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The original plan had been to continue from Pentecost to look at the life of the early church, but in the light of my prayer retreat the previous week, I felt it more important to focus upon this one aspect of the life of the Spirit; prayer.  This first sermon, on a communion Sunday, focussed upon the need for confession as we come to the table.  

Today we begin a series on prayer.

I said earlier that we were going to read through the book of Acts,

but it seems to me more urgent that we pause, first,

to think about this essential act of Christian discipleship. 

Many of you have been married for decades –

some of you well over half a century,

and you know that relationships move through many stages;

there is the first flush of excitement in discovering love together,

there is the difficult stage

of discovering that love doesn’t mean you always think the same.

There is the negotiation stage as you learn how to give things up

for the sake of the one you love.

There is the renegotiation that takes place

with the birth of every baby

with new jobs,

with changing locations

with the challenges of unemployment

or poor health

or challenging family members. 

Through all of life, relationships change and grow.

As life continues, the challenges come less frequently

but can grow in severity.

Our relationships change and grow in many ways.

We understand each other better.

We learn to anticipate each other’s needs.

We know what’s important to the other person, and what’s not.

A lot of this is non-verbal;

it doesn’t have to be talked about, we just do it.

A lot of it requires talking to each other.

Sometimes there is a one-off conversation

that sets the scene for the next stage of or relationship.

More often we have to keep checking that we’re on track.

And throughout our lives,

living together means spending time,

hearing from each other how the day went,

catching up on the big concerns,

talking through the issues,

telling each other the truth, that we love one another still. 

We do this because we are human beings.

We were born with a need for language,

for using language to mould and build our relationships together. 

We are people of the word;

it is our ability to use words in the way that we do that makes us human more than anything else;

it is words that allow us to name and think about

our environment,

ultimately, it is words that give us the power to act in our environment as powerfully as we do.

This is nowhere more true than in our social environment;

in our relationships with other people.

And the most important person in our environment

is God.

God has revealed himself to us,

even though he is so far beyond our comprehension,

as a person.

God has come to us through the words of scripture,

                and in the Word, Jesus Christ,

                                and we respond to God in words.

We pray.

We enter into our relationship with God

                and we maintain that relationship with God in words.

In actions, too, it is true;

                words by themselves mean nothing –

but it is the words that teach us the meanings of our actions,

                that give our actions direction and purpose,

                                and that allow us to give our actions to God. 

And when we turn from God

                or when our actions lead us away from God,

                                                then we need a new kind of words:

We need confession, and apologies, and humble thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness of us. 

Today, as we come to communion, I want us to begin by looking at the prayer of confession,

                and humbling ourselves before God. 

Start by reading 1 Cor. 11.17 – 34, exposing the elements first.

This passage tells two stories.

At its centre it tells us of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ

                How he willingly gave his own life

                So that his friends could be set free from death and sin.

This was his promise to them – to us.

                And he gave us this way of remembering that promise

                Of sharing, along with his first disciples,

                                in a special meal that we eat together with him

                - never forget who sits at the head of this table.

But this passage also tells us another story –

                The story of a church that forgot whose bread they broke,

 whose cup they shared.

 In the church of Corinth there was division

 division between wealthy and poor:

The wealthy would arrive at their leisure

 Eat and drink together

  Even get drunk.

And later, when the day’s work was done, the poor would come

 And get the scraps.

So the blood of Christ was spilled

 And his body was broken


This, said Paul, is not the Lord ’s Supper.

 When we sin against one another

We sin against God.

 Or to say it another way:

The sin that separates us from each other

 is the same sin that separates us from God.

 See also 1 Peter 3.7

Where a man is told that if he doesn’t treat his wife well

His prayers won’t be heard;

Broken relationships on Earth

Equal a broken relationship with heaven.

Communion with God and communion with one another are inseparable.

You probably feel, As do I, that we are in no way worthy to come to this table today.

Which of us has perfect peace with all our family?

 Our workmates?

 Our neighbours?

Which of us can come to this table today

 feeling that we have a completely clean conscience?

Which of us has perfect communion with God?

The good news is that our heavenly Father knows what we are

And has made a way for us to come close despite our broken relationships.

Jesus Christ is the bridge between the holiness of God

And the brokenness of humanity.

He has laid himself down across that gap

between what we know to be right

and what we actually do.

God comes near to us so that we can come close to him.

That closeness is a revelation.

When we draw near to God
We begin to see him as he is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
And as we draw near
we also begin to see ourselves
as he sees us.

And for many of us

that means we have hope

…and we have shame.

Hope, because we see that in Jesus

God has completely accepted and healed our broken humanity.

And shame because we now see our brokenness in his light.

Before we share communion together,

I want to repeat Paul’s warning that “Whoever …eats the bread

                or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner

                         will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 

Examine yourselves,

                 and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body,

                 eat and drink judgement on themselves.”

In Corinth the specific sin - their shame - was the refusal of some

                to take seriously the command of Christ to love one another;

                                to be, together, the whole body of Christ.

They wealthy did not ‘discern the body’ in the poor,

        and so they were eating and drinking judgement on themselves. 

We, too, need to be careful not to exclude others from communion

                simply because they don’t match our definition

                                of what a good Christian should look like. 

But there’s a general principle here, too,

that we can’t come to God whilst holding onto sin of any sort. 

The psalmist says “If I had cherished sin in my heart,

                 the Lord would not have listened…” (Ps 66.18)

This points to two errors that we can fall into

                 as we come to communion;

the first is obvious; to see ourselves through rose-coloured glass

                sinless and self-righteous,

and therefore having a perfect right to come before God.

Jesus parodies this attitude beautifully

with his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

                 “The Pharisee stood by himself

 and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—

robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.

                I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

                                But the tax collector stood at a distance.

                                                He would not even look up to heaven,

but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

We know this story well, and are careful, of course,

                to remember that we are sinners who need God’s grace. 

Of course we remember that.  Mostly. Usually.

                Until we forget,

and start to think, “God got a pretty good deal when I signed up.”

One of the chief values of confession

                is that it realigns us with reality;

                                we’re all of us ratbags

                                and we all need to be washed inside and out

                                                before sitting down to the table

                                and none of us can reach those tricky spots;

we are absolutely dependent upon God to get us clean. 

Choosing to believe that we don’t need forgiveness

                 before coming to this table

                                is to fail to discern the body of Christ

                                as it was laid out for us as a sacrifice of Grace.

If there was no sin in me

there would be no need for Christ to suffer and die in my place.

The suffering and death of Jesus is the clearest possible indication

                                that there is sin in me. 

The other side to this

 is to believe that I am too sinful to come to the table.

That there is bound to be some sin that has escaped my notice,

                some unconfessed evil that I haven’t given to God

                                 because I haven’t recognised it as sin,

or some relationship faux pas of which I’m completely unaware.

Or we may be only too aware of the problem

                but feel helpless before it;

                                helpless to change the relationship,

                                frightened of the consequences of trying and failing.

Or we may feel so stuck in our sin,

                so trapped by our own bad behaviour

                                that we cannot imaging ever being free,

                                                and so we hesitate to come to God

                                                                because we’re just not good enough

                and cannot see ourselves ever being good enough. 

This also is a mistake.


the mistake here is to think that we have to do it all ourselves.

God does not require us to be as omniscient as He is.

                He does not need us to have a perfect plan

                                for dealing with all our sins,

or be ready and able to fix every faulty relationship,

or even to be aware of every sin we've sinned.

All he requires is that when we come to him

                we come as children;

ready to be instructed – and equipped – and then sent out

                to do the work He gives us to do.

It is God who has the perfect plan to deal with all our sins.

It is God who will break down the walls that we have built

                between ourselves and those we are supposed to love. 

It is God who will get into the gnarly corners of our souls

                and scrub out the filth that has accumulated there

If we are willing that he should do so!

All he requires from us is that we are willing for him to do that

and to be obedient to his leading us, each one.

I want to be set free from my sin.

I want to put to death that bad temper

That tempting habit

That insecurity

That deceitfulness

That sin that lives within me.

And Jesus tells me how.

“Repent!” he says.

So today

As we approach this table

We do so through repentance.

There is no other way to communion

With God and with each other

Than by repentance.

If I want to heal my relationship with you

It needs to start with me owning up to what I have done.

With confession.

Think now about your actions

that you hide from those around you?

What is it that you are ashamed of?

What is it that you do that creates a barrier

 between you and yours?

Ultimately, between you and God?

That is what you need to confess.

And when we make confession to God

God knows the intentions of our hearts.

Do we really want to make things right

with those we have hurt?

Then we may confess our actions to God

And he will forgive us

And he will give us the strength to do the right thing.

Do we want to be close to God

But have no intention of setting things right with others?

Then our confession is just a clanging gong in God’s ears;


Do we want to do the right thing

But are at a loss for how to do so?

Then come to God with your confession

And ask him to show you the right way.

Is your God real?

If he is real enough to forgive your sins

And to share communion with you

Then he is real enough to help you find your way back

into communion

with those against whom you have sinned.

Confession is the first half of repentance.

The other half is trust.

In Confession we name what we leave behind;

we identify for ourselves

The evil we have done

and the pain we have caused.

Trust is the other side.

If in confession we name our sin

in Trust we name our saviour.

We turn from the darkness

and lay ourselves down in the light

in the outstretched arms of the Christ.

Like the Corinthians

our communion with each other is flawed by greed and pride

and every other sin.

But at the centre of the Corinthian’s story

at the centre of our story today

is the story of Jesus Christ.

It’s not about what we have done;

it’s about what he did on the cross.

In his body he took our sin.

                With his blood he washes us clean.

Stretched between Earth and Heaven

                Christ Jesus brings the Father’s love down to earth

                                and lifts us up to his throne above.

So we will take some time this morning to examine ourselves.

Do we discern the body of Christ?

Do we see in the others gathered here today,

and do we see in the church

across the world and throughout the ages,

in all those who have come to this table,

                in every time and place,

The body of Jesus Christ our Lord?

Do we discern the body?

Do we see in these elements of bread and wine

                the immense cost of God’s sacrifice for our salvation?

                                Do we see the reality of our sin

                                                and our pressing need for forgiveness?

Do we discern the Body of Christ?

Do we see here laid out before us

                                God’s free gift of himself?

                                                stretched out between heaven and earth

                                                                between two criminals,

Do we see forgiveness and mercy

                                 greater than we can comprehend or claim,

                                                that washes us completely,

and always gives us much more than we know we need to ask for?

Do we see the grace of God in this body laid here today?

Let us examine ourselves,

                and so come to Christ

                                willing that he should be to us all that he desires;

our full forgiveness,

our costly grace,

our complete cleansing and healing,

Our Lord and Saviour

Jesus Christ. 


as gather to your table

help us bring to mind the evil in our hearts and lives

so that we can repent of all the wrong we have done

to one another

and to you.

And in sincerity

offer ourselves to you to be healed

                                             and accept your direction for living life anew.