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1_23 E-Votional

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  -  Hebrews 13:2

Our theme this week in worship is hospitality and we will focus on a story from Genesis 18 in which Abraham and Sarah show hospitality to “strangers” who turn out to be angels in disguise revealing a divine message of great importance to them.  The conclusion from this story, echoed in Hebrews 13:2, is clear: we never know exactly how, when, where and in whom God may show up and pay us a visit.  Being hospitable to others is a way of ensuring that we don’t miss that message.

At a regional youth event, probably 15 years ago by now, I sat with a group from our church during the opening worship in the hotel’s grand banquet room.  We were sitting on the far-left hand side of the audience, approximately half-way back.  A praise band performed, different speakers spoke words of introduction about the weekend’s theme, and we (in the audience) were standing up and sitting down quite a bit.  All throughout this time, I happened to notice a strange man.  He was dressed in what looked like “coveralls” – some sort of uni-garment – with a stocking cap on his head.  Even from way off, one could tell his clothes were old and dirty.  He would walk slowly throughout the banquet room, shuffling his feet, and sitting down every so often.  After a few minutes he’d get up, shuffle on a little more and sit down in another open seat.  Once he even shuffled over to an empty seat in the row in front of us, before continuing on.

When it came time for the keynote speaker to give the opening address, this man was shuffling his way near the stage.  I’m sure I was not the only one who was, by now, wondering who this guy was and why he was in the room.  But as the minister at the microphone completed her introduction and spoke the keynoter’s name, the man in the coveralls climbed the stairs, turned, took off his hat, unzipped and stepped out of his uni-garment and introduced himself as the featured guest.

Perhaps, as you were reading these words just now, you could see where this was leading.  But his point that night was clear.  While he admitted that no one treated him poorly or asked him to leave the banquet room, no one approached him, asked him his name, offered a chair to sit in, or showed him anything else that we might consider a gesture of kindness, mercy, compassion or hospitality.  It was, rather, as though he were invisible. 

As Christians, we live in the world and yet we are not of the world.  In the world, we are (sometimes rightfully) wary and skeptical of strangers.  Yet those cautionary instincts cannot prohibit us from our higher, not-of-the-world calling to show hospitality to strangers – not to withhold things like kindness from them.  For who knows?  We just might be welcoming into our lives a message from God that we most need to hear. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

“The Bread Which we Break…”

At the close of my column in last week’s newsletter, I stated that when it comes to communion how we distribute the elements is less important than that the elements are distributed such that “all are fed.”  Something similar can be said about the bread we eat in the communion meal.  There is no “right” kind of bread to serve, though individual congregations certainly have their preference.  Some serve thin wafers the size of a half dollar.  Others, like ours, offers smaller and harder pieces that more resemble pellets of bread. 

Our primary founder, Alexander Campbell, believed that something called “the fraction” was important during communion. This referred to the practice of serving people from one single loaf that was broken during the communion  service.  For instance, as the words of institution were being spoken (“and Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it), the bread was actually broken at that moment.  Thereafter, participants would eat a small portion from that original bread broken in the service.  This practice of “fraction” (the bread broken into fractions) held theological significance for Campbell.  It represented the one body of Jesus Christ, “broken” in death on the cross.  Moreover, it simultaneously represented individual members becoming the one body of Christ (the church) through the sharing of one single faith in Jesus Christ.

I was not made aware of this theological significance as a child growing up in a Disciples of Christ congregation.  Rather it wasn’t until graduate school that I studied these matters more closely.  Yet my home church did practice “the    fraction” every week in worship, even without naming it as such.  Ours was a small church and members would take turns supplying the bread for the communion meal.  The bread was nearly always homemade and the bread baker’s name for that week was printed in the bulletin.  My sisters and I would eagerly open the bulletin upon coming to church to see whose turn it was to bring the communion bread.  I’m sure we were less than kind with our comments if it was a member who was known to bring an “obscure” bread choice (like rye or some kind of multi-grain option, which to a child’s taste buds, was not that appealing).

My mother, of course, took her turn.  Every Monday growing up, my mom baked bread.  Hers was a sourdough recipe that used a sourdough culture dating back to a woman from Kansas in the late 19th century.  True story.  When my mom received the sample culture that forms the basis of sourdough bread, she received the story of its origin that went with it.  And the story stated that a woman began that culture, from which my mother’s was eventually spawned, in Kansas in the 1870s.  Every so often mom would “feed” the culture, sitting in a big glass jar in the back of the fridge and on Mondays she would take a small portion for that week’s batch of bread.  Mom always baked bread in the traditional rectangular-shaped pans, but there was one round pan that she only used for Sunday’s communion bread.  It was about half the size of a pie plate and I remember mom place that in a plastic bag, wrapping a twist tie around the end and setting in on top of the bible that she brought with her. 

Since I first began receiving communion as a baptized believer in my home  congregation, I have had all sorts of communion bread.  The same can of said of the three churches I have served as pastor.  And all these years later I continue to believe that was introduced to me at an early age.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bread is used, only that bread is used in worship.  For bread, in whatever form or shape it comes, has a way of connecting us historically, throughout time, to our ancestors, and laterally, to one another, who partake of that same bread with us.

Blessings – Michael

 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Servant Leadership: Deacons

In worship this past Sunday, we looked at the story of the first Deacons (Acts 6:1-7). In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “deacon” (diakonia) means “to serve.”  While the Apostles tended to the “spiritual food” (the Word of God), making sure the study of the Word was not neglected, the Deacons were tasked with making sure that all were fed with physical (literal) food; that none were neglected nor excluded.  Where we see the distinctive role of Deacon best in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today is during communion.  Elders occupy the role of Apostle, speaking words about the spiritual significance of the bread we eat.  And Deacons make sure that all are fed.  They distribute the literal bread among the people.

At our traditional services at Central, deacons serve trays of bread and grape juice to people among the pews.  They then serve one another along the pew,  except on Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday when, like at our weekly 9:00  contemporary service, we serve by “intinction.”  This is a Latin word that means “to dip into.”  At these times, members come forward and dip bread into a cup of juice before partaking of it.  But there really isn’t a “right” way to do it.

Our ancestors, Presbyterians in Scotland, served communion 4 times a year.  That tradition carried over to Colonial America where the August communion celebration (after the planting and before the harvest) grew to be huge, outdoor, festive affairs.  Multiple congregations came together and sat at long tables, where the bread and cup would be passed down the long rows.

When the Disciples of Christ split from the Presbyterians, we carried some of those practices with us.  One of our founders, Alexander Campbell, in his book The Christian System published in 1835, noted that some congregations invited congregants to the front of the church in groups, where they sat at an actual table and passed the bread and cup, as if to replicate those August outdoor  services. 

Campbell, who was our most influential founder, came to believe that the best way to serve communion was to pass the elements to one another in the pews.  Each congregant, in serving his/her neighbor the bread and cup, conveyed to them, “You are a Disciple of Christ (my brother/sister).  As Christ embraces you in his arms, so I do in mine.” 

For many Disciples, coming forward for communion looked “too Catholic” and therefore was resisted.  But in recent decades, there has been a trend toward the orthodox and Disciples are becoming less biased toward practices that were once conceived as “too Catholic.”  Serving communion by intinction is quite pragmatic from a planning standpoint (it requires less overhead to implement) and pragmatism is, not coincidentally, a cornerstone Disciples value.  Moreover, there is something powerfully intimate and personal about receiving communion, one-on-one, or dispensing it and hearing (or reciting) the words “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.  This is blood of Christ, shed for your salvation.” However we distribute the elements in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is far more important that we do it than how.   

Blessings – Michael

 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Highways

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Over Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time on highways.  Literal highways.   I drove from Decatur to central Ohio; then on to southeastern Ohio along the West Virginia border; then up to Michigan before returning home by way of Chicago and northwest Indiana.  Though the vast majority of the journey was on interstates, our family did spend 30 miles or so last Friday morning on an old state highway in Ohio.  Route 821.  We were in search of the cemetery where my grandparents are buried.  The terrain in that part of the country consists of steep hills, blind curves, sharp corners and even a one-lane bridge or two.  The road meanders along the path of the Muskingum River, before heading due north through one-horse towns with names like “Whipple” and “Lower Salem.”  It was a cool, crisp morning and the warm sun rose against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky.   It quickly melted the frost from the tips of the blades of grass.  None of us in the car minded the extra time it added to our overall journey.

As a child, I loved when my mom drove the old state routes from Grandma Brum’s house to Zanesville, where we had to get on the interstate.  And for a half-hour last Friday, I was back in those old days.  One of my children even said from the back seat “I wish the whole ride were like this.”  To which I said, “Me too, though it would take us nine hours instead of six to get there.”  But that’s what those old state highways do.  They force us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading.  You simply can’t be in a hurry and you have to be patient.  Because the highway won’t let you get there any faster.

Whereas the interstates allow us to jet our way over the countryside at the fastest of speeds albeit in mostly straight lines and with mind-numbing monotony, the state highways require us to slow down and pay attention to where the road is leading.  You simply can’t be in hurry and you have to be patient.  The highway won’t let you get there any faster.  Yet it simultaneously offers glimpses of life we would otherwise certainly overlook – an rusty filling station pump here, a house with a sagging roof there, a church’s skyward spier over there - each inviting our questions and observations, and engaging our imaginations.

This week we begin the season of Advent.  Advent encompasses the four (4) Sundays before Christmas and begins this year on December 3.  While we are tempted to “jet” our way toward Christmas as the month of December zips along at speeds that grow increasingly more rapid with each passing year, Advent is like a trip down a winding, country road.  It is God’s regular invitation to us to slow down and pay attention; to look inward; to question and observe the things we see within, which we would otherwise overlook were we not given the chance to examine them.

Praying for this kind of Advent this year – for you and for me…

Posted by Michael Karunas with

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