What If We Tailgated before Church?


1 Corinthians 11:17-26 (NIV)

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.


To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):

Worship matters to God, and not just that we worship but how we worship. I don’t so much mean how we worship with respect to guitars or organs but with respect to order. Paul will spend the next few chapters of his letter dealing with the issue of order in worship for the Corinthian Church. And he’s not happy about what he’s heard.

This issue he raises regarding the Lord’s Supper is an interesting one and can seem a long way from our situation today. A closer look might reveal a different story. In order to make my point, let me describe what they were doing then in a more contemporary analogy.

Imagine that the church tailgated in the parking lot before worship. First, get a picture of the sweet fleet of vehicles gracing the place; lots of sweet Range Rovers and Mercedes SUV’s, several Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV’s, tons of F-150 pickup trucks and tricked out mini-vans. Now imagine the incredible display of grills and cookers and accessories that come with today’s standard tailgate. Then get a load of the incredible buffet of food—steaks, burgers, ribs, pulled pork, bratwursts and all manner of boutique hotdogs, potato salad, coleslaw, relish trays and we haven’t even gotten to dessert yet. Visualize the party people going from tailgate to tailgate sampling food and saying hello and yes, imbibing the variety of libations.

Worship is about to begin, but there’s a small problem. All the folks who don’t have sweet rides, elaborate tailgate gear and endless food begin showing up for worship. Most of them rode a bus for hours to get there. By the time they could get to the tailgate at which they would get nothing to eat, the tailgaters are already in church and helping themselves to the Lord’s Supper. Not only did they not wait for the poor people who were late, they snarfed up all of the provisions for the Lord’s Supper and drank up the remaining wine until they could hardly walk out of the building and find their cars.

This gives us something of a mildly analogous snapshot of what was going on in the church at Corinth. Consider the mockery this was making of the Lord’s Supper itself. Paul suggested that they couldn’t even legitimately call what they were doing the Lord’s Supper.

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.

In some sense, Paul seems to say, “Don’t for a minute think you are remembering the Lord when you have practically forgotten the poor. It’s not the ritual that creates the righteousness, but the righteousness that verifies the ritual.” It’s a theme as old as Amos and Isaiah and as new as last Sunday. If we are going to forget our neighbors in need on Monday there’s little point in showing up for worship on Sunday, Tailgate or not.

It seems fitting to give a prophet the last word.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
(Amos 5:21-24)

The mercy of God is there’s still time to take the next step.


Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. This word from Amos challenges me. “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” I confess I am all to ready to sing the next song without asking myself the hard questions of justice and righteousness. Come Holy Spirit and search my heart, show me all the ways my life offends your sense of justice and the ways my worship might grieve your heart. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.


  1. What is the the connection between the worship of God and the care of the poor?
  2. Why do you think God cares that we not just give the poor a “handout” but actually enter into real relationship with them?
  3. Can a community actually be an expression of the New Testament church who has no real relationship with the poor other than charitable giving?