A Sermon for First Communion
God's Grace fills our Deepest Need
Recall your happiest times. Not simply giggly times, but deep, satisfying happiness where you felt overwhelmed, maybe to the point of tears. Recall that feeling, that scene. Chances are that you were being generous in some significant way. We hear from time-to-time that happiness, joy and blessing are found where your gifts and the world's need meet. Scratching evening deeper, we might even say that we are happiest when we are giving, contributing, being generous. Here is a place, among others I am sure, where scientific research affirms spiritual wisdom: It is a happier thing to give than to receive. But it is also true that we happiness in receiving what need and long for the most.
In his teaching, Jesus often points out that conventional wisdom is inverted. So he turns things upside down to show us what things are truly like in God's kingdom. Jesus says things like happy are the poor, happy are the hungry, happy are the weeping, happy are the persecuted. Now, I would guess that no one, when asked to recall that moment of greatest satisfaction and happiness, brought to mind their poverty, hunger, grief or victimization. But if we listen to Jesus, he instructs the poor, hungry, grieving, persecuted people of the world to anticipate the happiness that is about to come when God's kingdom comes and reverses their fortunes. When God hears their cries and answers their prayers from God's own superabundant grace. We receive the happy joy of God's kingdom when God's abundant gifts flow into our deepest need. God's riches fill up our poverty.
Yet woe to us, Jesus says, that are too full to receive God's grace. Woe is a call to repent. Woe is the warning of prophets that let us know that something is wrong and dire consequences may yet follow. Jesus is saying nothing new here. We know, I think, deep down inside that material wealth and success bring hollow happiness. We know that too much food makes us sick. We know that when we ignore our grief and pain and loss we do so to the detriment of our own health. We know it ... and yet the lure of wealth and prosperity and the happiness of the here and now are very powerful indeed.
The first realization of discipleship (and maybe this is why its so hard to follow Jesus) is the realization of just how poor, hungry, sad and persecuted we are on our own, apart from God. What a relief that is, though. In our poverty, then there is room for Jesus and by his love, by the gift of his own body and blood, the fruit of his own sacrifice for us, we receive become very rich. Jesus gives us his riches and glory in exchange for our poverty and sadness. Counter to all appearances, this is deep and satisfying happiness. It is not because we have achieved anything or even won anything, but because we have received everything from God as a gift, in love. That very act of generosity tells us our worth. We are beloved.
Now, of course, this deep spiritual happiness works out into all parts of our life. Since we know that our poverty is answered by God's superabundant grace, we find our joy made complete in generously giving to others. God's gifts flow into us and out to the world because the source of all good things never stops filling us.
We find meaning and purpose in giving the abundance of gifts, talents abilities, even possessions. This giving is a spiritual practice, an emptying so that we might once again be filled. An emptying so that others might be filled. An emptying so that others might know the joy that comes when our prayers are answered and our deepest needs are met. Knowing that we have enough -- of all good things -- becomes the fulcrum that turns our attention away from acquiring more and more and toward the joy that comes from generous giving.
These children who have come to receive their first communion have something to teach us about God's grace, about giving and receiving. From time-to-time, I will hear someone wonder if these young ones might be just a little too young to come to the table, to receive so precious a gift as Christ's own body and blood. And yet, they have been instructed that this is where Jesus is and this gift is Christ's body and blood and this is the most precious gift in all of the world because it includes and points us toward God's ends and purposes for the whole world. They have heard it. They have been taught. They understand, but a little of what that means. We understand just this much more. But in this they instruct us all. They know they come to this table with an empty hand and empty cup. They know they are to place out their hands and cup and expect to have it filled, simply because they are loved by God. That is faith. That is trust. That when they ask for bread they will receive bread. When they ask for wine they will receive wine ... and in, with and under those elements Christ himself.
Consider this liturgical practice as learning for the rest of life. Here we learn that we are empty. We confess us and are filled with God's word of forgiveness. Here we confess that we are empty because our hearts, our souls, our prayers are poured out before God. We are filled with the peace of Christ and reconciled to one another. We are empty because we have given our treasure into the offering in worship of God and we are filled at the table with Christ's own eternal life, a treasure so beyond all money and possessions. It is in this relationship, in this emptying and receiving that we find deep, deep joy in life. Faith in God's promise that what is empty will be filled with good things.
Just watch these little ones at the table and know that you too are blessed.
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