God Is Up To Something So Good!
A story. A song. A symbol. Now, let’s see if I can weave them into a sermon.
A famous lawyer was being honored by his colleagues at the American Trial Lawyers Convention. He was asked to reflect on some of the memorable experiences of his distinguished legal career. He shared several light-hearted, even funny, incidents from his past. Then he became wistful and said there was one moment from earlier in his career which he would never forget. One day, an attractive, well-dressed young woman came to his office. She had been referred to him by her pastor because of marital strife. She was in her late twenties and had been married for four years. The lawyer began to explain the grounds for divorce in their state. When he finished, this young woman said, “But I don’t want a divorce.” Then the attorney explained very carefully the laws regarding legal separation. She said, “But I don’t want a separation.” Quickly moving on, the lawyer suggested filing legal documents to force her husband to pay her financial support. She said, “But I don’t want to force my husband to pay me support.” By this time the lawyer was exasperated so he said bluntly, “Ma’am, if you don’t want a divorce, or a separation, or monetary support, just what do you want?” Huge tears began to roll down her cheeks, and she began to sob. Through the tears and the sobs, she said, “I just want him to love me.” With her sad lament, this young woman was underscoring something we all want; something we all desire; something we all need—we all want to be loved.
Anna and Susan Warner were born in the 1820’s. Daughters of a prominent New York lawyer, they lived all of their lives at their family home along the Hudson River adjacent to the United States Military Academy at West Point. After the premature death of their parents, the Warner sisters were left with meager income, and of necessity, turned to serious literary writing. They became best-selling novelists, writing some novels separately and some together. In all they published more than 70 books. (A sidelight on the Warner sisters: For years they taught a Sunday school class for West Point cadets in their home. Each Sunday, the young men would crowd the Warner home to overflowing, sing heartily several hymns, and then engage in powerful Bible study taught by one of the sisters. So profound was their influence over several generations of West Point cadets, that when the two sisters died in the early part of the twentieth century, in an unprecedented action, they were buried with full military honors at West Point and their home was designated as a national shrine. You can see that home at West Point even today.)
One of the best-selling novels on which the two sisters collaborated was entitled Say and Seal. It was published in 1860. It was the story of John Linden, a young man who taught Sunday School, his fiancee, Faith Derrick, who taught Sunday School with him, and Johnny Fax, a young boy in their Sunday School class, who was stricken with a lingering illness. John Linden and Faith Derrick took it upon themselves to make Johnny’s last days in this life as comfortable as possible. As death drew near, the young boy asked Linden to pick him up and hold him in his arms. Clutching the feverish boy in his arms, Linden began to walk around the room. The soft swaying motion seemed to calm the child. Then little Johnny looked up at Linden and said, “Sing to me, please.” Now, rather than use a familiar hymn for that scene in the novel, Anna Warner sat down and wrote an original hymn of four stanzas, and those were the words she then had John Linden sing softly as the little boy in his arms closed his eyes in death. Well, no one today remembers the novel, but the little hymn from that novel is known the world over. Some say it is the most widely sung hymn of them all—“Jesus Loves Me.” We know the first verse by heart, don’t we?
“Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
Rhey are weak but He is strong.”
That’s the song. The story reminds us that we all want and need to be loved. The song reminds us that, “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That truth is clearly seen in
When we come to the table of Holy Communion, we receive the bread and the cup. Taken together, they are a symbol of the most incredible love the world has ever known—the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
Up at Niagara Falls, they have an excision boat named the “Maid of the Mist.” The name is based on a legend which arises out of the Native American culture. According to that legend, a tribe in that region had a tradition. Each year, a beautiful young maiden was selected by casting lots and the one chosen was then sent over the falls in a canoe as a sacrifice to the gods. One year the daughter of the chief was chosen. The chief loved his daughter so much that he actually got in the canoe and went over the falls with her. That kind of sacrificial love points to the kind of love Jesus Christ has for us. He loves us so much that He was willing to die for us on the cross.
That is what is symbolized at this table. Here, God is up to something so good! Here, we receive the love of Jesus Christ. We internalize that love—then we go out to share that love with a world that is starving to death for lack of it. That’s why we sometimes refer to Holy Communion as “The Love Feast,” because it’s all about receiving the love of Jesus Christ and then passing it on to others.
Once the great Karl Barth, perhaps the most dominant theologian of the twentieth century, who wrote massive volumes on the doctrines and beliefs of our Christian faith, was asked by a group of students to summarize the teachings of Christianity in a single sentence. He replied, “It’s all in the words of a hymn my mother taught me. ‘Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.’” He was right. That’s what the whole of our faith comes down to and that’s what this table is all about. “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”