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Worship and Sermons
August 19, 2018

“Fill ‘Er Up, Please!” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, August 19, 2018 [Pentecost 13 B] –  Proverbs 9:1-6  •  Psalm 111  •  Ephesians 5:15-20  •  John 6:51-58

FOCUS:  Be open to receiving God’s love in the Eucharist, and share it with all.

      Do any of you drive electric cars?  I first experienced one of those on a trip to California last year.  I was taking Jane out to her Freshman orientation in Santa Barbara.  We flew into LA and then rented a car to drive north. The rental car was a Ford Fusion. But it wasn’t like any Ford I’d ever driven. It was an electric car.

      I confess, I was more than a little skeptical.  But that car was a dream. It didn’t just handle well, but it was wonderfully quiet, and it had plenty of power.  It made me curious.  I wondered, ‘How did they develop it and what makes it work?’

      So I did a little research.  It may surprise you that electric vehicles have been around a long time.  The first ones appeared in the 1820s.  Until 1900, the world land speed record was held by an electric car. 

      Not long afterward, the internal combustion engine stole the show.  But in the 1960s, the electric car began making a comeback.  A few experimental models began to appear.

      And then, on July 31st, 1971, an electric car made history, and many of you probably watched it happen on TV.  The battery-powered Lunar Rover became the first manned vehicle to drive on the moon.  

      But it was another 40 years later before fully electric, zero-emission vehicles began to really catch hold in the marketplace.  I wondered why it took so long, but then it became clear.

      In short, it’s really all about the battery.  For years, scientists were unable to develop a rechargeable battery that was sufficiently lightweight, powerful, stable, long-lasting, small and cheap enough to produce to be viable. 

      But, thanks to all the development that went into rechargeable phone batteries in the 1990s, car battery technology made huge advances.  And 5 years ago, a new company called Tesla released its first mass-market all-electric car – the Model S.  

      The Model S can run 265 miles on a single charge and it takes less than 3 seconds to go from 0 – 60.  Competitors are trying desperately to keep up.  The market is growing.  Some are predicting that by 2040 all cars will be electric.

      But no matter how much the technology progresses, electric car owners will always have one essential, recurring need:  they will always have to recharge their batteries regularly.  

      Friends, that is the message that we get from our gospel text this morning.

      Last week Jesus identified himself as the Bread of Life come down from Heaven.  This week he expands on that.  He says anyone who wants to have eternal life must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  

      We should bear in mind here that he’s teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.  The congregation is astounded, confused, and offended.  Even some of his own disciples have trouble with this.  They say, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

      The reason is simple.  Jews were strictly prohibited from consuming blood.  The Jewish law is clear:  blood is the life of the flesh - and so it belongs to God, the creator of all life. 

      You and I don’t have the same problem with this teaching that they did.  We recognize this.  It’s the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist – communion, the Lords’ Supper.  Whatever you want to call it, the church has carried this sacrament down through the ages as the profound gift of God’s grace that it is.

      But, along the way, it’s also been a source of conflict.

      Never was that conflict more heated than in the 16th century Reformation.  The theology of the Eucharist became one of the theological dividing lines.  The question the Reformers debated with one another and with the Catholic Church was “Exactly, how is Christ present in the Eucharist?”

      As those in the Reformed Tradition who follow the theological teaching of John Calvin, we believe Christ is indeed present in a very real way in communion.  This notion of Real Presence is what separated Calvin from other Reformers.  Some of them understood communion as merely symbolic, just a memorial of Christ and his self-sacrifice on the cross.

      On the other hand, we do not believe Christ is literally present in the physical elements of bread and wine.  That is what separated Calvin and his followers from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

      As with so many church fights, the opposing sides fought like cats and dogs over the finer points, when there was actually room for agreement on the larger, more important points.  Especially the understanding that, through Jesus’ presence, communion joins us to God and to one another.

      That’s why Calvin called the Lord’s Supper “a bond of love”.  That’s exactly what communion is all about:  love.  Whatever else we believe about the Eucharist, we trust that Jesus, the proof and embodiment of God’s love, is with us at the table.

      Wherever he goes, wherever he is, he brings the good news:  God loves us.  God loves this whole world so much, that he gave us his only son so that by trusting in him we can have life – a life lived in the constant, loving presence of God.

      We can experience that connection in a special way right here at the table.  It’s not that Jesus isn’t present to us in other places.  On the contrary, he’s always with us, everywhere. 

      But his presence is especially real right here at the communion table.  There we touch, we smell and we taste the bread and the juice.  We swallow it, feeling his presence down inside of us.  That warm feeling is Jesus reconnecting us with God and with one another, strengthening the bond of love that joins us together.

      We can’t touch something that powerful without feeling it.  If we’re open to what’s happening in communion, that connection with God’s love makes our hearts resonate in the same way we might feel a little shock when we get too close to a live electric current. 

      Have you ever felt that?  If you have, you’ll never forget it.    

      I experienced that sensation 15 years ago when I was taking a shower on a mission trip to Bolivia.  We were in a small Quechua village high up in the Andes.  Since hot water heaters are prohibitively expensive, all the water was cold.

      What they had done, however, was to fix onto the shower spout a little mini water heater, like something you might find inside an electric kettle or a Keurig coffee maker.  It super-heats the water as it comes through the spout.  The result is:  a hot shower.

      Of course, the heating element runs on electricity.  You can actually see the wires running to it from the ceiling.  We had been warned never, ever, to touch it with wet hands because of the risk of electrocution. 

      I don’t know why, maybe I had gotten so used to it that I had stopped being conscious of it. 

      One morning, not thinking, I stuck my hand up to adjust the angle of the spout.  As my hand got within an inch or so, I felt a strange sensation.  The muscles in my hand and arm began twitching, vibrating back and forth like a plucked guitar string.

      Friends, I think that’s what Jesus means for us to feel in communion.  God’s love is powerful, so powerful it’s palpable.  When we get that close to it, and it begins to work within us, we should shake a little bit, shouldn’t we?

      That kind of electric experience can only happen when we’re open to it; when we focus our minds and hearts on the sensation of being filled with Jesus’ body and blood. 

      Calvin called this “Spiritual eating”.  When Jane and I ask you to “Lift up your hearts” that’s what we mean.  We lift them up so the Holy Spirit can pour the life and love of Christ into us.

      We need that – we need it regularly and we need it often.  You and I are a lot like those electric cars.  They can do marvelous things.  But if they run out of juice, they can’t do much at all.

      That’s how it is with you and me.  Day to day living has a way of draining us – draining our heart’s capacity to love.  We need to be refilled, recharged. 

      The next time we receive communion, let’s all do something a little different.  Picture yourself as a Tesla Model 3 that’s running low on power.  You’ve pulled into your SSPC recharging station to get plugged back into your source of life and love.

      Then let’s all be open to the electric jolt of being filled with God’s love, and let it carry us out onto the highways of the world to share that love with everyone we meet.

      Until it’s time to come back to get refilled.

      May it be so.


Last Published: August 21, 2018 11:30 AM
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