Lyrical Living: Words to Live By
“All our Meals and All our Living Make us Sacraments of Thee” Click here for audio
Pastor Donna Buell
Music is a means of grace for us; it is something the Spirit uses to draw us in to the presence of God. That has certainly been true in my life. As a child I grew up with music. I sang in choirs, both at school and in the church, and when I was a freshman in high school I and two of my friends joined our church’s chancel choir. This experience was formative for me in many ways. It got me out of the preschool room where I had volunteered for several years and back in to the worship service on Sunday mornings, it taught me the rhythm of the church year and the movement and flow of the service of worship itself, it gave me deep roots in the world of sacred music, it provided me with a sense of identity and place in the grown up world of the church, and it helped me to develop a more grown up faith. If it hadn’t been for those high school years in the church choir, I wonder if I would have ever become a pastor. I believe that my formation as a worship leader began during those years in the choir. As a member of the choir I was exposed to a wide range of church music, I saw the important role that music played in the spiritual life and worship of the church, I saw the care that went in to choosing just the right music to illustrate the message of the day, and I experienced how important that was for my own spirit.
The hymn we just sang from our United Methodist Hymnal, “Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether,” is one that I recall singing in its original anthem form during those years in my home church choir. It is one of those many hymns that I know by heart and that continues to both shape and reflect my faith. And I think it provides a useful way to talk about the Spirit’s work in our lives and in the life of the church. So this morning I want to work my way through the verses of that hymn. You may find it helpful to have the hymn open in front of you.
The first verse begins with the words “Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether”. I looked up the word tether, because although we use tethers all the time, the word tether isn’t a word we use all that much in everyday language. According to Wikipedia, “a tether is a cord, fixture, or signal that anchors something movable to a reference point which may be fixed or moving.” Maybe some examples would help. A kite string is a tether. So is the string we attach to a helium balloon. A dog leash is a tether. As is a boat anchor. The rope that connects a water skier or a parasailer to a motor boat is a tether.
Used in this sense, a tether is something that allows for some freedom of movement, while also maintaining an important connection. When a dog is connected by a chain to a fixed stake in the yard, it allows the dog to move around the yard, but it also keeps the dog from leaving the yard, from chasing after a passing car, and hopefully from biting the ankle of the letter carrier. The string on a kite or a helium balloon allows it to fly without flying away.
In recent years the I.T. world has adopted the word tether to speak about technology such as WiFi, Bluetooth or even a simple cable that allows us to connect or “tether” one devise to another. Perhaps we could think of the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge and the new Stillwater Crossings Bridge as ways that we are tethered to our neighboring state of Wisconsin. The energy industry also uses the word tether to describe the mechanism by which the kinetic energy of water and wind are harnessed and converted in generating power. So a tether can serve a variety of functions, allowing for connection, for safety, for rootedness or grounding. And it can also facilitate the transmission of power and communication.
In the first verse of this hymn we invite God to draw us in the Spirit’s tether. The working of the Spirit is what tethers us to God – to the source of our life and faith. In writing about this, the author of this hymn text mentions two familiar passages of scripture. In the first Jesus says that wherever two or three gather in his name, he is present in their midst. And the second is the story Marty preached on a few weeks ago, in which a woman who has been suffering hemorrhages for 12 years draws near to Jesus in a crowd, reaches out to touch the hem of his garment, and experiences his healing power.
“Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether.” It is the Spirit of God that works within us and among us, drawing us into the presence of Christ, so that we too might experience God’s power and presence in our lives. So this first verse is about our connection to God in Christ, through the tethering work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit plays an essential role in drawing us into that presence. But, like that woman, we also have to be intentional about reaching out to touch that garment’s hem.
In the second verse we sang about the disciples who used to gather in remembrance of Christ to break the bread and bless the cup in those earliest months and years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Now, Jesus and his disciples must have shared many meals together during the three years that they lived and traveled together. And we know that table fellowship figured prominently in Jesus’ ministry and in his teaching, including the story of the feeding of the 5,000 which Marty read for us this morning. But that final meal – that last supper the disciples shared with Jesus – came to have great significance for them. And so they began to do what he did that night. They blessed and broke the bread and shared the cup, and these meals eaten in remembrance of Jesus were the earliest forms of what we now call the Sacrament of Communion.
Over the centuries, Communion has become central to the worship of Christ’s followers. As a sacrament it is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” It is something we do together, something tangible, that connects us, like a tether, to something deeper and more significant. It connects us to God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and it connects us to one another as the Body of Christ. And in that communion, we are bound to one another in Christian friendship, and we are bound with people of all times and places who celebrate this sacred meal. So as the first verse was about our connection to God, this second verse speaks specifically about the sacrament of communion as a means of grace, as a means of connecting us to God and to one another.
The third verse begins with the words which I chose as this morning’s Lyrical Living: Words to Live By. “All our meals and all our living make us sacraments of thee.” To me this phrase speaks of two very important things. First, it hallows all our meals by connecting them to this Sacrament. Now it is hard to think of a sandwich wolfed down at our desk or a burger from the drive through as a sacramental meal. But there is no guarantee that a sit down meal at home is going to be any more sacramental. What makes a common meal sacramental is our intention. That’s why the spiritual practice of saying grace at mealtime is so important, for it allows us to pause and take a moment to connect ourselves to God, the source of all nourishment, with a sense of gratitude. And it can connect us to others: to those who grew and processed and shipped and sold and prepared and served the food we eat. It can also connect us to those across our world and in our own community who do not have enough to eat. That intention can be present when we go through the drive thru, it can be present when we manage to get our whole family to sit down together for meal at the kitchen table, it can happen in a restaurant, at a wedding banquet, at a holiday gathering, at a picnic, at a Wednesday church meal. It can happen at any meal when we connect that meal with this meal at this table which we share in remembrance of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples that night. It is our intention that allows any meal the opportunity to be sacrament – to connect who we are and what we are doing with who God is and what God is doing – to make outward and visible that which is inward and spiritual.
In her book Holy Stuff of Life, Heather Murray Elkins writes about this:
To remember and to say grace are two ways that humans make the act of eating something more than mere survival. This is the grammar of blessing that is at the center of the table prayers of all the children of Abraham.
The basic stuff of life, food and drink, can be a means of grace when we remember and give thanks, eucharistein. But sometimes we need to be reminded of our table manners by making room for the stranger, by feeding others as we’ve been fed, by remembering to bless the hand that serves the table.
“All our meals and all our living make us sacraments of thee.” This phrase hallows all our meals by connecting them to this sacrament. And it says something else, as well. It says that we become sacraments of God. We become a means by which others are connected to God and experience God’s power and presence in their lives. It is by our acts of sharing, helping, and giving as disciples of Jesus Christ that we become tethers by which the Spirit draws others nearer to God, communicating God’s love, and transmitting God’s power and presence. So this third verse is about the compassion that arises out of our connection to God and our communion with God.
That’s part of what Jesus taught the disciples that day. They thought they were going off on a retreat, to have a little quiet time together, but when they stepped off the boat there was a crowd there to meet them. Jesus had compassion for that crowd and so he spent the day teaching them many things. As the day grew late the disciples started to get concerned. It was a deserted place. There was no snack bar or food truck nearby. The people were going to need something to eat. So they suggested that Jesus take a dinner break so that folks could go to the nearby villages to buy themselves something to eat. But Jesus answered them, no, “you give them something to eat.” Well, the disciples couldn’t see how they could possibly do that. They didn’t have the financial resources to feed that many people. But Jesus wasn’t concerned about what they could buy, about was in their treasury. He asked what they had, what was in their picnic basket. Still, the disciples were baffled. What they had was enough for a baker’s dozen, not for more than 5,000 people.
Jesus had them bring what they had – five loaves of bread and two fish, and he told them to organize the crowd into groups of 50 and 100. And then he took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and he did the same with the fish, and he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And all ate and all were satisfied; and each disciple ended up with a basket full of leftovers.
In this sacred meal, Jesus taught the disciples about the economy of God’s grace – God’s amazing and abundant grace. And he taught them about what it means to be a disciple. It isn’t only about our concern for others, it is about sharing, helping and giving from what we have received, so that others might also share in our satisfaction. And when we do that, we become a means of grace by which others are drawn near to God by the Spirit’s tether that they might come into communion with God and with us.
In a few moments we will gather at this table. And we will break the bread and share the cup in remembrance of Christ. As we are drawn by the Spirit’s tether, may we reach out and touch the very power and presence of God. May we be bound to one another in a communion of fellowship, and may we be empowered to go forth from this place as sacraments of God, as Christ’s representatives in the world, sharing, helping and giving in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
Gracious and Loving God, we come before you in prayer:
Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name,
two or three are met together, thou art in the midst of them.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Touch we now thy garment’s hem.
We have come this morning, Lord, drawn by the Spirit’s tether to this place and to this time of worship, to this company and to this sacred table. We have been drawn by family and friends, by invitation and witness, by scripture and sermon, by words and music, by sorrow and struggle, by hunger and thirst, by gratitude and grace, by love…by you… We have been drawn into your presence, and for this blessing we give you thanks and praise.
We give you thanks for you are the God who is the source of life and love and nourishment. In you the earth in all its fullness found its life. You bring forth bread from the earth and create the fruit of the vine. You feed your people manna in the wilderness. You spread a table before us. You provide for our needs. We shall not want.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, who nourished people in body, mind and spirit. He told parables about wheat and grain, feasts and banquets. When the multitudes were hungry, he fed them with his teaching and with bread. He sat at countless tables and ate countless meals, with any and all people: with men and women, with Pharisees and tax collectors, with sinners and saints, with friends and followers, and with his disciples.
On the night before his death, Jesus sat at table with his disciples. And he took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And in the same way after the supper he took the cup and gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And so this morning we do as Christ did. We gather at this table and we share in this meal, with glad and generous hearts, in remembrance of your great love that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us gathered here and upon these gifts of bread and cup, that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ, and so that we may be the body of Christ, and his representatives in the world.
By the tether of your Spirit strengthen our connection with Christ, our communion with one another, and our compassion for all the world, until all have been welcomed, all have been fed, all have been satisfied, and there are baskets full of leftovers.
All this we pray in the name of your son Jesus Christ, who taught his first disciples to pray together…
As disciples used to gather in the name of Christ to sup,
then with thanks to God the Father break the bread and bless the cup:
Alleluia! Alleluia! So now bind our friendship up.
Prayer after Communion
Let us pray:
All our meals and all our living make us sacraments of thee,
that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.
Alleluia! Alleluia! We will serve thee faithfully. Amen.