Five thousand years ago, back in the 1980’s, did any of you folks watch the TV show “Cheers”? Remember how it opened with the theme song of going to a place “where everyone knows your name”? Whenever Norm would enter the bar, the whole place would bellow out, “Hi, Norm!”
In a book called Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam observed that in the 18 years between 1970 and 1998 the number of full-service restaurants per capita fell by 25%, and the number of bars and luncheonettes were cut in half. Meanwhile the per capita number of fast food outlets, which Putnam refers to as “personal refueling stations”, doubled. I can’t help but think that that trend has continued for the past 20 years.
Now, when I go into the same diner over and over, I get to know the waitpersons and they get to know me. We begin to share a few jokes; they know I like my coffee black and my ketchup red. Eventually, they see all the pictures of my family in my wallet, and I know which teams their kids play on.
When driving through a ‘Personal Refueling Station’, though, nobody has ever asked to see pictures of my family, and I have never asked which teams their kids play on. Or if they have kids. Or if they have anybody. They don’t know my name, I don’t know theirs, and I probably never will. Cheers.
Jesus- Jesus really liked to eat. He had a reputation around town as a glutton and a winebibber. But you wouldn’t see Him driving through a Personal Refueling Station, because, as much as He liked the bread and wine, it was the people He loved. He loved was the community around the bread.
Jesus liked to sit around the table with people and eat and drink and share stories. And Jesus- Jesus would eat and drink with ANYBODY! Glaring sinners, righteous church leaders. Why, Jesus would even eat with tax collectors on April 15!
Now, let’s stay with that last image for a moment: two weeks ago, April 15, you sent your tax statements in. Relief. Another year is past. Inner calm descends like the mists of spring… Until two months from now, you get a call from the IRS. They want to audit you. A field audit: one where they come to your home and personally go through your files. Being the honest, upright citizen you are… your blood runs cold with dread and fear. You lock yourself in the bathroom, kneeling before the throne… And a week later and this guy in a dark gray suit and tie walks in with his briefcase. And you, being the disciple of Jesus that you are… you invite him to dinner. I DON’T THINK SO! For one thing, I was listening to NPR on what to do if you’re audited, and they said, “Don’t laugh. Don’t joke. Don’t try to get close: just be professional and answer the questions clearly and concisely.” Inviting the IRS auditor to dinner does not fall into this category!
But that’s what Jesus does. He invites the people, who make other people nervous, to dinner. Because in the act of eating together, walls come down. In the act of eating together, we become equals to each other, human to each other, alive to each other.
Even tax collectors. I have a confession to make. Like many of you, I have served meals at soup kitchens. But… I’m not really comfortable around the homeless. If I had a choice between sitting out with the people eating, or standing back with the people serving, I’d much rather be on the other side of the table serving. Because if I’m serving, I’m still separate. I am Lady Bountiful, giving food to them. But at soup kitchens, everyone wants to serve, which means that sometimes I have to go out and sit down and eat with my sisters and brothers… And try my best to be Normal.
Confirmands! When we went to St. Ben’s Soup Kitchen- do you remember how uncomfortable it was to sit and eat? Try to make pleasant conversation? Do you remember how HARD it is to TRY to be normal??? But the truth of the matter is that, for me, it’s just an act. In truth, I experience the homeless as “them,” rather than experiencing myself as a part of us.
But a number of years ago, I had an experience that put a little crack in that façade. I was serving dinner at a soup kitchen with my daughter Cait, and her soccer buddy Adelei. Adelei’s father, Terry, joined us when he got off work. So all of us were serving and eating together. And then we cleaned up, and it was time to go.
Well, I had invited Adelei and her dad to a homemade ice cream parlor for dessert- homemade ice cream was a Hawkins tradition after serving at the soup kitchen. And so I jumped into my car, and Cait and Adelei jumped into Terry’s car. And I started to pull out… when I noticed that Terry was speaking with one of the soup kitchen regulars, Tim. I don’t know what was said, but Tim jumped into Terry’s car… with Adelei. And with my daughter. And they started following behind me to the ice cream parlor. I was nervous. I kept glancing back in my rearview mirror. They stayed right behind me. I pulled into the ice cream parlor, and everyone piled out of the cars… including Tim.
We went in to order, and I was talking- nervously, too fast, uncomfortably- you know how you talk when you’re not at ease- and I was extolling the virtues of Chinese Red Bean ice cream. Cait and Adelei ordered their usual: choco-chip-cookie-dough-M&M-bubblegum-with sprinkles. Terry ordered coffee fudge swirl. I ordered Red Bean. And Tim… didn’t want anything.
I went up to pay, and Tim- the homeless guy- said, ‘No, I want to pay. I never get a chance to repay you folks for the dinners you bring.’ I objected- but I realized that it was time for me to shut up, get off my Lady Bountiful high horse, and say ‘Thank-you.’
So Tim paid for all our ice creams. And then, talking too fast again, I took a lick of my cone and said, “Wow, this Red Bean ice cream is really good! Want a taste?” And Tim said, ‘Sure’. And I handed him my cone and a little spoon… and he licked my cone. A homeless guy just licked my cone! When was the last time he brushed his teeth? Flossed? Had a physical?
A homeless guy had just licked my cone. And now came the moment God had been waiting for. Nansi- you preach that Tim’s your brother. You preach that he’s equal, he’s as much a part of My family as you are. So when are you going to break down and actually break bread with this man? And with a cold sweat reminiscent of a tax audit, I raised the cone to my lips and licked. And Tim smiled. And so did I. I wasn’t in control, but I was part of the family.
It must have been similar for St. Peter when God sent him to the home of the Roman centurian, Cornelius. God had given Peter a dream, and in the dream Peter saw a cloth lowered revealing all kinds of unclean, unkosher animals: reptiles, and birds, and little piggies. And God said, “Rise, Peter, and eat.”
Peter objected, “God, I have never eaten anything unkosher in my life! Lips that touch piggies shall never touch mine!” And God said, “What God has made clean, Peter, you must not call profane.”
And so Peter went to Cornelius the Piggie-Eater, and stayed in his home, and ate his food, and baptized him whom God called ‘acceptable’. (Acts 10:1-48)
It must have been the same way a few years later for the Jews in the first church when St. Paul stormed into Jerusalem and demanded that Gentile Christians be accepted just as they are. Pork-eating, uncircumcized: “Lips that touch piggies shall never touch mine!”
But sitting down at the same table, and breaking and eating the same bread, we became for the first time ‘Church’ as God envisions it. Jew and Gentile, Men and Women, Slave and Free. One Body in Christ. For it is as we sat down and ate together that the walls came tumbling down, and we were able to see what God had done. (Acts 16:6-11; Galatians 3:28)
And that first Easter evening, Jesus is walking down the road with Cleopas and another disciple.Cleopas has no idea that it is Jesus walking next to them. Jesus had been killed 3 days earlier. That morning, Mary Magdalene had come running in saying that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. Who knows who could have stolen Jesus’ body?
This stranger starts walking beside them, and they are discussing all the events of the last 3 days. And Jesus says, “You foolish people? Don’t you get it?” And Jesus tells them all about the foretelling of the Messiah in the Scriptures. And they still don’t get it. But it’s getting dark, and they kind of like this guy, so they ask Him to stay and have supper with them. And the stranger agrees.
And when He is at table with them, Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them. The fourfold action of the Eucharist: He took. He blessed. He broke. He gave.
Remember the Last Supper, just 4 days earlier? “When the hour came, Jesus took His place at the table, and the apostles with Him… Then He took a loaf of bread, and when He had blessed it, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:14, 19)
He took. He blessed. He broke. He gave. And Cleopas and the other disciple remembered. Lord! It was the Lord! Why didn’t we recognize Him before? Surely our hearts were on fire as He spoke words of Scripture to us!
But it wasn’t until the bread was broken that their eyes were opened. It wasn’t until the Jews broke bread with the Gentiles that their eyes were opened. And it wasn’t until I broke an ice cream with Tim… that my eyes started to crack open just the tiniest bit and Christ was revealed.
For Christ is known in the breaking of bread. And then Christ disappears. In a flash, in a twinkling, in a moment: Christ disappears, and what we are left with is the broken bread and our brother, our sister, and the walls come tumbling down.
In the Name of the One Who makes us One, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for April 30, 2017 LUKE 24:13-35
Now, on that same day (that God raised Jesus from the dead), two of Jesus’ disciples were going to Emmaus, a village about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who He was. Jesus asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them- his name was Cleopas- said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” Jesus said, “What has happened?” They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene! He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed Him, got Him sentenced to death, and crucified Him. We had our hopes up that He was the One- the One about to deliver Israel. That happened three days ago. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find His body! They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check, and found it empty just as the women said; but they didn’t see Jesus.
Then Jesus said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into His glory?” Then Jesus started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him.
They all came to the edge of the village where they were headed. Jesus acted as if He were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us! It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So Jesus went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, He blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. And at that very moment, open-eyed! wide-eyed! they recognized Him. And then He disappeared. Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel like our hearts were on fire as He talked with us on the road and opened up the Scriptures for us?”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.