Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a well-known tourist site in Italy. The bell tower was built over marshy land and began leaning almost as soon as it was built in 1173. Since that time, efforts have been made to stop, or at least control the leaning. Recent restoration appears to have stabilized the structure—or at least that’s what some construction experts tell us. We all know that a building has to have a good foundation for it to last.
In the parable, actually an allegory in today’s gospel reading, Jesus quotes from the 118th Psalm. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The cornerstone Jesus was talking about is not like the one that suddenly appeared when the shrubbery was removed a week or so ago. There were some that didn’t realize it was there, but if you look on the left front corner you can see it.
Originally, a cornerstone was also known as the foundation stone or the setting stone. It was the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones were set in reference to that stone. It determined the position of the entire structure.
Jesus was telling the chief priests and scribes that they were rejecting the one who would be their salvation. He was is, and remains the foundation upon which the Church is built.
We Lutherans, as well as most mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches who con-fess the Creed (or some variation of it) and pray the Lord’s Prayer believe spiritual blessings are brought to us through the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are defined as: The Word of God; the Sacrament of Holy Baptism; and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “They are the means of grace because they are the means, or the vehicle through which God’s grace comes to us. It is through the Word of God and the Sacraments that the Holy Spirit does His work in us.”(from Luther’s Small Catechism)
The main Means of Grace is the Word or God—the Holy Scriptures, through which the Holy Spirit works within us to bring about true faith. The Holy Spirit is always in the Word, and gives it saving power.
Then there are the Sacraments—a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, in which invisible gifts are given us through visible earthly elements. Even in the OT there were sacraments. The first was the rite of Circumcision, which was a type of Baptism. Another was the Passover which was a type of Lord’s Supper.
“For the grace of God which is offered to all men [people] in the Word, is brought and sealed to each believer individually in the sacraments. My baptism assures me that all the blessings of Christ’s redemption are meant for me: and the Lord’s Supper assures me that Christ’s body and blood were given and shed for me for the remission of my sins.
Who are to be baptized? In the 28th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells us to go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. All people, then, who want to become disciples and confess Christ are to be baptized. This means children also, with competent sponsors or parents are to be baptized since they are members of “all nations”. These parents or sponsors make a promise before God and the assembly that they shall teach and raise the child so that they may always remain faithful and obedient children of God. Baptism is a sacrament that is performed one time. A person is never re-baptized. Once baptized, always baptized. Water is poured over the person’s head, in generous amounts, drowning the old self and therefore, being reborn.
The second sacrament is Holy Communion. It is known by many names: the Sacrament of the Al-tar, the Lord’s Supper, the Table of our Lord, the Communion, and the Eucharist. It instituted on the same night as Jesus Christ was betrayed. Jesus took bread blessed it and gave it to his disciples and said: take, eat; this is my body given for you. Then he gave them wine and said: drink ye all of it this is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you.
So, as Martin Luther writes: “it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under (along with) the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ him-self.” The bread and wine do not simply represent the body and blood and the body and blood are not changed into the body and blood of Christ. They are not united with the body and blood to form a third substance. The bread and wine remain real bread and wine throughout the administration of the Lord’s Supper. But there is a communion of the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ, so that when the communicant receives the bread, he receives the body of Christ and when he receives the wine, he receives the blood of Christ. The bread and wine are earthly vehicles through which the heavenly gift of Christ’s body and blood, which were given and shed for us for the remission of sins. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated often. Here at St. John’s weekly. The eating and the drinking do not produce the great effects of the Means of Grace. It is the words “given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.” It is the Word of God that gives the sacrament its power.
So during this pandemic, I, as your pastor, as well as most pastors, feel it just as important, or maybe even more so, to develop methods to safely distribute Holy Communion to the members of this congregation. I’ve developed the little packages containing the bread and wine that are distributed in a safe manner prior to the communion celebration. I invite those at home and are watching on Facebook to ready themselves by obtaining bread and wine for the celebration. I do this so that we can all participate together. I feel it important that we do this as a congregation, even though we may not be able to see each other face to face, but we can all be assured we are all gathered as one body in Christ.
So, today, we, you and I, gather, no matter how far apart we are physically, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to receive God’s love and grace through His Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We repent and we are forgiven! It is through Jesus Christ, the foundation that will keep us plumb and strong.
All praise be to God!