The One who said “I love you” first

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John 15:1-17

For the past few weeks we’ve been sharing some of the things we love about being Methodists.  Things like:

This is the last Sunday in this series, and I had a little trouble deciding what to share.  I love so much about being a Methodist!  But then the answer became obvious to me:

Today is the first Sunday of the month, which means we’ll celebrate communion.  And that is one of the things I love most about being Methodist.

Oh – not the first-Sunday-of-the-month thing.  I mean, I don’t have a problem with it.  I grew up in a United Methodist church that also celebrated communion on the first Sunday of the month.  It’s a nice rhythm.  But we Methodists don’t have to take communion on the first Sunday of the month.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, actually thought communion was something people should take as often as possible. 

So why don’t we do it every Sunday?  Well – when Methodism first came to the colonies from England, there were less clergy than there were churches.  The Methodist pastors would ride a circuit, making the rounds to the churches in their charge.  Only ordained clergy can preside over communion in the Anglican tradition (Wesley’s roots, and ours, too) so the churches would have to wait for the pastors to come back around… which happened about once a month.  And here we are!  Still doing the same.

So frankly, we could celebrate communion every Sunday as far as I’m concerned.  The first-Sunday rhythm isn’t what I love about the way we do it.  What I love shows up in the opening lines of our communion liturgy:

“Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,

who earnestly repent of their sin

and seek to live in peace with one another.”

It’s the word “all” that I want you to notice today.  Christ invites *all* to his table.

You’ll sometimes hear this called an “open table.”  If you grew up United Methodist (or in a similar kind of church), you might not know that there’s any other way to do it – but the recent news cycle may have made you more aware.  Joe Biden was recently refused communion in a Catholic church because of his pro-choice stance on abortion.  This comes out of the Catholic belief that one needs to be in “full communion” with the church in order to receive the bread and cup.  That means being a member in good standing of a Catholic church, and not having any unconfessed mortal sins that might separate us from God.  While refusing people communion isn’t a practice I agree with, I can tell you it’s done in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11:27-28:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manor will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink the cup.”

Some Christian denominations read those verses and decide they better not let just anyone come forward – for their own good.  Lest we overly judge them, we ought to remember that we also apply these verses to the way we do communion.  Our communion liturgy also includes a confession of sin as a preparation for the meal.  That’s very much on purpose; it’s so that we can “examine ourselves.”

But we also bring other Scripture passages with us into the way we do communion.  Like today’s Scripture, John 15, where at that same last supper Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them.  He tells them that there’s no greater love than to die for someone.  And Jesus, of course, chose to love them in that way – he would die for them (and for us).  As he’s telling the disciples this, literally one among them is about to betray him… and another is about to deny him three times… and very few of them will have enough guts to follow him all the way to the cross.  But he’s going to die for them, anyway.  In Romans 5:8 Paul connects the dots for us:

“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

In other words, God said “I love you” first.

It makes me think of that awkward dance that can happen in relationships, the “who is going to say ‘I love you’ first” dance.  I went through that with Alan – which is funny, because we had been good friends for like four years before we really started dating, so you’d think it wouldn’t matter.  But maybe I wanted to wait for him to say “I love you” first because I didn’t want to pressure him by saying it too soon, or maybe because I was worried I’d say it and he wouldn’t say it back, or maybe (probably) because at the root of me I’m a competitive person and even in relationships I don’t want to “lose.”  So I tried to wait him out… and I made it all of like two months before I just blurted it out.  “I love you!”

With God, there is no dance like that.  2,000 years ago God came to us.  2,000 years ago Jesus was crucified for us.  2,000 years ago Jesus made the ultimate expression of love – he gave his life for us.

God has already said “I love you.”  God said it loud and clear and once and for all.

For that reason – because God is always saying “I love you” first – this table is for everyone.  It’s for saints and sinners, members and attenders, the lost and the found.  Whoever you are, this table is open to you because God loves YOU.

It’s open to you because it also gives you a chance – a chance to choose to receive; a chance to accept God’s love; a chance to say, “I love you, too, God.”

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