James: Surprisingly Equal

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 2:1-17

James discouraged favoring the rich over the poor in church. More positively, we might say he encouraged equality in the body of Christ.

We don’t know exactly why James felt the need to offer this warning, but it seems obvious his audience or audiences were struggling with the idea that poor people were as worthy of a place in the congregation as rich people.

It is not surprising early Christians would have struggled with notions of equality. Rigid class distinctions were the norm; the idea that God or any god could care equally for rich and poor was radical.

And James went even further, speaking of the poor as if God actually has a preference for them. “Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?”

In other words, the poor have something special to offer us—a closer connection to God, one rooted, we can presume, in their deep day-to-day dependence on God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the tremendous value of people the world treats as worthless.

When I think of gems hidden among the poor, I think of one encounter I had as a young journalist in Atlanta. It happened while I volunteered with a program for student journalists who produced an independent newspaper for distribution among high schoolers. I was assigned to mentor 16-year-old Lamesha, who lived with her two-year-old daughter and mother in public housing.

I was paired with Lamesha primarily because I had a child about the same age, and could use the car seat already installed in my Plymouth Acclaim to transport the two to the program’s newsroom or training events.

Lamesha, despite all of her difficult circumstances, proved to be an incredibly gifted writer. I still remember vividly one first-person piece she wrote about a drive-by shooting that happened in front of her apartment, a horrific event that left a boy dead on the sidewalk. She captured the facts, emotions and impact on her world with skills far beyond her age and training. I had high hopes for her, imagining her in college and the world of great writers.

And then I went to pick her up one day, and she was gone. I knocked on the door, and there was no answer; I peered through the window, and the apartment looked vacant. I finally found a neighbor who was home.

“They just packed up and moved last night,” she said. She didn’t know why or where. To this day, I don’t know what happened. I pray the skills God put in Lamesha continued to develop somewhere. I fear the instability of her life squashed them.

That is simply a story about what poverty costs society in general. In a Christian community, James is telling us, we also lose much when we fail to recognize the value of the faithful poor among us. They are God’s new chosen people. And while we want to help them lift themselves out of poverty, there is much to learn from the poor.

For example, they know what it means to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” in a sincere way. We who have resources take this prayer less seriously when our only concern is to replace a moldy loaf with a new one.

As they talk about their daily dependence on God, the Christian poor also serve as a corrective for those of us who begin to think our wealth, power or perceived security is a result of our own doing.

Every person has value in a community of faith. Every person. I would like to think the church will learn this lesson so well that the Lameshas of the world one day will no longer be at risk of falling through the cracks.

Lord, may we see the value of every human life, particularly as the poor enter the realm of the church! Amen.

The James Series

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

With James 3:13-18 serving as today’s lectionary epistle reading, I feel inspired to launch into a series of devotionals based on this early New Testament letter.

Here’s the basic problem I hope to resolve today: We’re going to spend a lot of time hearing from James about how to behave. The danger is that you will process all of this as a lesson in what you have to do to get into heaven.

Please do not hear this series that way. In fact, this first devotional mostly is about how not to hear the other devotionals.

We are saved by grace and grace alone. In other words, when Jesus Christ went to the cross and died for our sins, he gave us a gift, the gift of eternity. All we have to do to gain eternity is believe and accept the gift.

When we begin talking about Christian behavior, we’re always talking about it as a proper response to grace. God acts first, loving us and saving us, and we respond joyously and thankfully. That response often is delivered in the form of righteous living and good works.

James talks about righteousness this way in what we number as Chapter 1, verses 19-24 of his letter:

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.

The author of James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He also likely was the brother of Jesus, coming to a belief in Jesus as the Christ after the resurrection.

His one letter that made it into the Christian canon has long been controversial. Some church leaders—the 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther, for example—wondered if it should be in the Bible at all, concerned that its emphasis on works caused too much confusion in a grace-based religion.

I personally don’t find James’ words as perplexing as Luther found them. I find them challenging, but they don’t trouble me. We simply have to keep events in their proper order.

Remember, the branches follow the vine’s lead and have a job to do. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

Our faith in Christ makes us his branches, but there is no point to being his branches in this metaphor unless we bear fruit, the good works that demonstrate the presence of the kingdom.

Doesn’t a new life in Christ imply new ways of acting? James is telling us that if our new life in Christ doesn’t result in new ways of thinking and relating to others, then we may be mistaken about our relationship with Christ.

The next few days will be about seeing what change is possible, trusting that even miraculous healing of the body and soul can occur.

Lord, may this prove to be a week where we discover our beliefs and our actions to be better aligned. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:20b (NLT): “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Having spent most of this week exploring what makes small groups healthy and effective for the Kingdom of God, I thought I would offer a few personal observations this Saturday. Ah, let’s just go ahead and say it—these are Chuck’s opinions, whatever they are worth.

I am convinced that small groups are critical to Christianity in America. Without another “Great Awakening,” we will continue to see churches shrink and die as our older members pass away. The remaining Christians will be a small-but-serious bunch, many of them grouped in house churches no larger than what I’ve been describing these past few days.

If there is another American Great Awakening—an event we should pray for and work toward—it likely will be built around vibrant small groups. The small group structure has historically been a part of explosive growth in the church, and there’s no reason to believe that important structural feature will go away.

So, one way or another, small groups will be the defining characteristic of the American church future, whether Christianity proves to be an integral part of our culture or a remnant of what used to be.

I don’t think for a minute that Christianity will depart from this earth. Belief in Christ is spreading like wildfire in other parts of the world. I would, however, like to think that my own culture will continue to participate in the kingdom in a lively way, rather than becoming a secularized dead zone.

It also would be sad if the particular strain of Christianity known as Methodism continues in its widespread failure to embrace the system of small groups that once made the movement so effective.

So, I leave you with an invitation. If you’re called to be in a small group, or perhaps even lead one, let me know. We will make that happen, whether you are a part of the local church I serve or somewhere else.

Lord, may a new fire be ignited in your American church, and please don’t forget your Methodist children as it happens. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 4

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

James 5:16-20 (NLT)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.


No guts, no glory.

That’s what I tell myself as I contemplate the most difficult part of being in a small group, the mutual Christian accountability that should develop over time. As Christians grow in love and trust for each other, they also find themselves better equipped to talk about really important, personal stuff, sins included.

When it happens, it happens in a fairly natural way. No one has to force this new level of spiritual intimacy. Someone in the group is in pain, and finds she or he loves and trusts the others enough to courageously speak about the details of the ongoing struggle.

The other group members, in turn, hear this beloved individual’s words without judgment, offering to do what they can to draw God’s healing, forgiving grace into the situation.

Once the group becomes comfortable with such moments happening, it also is time to take more seriously what has formally driven accountability in small groups for centuries, the asking of agreed-upon questions. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, provided recommended lists of questions throughout his ministry. There were 22 accountability questions in the “Holy Club” he and his brother Charles established in 1729.

These questions remain useful, and modern lists abound, too. One of my favorite accountability questions is at the end of Chuck Swindoll’s list of seven for male clergy: “Have you just lied to me?” Apparently pastors might hedge or lie in answering the first six, but surrender on the seventh.

If you don’t understand the level of trust and love that develops in a healthy small group, questions and accountability probably sound terrifying. Just remember, you won’t be drawn into mutual accountability until the group is ready and willing, and when that happens, the moment will be a joy, not a burden.

As I mentioned in Day 2 of this series, the level of closeness that develops, improperly understood, can cause a group to stop drawing new people in. Properly understood, these bonds should be the great motivator for reaching out to others.

God’s healing, forgiving love, transmitted via the Holy Spirit within the group, is the great gift we are called to share!

Lord, give us deep Christian relationships, the kind where we can grow into the people you would have us be. Amen.


Note: It has come to my attention that some people don’t fully understand how links work within an online article. You can click on places where the text changes color, and another window will open, giving you more details.

Small Groups, Day 3

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Peter 2:2-3 (NLT): “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”


I’m going to say what you probably expect a pastor to say about core practices in a small group: We need to read our Bibles and pray for each other.

I hope I can also clearly communicate how prayer and Scripture take on new life in the context of a small group. If you find prayer difficult, or if you find sustained time in God’s word unrewarding, it may be that you’re not cut out for the life of the lone-wolf Christian. (Few are.) You need a pack.

A successful small group usually has a specific mission-within-a-mission, the overarching mission being to make and grow disciples of Jesus Christ. With that broader goal always in mind, a group might exist to focus on outreach to a particular segment of the community, or to bring people together who have the same set of skills or interests. A general exploration of the Bible and a mutual agreement to pray for each other would still be important for the education and spiritual bonding of the group, however. The Bible and prayer keep us on mission.

I can testify as to how much fun it is to explore the Bible in a small group, and how incredibly sustaining it is to know others are praying for you each day.

It’s also exciting to figure out as a group how to make that exploration. I’ve been in groups where we’ve tried various techniques. Once, a group used a book focused on the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We would read a portion during the week and discuss our questions about what we had read at our weekly meeting. It was great!

So great, in fact, that we got another book by the same author. It stunk! About four weeks in, we gave up on it, but then we tried something different, something that might sound boring to the uninitiated. We started direct study of individual books of the Bible, buying journals that contained Scripture on one page and an empty ruled space on the opposite page.

When we came together each week, we shared what we had circled, underlined, questioned and commented on. Those ruled pages were sometimes surprisingly full. And we learned a lot together. Perhaps more than anything, we learned to take Scripture very seriously—we experienced God working through the Bible to shape our attitudes and actions.

By the way, I was the only clergy in that all-male group, and the lay people had a variety of education levels. Some had been Christians for decades, others for only a short time. It was a great mix, and everyone contributed. New Christians have a particular knack for asking the difficult questions.

Yes, “read your Bible” and “say your prayers” amount to very basic advice. But they are basic for a reason, and I’m convinced we best understand why in a small group.

Tomorrow, I want to focus on what is both frightening and rewarding about small groups: achieving mutual accountability.

Lord, open your holy word to us in new, dynamic ways, and when we pray together, may we be one with your Spirit. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 2

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT): Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


As we continue an exploration of what makes Christian small groups effective, I’ll propose what I think is their greatest existential threat, short of the devil joining. The members, having begun to enjoy some level of spiritual intimacy, will want to “close the circle,” keeping new people out.

Now that I think about it, that may be how the devil gets in!

Small groups are, of course, Christian in their mission. And regardless of how a group may define its specific reason for existing, it has to continue carrying out the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ mandate that we make and grow new disciples.

So small group members find themselves maintaining a strange tension. They want spiritual intimacy, and at the same time, they want to be drawing what are essentially strangers into the group where secrets are sometimes shared.

To succeed, the members from the start have to be deeply intentional about growing and then splitting, birthing a new group. And frankly, this is where American Christians seem to struggle more than Christians in other, more communal cultures. I have witnessed and heard stories of small groups locking down, fearing they will lose something precious if they let new people join.

I recognize the instinct. We have to understand, however, that what we lose is what is sometimes called “organic growth,” the development of the body of Christ, where the Holy Spirit best goes to work in the world. A locked-down small group is like a dead cell in a body.

If each small group successfully draws enough new members to split each year, the number of small groups in an area can grow amazingly fast. You may remember geometric growth from math class: 1 becomes 2, 2 become 4, 4 become 8, 8 become 16, 16 become 32. Most churches would love to be able to say that in five years, 32 healthy small groups containing 150 or 200 active, thriving Christians would exist in their congregations.

I personally think it’s ideal if the first true small group in a congregation focuses on understanding how to evangelize, either reaching those who have never heard of Jesus Christ or re-energizing those who have fallen away. That way, evangelism DNA should remain in each new generation of small groups.

Along these lines, every small group needs both a dedicated leader and a leader in training, someone ready to depart with the new group when it’s time for a split. Having a leader in training also emphasizes the group’s seriousness about splitting.

Tomorrow, we’ll consider some core practices of small group members, the kind of activities that ensure the group remains truly Christian.

Lord, we don’t always get excited contemplating math, but we know what we’re really talking about is vibrant, vigorous life, the greatest blessing in your creation! Renew us with a deep understanding of how quickly the kingdom can grow, if only we cooperate. Amen.

Small Groups, Day 1

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT): Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.


Christian, do you want to let go of pain and thrive in faith and love?

One major goal of the Methodist Life website is to encourage a resurgence in small groups as the basis of the Methodist experience. I’m going to take a few days to explore this concept. If you’re not in a Christian small group of some sort, I hope you will sense the restorative power of participating in such a group, which sadly has become a foreign idea for most American Christians.

I suppose this aversion to serious fellowship is not a new problem. Our Hebrews text above, with its phrase, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do,” is strong evidence that even the earliest Christians could be distracted from the life-changing impact of deep interaction with other believers.

Sunday schools are great, as are other educational and social groups within a church. They have their specific purposes. Don’t confuse these with small groups, however, which were the basis of the original Methodist movement that swept the world

Here’s the first major small group characteristic: “Small” is taken seriously. Most small group leaders would find that eight members are the maximum if everyone is to participate in a healthy way. The Discipleship Bands program begun at Asbury Theological Seminary recommends even smaller groups of three to five people.

If you don’t fully understand what the experience is supposed to be like, the restricted size should give you a clue. Over time, people meeting in weekly small groups should begin to have personal and confidential conversations about their faith, including their struggles. In this safe environment, Christians can find encouragement and mutual support.

Let’s be realistic—it’s hard to sit in a room with 20 people and have deep conversations about our struggles. We naturally fear that someone will gossip. In fact, when we’re really struggling, one of the loneliest places we can find ourselves is in a room full of people. If we’re going to open up to others, a tight circle of people is better.

That said, I also don’t want to scare you regarding what might happen in that private room (or these days, in that secure online meeting site). If you’ve never been in a small group, don’t think that people are going to put you in a headlock and force you to spill your secrets.

Spiritual intimacy takes time to develop. But when a small group of people understand from the outset the importance of maintaining confidentiality, they will achieve spiritual intimacy more quickly than you might think. Most groups begin by working out a covenant so rules and appropriate behaviors are clear.

Tomorrow, I’m going to explore what might at first seem to be a paradox. Small groups need to stay small, but at the same time, they’re constantly trying to draw new people into deeper Christian discipleship. Once we learn to maintain this tension, remarkable things can happen.

Lord, if you are calling us to a deeper relationship with you as we walk with others, let us sense clearly how we are to respond. Thank you for Christians who are willing to help each other grow. Amen.

A Sprig Held High

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NRSV)

Thus says the Lord God:

I myself will take a sprig
   from the lofty top of a cedar;
   I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
   from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
   on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
   I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
   and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
   in the shade of its branches will nest
   winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
   that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
   I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
   and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
   I will accomplish it.

As you may have noticed reading the Bible, prophets can be strange folk. Ezekiel is one of the strangest, but his story should encourage us when we seek renewal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would really like to see some renewal in this world.

Born a little over six centuries before the birth of Christ, Ezekiel spent much of his time helping the people of Israel understand why their world had fallen apart. In short, they had turned on God, falling into idolatry, and God had given them up to their enemies. Ezekiel eventually was dragged off to captivity in Babylon, along with most of the brightest of God’s people.

Here are some of the odder things Ezekiel did to communicate God’s wrath to a very stubborn people:

  • He lay on his left side for 390 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Israel had existed in sin. He then lay on his right side for 40 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Judah had sinned.
  • During this time on one side or the other, he ate bread cooked over cow dung, to show how the people of Israel would be forced to eat in an unclean way as captives. He also ate very sparingly, to show how the people of Jerusalem would suffer from famine during the occupation.
  • Later, whenever he ate he had to tremble and shake with fear to show the people what they would feel when their towns were attacked and stripped of possessions.
  • He was not allowed by God to publicly mourn the death of his wife, as a sign of how the people would lose all they treasured with no recourse or way to complain.

It’s depressing stuff. But again, there is this powerful message of hope in the midst of so much suffering. We see that hope in our Scripture today, the prophecy of the sprig.

For the people of Israel, the prophecy is about the restoration of the line of David, the great king of their history. A cedar tree was the sign of royalty.

Clearly, the tree had become twisted and corrupt, having moved its roots away from God as the source of life, but God was promising the people through Ezekiel that he still planned to fulfill the great promises he had made. God was in control; God is in control.

We have this image of a tiny sprig at the top of the tree, new life being plucked from the old and being moved to a high and lofty place. A new king would come, one who would fulfill the promise from God that all the world would be blessed by the people of Israel, the line descended from Abraham.

This fulfillment has already happened. As Christians, we live to celebrate the great event. Jesus Christ is the sprig broken off Israel, establishing a new kingdom as he was held high on the cross.

And if God is transforming the world through Christ—if he is making all things new, as we know he is—then we can find new life, too.

Perhaps our habits are not what God would have them be; like the ancient Israelites, we can find ourselves living in defiance of God. Perhaps our families or others important to us are corrupted in some way, suffering under the influence of the world rather than seeking God’s will, and we find ourselves pulled down with them.

Know this: Through belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we allow God to pluck off what is fresh and good in us and replant our lives in fertile soil. I’m talking about a life rooted in God’s holy word and refreshed daily by God’s Holy Spirit.

The first step is to offer ourselves, branches held high.

Lord, take from within us what still has the potential for holiness and eternal life, and use that to grow us into what you would have us be. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


Let’s take a little time today to think about the grace received while living in the Christian community called “church.”

In church, our individual experiences of grace intertwine. Working together, we find ourselves empowered in ways not possible when working alone.

That is, of course, an ideal description of the church. We tend to fall short; compare your church experiences with the above description of the early church in Acts.

I suppose we shouldn’t feel too bad. As we continue to read in Acts, we witness how the incredibly dynamic early church began to look more human as very old sins—pride, greed, ethnocentrism and deception, for example—crept in.

The church will not be heaven on earth until heaven and earth are rejoined. We are part of the “church militant,” the collection of Christians hoping to shove Satan backward, doing all we can to sustain ourselves and each other with God’s ever-flowing grace.

Even in a COVID-19 era, group worship remains deeply important to our mission. It is my prayer that once the United States exits this pandemic, we will better appreciate what it means to gather as part of a community and give glory to God. I would like to see Sunday morning restored as a uniquely holy time, not by legislation but by a genuine change in the hearts of people who call themselves Christian.

I’m not praying for a return to what we call normal. I’m praying that we will be astonished by what happens next. In a healthy local church, the number of people attending worship should exceed the number of members. This actually happens in other parts of the world. The members desperately want to be present, and the power of God is so evident that very-welcome newbies are looking in, wanting to know what’s going on.

If you have criticized your church because you think worship isn’t exciting enough, do something about it. Worship is not a show for an audience, it is a participatory group event directed toward God. Who knows, worship may not be exciting because you’re not involving your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

We should involve ourselves in church life in other ways, too. We should find our place in the body of Christ, understanding how the Holy Spirit seeks to change lives through us.

I am a big advocate of finding our place through participation in small groups, online or in person. Methodism originally was built around small groups, which offer opportunities for Christians to grow in trust and love for each other, study God’s word, reach out to the lost and do good works. We need to get back to the basics, knowing each other’s hearts.

Such meaningful fellowship used to give people a relationship with the church that they could find in no other institution or group. It is no wonder. Done correctly, fellowship with Christians invites the presence of the Holy, Eternal God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Lord, speak to us today as we take time to consider what it means to be part of a local church and your larger, global church. Give us a deep sense of our need to work alongside others, knowing we also will be working alongside you. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 4

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Matthew 26:26-29 (NLT): As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”


The taking of Holy Communion, also called the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist, seems like a tame worship event to experienced Christians. Every now and then, though, I’ve gotten a reminder of how mysterious it is for the uninitiated.

While serving as an associate pastor in Lexington, Ky., I helped with communion on a regular basis. One Sunday, I carried the juice, trailing another pastor who offered the bread as people lined up at the prayer rail.

A lady was there with twin 4-year-old granddaughters, who apparently were new to church. She had dressed them in identical purple velvet dresses, the kind of dresses grandmothers tend to pick out for their granddaughters when showing them off to friends for the first time.

When the pastor ahead of me offered them the bread, saying, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” they looked startled and a bit perplexed. They could see it was bread, though, and took it.

Then I came along with cups of a red liquid, saying, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” Twin Girl Number 1 took a step back. Twin Girl Number 2 formed a perfect “O” with her mouth as she inhaled to scream.

I quickly dropped to my knees, saying, “No, no, it’s okay, it’s just grape juice. See?” Number 2 didn’t scream, but both girls maintained their looks of horror as they walked away. I’ve since learned an alternate set of words to use with children.

I was reminded that encountering Christ’s sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper is a powerful moment, one not to be taken lightly. As adults, should our response be at least a little more like those girls? After all, communion should make us very mindful of a broken, bleeding body and our deep dependence on that suffering. It’s grape juice, but it’s not just grape juice.

I also took communion to residents of nursing homes in Kentucky, and had two thought-provoking experiences in those settings.

I had been an associate pastor for only a few weeks when the first moment of enlightenment occurred. I dutifully set out on my mission, my portable communion kit loaded with juice, thimble-sized cups, tiny squares of bread and a miniature plate.

All went smoothly until I reached one elderly lady whose mind had been described to me as “pretty far gone.” She was sitting up in her wheelchair, her head slumped to her chest. I spoke to her. No response. I set communion up on a table in front of her. No response.

I went through a simple liturgy, one employing words familiar to anyone raised Methodist. I then touched the bread and juice to her lips, which she slowly tried to taste with her tongue.

I packed up my kit, thinking, “Well, I guess that was a waste of time.”

Just as I turned to leave, her hand shot out, grabbing my forearm with surprising strength. I jumped like I had been bitten.

She looked up at me and slowly said three clear words: “I appreciate this.” She then slumped back into her previous position and remained unresponsive. I learned a lesson about sacraments; never assume nothing happened simply because I did not see anything happen.

Another key communion experience occurred late in my ministry in Kentucky. I took communion to Arthur and Edna, a husband and wife, both suffering from dementia. Edna had contracted the disease first. Arthur developed his disorder about a year later but declined more quickly.

By the time of my last visit, the two shared a nursing home room, but couldn’t say each other’s names, sleeping on separate mats. I went to Edna’s mat first. She seemed uninterested in my presence until I brought out the same little communion kit. She took communion eagerly.

When I went to Arthur’s mat, Edna sat up, her eyes following everything. Arthur also clearly wanted communion. I went through the brief liturgy again, giving him the juice and bread.

As I did so, I heard Edna’s voice saying softly, again and again, “Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” She was still saying it when I left in tears.

God’s grace, particularly as it is expressed in the bread-body and juice-blood of communion, has the power to sustain us in all the phases of our lives. Take what is offered so freely whenever you can, knowing God’s grace will remain with you even when all else of value has fled.

Lord, give us serious, life-long encounters with you. Amen.