(A Communion message based on John 13:21-38 and preached on November 16, 2014)
They’re not here. Did you notice? Somebody who should be here is not here. Some of those who are not here have legitimate reasons; some of them would give just about anything if they could only be here. But there are members of this church family who are not here because they have chosen not to be here; they are not here because they do not want to be here. They have chosen not to be here to worship God; they have chosen not to be here to celebrate the baptism of two of our children; they have chosen not to be here to observe the Lord’s Supper.
I wish we were all here. I don’t wish we were all here so that we could have a big crowd; I don’t wish we were all here so that we could talk next week about the large number of people that came to church. I wish we were all here because we are a family and whenever a family gets together we miss the absent ones. I wish we were all here because this is where we all belong. I wish we were all here because today offers a beautiful reminder of what it is to be the body of Christ. These things—the worship of God, the baptism of believers, and the observance of the Lord’s Supper—are so very meaningful. They remind us of not only of who we are but of who God is.
The truth is, though, that we’re not well served by looking around to see who’s not here; we’re not well served by counting. Sometimes a football team is penalized for having too many players on the field. Certain officials are responsible for counting the players: the Back Judge is responsible for counting the defensive players while the Umpire is tasked with counting the offensive players. Interestingly, though, there is no penalty in football for having too few players on the field. Of course, if you have ten players and the other side has eleven you are at a disadvantage.
The church is at a disadvantage when we are short on players; we are not a complete body when we are missing members.
We are here, though. So let’s talk about us. Some folks tend to want to talk about who should not be here—you know, who is not good enough or righteous enough or right enough. They count and they don’t like some of the ones that are here to be counted. Let’s not talk that way; let’s not even think that way.
On that last night that Jesus shared with his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the one who was going to betray Jesus, was there. He had been with Jesus for years and Jesus must have wanted him included; so far as we can tell Jesus washed Judas’ feet right along with the rest of the disciples. But Judas was a traitor to Jesus. Jesus brought up the fact that someone was going to betray him; the disciples could hardly help but wonder who it was. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” actually asked the question and Jesus, through a symbolic gesture, told him. Judas went out and, if anyone was counting, there were no longer twelve disciples in the room—they were down to eleven.
Before long, when the going got tough, the twelve would dwindle to zero.
So some folks aren’t here and some folks may be here that some of us don’t think really belong. But there’s always hope, even for those of us who pass judgment on others without seeing our own hypocrisy, who think we see specks in other people’s eyes but can’t see the log in our own eye. So let’s hold out hope.
Let’s hold out hope that we’ll count to twelve in the way that really matters. Let’s count to see if we love enough of our sisters and brothers and if we love our sisters and brothers enough.
After all, Jesus told his disciples on that night that he was giving them a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment,” he said, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So let’s focus on us. What’s our love like? Do we love one another like Jesus loves us? Do we love one another so much that we will give ourselves up for one another? Jesus had just demonstrated his love by washing the feet of his disciples; will we wash one another’s feet? Will we let love and humility and service flood our lives to the point that apathy and pride and privilege are driven out?
In Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding the Lord’s Supper, he very famously said, “Whoever … eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). When we read the entire passage, we find that Paul is talking about the habit that some well-to-do members of the church had of getting to the supper early, long before the working poor could get there, and eating up all of the food and letting their less fortunate brothers and sisters go hungry. “So then, my brothers and sisters,” Paul said, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation” (11:33-34a). When we partake of the body of Christ, Paul says, let us partake as those who show love and compassion for all the members of the body of Christ—and especially of those who are in the greatest need.
Let’s pretend that there are just twelve of us and let’s count. Do we love all twelve? Do we love all twelve enough?