Yes, Even You Are Worthy
(John 6: 32-40)
I’m currently reading an interesting book on Clarence Darrow who many consider to be one of the greatest American lawyers of all times. He was amazing but I know that he couldn’t practice the way he practiced in modern times because of all the rules of evidence and procedure that govern the manner in which attorneys conduct themselves in trial that were not in place when he was an attorney. Who knows for which trial Darrow was most famous? The Scopes Monkey trial where he defended a Tennessee high school teacher who dared to teach evolution. I’m not through the book yet but the trial that has impressed me the most was the trial where he defended Dr. Ossian Sweet. Dr. Sweet was a black physician who practiced medicine in Detroit, Michigan. In 1925 Dr. Sweet decided he wanted to move his family to a nicer neighborhood, something we all have done at one time or another in our lives. Dr. Sweet had the audacity to move his family into an exclusively white neighborhood which did not sit well with the residents. Mobs formed outside the Sweet home screaming all manner of un-Christian things at the family. They threw stones, bottles and rocks as they hurled their death-threats. The Detroit police department was called in to protect the home. On the second day several of the Sweet family members and a few friends armed themselves so they could protect their property and their lives. The mob grew in size and intensity and launched more missiles which started breaking windows as they advanced on the home. Several of the men inside opened fire wounding one and killing one white neighbor. Once news of the shootings spread the crowd grew into the thousands and over a hundred police officers were called in to keep order and safely escort the Sweets from the house. Eventually, the prosecutor charged the Sweets and their friends, eleven in all, with Assault with Intent to Commit Murder and Murder in the First Decree. Darrow, fresh off the Scopes trial, took the case for what appeared to be a most reasonable fee. His defense was simple. The Sweets just wanted what everyone else had, what everyone else was entitled to under the Constitution of the United States of America; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They wanted to be included in the great American dream. After all, aren’t all men created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights? Aren’t all men and women, equal in the eyes of the law?
Isn’t that what Jesus is implying in our scripture reading for today? Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me.” He uses words like whoever, everyone and anyone as those who will never go hungry or will never be thirsty or won’t be sent away. There are no qualifiers. He didn’t say you had to be Jewish. He didn’t say you had to be a man. He didn’t say you had to be righteous or blameless in your life. There were no unworthy people. You could be a Jew or a Gentile, a believer or a non-believer, a man or a woman, a saint or a sinner. All were worthy and none would be turned away. Nobody is excluded. The kingdom of heaven is inclusive.
So where do we, as Methodists, stand on the issue of inclusiveness? Well, Article IV of our United Methodist Constitution is entitled: Inclusiveness of the Church. It says, in part, “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. What should jump out to us is that “all persons are of sacred worth, are eligible to attend services and receive the sacraments”. Anybody here today is worthy in God’s eyes to come to the table and receive the body and blood of Christ. Paragraph 124 of our Book of Discipline, Our Mission in the World, says that “We call all persons into discipleship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Again, we see that “all” people are called without restriction into the discipleship of Jesus Christ. And, once called, as servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer. As disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we are going to need everyone if we are going to reach everyone. Paragraph 140, Called to Inclusiveness, tells us that inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world; therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination. The services of worship of every local church of The United Methodist Church shall be open to all persons. If you are here, you are worthy in the eyes of God. The Book of Discipline continues by saying that the mark of an inclusive society is one in which all persons are open, welcoming, fully accepting, and supporting of all other persons, enabling them to participate fully in the life of the church, the community, and the world. We are all in this endeavor together and we are here to help, love and support one another.
In the real world, there are many places where each one of us is excluded but the Table of the Lord is not one of those places. It is a place where all are included. Jesus invites and welcomes all to this table and tells us to take communion in remembrance of him. The Lord’s Supper is built on our oneness with Christ and with one another. At this table the power of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness flows equally to all. Nobody is excluded or denied or turned away. Not one person needs to go away feeling empty, hungry or thirsty. We approach as a people and as individuals where we are reconciled to God, to our neighbors and even within ourselves. As you approach, understand that you and the person in front of you and the one behind you are being offered the gifts of God’s redemption and peace, gifts that we have not earned and never can earn in the future. At this table, we are afforded the opportunity to commune with God where our hunger for God can be satisfied. God offers us peace, direction for holiness, and a clarity of purpose for our life and a true meaning of life. At the Lord’s Table there is enough for all. No matter how broken, hungry or needy you are, there is always enough of the bread of life for you and for everyone.
Because God accepts us at his table and includes us, yes even us, we are called to accept and include others, all others. I have no doubt that there were many Christians in the mob outside of Dr. Sweet’s home and perhaps even some Methodists and I pray that when they next took communion they asked forgiveness and reconciled themselves to God, their neighbor Dr. Sweet, and themselves. God knows that we are human and do things for which we are greatly ashamed and, as a result, believe we are no longer worthy of his grace, mercy and love. But the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3: 23, 24 that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. So, as you approach the Table of the Lord, understand that yes, even you are worthy.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious, loving and forgiving God, we come to you as a people who have individually and collectively let you down so many times. For this we beg your forgiveness and ask for yet another chance to show we are worthy of your unconditional love. You can see into our hearts and know that we desire to do what is right and holy in your eyes. No matter how hard we try we do stumble and fall short of your glory but what comfort we find in the knowledge that we can approach you at any time and reconcile ourselves to you, our neighbors and ourselves and that you will forgive us. Make us mindful of the fact that in a few moments when we approach your table and partake in holy communion that it is not a mere ritual but an opportunity to show our love for you in remembrance of your son Jesus Christ who gave his life to redeem us from our sinful ways. We are yours O God. Make us, mold us and use us as you will. In the name of all that is holy, we pray, Amen.