Of Sinners and Salvation

. 4 min read

Apr 2017, Christ Mountain Top, Palms
118 (call to worship)
21.1-9 (kids)
26.17-35 (message)
Entry, with folded palm crosses
tough guy Stan Dale, martyr, Lords of the Earth, by Don Richardson
      As a young man with a proud military
tradition in the family, this really appealed to me.  If I could prove my faith, demonstrate my
loyalty, through the fire of suffering and martyrdom . . . . Well, what more
could you ask?  (Remember, I’m also the
guy who got rid of the mattress to sleep on plywood so that I could prepare
myself for such hardships.)
is certainly in the Book, but discipleship is a bit more complicated.  We understand that holiness and faith and
integrity are simple and clear, but the waters of real life are far from
pristine.  Most of us have had the
experience of feeling that we’re doing good, our faith is secure, our heart is
pure and … then our souls erupt with something truly filthy.  Where did that come from?  Jeremiah the prophet says, “The heart is
devious above all else.  It is perverse –
who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
appreciate that the story of Holy Week includes the sublime and the perverse,
martyrdom and cowardice, forgiveness and sin. 
It’s a story I need, mainly because my life is not as sublime as I’d
like.  Today we travel from Matthew’s
story of the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday in Passion
Week.  Thursday is the night in which
Jesus institutes the Lord’s Table as a sacrament for the church.  And it is the night on which the church is
revealed as a total failure.
      In offering the bread and the cup, Jesus
gives it to us “for the forgiveness of sins”. 
In the cycle of the story, he first tells them, “One of you will betray
me.”  And, after the Table, he tells
them, “All of you will desert me.”  Holy
Communion, the Salvation Feast, is a feast for sinners.  That’s what the church is, first and
foremost: a community of sinners.  If we
ever forget this, then we will never become a community of saints.

1 Corinthians, Paul admonishes the folks in the Corinthian church to “examine”
themselves as they prepare for Holy Communion, to be sure that they “discern
the body of the Lord”.  He doesn’t define
that discernment, whether it means discerning Christ’s broken and suffering
body in the stuff of bread and cup OR discerning Christ’s body in that bunch of
folks who share the meal with us (and with whom we may be in some state of
conflict) OR discerning Christ’s body in the suffering of our world.  He does remind them that they gather, but
they gather divided.  He tells them that
they eat supper, but it is each their own supper rather than the Lord’s Supper,
because they each bring their own food and the poor are humiliated.
therefore, 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).
the scene in Wayne’s World where the strange duo meets Alice Cooper
backstage?  “Unworthy.  Unworthy.”
      The old Holy Communion liturgy included
the prayer: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy
table.  But thou art the same Lord, whose
property is always to have mercy.”
says to his closest friends, Jesus says to the Church: “Tonight, one of you
will betray me.”  And their response is
self-examination, not one bit defensive: “You don’t mean me, Lord?”  Origen, one of the ancient fathers of the
church, wrote that this showed “the goodness of the disciples, that they
believed Christ’s words more than their own consciences” (Bruner, Matthew,
      “Examine yourselves”, Paul says, using the
word “dokimazeto” or “document”. 
Document yourself.  We are each
unworthy; and that is why the gift is given, the gift of forgiveness, the gift
of Jesus.
      “An unexamined life is not worth living” –
communion, Jesus tells them that they will ALL desert him, turn their backs to
him, deny him.  That was just too much
and each one affirms that this will never happen – at least not in their case.  We get Peter’s story, and he does seem to be
the first to put his foot in his mouth: “Not I!”  F. Dale Bruner comments:
clearly preferred to live discipleship on the foundation of his dedication
rather than of his forgiveness.  In
theology, this is called perfectionism (Bruner, 2:642). Don’t put your faith in
your faith (644).
Up Church”, song by Charlie Peacock
      it’s just like God to make /a hero from a
      it’s just like God to choose/the loser,
not the winner
      it’s just like God to tell/a story through
the weak
      and let the gospel speak through the life
of a man
      who’ll be the first to say
      cheer up church/you’re worse off than you
      cheer up church/you’re standing at the

      but don’t despair/do not fear/grace is