I have shared with many of you that it is quite funny how whenever I meet another Brit here in the States we have an almost instant affinity together. We have a bond. We are Brits in America – we have a similar accent – we share similar experiences of our country – we have eaten toad in the hole, fish and chips, steak and Kidney Pie with gravy and Yorkshire Pudding followed by Treacle Pudding and Custard.
We have a bond BECAUSE we are citizens of the United Kingdom, or Great Britain.
Now, if I was back in England, this person may not even be on my radar of friendship. I may not even have liked them if I had met them on streets of London.
But because of the circumstances of living in another country where we are a minority – we instantly come together under the identity of our Citizenship and talk all things British.
The same thing happens with church. Church is a place we gather & meet people we would not necessarily naturally be drawn to outside of the church. In the first century, the Church had a hugely diverse membership, which in the culture would have caused incredible problems. Slaves and masters, rich and poor, the powerful and the weak all gathered as equals under the cross of Christ. Nowhere else in the world could they gather as equal brothers and sisters and therefore nowhere else could they have known one another.
It is no exaggeration to say that the peoples very lives were tied up in the body of the Church in the first century.
And while the cultural gaps between the rich and poor, the powerful and weak the master (employer) and slave (employee) is different, the same principle is at work.
We come together because of a desire to worship the Lord God and to grow in maturity and to be a part of the fellowship and community of Christians. We talk and spend time together but then the rest of the week our paths may never cross.
One theologian has said that in church, what hurts the most is our lack of human relationships. Many worship services in which we participate every Sunday remain devoid of genuine human contact. We scarcely know each other with any genuine mutuality. We do not even consider it very valuable to create community with each other.
Of course, when we gather together in church we say Hi, how are you, great to see you, but so often these relationships cease when we leave the meeting.
A question we might ask ourselves is can there be a preaching church in which one receives something, without a community in which one gives something?
In this account from Luke there are some words which are really quite remarkable – in v29 he says: You are those who have stood by me in my trials and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.
The Revised English Bible translates this verse as “You have stood firmly by me in my times of trial: and I now entrust to you the kingdom which my father entrusted to me”.
I think that is a better translation.
As Jesus prepared to leave earth and return to heaven, he entrusts to his closest disciples the work he has started. He entrusts to them the kingdom.
The following verses show that ultimately this carries into eternity– the 12 will rule on thrones – but this entrustment, also includes the here and now.
Now, what did it mean to be entrusted with the kingdom of Heaven? Well, of course part of it would be the declaration of who Jesus was and the call to people to follow him, but it also included looking after those IN the kingdom of heaven – looking after the believers.
One of the hardest lessons for us to learn as believers is that we are not just individuals but part of a body. We are not just a collection of people who gather with a common focus on a Sunday but we are a united, joined, force which has at its center the work of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom – we are citizens of heaven – ambassadors for Christ – a community.
But community is not, and should not be about occasional, interspersed interaction.
We must not forget that Jesus Christ lived in community – he lived intimately together with his disciples. His disciples squabbled, argued with each other, annoyed each other and even tried to get places of authority behind each others backs. This was no peaceful commune. Yet Jesus gave himself to the community of those around him; living, walking; teaching; solving conflicts between the disciples, and sharing an intimate meal with them on the eve of his death.
We have also been entrusted by God with his kingdom here in Mount Vernon – and how we live and act in this community of the body of Christ, both outwardly to others, and inwardly to each other, is vitally important.
Our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 shows this vividly. Paul tells us something quite sobering – if one eats the bread and wine of the Eucharist unworthily then they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Then V29 says this For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The question is to what does the word ‘body’ refer? The context suggests it is the body of believers. Paul has, in v20-22 chastised the Corinthians for how they are treating other members of the body. The likelihood is that as they gathered for a communion service, bringing their own supplies of bread and wine for the service as was the custom, the more wealthy began to eat and drink before everyone else had arrived, which meant the poorer people, those who were slaves who had to finish all their work before being able to come to this communion service, arrived to find there was no food, either to eat for a meal nor to have for communion. One theologian says on this verse: Those who eat and drink in flagrant disregard of the physical needs of others in their fellowship risk incurring punishment from God.
In other words, we take communion unworthily when we have ignored or trampled on the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Is our view of community, of this body, simply a weekly, limited interaction for an hour or so?
Or do we feel that we are part of a body – a community that looks out for each other, where no one is alone with their problems; where no one has to conceal their disabilities; where neither the old nor the young are isolated; where we bear with one another even when it is unpleasant and there is no agreement.
Jesus lived in and ministered in community and then he ENTRUSTED THE KINGDOM to this community.
Let us just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that when we come forward to take communion, we do so not as individuals who happen to belong to Christ the Saviour, but as a body, a community, who has been entrusted with the Kingdom here in this place and that each of us has a role in it.