple of years ago, our deacons started taking Communion to the nursery and to the adult workers there — which I thought was a very good idea. And, because we had older children in children’s church at that time, the deacons would also serve communion to those children who had been baptized, per our Baptist tradition. And that seemed to work for awhile.

However, Erica came to me several weeks ago with a concern. She said the problem they were having was that all the children wanted to take the bread and the juice, too, along with the adult workers.

I remember when our granddaughters were younger than they are now. Maggie and Vivian were in the service sitting with Debbie one communion Sunday. Maggie was about three years old at the time, and as the bread passed her by she wasn’t very happy. Then, as the juice passed her by, she looked at Debbie and said, “Little children like juice, too!”

So, the issue of whom to serve communion to in the nursery became a very difficult issue for our deacons. And they did what I would have done — they did not refuse anyone who wanted to partake of the bread and the juice when they served communion downstairs.

But it concerns me that our children are not involved in the worship context of communion. It is one thing to have a quick, standup distribution of the bread and the cup, as a deacon reads from First Corinthians. But, it is another thing altogether, I think, to be here with the full community of faith as we go through the ritual — and I use ritual here in a very positive sense — as we go through the ritual that we observe, very carefully handling the elements and distributing those; and, singing; and, reading the words of Scripture; and, then reading responsively the litany during our observance of communion.

That’s the issue that has brought this to our attention in the service today.

After this message about communion and after the choir sings, all the children will join their families here in the sanctuary. And, together families will decide what is appropriate for their children as we take communion together. That is the bottom line that I’m coming to this morning.

Celebrating Communion The Wrong Way

Let’s read what Paul says about communion in his letter to the church in Corinth:

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

And when I come I will give further directions. — I Corinthians 11:17-34 NIV

 We have these words of the apostle Paul, giving instruction about how the Lord’s Supper is to be conducted. This is, for all practical purposes, the only glimpse we have into the New Testament church about the manner in which they conducted and received communion.

Paul is making two points, I think. The first point is that the Lord’s Supper is a communal experience. The second point is that they aren’t observing it in a worthy manner.

Apparently, in the first century Corinthian church, they bought more than just bread and wine to communion. Paul said they brought the equivalent of a covered-dish lunch. Because the Corinthians were primarily pagans before they became Christians, they had not come out of Judaism. They had no shared history of the Passover meal. They did not understand the symbolic nature of that meal, and consequently when they came together for communion, they brought a lot of food.

Obviously, Paul says rich members were bringing more food than those who were not wealthy. Some of the Corinthians apparently brought nothing because they were poor. Then, rather than sharing, every family had their own little picnic lunch. One group had a lot to eat, while other groups had nothing, as they are celebrated together the Lord’s Supper.

Paul said, “That’s not right.” And he says, if you do that, you are eating and drinking the Supper in an “unworthy manner.” When we take the Lord’s Supper, we think of examining ourselves, and we often think that means examining our own life and understanding our shortcomings.

But, primarily what Paul is talking about here is their relationship to each other. He is concerned that they were not aware of each other. When Paul writes about not recognizing the body of Christ what I think he means is not recognizing each other in the communal context with which they were taking the Lord’s Supper.

This whole passage in 1 Corinthians 11 is about taking the Lord’s supper by recognizing that the individuals gathered are the body of Christ. To take the Supper in a worthy manner is being aware of others, so that everyone has equal access to the table of the Lord.

Communion Foreshadowed In the Gospel of John

With that backdrop, I want to talk a little bit about communion. You know from reading Matthew, Mark, and Luke — the synoptic Gospels — we have pretty much the same picture. The Last Supper that Jesus shares with his disciples is the Passover meal. It reflects the Old Testament record of God’s deliverance of Israel. When Jesus celebrates the Passover, he does so as a Jew, as a participant in the Jewish heritage he shares with the disciples.

But then, during that Passover meal he does something different, very much like he did when he talked about the law. Jesus would say, “You have heard that it has been said…” and he would talk about whatever commandment that was. Then he would add, “…but I say to you…” and he would have them look at it in a new way.

Jesus is doing the very same thing with the physical elements of Passover. He reinterprets them so that the bread becomes his body, and the wine becomes his blood. It is a symbolic re-imagining of what this Passover meal will mean for those who are his followers.

The Gospel of John has a very different take on the Last Supper than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John does not record any of the “Eucharistic words” that the other Gospels have. He doesn’t have Jesus breaking the bread and saying, “This is my body, take and eat.” Nor does he have Jesus say about the cup, “This is the new testament in my blood. As often as you drink this, you show forth my death until I come, again.”

John doesn’t record any of those details. What John does is very interesting, however. John’s Gospel was written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is the latest gospel written, just as the Book of Revelation, also written by John, is the last book written in the New Testament.

What John does is present Jesus and the Supper in a different way. That last encounter with Jesus and the disciples goes on for several chapters. Their last time together included the Passover meal. What Jesus does there, though, is talk about the place he is going to prepare for them in John 14. Then, he talks about the coming of the Spirit in John 15. Then, he prays for their unity in John 17. And in the midst of all that, he washes their feet and talks about servanthood. So John gives us a very different picture of what happens in that Passover meal.

But look back at John 6, where John does several things that are interesting. The sixth chapter begins with the feeding of the 5,000. John 6:4 says, “the Jewish Passover feast was near.” I’m convinced that the Gospel writers say things intentionally. I don’t think John just was telling us what day it was on the calendar. I think John connected the feeding of the 5,000 to the Passover meal.

In effect, what Jesus does when he feeds the 5,000 is a Passover meal for common people. He takes the elements that God has provided of the five loaves and the two fish in the little boy’s lunch. Despite the lack of faith of the disciples, and the puzzlement of the 5,000-plus who were gathered there, he breaks the bread and blesses it.

Then, the disciples distributed the bread and fish to the congregation gathered on the hillside. And you know the story: everybody had plenty to eat. Afterward, they gathered up 12 full baskets of leftovers – one basket for every disciple who said he had no idea how to feed that many people.

That is a picture the abundance of the kingdom of God, the provision of God, and the feeding of God’s people by God. It is not explicitly communion, but many biblical scholars believe it prefigures the experience of communion.

The Christian church would understand this idea contained in the feeding of the 5,000 because John was writing later in the first century after the Church was established. They would understand that it was about Jesus being the bread of life, and they would remember that at their own observances of the Lord’s Supper.

Later, in John 6:26, Jesus and the disciples went to the other side of the lake, and the crowd followed him. Jesus answered them in verse 26: “I tell you the truth, you’re looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for that which spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you, on whom God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

In John 6:32, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who was giving you the bread from heaven which was manna, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. So they said, ‘From now on give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life…” You can read the rest of that passage where Jesus said those who eat this bread have eternal life. John takes us to communion by way of the feeding of the 5,000, which in addition to men, included also women and children.

Then, Jesus says in John 6, “Unless you eat this bread and drink this cup you have no life in you.” That is a very important symbolic act.

Communion Changes Over the Centuries

By the second century in the New Testament church, however, communion has become something very different. It has become what one of the theologians will call “the medicine of immortality.” The elements are transformed from being symbolic to being supernatural. They are believed to really become the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. Roman Catholic theologians call this transformation of the bread and wine, transubstantiation — a kind of a mystical alchemy. They believed that even though the elements still appeared to be bread and wine, but they were supernaturally transformed into the real body and blood of Christ.

From that change the church decides that it must limit those who can take the body and blood of Christ. Church services where communion is offered become exclusive. The priests eliminate those who are not fit to receive communion, whether they are Christians or not. Those who have violated church law in the judgment of the priest, are banned from the communion rail.

Eventually communion is restricted even further to the point where the priest alone takes the wine and distributes to the worshippers only the bread. That is done to avoid accidentally spilling the blood of Christ.

Now back to us Baptists. Baptists, after the Reformation, took a different tack. Baptists decided that in addition to the reforms the reformers brought, that only believers could be members of a church. Baptist further believed that each church was separate and independent. So Baptists believed that once a person was baptized, then that person could take communion. But every Baptist church was an entity unto itself and was not answerable to any other church. That’s where the idea of closed communion came from. Communion was closed because each Baptist church believed that you should only take communion with your own congregation. They literally would close the doors of the church to keep out anyone, including other Christians, who were not members of that particular congregation.

In the 20th century, some Southern Baptist churches continued to practice closed communion, but most moved toward open communion. In open communion, anyone who was a baptized believer, whether from that church or not, could receive communion. Ultimately, many churches like ours, invited all to the Lord’s Table. That’s a very brief history of communion.

Children and Communion

So then, what should be said about children and communion? There is ample evidence in the history of the ancient Church that children participated in communion. Saint Augustine said of babies, “They are infants, but they are His members. They are infants, but they receive the sacraments. They are infants, but they can become participants at His table so they may have life in themselves.”

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, infants have long received communion. And Pope Innocent I said that little children should be given the Lord’s Supper. He even tells them how to do it: “in a liquid form of the Lord’s blood or in the form of bread crumbled and mixed with water.” (These historic examples are from the book, Take Eat, Take Drink: The Lord’s Supper Through the Centuries by Ernest Bartels.)

That sounds very different to us because Baptists have said historically that only those who have been baptized should receive Communion. That, of course, usually excluded our youngest children.

However, I think there are a couple of things we need to remember about communion. First of all, it is meant for community. We talked about the manna that Jesus referred to from the Old Testament. That was God’s gift to the whole community of Israel. Secondly, the feeding of the 5,000 included men, women, and children. I’m sure they fed the boys and girls because the lunch came from a little boy.

After Pentecost, when the early church met together there were no nurseries or preschool departments. I’m sure their children were with them when they “broke bread.” Many scholars believe that “breaking bread” meant sharing communion. I believe, although I can’t prove it, that because children were considered part of the family of faith they shared in communion. If households converted together, like the Philippian jailer’s household, I believe they took communion together.

In Conclusion

In closing, there are three things I want you to remember about communion. First, it is a community experience. While it has meaning if taken individually, it is primarily an experience for the church gathered together.

Secondly, communion is supposed to focus on Jesus, not only whether the elements become something or not. The focus is on the elements as representative of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Third, I think the intention is to include rather than exclude people. Two things lead me to that conclusion. First, Jesus’ practice of table fellowship when he ministered was inclusive.

Communion originates directly from table fellowship at the Passover. But in Jesus’s earthly ministry, he was accused by the religious leaders of his day of having table fellowship with those who were unrighteous and unclean. Jesus ate with the sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the outcasts of society. His table was open to everyone.

The second reason is Jesus’ instruction to the disciples about children. At one point, parents brought their little children to Jesus to have him bless them. The disciples were trying to keep them away because they thought Jesus was too busy for children. But Jesus set the disciples straight, and I think there is no getting around Jesus’ attitude toward children. He said, “Allow the little children to come to me, and do not stop them, because of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

So, where does that leave us? I think that leaves us right back where we started earlier. I think we ought to celebrate communion as an entire church. So the boys and girls are going to join us after the choir sings in just a moment. I believe it is up to your family, not to a tradition, which may or may not — depending on how you read Scripture — have a biblical basis.

I see the table of Christ as inclusive, not as exclusive. Boys and girls may not understand everything we are doing. But, by inviting them to that celebration, they feel included. And, they grow up knowing that they are a part of God’s family, the community of faith.

If that is not what you believe, that’s fine. That’s why I want to leave it to the families of our children to decide whether or not they want their children to participate. I am not going to keep a child from taking the bread or the cup. But, you as parents may have very good reasons for wanting your children to wait. That is a question that I think we must experiment with and try out together.

So, today this is an experiment. If you have strong feelings about this, please talk to me later. But we’re inviting our children to join us today. And during this service, parents, that will be your decision as a family as to how your children participate. They will be in here participating with us, but it will be your decision as to how they will participate.

Let’s pray together.

Podcast: “You Should All Eat Together”

The Apostle Paul criticized the church in Corinth for the manner in which they observed communion. Last Sunday, I preached from Paul’s letter by reading I Corinthians 11:17-34 in which he accuses the Corinthians of failing to be aware of the body of Christ around them while they took communion. In this sermon, I also address the issue of children taking communion. How does your church practice communion, and what are the theological and historical assumptions behind your tradition? Here’s the sermon —

Communion: how often is too often?

A pastor friend of mine dropped communion.jpgby yesterday to talk about communion.  He increased the observance of communion at his church from 4-times a year to 6-times a year.  At our church, we have communion on the first Sunday of each month — 12-times a year — plus on special occasions like Maundy Thursday and Christmas Eve. 

So, the question is — In non-liturgical churches, how often should a church have communion?  What does your church do and why?  Do your members believe that having communion more often makes it special, or do they think that having communion less often makes it special?  Or is that the wrong question?  Let me know what you think, because I’m sure other churches struggle with this also. 

When Jesus Invites Himself To Your House for Dinner

When Jesus Invites Himself To Your House for Dinner (mp3)

Luke 19:1-10

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 NIV

A Great Story and A Couple of Songs

Isn’t this a great story? When I was in the Beginner Department, I learned this song:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,

And a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree,

For the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Lord was passing by,

He looked up in the tree,

And he said,

Zacchaeus, come down,

For I’m going to your house today!

This is one of those Bible stories that has something for everyone. If you’re short, it’s the story of the perserverance of a short guy, Zacchaeus, and the difficulty he had trying to see Jesus. Short people, like myself, are still smarting from Randy Newman’s hit song, Short People back in the 1980s. The lyrics went like this —

Short people got nobody,

Short people got nobody,

Short people go nobody

to love.

I am told that Randy Newman wrote that song to show how wrong prejudice of any kind is, but as you can imagine, not everybody got the joke and lots of people were offended by it, short and tall. Apparently, being short still has it’s difficulties. I found a website, Short Person’s Support, that among other things, has the Who’s Who of Short People, listing 300 famous short people in history.

If you’re a kid, you know exactly how Zacchaeus felt. You’re too short to see over adults, so you’ve got to get a good vantage point, preferably higher up than anybody else, so you can see what’s going on. So, Zacchaeus climbed a tree, which always has appeal to little kids.

But if being short wasn’t bad enough, in this story, we not only have a short man, we have a short man who was a tax collector. Double-whammy. Short and a cheat — not a good combination.

But there was something different about this short guy. He wanted to see Jesus. Despite his stature, despite his shady dealings, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.

Why? We don’t know. Maybe Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus healed people. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus fed people. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was standing up to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, and he thought Jesus was taking up for the underdogs of society like himself. Maybe Zacchaeus heard that Jesus said some really unusual things about the kingdom of God — how the kingdom of God was right here, right now. Zacchaeus, for whatever reason, wanted to see Jesus.

If you’ve ever been in a crowd that was not well organized or managed, you have some idea of the crowd that Zacchaeus tried to make his way into that day. The word was out that Jesus was coming. Maybe some boys or young men had come running down the road shouting, “Rabbi Jesus is coming!” Today, that probably wouldn’t gather a crowd, but you’ve got to transport yourself back to the first century.

Life in Jesus’ day was hard. Days were long, people worked hard and diversions from the drudgery of work and the difficulties of everyday life were few. Villages were small and everyone knew everybody’s business. The woman at the well is an example of that. So, when the word spreads that Jesus is coming, I’m sure that many stopped what they were doing to catch a glimpse of this man, this enigma, who might free them from the oppression of the Roman system and the corruption of their leaders. After all, that’s what messiahs did, if he was the messiah.

The Significance of the Sycamore Tree

Here’s another interesting thing: the sycamore tree. This tree was probably ficus sycomorus, a rather large fig tree. This type of sycamore grew to be about 60-feet tall and had a canopy about 18-feet wide. So, it was a big tree. The tree was cultivated for its fruit (although not as good as some varieties of fig); and its timber (Egyptian mummies were buried in coffins of sycamore). This type sycamore is called The Queen of Trees in Africa because it provides shelter and food for creatures as large as the gray hornbill, Africa’s largest bird, to small wasps who help polinate the trees, and who in turn are sustained by the sycamore fruit.

The sycamore tree is mentioned a couple of other times in the Bible in Amos and Jeremiah. The Amos passage is particularly interesting, and has shadows of the coming of the messiah in it. It’s the story of God reaching out to save the people of Israel, despite the difficulties that are coming their way. Here’s what Amos says:

1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

3 So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen,” the LORD said.

4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

6 So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.

7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Do you hear the portents of Jesus and Zacchaeus there? Amos pleads for God to forgive Jacob, meaning Israel, because “He is so small!” And God does forgive, but places a plumbline in the midst of his people to show them what is straight and true. Then, God promises that the high places and sanctuaries where improper worship is carried on will be destroyed. In 70 AD, the Roman legions will overrun Jerusalem, destroy the city and the Temple, and leave it desolate. The nation will again go into exile, not to return until 1948 when the political state of Israel is established. And all this prophesied by a keeper of sycamore trees, Amos. Now, I’m not saying there is a point-for-point parallel in the story of Amos and the story of Zacchaeus, but Jesus knew the Amos story and all the elements in the story of Zacchaeus, shadow the Old Testament prophet Amos. Those with “ears to hear” would understand and relate the two stories.

In the Zacchaeus story, then, there is a warning and a connection with the Old Testament prophets. And, remember where Jesus is headed — to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny, to make his sacrifice, to redeem the nation.

Dinner Conversation with Jesus

But there’s more to this story, too. I really like the part of the story where Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus had not planned on dinner guests, especially Jesus. But he quickly responds, swings gingerly down from his perch in the sycamore tree, and leads Jesus to his house.

We have what they call in the film industry a flash-forward. Actually, I don’t know if they call it that, but the point is the scene changes and Zacchaeus is talking, perhaps after they’ve had dinner. Perhaps after he’s heard Jesus talk about the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps after Zacchaeus has had the chance to ask Jesus a lot of questions, like — “Is there any hope for me?” or “Everybody hates me, what should I do?” or “How can I help you?”

We don’t know what the questions were, but we know Zacchaeus’ answer. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

“Here and now” — Zacchaeus isn’t waiting, he’s acting. “Here,” in his own home. “Now,” while the crowd is still peering in the windows. Not later, not tomorrow, not after he calculates what he can afford to give. “Here and now, I give half my possessions to the poor.” But wait, there’s more — “…and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” If? Of course he’s cheated people. Of course he’s overcollected. Everybody knows that, even Zacchaeus. It’s the way the system works. It’s expected, anticipated, complained about, but ultimately complied with. So, there really is no uncertainty in Zacchaeus “if.” This is Zacchaeus’ way of saying, in a very eastern manner, “Okay, I’ve cheated a lot of you, but today I’m going to make it right.”

And there it is — real repentance — a turning around, a change of direction, an embrace of the kingdom of heaven here. Zacchaeus is caring for the poor. Jesus said when you do that — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned — you do it to Him. It’s the new kingdom ethic, the new way to live life. And, the rest of it is — Turn the other cheek, treat others as you want to be treated, love your neighbor as yourself — all of those things that perhaps Jesus and Zacchaeus had a chance to talk about over dinner.

Entering the Kingdom

And so after Zacchaeus publicly repents — because repentance is the first step in embracing the kingdom — Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Salvation has come to this house — this house owned and occupied by a sinner — because Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, too. And what makes him a son of Abraham? Not just his birth, although that is the physical reason Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham. No, it’s his rebirth. It’s Zacchaeus willingness, like Abraham, to follow God into a new kingdom. A land, like Abraham, that he’s never seen. A kingdom that is not like this world, but for now is in this world. Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because it is now an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, managed by kingdom ethics, and one more piece of the puzzle where God is making all things new.

What happens when Jesus invites himself to dinner at your house? You get the opportunity to repent, to turn around, to embrace the kingdom, to become a son or daughter of Abraham. Because Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost.

Jesus Has Invited Himself to This Dinner Table

Today we gather around the table to which Jesus invited himself 2,000 years ago. It is the table of fellowship. And if there were crowds looking in these windows today, as surely they must have looked into Zacchaeus’ windows with great curiosity, the people in the crowd would say, “Jesus is sitting at the table with sinners.” For we are all sinners, lost like Zacchaeus in a world that is the polar-opposite of the kingdom of God.

But as we come to this table today, we can say with Zacchaeus — “Here, now I’m turning around.” “Here, now I embrace the kingdom of heaven and will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, minister to the prisoners, treat others as I want to be treated, turn the other cheek, love my neighbor as myself.” All part of loving God and loving each other. All part of the kingdom of God. Here. Now. In this moment.

And we will hear Jesus say, “Today, salvation has come to this house for these are children of Abraham, too!”