"For Me" Pastor Fred Kinsey
It was an awesome day, that Sunday of Toni Lu’s First Communion. She was somewhere around the age of Gabriella, as I remember, pre-school, and was also thoughtful and outspoken. Toni Lu’s parents thought it was important that she have communion with them, and so Kim and I met with the three of them as a family to prepare for the day, which was in effect, to prepare for the beginning of the rest of her baptized life, a sister in the faith, and one who would stand with us around the table each week – a bit shorter for the time being, but equally tall, spiritually!
Toni Lu showed great interest in our conversation that night -- at least for 20 or 30 seconds at a time! She also played with her favorite dolls and other toys quite a bit. But something more than we expected stuck with her, and she absorbed a piece of Luther’s Catechism that we couldn’t have predicted.
When Sunday rolled around and Toni Lu’s family made their way to the table, she waited patiently with her mom and dad, and we were practically moved to tears to see the congregation’s first child younger than 5th grade admitted to the table for more than a blessing. Toni Lu was so proud, that she carried her little communion bread wafer with her down into the isle, and holding it up for everybody to see, she exclaimed all on her own, “for me!”
To most it probably sounded cute, and it was. It sounded appropriate for a toddler to say. But it also came right out of Martin Luther’s Explanation to the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the Small Catechism: that quote, a “person is truly worthy and well prepared [for communion] who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you…”
Toni Lu, at her level of understanding, knew the importance of this gift of life, for her. She believed in what the great teacher of our faith, Dr. Luther had taught, that this gift of salvation is for you, and that’s all that is required.
Though, I hasten to add -- her joy, her truly thankful exhilaration, spoke volumes as well. She was ready, at that tender young age, to “devote” herself to “the breaking of the bread and the prayers… and to share all things in common,” as our Acts Reading says, and everyone realized that of her.
One of the best things I like about being a Christian, is the community. What we teach and learn from one another, is passed on, and forms us, for a life-time. And it’s important to imitate what truly comes from Jesus, our Rabbi and Good Shepherd: that you love one another, as you love yourself; that we not repay anyone evil for evil; that we care for the least of these, all our neighbors, near or far. That the community we are invited into is a safe place, where we can trust the voice of the Shepherd, and distinguish who are the thieves and bandits.
Never was this more simple and true as it is in the description of the church that was formed on Pentecost Day in our Acts Reading. They actually sold all their own private possessions and put it in a common checking account, to give it away according to what each needs, a truly progressive and fair income-tax model, you might say. They spent all their time together – in the temple, and eating and worshipping in each other’s homes, remembering the Last Supper and how Jesus broke bread, offering it as his body, and drank wine, his blood poured out to save many. It was awesome, and the apostles did many signs and wonders in Jesus’ name.
But, it was only, one day. Before you can say, Memorial Day, Paul was out begging from his church members in Thessalonica, and every other one after that, to take up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. And, “the goodwill of all the people” that those first believers enjoyed on Pentecost Day, as the Book of Acts describes it, was, just as quickly, threatened by violence and the stoning to death of Stephen. “Selling their possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need,” probably did not last very long. Although you could say we still do that today, to an extent, in our gathering as congregations.
The day that little Toni Lu came to the table for more than a blessing and received the other sacrament of the baptized, was not without tension and discord, either. Some in the congregation, who had been taught only the 17th century part of the Lutheran story, that respectfulness for the sacrament of the table, and entry to it, must include specific knowledge, for example, an understanding of Luther’s Catechism, and the gospel stories of the Last Supper, were against opening the table to such little ones. Even if it was pointed out that Luther’s Catechism, and New Testament practice said otherwise, it wouldn’t hold sway in their minds. It was a split vote to initiate a trial period for infant communion in our rural Michigan parish – and Toni Lu became the innocent test case.
But for the faithful that were in attendance that day, the day Toni Lu received in her little hand, the same bread that her parents did, the same bread that her grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles, and everyone in the whole church universal, did – they were convinced, and transformed beyond a doubt, that Toni Lu was ready, and a whole lot more thankful than any of the rest of us dared to show!
“For me,” is all the words we need to hear, to know that our God is an awesome God, a God who is so great, and yet at the same time, so close and caring, that we know all things are possible – and the transformation from death to life is real.
This is the gift we want to share with all our sisters and brothers. While memorizing Luther’s Catechism can be an important and valuable learning tool in growing our faith, it can never be confused with what the core of our faith is all about – the transformation of lives and the world.
Our faith anchors us, and moves us to “devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, ...the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And such devotion is what becomes in us, a life of sharing what we have in common, with any who have need.
At the heart of our faith – the eternal moment where transformation is possible, and where we are overcome with the possibility that all things in God’s realm move from death to life – is what Luther lifted up as the gift of grace. And grace, that is nurtured and allowed to grow in the community of the church, is a powerful work of the Spirit for the good of the world.
Catholic theologian Father Richard Rohr says it this way in his recent work, “Grace cannot be understood by any ledger of merits and demerits. It cannot be held to any patterns of buying, losing, earning, achieving, or manipulating, which is where, unfortunately, most of us live our lives. Grace is, quite literally, “for the taking.” It is God eternally giving away God—for nothing—except the giving itself. Quite simply, to experience grace you must stop all counting!”
Toni Lu didn’t know how to count the number of Creeds we confess, or recite all 10 Commandments. But she knew God’s gift of grace was, for her! She made her parents, and all her sisters and brothers in the faith, very proud that day.
What is there then, that can hold us back from conquering violence and hunger and every injustice in our world, if we are able to take in our own hands, and digest this gift – for us – whenever we Gather in community, and are Sent out as the Body of Christ?!