You know it occurs to me that in nearly every significant moment in my life I’ve shared a meal with people. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, even funerals. It seems that way. Almost every significant event in my life has been marked with a meal. The meal binds us together as family and friends.
Now the meal, it nourishes thee body but that’s really the least significant part about it. I mean it says something more. It does something more. It changes us. So that after the meal we become the people who shared that meal together.
And in this morning’s scripture we have what is the most significant meal in the Bible. Jesus and the disciples are headed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. This is the meal where they remember what life was like for God’s people in Egypt. For 400 years the people had been in slavery. They prayed and prayed that somehow God would release them from the oppression of one pharaoh after another and for 400 years God did not answer their prayers. To think I grow impatient when God does not answer my prayer after 3 or 4 days.
I mean they prayed for 400 years and then finally God sends a deliverer named Moses who says, “Tomorrow we leave!” The angel of death will Passover the houses of those with the blood of the sacrificial lamb that’s been spread on the doorposts. And so they do that and the angel of death comes and the firstborn in all of the homes without the blood of the lambs are saved. And pharaoh wakes up and says, “You can go!” But that night, the night before, it’s their last meal, their Passover meal. And the next morning they packed up everything they owned and they left and headed out for what would be called the Promised Land.
And now 1400 years later Jesus and the disciples gather to remember. Every year they gathered to remember what God has done but this year things are different. For 3 years the disciples had traveled with Jesus and for those three years things have been great. I mean there have been crowds of people; people want what Jesus has to offer. Jesus is a celebrity. He’s like a rock star. Everybody wants to be where he is. And the disciples are feeling, “Hey this is great! And they were on the left and the right-hand side. And there’s a lot of momentum and the crowds are getting bigger and bigger.
But this year is different. Things weren’t going well. The momentum had turned around. This year they’re headed to Jerusalem and now Jesus is controversial. People are asking questions. “If he’s the Messiah then why is he not following all of the religious rules? If he is the Messiah then why is he breaking the law?” And things are getting so stirred up that now that the Romans are threatening to crack down. And the disciples know that if Jesus goes down they go down with him.
Now Jesus has been preparing them for what is to come. But have they really been listening? And if they’ve been listening they’ve filtered out all the talk about death. I mean why wouldn’t they? Because in their way of thinking like in our way of thinking if God is with you and God is working with you then things get better. Wherever God shows up there is more certainty not less certainty. Because wherever God shows up things get better. I mean being with Jesus it’s a lot of fun. Things are going great. Being on God’s side just look at the miracles. Just look at the healings. You want God on your side, that’s happy days. And they’re looking forward to the Passover meal.
But this year it’s already Passover week and nobody’s made the arrangements. They’re headed to Jerusalem when Jesus says, “When we get there things are really going to get bad.” And you know the disciples are thinking, “Then why go?” I mean why march into danger when you could avoid it; when you could wait until things get easier. “Couldn’t we celebrate the Passover meal someplace else?”
Well Jesus selects 2 of the disciples and they go ahead and check on the arrangements. You see Jesus has already made the arrangements and he’s kept them secret. And that night under the cover of darkness Jesus and the rest of the disciples sneak into the city. This time there is no celebration. There are no gathering crowds. There’s no waving of palms braches. There are no shouts of “Hosanna.”
Everything feels so unsettled. Something’s not right here. It feels like something terrible is going to happen. This is the meal they’ve been waiting for. This is a joyful meal they’ve been looking forward to and now it all feels so terribly uncertain.
And if that’s not bad enough this is how Jesus begins the conversation. We pick up the story that we heard a moment ago from Mark 14. “While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
You know the Bible is filled with stories of people who were experiencing extraordinary uncertainty. In fact I would say this. As we as people and families and churches and nations face uncertainty like we’ve never faced before ; And if you experience some uncertainties, something that is unknown or uncertain or your afraid or it feels like your life is coming crashing down around you then this (the Bible) is the place to run.
Because your favorite Bible story, that story that you learned and loved to hear as a kid, your favorite passage of scripture, your favorite Psalm was written and reflected a time of extraordinary uncertainty. I mean this is not the story of rich people having fun. This isn’t a book about Monday things went great. Then Tuesday you got a job. And Wednesday you got a raise. And Thursday you got a bonus. Then my kid got a scholarship. You know all those wrinkle free life things. And then they lived happily ever after. All of those stories that we draw hope and comfort from, all of those stories come from troubled troubled times. From the lives of people who discovered that in the midst of uncertainty God was still certain. You see it’s not a fairy tale. Every story in this book is set in a time of trouble. And in the midst of uncertainty when you couldn’t even trace God’s hand people suddenly discover that God is certain. That God is still trustworthy. And if ever there was a time to start reading what’s in this book that time is now.
We open to Genesis and we find this story of Joseph who’s having trouble with his older brothers. Joseph’s brothers have thrown him in this deep well and he can hear them talking. And they’re saying, “Should we sell him or should we kill him?” You think you have trouble with your siblings, look at Joseph. “Do we sell him or kill him?”
We read the story and what’s amazing is that Joseph discovers at the bottom of the well, God’s there.
Or the story of King David. God has promised David that the Messiah will come from his family tree. And then one morning he is told that his oldest son, Absalom has gathered an army together and has a plan to invade the capital city and to overthrown him as king. I mean you think you’ve got trouble with your kids? David’s son is planning to kill him.
We read the story and what’s amazing is that David discovers that God is present in the midst of it all.
Or go to the New Testament. We pick up the story of Mary and Joseph. They’ve just had their first child. I mean what could be greater than that moment; and their child is the Savior, the Messiah. But then King Herod hears about the baby and he commands that all of the baby boys in and around Jerusalem be killed. And so under the cover of darkness they run for their lives. They have to flee to Egypt. And while there is weeping and wailing in the land you read the story and they discover that God is present in the midst of it all.
You read those stories and you discover that even in the midst of all of those things, even when it seems that God is silent, even when life is at its worst, even when life is most uncertain God’s still got the whole world in His hands. And that’s the message over and over and over again. No matter what’s going on God’s still got the whole world in His hands.
We pick up the story again where in Mark 14, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
“What are you talking about, Jesus? This is all that death talk. This is that negativity again. Don’t want to hear it. If you’re from God things are supposed to go well. If you’re from God there needs to be more certainty not less certainty.”
Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
What’s Jesus talking about? I mean you got to know the disciples are thinking, “We didn’t sign on for this. This is not what we expected. This is not what we signed up for. If you’re the Son of God and if you’re with God this is not the way the story is supposed to go!”
I mean stick with Jesus and life is supposed to be wonderful. And maybe that’s where you are this morning. Or maybe you’re in the midst of life’s uncertainties. I mean folks what’s the problem with the government? What’s the problem with congress? What’s the problem over there in Syria or Afghanistan? Or what’s the problem with healthcare or what is this about the home foreclosures or how come people are still losing jobs? I mean what about the economy? Haven’t we learned anything about the past several years?
And this is important for us to ponder for us as Americans who equate God with prosperity. And why shouldn’t we. I mean relatively speaking we’ve been incredibly prosperous. It’s important for us who equate God with forward motion. And why wouldn’t we, for the most part most of us have experienced primarily forward motion.
But I imagine if you were to go to the disciples, these men who gathered that night with Jesus they were probably wondering if they had wasted their lives. They would have probably said this was the darkest hour of their lives. I mean, “Come on, God we’re hurting here!” They knew God could do it. They saw how the blind man could be healed. They saw how the crowd of 5000 could be fed. They saw how Lazarus was raised from the dead. (How cool was that!) And now all this?
And yet if they had been paying attention, in that moment when they thought God was at His weakest, the moment when they thought that God was absent, when they thought their lives were at their darkest, if they had been paying attention they could see that it was in that time when God seemed most inactive He was most active. It was in that time when it appeared He was doing nothing God was doing His greatest work. Because those darkest hours were the epicenter of the the salvation of all mankind. These would be the hours that literally millions of people all over the world would look back to and rejoice in God’s goodness and grace and rejoice.
I’ve read the book. I’ve read the story. God seems to take broken things and make them work. God is able to bring about something new in times of personal and national brokenness. I mean that’s how God works. And so I maintain faith that God is working even when cannot see what the hands of God are doing because I know that God still has got the whole world in His hands.
“Well Pastor Randy that sounds good. It may be even a little bit inspirational. But how’s that going to get me a job? How is that going to help me get my health back or get my relationship back in order? I mean how is faithfulness going to get me a paycheck or a clean bill of health or a stable family?”
And you know you’re right. It may not change the circumstance of your life. But here’s what I know, because this is our message. That although that idea, that insight, that truth about the scripture doesn’t change anything in our circumstances, here’s what it does. It gives you something to hang on to. It gives you a lifeline. Everybody needs a lifeline. It allows you to embrace uncertainty with the certainty of knowing that God is still in control. That although life is uncertain God is not uncertain. Although life is uncertain, and family’s uncertain and the economy’s uncertain and the world seems to be uncertain, God is not uncertain. He’s still got the whole world in His hands. And this knowledge, even if it’s just embracing it with our fingernails holding on, its keeps us from making decisions that even further complicate the difficulties that we’re facing. It allows you to go to bed at night and realize that there is a way to have peace even in the midst of the storm. It will teach us to keep an eye out for the activity of God that will take us by surprise, as it often did the characters of scripture. He still has the whole world; he still has your world in His hands.
What are you going to hang on to?
Now you’ve got to know that the disciples kept returning to that moment. They kept remembering. “Take it. This is my body. Drink it. This is my blood of the covenant poured out for you.” And that is exactly why we celebrate this sacred meal this morning. And especially today on this World Communion Sunday. This is our lifeline. This is the sign. This is the reminder that even now in the midst of uncertainty and stress and trouble in our lives and in our world, even though you may sometimes wonder, “Where is God in all of this mess?” This is our reminder that God is still in control and He’s still got the whole world in his hands.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what’s in my future. And I don’t know what’s in your future. I don’t know what the future holds for our nation or our world. But the one thing I know is that God’s still got the whole world in His hands.
Let us pray.
God some of us are here today because we’ve got a lifeline. And we’re here today to give you thanks and to let you know that we’ve not let go. And Lord some of us have come here today because we don’t have that lifeline. We need something to hang on to. And so in the midst of what we are experiencing this day Lord, be present in our lives. Help us to come to that peace that you offer and the assurance that even when we experience uncertainties that you are certain. Lord help us to hang on in such a way that we can be a presence that will help others to know that you’ve still got every one of us and the whole world in your hands.