By Bob Hiller –
Very few times do I remember getting yelled at by my parents. They were pretty gracious folks. The times they did raise their voices stand out in my memory. I recall one time my mom yelled at me for my behavior in church. It was one of the most formative moments of my life.
I don’t know if I was a particularly bad kid in high school. I don’t know if I was a particularly good kid, either. But I do remember one particularly sinful weekend when I had participated in something I felt was illegal, immoral, or fattening and was utterly riddled with guilt. I honestly don’t remember what I had done, but I do recall going to bed that Saturday night and thinking, “Well, tomorrow I don’t deserve communion. I won’t go. I’m too sinful to receive it. I’m just not good enough.”
For whatever reason, I grew up with a great deal of guilt. It still keeps me up at night. For one reason or another, I was convinced I hadn’t done enough to be loved by God. I would literally “give my heart to Jesus” every single night. The next day, when I sinned, I would be convinced I hadn’t given him my whole heart, and I’d try again. But it was never enough. I always ended up sinning. (Turns out, I was right, I hadn’t given my heart to Him. He had already purchased my heart with His blood, so my giving was a moot point… but I digress).
When I went to church that particular Sunday, I figured God wanted nothing to do with me. I had not given Him my heart as was evidenced by last night’s teenage hijinks. Since I had not given Him my all and instead pursued sin, He would not want me to receive His gifts. They weren’t for sinners like me but for the righteous Christians who tried their hardest and did their best. I became my own judge and served as my own pastor. I fenced myself from the table. I put myself under church discipline. God would never welcome a sinner like me.
When it came time to go forward, I remained in my seat. My mom tapped me on the shoulder and said in good, loud church whisper, “Let’s go!” I shook my head. She whispered louder, “Let’s go.” I said, “I can’t. I’m not going.” She looked at me with a mixture of fury, confusion, and fear. She went forward to receive the gifts, her mind filled with thoughts of piety and sanctity I’m sure, and came back to the seat an interesting shade of red. My dad was the pastor, so I figured that by remaining in my seat, I had my too much of a show and she was upset.
That’s not why she was upset. She was upset with the old Adam in me.
For those who may not be familiar with the phrase, “the old Adam” is a way to speak about our sinful nature. In the Garden of Eden, Adam was not content to let God be God. He thought the devil had better plans for them and joined in the satanic rebellion against God and His good creation. Adam aspired to be God and stopped listening to and trusting in God’s Word. He refused to believe that what God had given Him was truly good. The old Adam is that voice in our heads that convinces us we know better than the Word of God. The old Adam likes to be in charge. The old Adam seeks life apart from and against God’s Word because the old Adam knows God’s Word is the death of him.
The old Adam told me not to go to receive the Sacrament. There, in the Sacrament, God is God. There, God gives you and me the same beautiful command and promise as He gave Adam and Eve in the garden: Take and eat (Genesis 1:29, 2:18), only there it was a garden. Here it is the very body and blood of His Son Jesus! At the altar, God breaks out against the reign of the old Adam with His gracious proclamation, “Take and eat; take and drink! This is my body; this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins!” The temple curtain is torn in two, and the God who sits on the mercy seat gets out to sprinkle His sin-killing, life-giving blood on the lips of sinners!
That Sunday, the old Adam (or I suppose I could just call him the old Bob) fenced the table to himself. He tried to sow the curtain shut. He tried to silence the gracious God’s invitation to dine away and remain in control. And He really made my mom upset.
After service, I quickly went to the car, ready to move on. But my mom stormed out, slammed her door, and said, “What was that all about?”
“What was what all about?” said the old Bob (It turns out the sinful nature is a snarky teenager!).
“Why didn’t you take communion today?”
“I didn’t feel worthy enough. I’m too sinful.” I confessed.
“Too sinful?” my mom retorted. “Too sinful? Who do you think it’s for?!? Sinners!”
There it was. The very Jesus who had just placed his body and blood on my mom’s tongue stayed there so He could still get at me in the car. I’ll never forget my mom’s words, or better, the Lord’s words coming from her sanctified question, “Who do you think it’s for?” It’s for sinners. I am a sinner. It’s for me! As the old Adam was climbing his way towards an idolatrous throne, the Lord used my mom to kick the latter out from underneath his legs. The scales feel from my ears. God got out and got me!
And so it is for you! This Sunday, on that altar, the Lord Jesus is there for you. It’s His body to give you; it’s His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Are you not as religious and sanctified as everyone else in your church? Are you too guilty? Are you too sinful? Well, who do you think it’s for? It’s for you!