oh, how bright the path grows from day to day
leaning on the everlasting arm
A sermon on Communion, and Paul's instructions thereof:
At some point in my life I learned the lesson that nothing is given to you. That, if you want something, you have to go out there and earn it. You have to work for everything.
And what’s that lesson has especially earned me; is totally unbearable streak!
I mean, can you imagine having someone like that as older brother?
*I bet some of you can, because you have one. Anyone want to testify???
Or, being married to a guy like that? Woof…
Because being around someone like that, is exhausting. Not only because they’re always pushing; but because the truth is, that lesson I bought into so long ago is wrong. It’s wrong.
Life doesn’t work like that.
And there’s a movie that depicts this so well. Then western, “True Grit.” The Coen brother’s version, of course.
It’s about this teenage girl, Mattie. Her father died when a two-bit crook, Tom Chaney, shot him down in a drunken rage.
To Mattie’s derision, Chaney put in with another crew and fled. Worst of all, though, the authorities are doing little, if anything, to capture Chaney.
So Mattie takes matters into her own hands…
She goes to the Sheriff’s office and asks about the best Marshal to hire.
The Sheriff says, “I'd have to think on that. Bill Waters is the best tracker. He's part Comanche; it is a pure joy to watch him cut for sign. The meanest is Rooster Cogburn; a pitiless man, double tough. Fear don't enter into his thinking. I'd have to say the fairest is L.T. Quinn; he always brings in his prisoners alive. Now, he might let one slip by evry now and then, but…”
And before the Sheriff can finish, Mattie asks, “Where would I find this Rooster.”
Mattie doesn’t want a tracker or someone fair, Mattie wants the meanest. Because she aims to get justice.
In fact, as she’s preparing to leave, a Texas Marshall approaches her, LaBoeuf. Because he’s been tracking Chaney, too.
There’s a reward on Chaney’s head in Texas. So LaBoeuf proposes they all working together, and then split the reward. Mattie isn’t having it, though. She doesn’t want Chaney paying for some crime in Texas, she wants him to pay for her father’s murder.
Here’s how Mattie puts it, “Chaney fled. He could have walked his horse, for not a soul in that city could be bothered to give chase. No doubt Chaney fancied himself scot-free. But he was wrong. You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”
And the rest of the movie is Mattie learning that grace isn’t regulated to the four walls of church. That, if Jesus rose from the dead, nothing less than nature of reality changed—how the world works.
Great thing happens as the movie progresses; the momentum slowly changes. Because the justice Mattie is after, can’t sustain things.
Starts when LaBoeuf misses a shot on Chaney, and Mattie tells him to leave. And Rooster, figuring they missed their chance, hits the bottle.
Things even manage to get even worse. Alone in the wilderness with drunken Rooster, Mattie goes to fetch some water, and sees Chaney across the banks. So she takes a shot at him, but only manages to injure him.
Injured he captures Mattie, and the posse he’s joined use her as ransom to get Rooster to leave.
But not even all that is enough to get Mattie to give up. Captured, she argues with Chaney. Telling him he can’t run forever.
So Chaney comes at her, telling her, he’ll show her otherwise. And that’s when, LaBoeuf sneaks from behind and knocks him out. All along, the guy Mattie told to leave, has been there to protect her.
At that point, a fight ensues. And during the scuffle Mattie takes a fallen rifle, and shoots. But the kickback knocks her into a hole.
This is where her pursuit of justice has landed her, helplessly dangling.
Eventually Rooster and LaBoeuf overcome the criminals. But then, at the very moment when the justice she’s been after is so close, Mattie is done in. Her fall knocked loose a rattle-snake nest. And before they can pull her from the hole, she’s bitten.
Rooster cuts open the wound, sucks out the venom, but Mattie still looses consciousness. So Rooster puts her on her horse and rides nonstop. Eventually the horse faints in exhaustion. At which point Rooster carries her himself across the wilderness.
*The background music for that great scene is a variation on “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
Now how apt of a depiction is that of our lives? The messes we make, imaging it’s all up to use. The blood we spill, and lives we break open, in our vain pursuits. Trying to get our own justice.
And in the end, for what? To wind up high and dry; helplessly, dangling.
Truth is, we all need someone to rescue us, to carry us back home again, don’t we?
What this films gets, and what we so often don’t, is the way life really plays out. Where those things we bleed for, break apart over lead.
To our own destruction. And the fact that someone must rescue us from our own demise.
You know, I had thought I’d list the things we break apart over, the things we spill blood over, but after a week like this, it just seemed unnecessary. We can all look around to see everything we’re busy breaking and bleeding over. Of what it looks like when we take justice into our own hands
Because in the end, it’s an illusion, isn’t it? We don’t earn any of this. Our life doesn't come by our own efforts. It comes by grace.
And we make such a mess of things forgetting that promise.
In Jesus we are given a glimpse into how life really works. And not only that, because Jesus even gives us this life, does so in the midst of our betrayal. He does so by calling us to this meal.
This meal where all are invited.
And all means, all, folks. Male and female. Slave and free. Jew and Gentile. The righteous and unrighteous. The proud and the humble.
And in this meal, we all come empty-handed. With nothing to offer. And in return, at this meal Jesus gives us everything.
You see, our lives, this world even, is sustained by grace.
I know this is hard to see. You can only see it through the lens of the cross. Because Jesus’ life wasn’t laid down for nothing, it was so we might have life in his name. Jesus’ blood was shed, so we may cease from trying to bring justice with anymore bloodshed of our own. And Jesus’ life was taken from him, broken, by all those things we break apart over.
And I know there is plenty that’s breaking apart our lives these days. Isn’t there?
Know this though, Jesus hasn’t just shed his blood and broken his life apart for us. He does more. Jesus fills where we are empty. He puts back together where we are broken!
In this meal, Jesus takes your life and puts it back together. He does this by giving you his own. In this meal, Jesus comes to those places where we are empty, and fills them with the love of God.
We spend so much of our lives veering from one extreme to the other, don’t we? Going from trying to take control, and then when it all falls apart, to begging God to take over.
And maybe you’re here today, convinced you’ve got everything in hand. That the world is your oyster. And the Lord invites you to this meal.
Or maybe you’re here, and you’ve been cured of that illusion. In fact, you’re not so sure anything can put your life back together again, fill you back up again. And the Lord invites you to this meal.
This meal when Jesus is broken, poured out; to restore you, put you back together.
Folks, those things that ask for blood, that break apart lives, they have no place anymore. Jesus has brought an end to that once for all, when his body was broken and his blood poured out.
The truth is, with everything that’s going on lately, it’s easy to feel like, not just our lives, but the whole world is breaking to pieces. Doesn’t it?
And when that happens, this meal we are called to seems so small. Yet, be assured, this feast, the feast where Jesus gives his body and his blood, is the feast where all are welcomed, and all are fed. And this act, welcoming and feeding all, knits back together.
That is why all those things that call for blood, why that lesson I learned long ago, are wrong. Because of all this feast gives. And gives freely.
If you want justice; look no further than this table. If you want your life put back together, look no further than this table. If you wonder what can heal the divisions that tear us apart, look no father than this table.
This table where all are welcomed, and all are fed.
Where Jesus is broken and poured out for you.
Where Jesus fills up and puts back together.