The following sermon, with a theme from Doctrine and Covenants 119: 8B, was delivered September 19th, 2014, at the Central USA Mission Center Priesthood Gathering’s Communion service.
It was then published in Herald Vol 162-3:6 (March 2015)
In 1992 the church was blessed with inspired counsel provided by Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith. It stated:
“Therefore, continue to be strong in faith. To you who hear my voice and know my promises I will reveal myself and give my peace, even in the midst of your uncertainties.
Indeed, I am longing to pour out greater blessings than you have ever known if you, my people, will open yourselves through preparation, study, and prayer.
Look especially to the sacraments to enrich the spiritual life of the body. Seek for greater understanding of my purposes in these sacred rites and prepare to receive a renewed confirmation of the presence of my Spirit in your experiences of worship.”
– Doctrine and Covenants 158: 11
When considering the sacraments, there is a tendency to think of them in individual terms. That is, what do the sacraments offer to individual disciples as they grow in relationship to God and Jesus Christ?
There is certainly no problem with thinking in those terms. All sacraments offer sacred opportunities for people to make and renew covenant with God, to express response to God’s call, and to receive personal forgiveness and blessing at pivotal points along life’s journey.
However, according to Doctrine and Covenants 158: 11, God is calling us beyond the familiar to “Seek for greater understanding” of divine purposes in the sacraments. So, what are the “greater understandings” we are called to understand more fully?
More recent sections of Doctrine and covenants provide guidance. In addition to individual blessings through the sacraments, God wants us to see and be collectively transformed by the community-formation power of the sacraments.
For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 164: 4B-4C counsel is given that:
“When the church gathers for Communion, highlight the opportunity for members to reaffirm their baptismal covenant, to reconcile strained relationships, and to commit together to the church’s mission of promoting communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.
Explore all the ways the Lord’s Supper can spiritually form the church community into a true and living expression of the life, sacrifice, resurrection, and continuing presence of Christ. Inherent in this sacrament is the divine call for the church to be a sacramental offering for the blessing, healing, and peace of creation.”
What do you hear in those words of spiritual direction related to “greater understanding” of God’s purposes in the sacrament of Communion?
I hear a call to emphasize and experience the church community-formation power of Communion. Note that this direction moves from the renewal of one’s personal baptismal covenant to an emphasis on reconciling strained relationships in the body – be that in the congregation, mission center, or worldwide church – and then it moves to the mutual commitment of the church body to the mission of promoting communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness, which, of course, is the definition of the cause of Zion.
The counsel emphasizes that Communion provides ways for congregations and the worldwide body to be spiritually shaped as sacred community in and through the Living Christ A central purpose of Communion is to constantly remind the church that its primary purpose is to be the community through which the Living Christ lives in the world and continues his mission.
At the last World Conference I had an experience with the Spirit where this truth was impressed even more on me. During the serving of Communion to … people representing a broad array of human variety, I saw with my spiritual eyes the assembly not just as a collection of individuals, but as a blessed, sacramental community through which Jesus Christ was being graciously offered to the world.
Ultimately, Doctrine and Covenants counsel admonishes that we fulfill the divine purpose of the church by understanding it as Christ’s sacramental offering of us together – his committed community of disciples – to the world to bring blessings, healing, and peace as a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.
So, a central purpose of Communion is to move us from discipleship understood primarily in individual terms to discipleship understood in community terms; sacred community where the lives and giftedness of disciples are woven together to promote the mission of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
There is even more to understand in relation to the transformative power of the sacrament of Communion. The most recent inspired counsel to the church – given in 2013 – includes the following:
“More fully accept and embody your oneness and equality in Jesus Christ, who dwells in oneness with God.
Oneness and equality in Christ are realized through the waters of baptism, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and sustained through the sacrament of Communion. Embrace the full meaning of these sacraments and be spiritually joined in Christ as never before.
However, be aware, it is not to profess oneness and equality in Christ through sacramental covenants and then to deny that equality by attitude, word, or action. Such behavior wounds Christ’s body and denies what is eternally resolved in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.”
Once again, God seeks to draw us into even deeper and broader understanding of the nature of the church as expressed through the sacraments.
When we are baptized and confirmed, we are reminded, we become members of a new kind of community that is devoted to oneness with Christ and each other. This counsel states that an essential aspect of oneness with Christ and each other is equality among disciples.
This is not a new concept. The Apostle Paul emphasized this truth when he asserted, as recorded in Galatians 3: 27-28 NRSV, that:
“As many of you as were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
Please listen carefully, because the future of the church depends on our grasp and demonstration of this truth. Baptism and confirmation mean we are one and equal in Christ, regardless of the categories often used to identify us. Put even more forcefully in Faith Seeking Understanding, Daniel Migliore states:
“Baptism is the sacrament of human solidarity in Christ with each other, and especially with those who are different, strange, or even frightening to us. There can be no baptism into Christ without a deepening sense of solidarity with fellow creatures and with all their needs and yearnings … baptism creates a solidarity that defies and shatters the divisions and barriers that sinful human beings have created.”
If that is a primary meaning of baptism – which I believe it is – then how does it inform our understanding of Communion?
Well, if we go right to the heart of the matter, mindful participation in Communion – which, by the way, denotes “with unity” – means we cannot partake of these emblems that represent the sharing of divine life freely with all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ if we intend to continue to harbor or condone attitudes and actions that ignore, look down on, or intentionally discriminate against some brothers or sisters in the church body.
I believe this understanding is included in Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 11: 27 that before partaking of the bread and cup we should examine ourselves and truly discern the nature of the Lord’s body. I believe this because the context of Paul’s counsel is his great concern over behaviors in the Christian community that perpetuated inequality among some disciples. In this case, it had to do with the wealthy flaunting their privileged status and the poor being disadventaged.
Now, how does all of this relate to our theme that all are “…Called According to the Gifts of God…”?
Our faith teaches us that disciples are graced by the Holy Spirit with a variety of gifts for ministry that are essential to the achievement of the church’s mission. If we truly are a community of oneness in Christ, then we assume the gifts for ministry – so necessary for the church to fulfill its mission – are given regardless of ethnicity, race, economic capacity, social class, sex, gender identity, age, etc.
Directly tied to this truth is the primary calling of priesthood members to help each other and all other disciples discover, develop, and share gifts for ministry.
How do we do this? Time does not permit a thorough exploration of that question. However, I can quickly list four ways for you to consider:
- We constantly check ourselves for “blind spots” in terms of types of people we tend to dismiss as not having genuine gifts of ministry. Whom are we not seeing in the body or being drawn into the body by the Holy Spirit?
- As priesthood members, we serve together in ways that demonstrate no one has all the gifts. But when we team together our gifts for ministry function in complementary ways that provide redemptive ministry way beyond what any individual could provide. (In fact, priesthood members who view their callings as ways to meet ego and to highlight themselves always lead to dysfunction in ministry.)
- We mentor disciples of all types and from all backgrounds, helping them discover nd develop their gifts for ministry. Mentoring is doing ministry with another, not just telling a person what to do.
- We especially advocate for those disciples who represent the “minority” and the “least of these” in the dominant congregationalor church culture.
In closing, let me summarize my thoughts. The sacrament of Communion offers opportunity for individual disciples to experience personal renewal and strengthened commitment to Jesus Christ. Communion also provides opportunity for spiritual community formation in Jesus Christ. The voice of the Spirit today is to go deeper and broader in our understanding of the role of the sacrament in helping us truly become a community of “oneness and equality” in Christ.
An essential aspect of being a community of “oneness and equality” in Christ is the Enduring Principle of the Restoration that affirms All Are Called according to their gifts. As priesthood, we are especially called to help members and seekers identify and mobilize all the giftedness for ministry resident in the body.