>The following was preached at the Maundy Thursday worship at Hillsboro UMC on Thursday, April 1, 2010. The text for this message was 1 Corinthians 11:23-28.

Now, brace yourselves. When a sermon starts like this one is about to start, you know that you’re in for quite a ride. Are you ready? Okay, the Greek philosopher Socrates, or So-crates if you are a fan of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, is quoted as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I went to college. Seriously though, there’s a lot of merit to that statement, and we kind of see the same thought in what Paul is saying in tonight’s Scripture reading.
When he said this, Socrates was facing a major decision. He was on trial for heresy. He made a name for himself by challenging his students to think for themselves and question everything, even the accepted beliefs of the day. While the sentence was death, he had the option of choosing his own punishment, which could have included exile. Sure, he would not have been able to teach any more, but at least he would be alive.
However, Socrates believed that any of the alternatives that he had would have robbed him of the opportunity to make his life useful. He felt his purpose was to examine the world around him and discuss ways to make it a better world. Thus to live his life in an unexamined way would have been pointless, and he ended up choosing the death sentence.
It seems pretty extreme, doesn’t it? And in some sense, it is. The ironic thing is that we will probably never be in a position where we will have to decide between our life and the unexamined life, but we rarely take the time to truly examine our lives. Socrates would have rather died than live an unexamined life, and most people live the unexamined life every single day. And, realistically, we set up our lives so that we don’t have to live an examined life.
We schedule so many things that keep us busy in the immediate future that we don’t make the time to examine our lives. Whether we’re working, playing, watching television, reading the newspaper, we put those things ahead of examining our lives. What are our dreams? What are the goals that we have for our lives? What is it that really drives us? Is it the schedule that we have set, or is it something bigger?
Now, we could take this a step further, and start talking about goals and dreams that we have for our congregations, but I don’t want to go down that road tonight. There will be another time for that in the coming months. For tonight, let’s rest in the personal examination of our lives.
What Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11 is that we need to examine our hearts when we come before the Lord to take part in the Lord’s Supper. His statement here is very important, and I’d like to give a little bit of context to help understand it. So, what was it that was going on at the time that would prompt Paul to say these things?
As we read through the whole section, which runs from verse 11 through verse 34, we see that there were some issues getting in the way of their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It appears as though the Corinthians were using their gatherings around the Lord’s Supper to make distinctions between the rich and the poor.
When they gather together, those who have plenty to eat go ahead and eat all of it, while there are others who are going hungry because they have nothing. Paul even says that one goes hungry while another gets drunk. In other words, there are those who barely have anything, and there are those who drink so much that they are getting intoxicated. It would be like a soup kitchen that feeds it volunteers better than it feeds those who they are supposed to be serving. There’s something wrong with this picture.
Paul retells the story of the Last Supper, and in doing so, he is letting the people know that there has to be something different going on when they remember it together. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we shouldn’t be reflecting the world as it is, we should be reflecting the world as it is supposed to be. There are no distinctions between the rich and poor in the kingdom of God, so why should those distinctions exist when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
When I was at Asbury, the seminary hired a new president. At the time, Katie was working in the Admissions Office, so she was on staff at the school. I remember very clearly how impressed she was with our new president. And it wasn’t because of his stature or position, it was because of how he approached that position in relation to the rest of the staff.
One of the first things that he did was have the grounds crew remove the sign that said, “This parking space has been reserved for the president.” While he had every right to enjoy the best parking spot on campus, he was intentional about laying that spot aside. In fact, that spot eventually became reserved for visitors to the seminary. It doesn’t seem like much. It was a very simple act, but in his actions he showed something very important, something that I heard him say more than once. We are all on equal ground before the cross.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet, it was something that the people in Corinth forgot. They were more concerned with maintaining their status in society than with treating the poor as their equals. They lived their lives accepting the status quo because it was the status quo that made their lives so comfortable in the first place. But when we give our lives to Jesus, we can’t do that any more.
Paul tells us that we need to examine ourselves before we come to the Lord’s Table. We can’t come before the Lord with our own desires and agendas at the front of our minds. We have to be able to lay them down. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper which they are taking part in is not about them. It’s about Jesus. It was his body, his blood.
When it comes to our faith, we would do well to remember the words of Socrates. Living a life of faith without examining our life is not worth it. We must examine ourselves on a regular basis, and we must do it in light of God’s Word.
There’s a story of a guy who was talking to a man of God. And the guy said, “I’ve led a pretty good life. I’m pretty sure that I’ll get into heaven.” As they walked along, they came across a pillar, and the man of God asked this guy to rank himself on how good he thought he was. The top of the pillar is reserved for the saints, while the bottom is the worst criminals of society. After thinking for a few seconds, the guys said, “I don’t want to be too arrogant, so I’d say that I’m probably about two-thirds of the way up.” And the man of God said, “Not too bad, but the problem we all face is that the standard is the sky.”
To whom do we compare ourselves? When we examine our lives, are we just comparing ourselves to those who are worse than us, or are we using a different standard? If we just look around at the people who surround us, we might be doing okay, but if we really compare ourselves to Jesus, we fall woefully short of the true standard.
Think about what we do in the sports world. In baseball, we compare players to the greats – Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. Why do we do that? Because they are the standard. We don’t compare them to Babe Martin, Ace Williams, and Willie Hogan. We know what the standard is in sports, but for some reason, in life, we seem to compare ourselves to those around us when the standard is significantly higher.
As we into into a time of Communion tonight, what I want you to do is to reflect on your life. Examine your heart before you come up tonight. When we go through the liturgy, take the words seriously. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And while we may have come up with some kind of sin ranking system to justify the “little sins” that we commit, the truth is that all sin separates us from God. So, in that sense, it doesn’t matter if we are “only” guilty of a few “minor” sins, or if we have committed several grevious sins. Our sin separates us from God.
What are the sins in your life that you need to confess before the Lord? I’m not going to ask you to stand up right now and do it, but it is something that you will need to do. Examine your life. Jesus calls us in spite of our sins. Jesus died so that we may be set free from our sin. This time that we have together tonight, this time to remember the Lord’s Supper is to remind us of a new covenant that was instituted when Jesus died on the cross. It is a covenant that still stands for us today, but it is imperative that we don’t live the unexamined life.
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