Sermon 11-9-2014; ‘Make Us Hungry, Keep Us Naked’
Matthew 25:31-46/I Corinthians 11:17-32
Frederic Bulley, A Tabular-View of the Variations in the Communion and Baptismal Offices of the Church of England, from the year 1549 to 1662, Oxford, 1662.
James Johnson, Friends and the Sacraments, friends united press, 1981.
The Sacraments – Aspects of the Quaker Vision, First Friends Meeting, Whittier, CA
‘Sacrament’ – words and music by John W. Carter
‘Lord make us hungry, so we might rely on God to feed us. Make us naked, that we might remember our need to be clothed in God’s Spirit. Lord, keep us empty, that we might not become so full of ourselves. Keep us naked, that we might see ourselves as we truly are.’
It’s not that far from the Jordan to the White or the Wabash… coming up out of any of those rivers would bring a sense of release. It is not such a great distance between the Upper Room and beggars at our doorway. Both groups of people come in hopes of being fed. Both come in expectancy. Both groups are frightened. Sadly, not everyone leaves satisfied. Not everyone leaves remembering the generosity of gifts given.
This was true, long ago, in the time of Early Friends. In 1660, the King of England and his parliament sent out a proclamation aimed at reforming the church. This was nothing new. Every ruler seemed to have their own ideas of what the Church of England should be. The Crown was concerned that not enough people were going to church, and not enough pastors and priests were paying attention to their liturgy. They aimed to change that, and set out ‘rubrics’ or rules. By an act of the King, every minister in any Cathedral, Collegiate or Parish Church or Chapel, or place of worship within the realm of England, the Kingdom of Wales, and the town of Berwick upon Tweed* “shall be bound to say and use” the Morning and Evening Prayers, the Celebration and Administration of Baptism and Communion, and all other public and common prayers “in such order and form as is mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer.” Priests or Deacons who did not follow the Book of Common Prayer properly could have their pay docked, lose their lodgings, or be relieved of their position entirely. The King controlled the Church. And the Church told the people what to pray, when to pray, when to be baptized, when to take communion… The church controlled what God sounded like, looked like, felt like. Is it any wonder that groups like the Quakers erupted with their own sense of who God was and how they chose to worship God?
The Quakers’ answer was to gather in silence… no set prayers, no signs or symbols, no creeds, no forms. All of the outward motions of the King’s church became inward leadings of Christ’s Spirit. They were students of scripture, and of life, and were powerful examples of God incarnate.
The early Friends may have begun their times of worship in silence, but they were not to be silenced – not by kings or parliaments, or governments of any kind. They spoke out of their own experience, knowledge, and understanding of who God was. Their remarkable journey continues to this day… I cannot think of any other faith community that intentionally makes space for God to speak – not from the clergy, but from those who have gathered to worship. The Friends spoke of peace and justice, of integrity… our testimonies were first theirs. To live in war is to understand the need for peace. To live in poverty is to understand the need for equity and fair business practices. To live as one considered “other” is to know the need for equality. God had much to speak to them, and through them in the way they lived and the way the early Friends worshipped.
Communion was not an act of being fed with cup and bread, but an inward opening where room was made for the Holy Spirit to speak and fill one’s soul. Baptism was not a sign of membership or a guard against hell for those unwashed by the Church, but a holy experience of spiritual power poured over one’s life.
Friends did not spurn the sacraments – they found their own way of expressing them. From First Friends Meeting in Whittier, California: ‘While both Catholic and Protestant traditions in the mid-seventeenth century required the observance of certain rites as a prerequisite for membership, Friends were persuaded that although to be a member of Christ’s body involved no outward rite, it does inescapably require an inward transformation of one’s whole life... We believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in communion with the Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary; whereas, if the rite or ritual is observed without the inward transformation which these outward sacraments are intended to symbolize, then the observances become meaningless and hypocritical.”
Sacraments cannot be functions of the church, of priests, of pastors, of kings… they must be a part of a holy life. A life of commitment and connection to God. And they are only that when they are a natural part of our experience with God. A part of our with-God-life. How often do you experience communion? Do you allow yourself the pleasure of a sacred connection with God? The give and take of being filled up with God… and allowing God the pleasure of hearing your heart?
Do you expect Meeting for Worship to fill you up? Or do you find God’s presence filling you up apart from Meeting? And what about sensing God’s power washing over you – through you? Do you stand in God’s presence, and wait long enough to feel God’s intention for you? Do you rely on the Meeting to fulfill the sacramental part of your life? Or do you choose to live your own sacramental life? Do you open yourself to life as sacrament?
Sacrament (solo by Ruthie, with Choir)
Words and Music by John W. Carter
When the broken bread is finished and the wine is stored away
And the cup stands washed and dried beside the tray,
When the Lord has left the temple and the church has closed the door,
Oh how are they to see him who can’t see him anymore?
When the robe is in the closet and a year or two’s gone by
And the water from the riverside’s run dry,
When the dust of life enshrouds the heart and leaves it black as coal,
Oh who will share the water that can wash the sin sick soul?
For the hungry and the thirsty, let me be the bread and wine,
Fill a soul with food that money cannot buy.
For the sinner at the altar let me be the cleansing dew,
Oh when they look to me Lord may they see you shining through!
Lord, make my life a sacrament for those who come my way.
A place to touch the face of God, for grace to live this day.
Oh may they see thy presence Lord, in all I do and say.
Lord, make my life a sacrament for those who come my way.