Sardis

Your parents are here!  Bettina whispers in Lana’s ear.  Sit me next to my father, Lana tells her.

The stage goes dark, and the pretty female vocalist sings:

I can’t see, what’s in front of me,
Still I will trust you.  Still I will trust you.

And repeats the same before launching into the chorus of “Steady Heart”.

Church, a black worship leader says when the song is over, our sister Lana is going through a trial.  Be in prayer.  And he sings a solo “Because of Your Love”, with the lyrics projected on the screen behind him.  Simon stands up and applauds when he’s finished, and a few others join him.  The worship leader lowers his head, and points up.  God gets the glory, Bettina whispers, when he sits back down.

Then it’s another attractive female worship leader singing with the spotlight on her, but soon the entire worship team spreads out on the stage, backlit by purple lights and the fog machine kicks in.  The tempo of the song picks up, and the entire congregation comes to their feet, as the singer belts out “What a Beautiful Name”. Jax looks over and sees Lana and Bettina with their hands in the air.

The lights come on the stage and Pastor Larry bounds up.  Greet one another with a holy kiss - or its modern day equivalent.  And he does an elaborate fist bump with one of the worship leaders, and the congregation laughs.  Lana’s mother kisses her husband on the lips, and beams after Jax gives her a kiss on the cheek. Bettina kisses Lana, then hugs Simon, who kisses the top of her forehead.   Lana kisses her father’s cheek.  Emilie taps Jon on the shoulder. He turns around and she throws her arms around his neck and kisses him on the lips, and they grin at each other, oblivious to everyone else around them.

Pastor Larry comes back on stage, and the audience returns to their seats.  I was told this past week that my prayers don’t go any higher than the ceiling.  I’m sure others have told you something similar and perhaps you’ve wondered yourself, what’s the point?  God is sovereign: He does what He wants, when He wants, how He wants.  And this is most certainly true.  <pause>  The Bible has a lot to say about prayer.  We’ll be starting a series on prayer in our Wednesday evening fellowship.  Come and hear the preaching of God’s Word at 7pm this Wednesday. It will be a blessing to you.

Now, take out your Bibles, hold them up high, and repeat after me…

Sardis is a nondenominational church.  In the 1500s, the nation of England was rife with religious strife between Catholics and Reformers - until the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First.  We shall assent to the 39 Articles and read from the Book of Common Prayer, and believe what we wish in our heart, she told her nation.  And England prospered.

The reality is that good and godly Christians disagree.  I often run into strangers around town who want to dispute doctrine with me.  They usually go away when I ask them how they are coming along in their Bible study and offer to pray with them.    The early church leader Augustine said in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.  The Word of God was preserved and passed down in the Roman church for 1,400 years.  We acknowledge that, but here at Sardis, we choose not to practice the traditions of men that are not clearly drawn from Scripture.  When I fellowship with Catholic and other liturgical clergy, we start out by reciting the twelve articles of The Apostles Creed.  We don’t debate their meaning or parse words.  Here at Sardis, we use a far simpler rule of faith, and we hold to a sacramental piety.  A sacrament is an earthly sign of a means of grace.  Some will object to the language of sacrament, and say that we ought say ordinances.  Let’s get past that, and agree that the path to God’s blessing is through the door of obedience.

I’m going to preach on The Lord’s Table today.  We just finished our series on The Ten  Commandments, using the Augustinian numbering.  Turn in your Bibles to the last verse of Psalm 119…

Now the Lord’s Table, or the Eucharist, is a commandment of Christ for all believers.  Turn in your Bibles to the account of the Last Supper…

Martin Luther, the German reformer, taught that a man who does not take the sacrament a minimum of four times a year denies the faith.  However, there are valid reasons not to partake for a season.  If you have unconfessed sin in your life, anger or bitterness in your heart, you need to deal with that first.  Just let the elements pass by when they are distributed.  No one will judge you or think less of you.  If you’re a visitor, and you affirm your tradition’s understanding of the Apostles Creed, if you were able to stand with us and submit to the authority of Scripture, you are welcome to partake.  It is the Lord’s Table, not property of Sardis.  You don’t need to be a member or even a supporter of our fellowship.  If you are a visitor and have not yet come to faith, partaking won’t get you to heaven, nor is it pleasing to God.  It may actually do you harm.  Just abstain.

Let’s read Christ’s command again.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  Note that it does not read: do this in remorse of me.  The sins of the believer: past, present, and future, were all paid on the cross. Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 32.  Blessed is the man…

At Sardis, we use 100% grape juice instead of actual wine.  I’m not going to turn this into a sermon against alcohol.  It is my personal belief that the wine at the Last Supper was alcoholic.  Turn in your Bibles to Romans 14.  The Apostle Paul teaches that we are not to put a stumbling block in front of other believers, many of whom have made the wise decision to abstain from alcohol.  Also, our baptized young adults partake with us and what they see their parents do in moderation, they tend to do in excess.

Pastor Larry - some of you are reasoning in your hearts - I’ve been following what you’ve been saying, but this last is a deal breaker for me; it needs to be real wine for it to be efficacious.  So I’ll stick to the tradition in which I was raised, and skip the Lord’s Table while I fellowship here.  To those of you who are nodding inwardly right now, turn with me in your Bibles to Jeremiah 35.  Entire sermons could be preached on this chapter.  Read along with me…

Let this text be an encouragement to you couples who are beginning your lives together.  Start a faithful dynasty, and claim the promise of the last verse of this chapter.  The path to God’s blessing is through the door of obedience.  Now let’s obey the commandment of our Lord and Saviour and partake together.

Jax is shocked to see Lana and her parents join in.

***

After the service, Simon asks Lana’s dad for a ride.  Sure.  Where to?  The Olive Garden.  We’re all gathering there for lunch.  Please come, Lana tells her father.

Lana is lead into the restaurant by Bettina.  What do you get here?  Lana’s mother asks her.  I like their spaghetti.  It's so good to see you again.  Their waitress enthuses.  I missed seeing you.  She suddenly puts her hand over her mouth.  I am so sorry.  I didn’t mean… Don’t fret, Bettina tells her.  We’re glad to be back, and we keep growing in numbers.  You do, the waitress says laughing, relieved.  Do you want a booster seat for the little man?  The waitress asks Jon, who looks at Emilie, who nods.  Please.  I want to sit next to Nana, the boy says, looking at Lana’s mother.

Everyone orders, and there is a lull in the conversation.  Jax reaches across the table and grabs Lana’s hand.  She pats his hand, and turns to Bettina and smiles. Not me, says Bettina.  Lana frowns and feels the hand.  No callouses, so it’s not my father.  It’s not a stranger, or you wouldn’t allow him to grab my hand.  Simon would be more likely to grab your hand.  Your father wears a wedding band.  Jon is seating near Emilie at the end of the table.  So Jax is the most probable candidate. What do you mean by grabbing my hand, sir?

In front of your parents and friends, I’m asking you to marry me, Lana.  No.  Lana draws back her hands, and puts them in her lap.  Lana!  Her mother says sternly. You will accept his proposal.  Lana looks down and shakes her head no.  Lana, Jaxton loves you and has the means to take care of you, her father says.  I’ve enough in savings to live six months without work coming in, Lana replies.  I’ll figure something out.  You cannot impose on Bettina to take care of you; she has her own life to live, her mother tells her.  I know, Lana says softly.  Lana, when opportunity knocks on your door, and you don’t answer, it will become impatient and go elsewhere.  Yes, father.  Now give him your hand.  Lana extends her hand and Jax takes it and slips an engagement ring on her finger.  I’ll make it up to you, Lana.  You won’t regret this.  She takes a deep breath.  Thank you, Jax.  I believe you capable of everything good and true.

He squeezes her hand and lets go, and she places it back in her lap.  You’re a good daughter, Lana.  Her mother tells her, and kisses her on the cheek.