Tag Archives: The Table

Around the Table

A Sermon for 19 May 2019 – 5th Sunday of Easter

A reading from Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

In Take this Bread: A Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-first-Century Christian, Sara Miles tells of the first day she walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California. Raised by parents who wanted nothing to do with the religion for which each sets of their parents had been overseas missionaries; at forty-six, Sara walked into the building down the street from her house one day. From the start, she was struck by the beautiful, sun-drenched rotunda of the space where chairs where configured in a circle around that to which every detail of the building’s architecture pointed. Sara writes: there, “in the center of the open, empty space (that) was ringed high above by a huge neo-Byzantine mural of unlikely saint figures;” there, was a table (p. 57). That morning, for the first time, Sara heard the words she would hear every other time she gathered with others for worship in that place. Amid simple a cappella songs, the standing and sitting that accompanies the pageantry of most any Episcopal service, the listening, and the joyful dance that led worshippers up to that table; Sara heard a woman announce: “Jesus invites everyone to his table” (p. 58). Though never having received the bread and fruit of the vine before; Sara went forward to taste and see.

Sara would come to learn that this little church intentionally had been crafted by two priests who had grown weary of ossified Episcopalian worship. From the building, to the rock-hewn baptismal font out back, from the beautiful liturgy, to the body of believers who were “mostly highly-educated, liberal, middle-age San Francisco professionals, with” in Sara’s words, “a sprinkling of Republicans, older people, and younger families . . . a congregation of 150 artists, scholars, theater designers, psychologists, and composers” – many of whom had spent years away from religion but were looking for a way back into a congregation that would accept them for who they were. Doubts, difference, and all. Sara stood among them around that table that winter morning and as she ate the crumbly bread and drank from the cup of sweet wine, Sara writes: “Jesus happened to me” (p. 58). From that first time around that table, her life dramatically changed.

I’m not sure what would happen if someone like Sara came into our midst. ‘Cuz within a year, she went to her new priests to ask if it would be possible to begin handing out bread from that very table to the ethnically and economically different, hungry people who lived all around St. Gregory’s building but never set foot in the door. From the moment Jesus happened to her. From the moment she first heard the words, “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” Sara – a woman who started out as a chef in New York long before women were accepted as chefs. Having ingested Jesus at that table, Sara wanted to feed others too! From nothing, she began what would become one of San Francisco’s busiest food pantries. And when they couldn’t keep up with the need, Sara found ways to replicate the model at various locations nearby. She firmly believed what was said each week in worship: Jesus invites everyone to his table! With loaves of bread literally given from that same table every Friday, the face of St. Gregory’s Episcopal church began to change.

Long has the church struggled in sharing The Table with others. As early as the first days of the Acts of the Apostles, the first followers of the Way weren’t so sure with whom it was okay to eat. As Jews who had gotten on board behind the wandering rabbi from Nazareth, they believed that it wasn’t kosher to dine with those who were different from them. It makes no sense really that they clung to this notion, because the gospels tell story after story of Jesus sitting at table with those who were not considered ritually clean. In fact, when a woman from Syrophoenicia reminds Jesus that even Gentile “dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” her faith is blessed. Her daughter instantly healed. The One the apostles had been following – the One they had been watching welcome those often-considered outsiders, touching those thought untouchable, inviting the most unlikely to come follow. Jesus, the One from whom the first disciples had been learning, ate in the homes of tax collectors and Pharisees. The gospels tell the stories of a Holy rebel. The ultimate table-turner who freely shared what he had been given. How in the world could those to whom he had entrusted his mission so blatantly missed his point?!

According to Acts of the Apostles, Peter is swarmed in Jerusalem for eating with uncircumcised men! It happened that Peter – the one often considered Jesus’ lead disciple – was off on his travels. Preaching the good news of the Risen Christ. Healing powerfully in his name. Staying in the city of Joppa, Peter was asked to come to Caesarea by a man named Cornelius. Long years Cornelius had prayed to God. Giving alms and dedicating his whole household to the LORD despite the fact that he was a member of an Italian Cohort – a centurion serving Rome, who himself was not a Jew. It can be hard for us to understand all the fuss. Most of us today don’t even know the background of our ancestors. We don’t build our guest lists based on whether or not each guest is circumcised! Oh, we have the safe circles in which we mostly live and move and have our being so that many of us may never have sat down to supper with someone who wasn’t born in the United States. We may never have eaten with someone who doesn’t speak our same language. We might know a few folks of another religion. But have we intentionally invited them over to our homes or set up a date to meet for dinner after work? Maybe we’ve experienced such divergent ways when traveling internationally for a mission trip. But how often in the past week have we entertained at our tables those who are radically different from us?

For me the question is an unfolding journey. Because I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin where it was drilled into us as youngsters that “If you’re not Dutch; you’re not much.” Difference spanned the gamut of from which part of the Netherlands did your grandparents come? In our little town of 1,800, we worried about how blonde your hair was and if you were ready every summer to participate in Holland Fest. All four churches in town believed they were so very different, though all four were a part of the Reformed Theological Tradition. And you wouldn’t dream of becoming friends with the one or two Catholics who went to services outside the village limits. We were proud to be Dutch – counted among the much who worked hard. But it didn’t take too many years of living until it was clear to me that my own mother was a red-head and my best friend in high school was a dry-witted brunette. None of us really were the same – but if you wanted to color outside the lines, that too would have to be done outside the village limits. In Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “God made us different that we might know one another, and . . . how we treat one another is the best expression of our beliefs” (p. 225). Had I never met those different from me, I literally would not be here today. Neither would you. Despite how awkward it can feel sometimes when we’re not sure if we all agree on the same table etiquette, why in the world would we refuse to eat with those who are different from us?

It would take a startling vision from God for Peter to abandon his prejudices. On the roof at the home where he was staying in Joppa, Peter found himself in a dream-like trance while he prayed. Something like a sheet descended from the heavens with all sorts of animals in it. It’s recorded that Peter was hungry and a voice told him to go ahead and eat. Protesting that the animals held in the sheet weren’t all ritually clean, Peter refused to eat. Lest we think the vision is just about what foods to eat, the voice Peter heard clearly told him – three times: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Wasn’t that how they were treating the Gentiles? Not so sure they were clean in the eyes of God, though according to the story the Creator of all made all good. Very, very good!

It certainly can complicate things trying to eat with those who are different from us. ‘Cuz like did you know that not everyone in the world wants to drink sweet tea? And I can tell you as a first-hand witness that not every Presbyterian Church in this country has ever even heard of pimento cheese sandwiches! When we sit down at table with different people, we might have to learn how to eat other foods. Literally finding that the Jewish family down the street is grateful to stop to observe a holy Sabbath rest each Friday night. The Buddhist neighbor could teach us a lot about keeping centered in peace through silent prayer. Someone who’s not even sure there is a God might be the first one at our door in a crisis – their commitment to relieving human need coming from their own experience of compassion when catastrophe struck their life. The other night I was blessed to listen to a passionate, young African American women tell about the way she has begun a Soulful Sunday circle in a local park. As she held my broken foot to offer me healing energy, she talked of the young people who join her to sit in the quiet on the earth, be guided in a heart-centered meditation, and re-grounded to go back out into the world for another week.  . . .  Isn’t it amazing to think of us all at one Table? Bountifully eating our fill of food that truly nourishes?

About us all dining together, one biblical commentator writes: “A change of heart comes when one sees the Spirit at work in the stories of strangers, recognizing in them the same Spirit that is working in one’s own life. People need first to see God at God’s surprising work. Theological reflection comes afterward, either to bring what has been seen into coherence with past thinking, or to make a reasoned break with that thinking” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2, Lewis S. Mudge, p. 252). That’s how Peter and the believers in Jerusalem finally understood. As Peter eloquently proclaimed to Cornelius and those gathered in Caesarea: now “I truly understand,” he said, “that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears the LORD and does what is right is acceptable to God” (Acts 10:34-35). For indeed, God gives the Spirit to all that leads all to Life! (Acts 11:18).

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

 

The Power of Food

A Sermon for 30 April 2017 – Third Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of Luke 24:13-35.  Listen for God’s word to us on this Third Sunday of Easter.  And remember:  according to the gospel of Luke, we’re still hearing of events that took place on the day of Christ’s resurrection.  Listen.

“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”  They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  19 He asked them, “What things?”  They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us.  They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”  So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

            Thanks be to God!

 

Have you seen the Chobani Fruit Symphony?  It begins with a drummer setting the beat on a high hat cymbal, which is made of two coconut halves.  The rest of her set includes some sort of melon as a snare and an apple and orange as her ride and splash cymbals.  A synthesizer made of peaches, limes, and strawberries comes in next.  Then an eclectic choir of singers begins:  “What the world needs now.”  Some sort of instrument, which includes hanging bananas, chimes in.  The camera zooms out to show they’re all in a field under a massive shade tree with children playing in the background.  The singers continue:  “is love, sweet love.  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.  What the world needs now.”  The commercial closes with a caption filling the screen:  “Food Brings Us Together.”  Then the final frame:  Chobani:  “Believe in Food.”  . . .  It’s an uplifting little ditty.  About thirty seconds to show both the bounty and diversity of the land – food and people of every color combined in a little symphony of love (www.chobani.com/believeinfood).

Believe in food.  Food brings us together.  In a web search for the Chobani commercial, another site pops up.  “Oliving the Life,” it’s called.  With a two minute read entitled:  “Five Ways Food Brings Us Together.”  It’s some sort of site promoting the health of The Mediterranean Lifestyle – generations gathering around tables filled with the kinds of food that have sustained people as far back as the days of Jesus.  “The power of food,” the article begins.  “Sharing food with others brings a wealth of benefits.  These moments help us make friends, find love, and end hostility.  Breaking bread together is a way to remove barriers and helps us explore new cultures and build stronger relationships when we socialize.”  The article continues: “Food brings us together and your family can benefit in several ways” (www.olivethelife.com.au/five-ways-food-brings-us-together/).  According to the piece, “sharing meals with the people you love, whether it’s just to catch-up over a simple dinner or partaking in a massive celebration” such meals lead to a happier, healthier life (Ibid.).  Food.  Brings us together for good.

I’m guessing most of us don’t think of it enough.  The power of food.  Our need for food – not only to fuel our bodies, but also to sustain our emotional life, keep us mentally stable, and fill us up spiritually.  Food literally brings us together – the grains of the earth entering us every time we take in a simple piece of bread.  The fruits of the trees and the vegetables of the garden coming into us to give us what we cannot live well without.  United with God’s incredible creation as we eat, we can call to mind our utter inter-dependence.  We need this earth to survive as much as this earth needs us for its own continued well-being.  Even if we dine without another human being, food unites us with this great, big, God-given earth.  Thankfully, food also unites us with each other.  If nowhere else; then at least around fellowship tables downstairs, or in the parlor, or right here in this sanctuary.  Food has the potential to make strangers into fast, forever friends.  If we open ourselves to dine with another, it’s likely we’ll push back our plates at the end of the meal to rise from the table different.  Changed because we listened.  And laughed.  And along the way shared the stories that make us who we are.  O the power of food.  The beauty of a table.  The miracle of being brought together every time we eat!

I think they sensed it.  Those friends distraught one Sunday night who make their way home from Jerusalem, back to the routines of life in Emmaus.  The story goes that a stranger came walking along – interrupting the conversation in which they are trying to process their sadness.  He nearly calls them fools, unwilling to believe.  And yet, they invite this strange One to stay.  Strongly they urge him, the scripture records (Luke 24:29) because night is falling.  The day comes to a close.  And what’s the first thing these two do as soon as the stranger agrees to come in?  They set the table.  Perhaps a few olives, some hummus, a scrap of bread.  Some fruit of the vine – whatever they can find upon arriving back home after the long weekend away.  Making do, they sit down together — unaware that by the time the meal is over, their lives never will be the same.  At some point around the table, the stranger takes.  Blesses.  Breaks.  Then gives the bread.  Granted, they hadn’t been involved in that act as we have every first Sunday of the month and High Holy Days of the year too.  But according to scripture, they had been present at least once on a hillside as multitudes were fed, and again in an upper room in Jerusalem just a few days prior.  Though scripture remains silent about many of the day-to-day aspects of Jesus’ life during his three years of ministry; most likely he gathered daily for a meal with those who had decided to follow this astounding rabbi.  Yes, this was an act by One they had seen before.  . . .   In Emmaus, the table brings together the two hosts with The Host.  Food opens their eyes to the face of Love, risen now and ever in their midst!

That’s the power of the table.  The strength of broken bread.  The liturgy reminds us monthly:  every time we eat the bread, each time we drink together; we recognize the Risen One in our midst too.  In the faces of each other.  In the eyes of those we’ll come to meet the next time we sit at table together.  And just in case we wouldn’t catch the truth from words, he commanded the act for us to know deep within:  believe in food.  For indeed food brings us together.  Taste.  Drink.  And be glad!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)