Scripture Reading: LK. 22: 14 - 20 Prov.19: 17 One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.
In a few minutes we are going to gather around this table and celebrate the covenant meal of the church – the Eucharist, the communion. Participation in this meal is part of our worship to God, and I have chosen to build my message around this act of worship.
From Luke’s record of this event I draw your attention to the following phrases: As Christ was breaking the bread he made this statement; “This is my body which is given for you...” From that I would ask that you note, “...is given for you.” And as He shared the cup He made this statement, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Please note the phrase – “...is poured out for you.”
Two phrases: “...is given for you” - “...is poured out for you”, and in this handful of words we are face to face with the beating heart of the gospel of Christ. This is the very heart of redemption, of reconciliation, of restoration, of justification; this is the heart of our entire worship: given for you, poured out for you. This is the heart of relational peace and harmony – given for you, poured out for you.
Whatever else this may or may not be it certainly is this: self-sacrifice entirely for the sake of the other party and with no strings attached in terms of payback. That is the heart of our gospel, the heart of our worship, the heart of this covenant meal.
From Genesis to Revelations the story of God’s love is a story of self sacrifice. That story was made flesh and blood in the person of Christ. The ultimate demonstration of the self sacrifice of this true love is witnessed in the cross. Every time we consider the cross we need to be aware of these two phrases spoken by the Christ just hours before this event – given for you, poured out for you.
And in approaching this table this is the understanding that needs to define and inspire our worship - given for you, poured out for you.
I want to suggest that there is an element of mystery that runs through all true sacrifice. I can’t explain it but on a “gut level” I am conscious of it. That mystery is this: there is a quality of redemption present in true selfless sacrifice. True sacrifice has a redemptive affect upon those who are touched by that sacrifice. I don’t think we can argue that when we consider the redemptive outcome of the sacrifice of Christ.
If we are redeemed this morning it is not because of anything we have done; it is entirely because of what someone else has done for us. And right there is the heart of it – doing for someone else what they cannot possibly do for themselves. And make no mistake about it that doing is the sacrifice of self and it is redemptive in nature and outcome.
In coming to this table and partaking of this covenant meal I am entering into and making declaration of many things. But the very core of what I am acknowledging is that Christ did in fact ‘give His body for me and Christ did in fact ‘pour out His blood for me.’ I am further acknowledging that in and by the mystery of that self sacrifice of His body and blood I have been redeemed. And the third thing I am acknowledging is that the ministry of this redemptive sacrifice continues to be exercised through the present body of Christ. And that brings us to the Proverb.
Prov.19: 17 One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed.
The phrase – gracious to a poor man – appears in many different forms depending upon your particular English translation of the scripture. Here are a few of those translations: generous to the poor; pity upon the poor; compassion on the poor; kind to the poor; favouring the poor; mercy to the poor; caring for the poor.
All of these words – gracious, generous, pity, compassion, kind, favouring, mercy, and caring are used to translate the word appearing in the Hebrew text. That Hebrew word caries two very strong aspects of definition. One is a physical act and the second is a quality of disposition, heart, attitude or spirit. These two realities are not to be viewed separately but as two sides of a single coin. There is the physical act of kindness and there is the disposition and quality of attitude that inspires and runs through that act of kindness.
Beyond this you will also discover that this word caries the idea of willingly and freely providing what is necessary, as well as the idea of bending down or bending low.
Essentially this proverb is not about the pocketbook. It addresses a far greater reality than that – it addresses the issue of the heart. And there is nothing that exposes the heart like the poor and needy. Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us. Have you ever wondered why? I think they are here to reveal the truth of our hearts; to move us to an honest assessment of our own heart.
This goes way beyond pitching pennies at a need and begs the question – what is the disposition of the heart in the pitching of the pennies?
This proverb tells us something profoundly incredible. It tells us that, when out this self sacrificial heart we engage in acts of kindness, we are actually lending to the Lord. But the English word ‘lending’ does not communicate the depth of meaning found in the Hebrew word. And that word means – ‘to be made one with, to be joined unto.’
With this we have come full circle and find ourselves back to those phrases of Christ, recorded in Luke’s report – my bodygiven for you, my blood poured out for you. I do not have to understand this, and in fact it remains a mystery and yet I believe it with all my heart. In the giving away of our lives through self sacrificial acts of compassion from the heart there is a joining with, a becoming one with the self-sacrificing heart of Christ himself. And beyond this there is a participation in the ongoing ministry of redemption through the mystery of true sacrifice.
In coming to this table I am consciously celebrating two realities. I am “shouting from the rooftop” my thanksgiving that the Lord Jesus Christ – the only begotten Son of the Father, this Holy One of God – gave His body for me and poured out His blood for me. And that I am presently redeemed through the mystery of that sacrifice. And secondly, I am celebrating the unspeakable privilege of personal participation in the ongoing ministry of that redemptive sacrifice through the giving away of my life.
The proverb tells us that the Lord will repay. And before we reduce this to mere materialism – as the North American church loves to do – let me communicate the core meaning of the word in the Hebrew text. It means – the peace born of fulfilment and completion. How incredible is this? There is a participation in sacrifice that instead of diminishing us it enlarges us, instead of reducing us it completes and fulfils us, instead of taking away it adds to us, and instead of producing anxiety it increases our experience of peace.
I believe this is the heart God is building in this community; a heart to bless, to give, to share – a heart that welcomes sacrificial living.