Archive for September, 2007

Even Jeremiah knew that the three most important things to remember about real estate is location, location, location

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

It’s too bad Al Carroll is not here this morning. Well, I guess it’s not too bad Polly and he are in Ireland, but Al is going to miss some of the fruit of the recent Rochester meeting some of us just attended.

Mary and I got there a day earlier than the rest of the group because there was a Ministers Council meeting on the day before the Annual Meeting. At that Ministers Council meeting we spent five hours with a professor of Old Testament at the Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School looking at the book of Jeremiah. Al was quite puzzled by that. He could not imagine sitting himself for five hours at such a gathering. And he could imagine even less how those of us there were not only quite exhilarated by the experience but were wishing we could do more.

So today, I want to talk a bit about Jeremiah, one of the Old Testament prophets. As we do that, I think it would be helpful for us to think about what an Old Testament prophet is. They are people who have a word from God that they have been called to deliver. They are truth tellers, often confronting religious and political leaders and everybody else with truths they would rather not hear.

We often think of Prophets as people who predict the future which is something they do on occasion, but that’s not the main part of their job description. It’s more apt to say, that prophets don’t so much predict the future as the contradict the present.

That’s also what makes them Seers. They are not so much seeing the future, but seeing where the present is leading. And they see on several levels.

That’s why the writer of the Book of Revelation is like an Old Testament prophet. Some of us think that book is not really a prediction of what the future holds in the sense that books like those in the Left Behind series think of it. Rather we see it more as a prophetic look at the author’s present circumstances trying to see what’s beyond and behind the events that are unfolding. And what the prophet of The Revelation always sees is the victory of Jesus in the lives of his followers in every age, not just in some kind of end times state.

So Jeremiah is one of the Prophets. As our instructor that day noted he was part Shaman and part Showman. And he had a particularly difficult message to bring to Israel. His constant proclamation was that the current siege they were undergoing by the Babylonians would end in a victory for the Babylonians. That’s not the message from the church any king or political leader or the common populace is wanting to hear in war’s most desperate hour.

There were plenty of other prophets running around, none of whom get a book in the Bible named after them, saying that in her darkest hour God would save Jerusalem and route her enemies. But that wasn’t Jeremiah’s message.

And what made it even more difficult for him was that there was a bit of a break in the siege. Babylon was having a bit of trouble on its flank with the Egyptians, and some of the soldiers outside of the gates of Jerusalem were sent to deal with that problem. The people were hoping the siege would end. But Jeremiah assured them defeat was still coming, delayed a little bit, but not much.

That’s why we read at the beginning of Jeremiah 32 that he is under house arrest. People are free to come and see him, but he has to stay put where he can’t be further demoralizing a demoralized citizenry that is anxiously waiting for the more encouraging words of the other prophets to come to pass.

But Jeremiah never let up on his word from the Lord that the Babylonians are going to win this battle. And he didn’t have much good to say about those other self-proclaimed prophets. Can you imagine how welcome all those TV preachers would be in the White House if they said that God was not on our side in the Iraqi War rather than always saying what the President wants to hear? That was the position Jeremiah was in. He was not welcome in Jerusalem’s ruling palace other than its jails.

And he was a showman. He would walk around the city of Jerusalem with his arms stretched out like he had a yoke on. “This,” he said, “is how you will be dragged off to your exile in Jerusalem.” Or he would go about in his underwear, saying “they are going to drag you off to Babylon in humiliation.” He said babies and their mothers would starve before the battle ended.

In this story, though, something rather unusual happens. Jeremiah gets the opportunity to buy a field and he does it. It’s all quite amazing. Here is the prophet saying the country is doomed, about to be overrun by a powerful enemy, and all the servivors carted off to exile in a land far away. He said the nation wolud be decimated, and fit barely for the weeds and rodents that survived the onslaught.

But he buys a piece of land. And he makes a big show of it. He goes through all the legal documentation, making sure the deed is not only properly recorded, but it is put away safely.

Suddenly there is a word of hope in all the doom and gloom he has been declaring. But it is not easy hope. The nation is still going to be destroyed. The Temple torn down. The people of Israel, people who considered themselves the chosen people of the only true God, are going to be humiliated by a conquering army.

That’s not the end of the story, though, for Jeremiah. This Seer sees more. Even though the people have turned so far away from God, worshiping idols, sacrificing their children on Jerusalem rooftops that are about to be leveled, even though they have neglected the poor and mistreated the stranger, even though they have made money more important than God and each other, God is not going to turn away from them.

Sure, they are going to experience hard times. Prophets don’t predict the future, but they see the consequences of the present behavior and what it is going to cost that society. That’s why some speak of prophets not as predictive but descriptive. And Jeremiah described a culture that has turned so far from God that there’s nothing left but destruction.

There, though, is more than the present. The Prophets do look to the future and what they see is God at work in this world. That’s why Jeremiah is a Prophet of hope even when he says the present is pretty hopeless.

And the hope is not simply for someplace beyond the grave. Hope takes root here. Jeremiah bought a piece of land in Israel, not heaven. He said the day was coming for Israel where it wouldn’t be cries of fright and anguish and hunger people were hearing, but wedding songs, and feasts celebrating the new born.

So what do we do with this prophet of doom who offers so much hope? We don’t live in Jerusalem in 587b.c.e, but in 2007 Ohio. There are all kinds of political implications in this story. If Israel could never quite manage to be a Jewish nation, how on earth do we imagine this to be a Christian nation? This story says all kinds of things about what happens to societies when they turn from God and each other. It talks about what happens to people when we leave God out of the picture.

But what’s the personal stuff here? Many of us have had disasters come into our lives, some of us have felt as leveled as Jerusalem was. But Jeremiah bought a field because he believed that the future belonged to God. And Jesus seemed to always live toward the future. He called that band of women and men to follow him, knowing they would get to the future even though great tragedy and heartache and pain would come to Jesus and them. And he knew they would show us how to get to the future, as well.

This story asks us how willing we are to believe in God’s future even when the present looks so desolate. The Prophet in The Revelation says hold on, even if it’s by your finger tips. Jeremiah says buy some property. The Apostle Paul asks what in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus says “I am with you to the end of the age.” The future is coming and Jesus is there.

It’s a word that sustains us in the hard days of the present. And if we believe God is in the future it changes how we live. It shaped the way Jeremiah lived in hard times. And he passed something along.

The theologian and prophet in her on right Rita Nakashima Brock tells this story. It’s a good way to end our brief excursion into the life of the Prophet Jeremiah and what hope can make of us.

“There was once an ordinary woman who lived in a small town near Modesto, California. She was not famous, powerful or influential. I do not recall her name. I was told this true story about her. She was the kind of person we would call a good neighbor. She was friendly, liked by her neighbors and good to her family. When the U.S. entered WWII, she supported our government, until the California Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren signed an order requiring all U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry to be interned in relocation camps.

Many of this woman’s neighbors were Japanese Americans. She knew them and loved them as her friends. She went to Sacramento and lobbied the legislators. She wrote to the president to try to stop the camps and the confiscation of Japanese property. She could not move the powerful and famous. She was a lone nobody. Few others protested. The Disciples of Christ was the only official church body to protest the interment of Japanese Americans. So this lone woman did what she could. She bought all the Japanese farms and homes in her town for a dollar each, and watched her friends be taken away. When the camps were finally closed, when the Japanese who survived had no homes left, when their lands were stolen by our government, this woman’s neighbors were lucky. She gave her friends and neighbors back their homes and land so that they might live.

Jeremiah would have understood.

“How Can You Lose a Car!?”

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

When I go to a baseball game in Cleveland, it’s always my goal to find the cheapest parking available. When the Indians played in the old stadium you could park for two bucks at the Municipal Lot that my family regarded as much further from the ball park than I did.

But when Jacobs Field opened it became a different issue. One time when I took the girls to a game I decided to drive around for awhile, sure that there had to be something cheaper than what the parking garages and nearby lots were charging. But I couldn’t so I parked, once again, in one of the garages.

Mary wasn’t with us this time, so I told the girls to remember we were parked in 2B. I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose the parking ticket at the game, so I stuck it in the glove box. When the game was over we remembered the car was in 2B. What we couldn’t remember was what parking garage we had parked in. Don’t forget, I had driven by many garages and lots looking for that special deal that never materilized.

Now they have people who will help you find where in the parking garage your car is parked if you forget. But there is nobody who will help you find out what parking garage you are parked in.

So, we began the search. After three garages the girls were starting to get a bit panicky. After the fourth garage, I was starting to get a bit panicky. But we found it in the fifth one. I knew we would eventually find it, but they all closed like an hour and a half after the game was over. And that wasn’t a call home I wanted to make.

It was kind of like looking for that lost sheep and lost coin we just read about. Except I didn’t call the neighbors and arrange for a celebration. In fact, I mentioned to the girls that it would probably be best not to tell anyone about this, especially their mother. And it was several years later when Mary finally heard this story.

These stories we read, along with the really well known one that follows them, the story of the Prodigal Son, have always been seen as stories about things lost and found. The way God is likened to a shepherd seeking after a lost sheep, a peasant woman finding a lost coin, and a father waiting for a lost son to find himself, are wonderful images about God that Jesus wants to convey to us. But I also think it is important to remember there is a party in all three of these stories after the lost is found.

Look at how the stories are prefaced. “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.’ Their grumbling triggered this story…”

The story Jesus starts with is one about a shepherd. Pharisees had a particularly hard time with shepherds. Now most of us have a fairly good image of shepherds in our minds. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. But here is what the New Interpreters Bible Commentary on this passage says. “In contrast to the positive image of the shepherd in both the OT and NT writings, shepherds had acquired a bad reputation by the first century as shiftless, thieving, trespassing hirelings. Shepherding was listed among the despised trades by the rabbis, along with camel drivers, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors.” That’s nothing like the shepherds on the Christmas cards. So Jesus is sticking it in the religious folks’ faces when he likens God to a shepherd.

And then he likens God to a woman in the second story. That would have made them crazy. And he tells of the great rejoicing and partying that goes on in heaven when the lost are found. And these folk weren’t much into partying.

When Jesus says, “Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue he is openly challenging one of the sayings of the Pharisees in his day that went, “There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.”

You’ve got two dramatically different ways of looking at God going on here. One is about the God who keeps looking for us when we are lost, and throws a party when we are found. The second is the God who couldn’t care less.

And lost we are. A lot of life is finding our way home. And a lot of life is God looking for us, sometimes roaming the wilderness, sometimes tearing up the house, sometimes standing by the door and watching down the road. And when we are found or we find our way back, the first thing God wants to do is throw a party.

When you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave 99 sheep behind to go looking for one. And a flock of a hundred sheep would have been a huge flock in those days. So just having one gone wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But it is to a shepherd, a responsible one. Things aren’t right until the lost one is returned and the flock is whole again.

In the same way, it makes no sense to Jesus for the Pharisees to talk about sinners who don’t belong. We all belong, we are all a part of the flock. It’s not right until everyone is restored. And who is the sinner, anyway? “We all like sheep have gone astray,” we’ve all gotten lost.

That woman looking for her lost coin. It was just as desperate a hunt as for a lamb in the wilderness. A peasant’s home had no light, and its floors were made out of dirt covered with straw and leaves. So finding one little coin would have been akin to finding a needle in a haystack. But the woman had to find that coin. She needed it, nine wasn’t enough. It’s not enough for God, Jesus says, until we are all found.

Jesus goes on to tell another story, the one we call the Prodigal Son. It’s the one about the younger son who asks his father to go ahead and give him his share of his inheritance, which was a colossal show of disrespect in that culture. But his father gives the son the money and the son spends it all, as a commentator once wrote, ‘on slow gin and fast women.’ He, of course, runs out of money and takes a job feeding pigs. Once he realizes the pigs are eating better than he is, the story says he comes to his senses and decides to go home to his father and see if he can sign on as one of the hired hands.

The father watching down the road, as he so frequently does, in hope of seeing his son return, sees him coming. He rushes out to greet him, to welcome him back to the family. He tells the servants to let everyone know his son is back and to invite everybody to a party.

By this time Jesus is piling it on. God as a Shepherd seeking after one lost sheep. God as a woman scouring her home for one small coin. And now this God of grace and love and forgiveness who welcomes a prodigal son home and throws a party.

This was not a God those Pharisees knew about. They are like the older son at the end of the third story who refuses to go to the party, because he believes his brother isn’t good enough for his father and surely doesn’t deserve a party.

When the father goes out to this older son to encourage him to come to the party, too, all his son can do is point an accusing finger at the younger son and his father. He says to his father, “I don’t get as much as a goat for a party with my friends, but this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!”

The father, though, keeps engaging the older son, because he knows the important thing that has gone on is restoration and reconciliation. So he reminds the older son that this is his brother we are talking about. ‘You are with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours–but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’

This was what the Pharisees couldn’t see. Those people Jesus was hanging out with, those outcasts he was partying with, were their brothers and sisters made in the image of the same God they were. And that remains the challenge to the church to this day. We keep drawing the boundaries, keep identifying outcasts and sinners. But you know what? Jesus eats with them anyway. He’s not content until restoration and healing come and we realize we are all in this thing together. We are all lost, looking for God, looking for each other. And Jesus has come to show us the way home.

That’s why we’ve got to deal with the fact that we are lost. We don’t need to settle for anything less than home, where we find God and each other. It’s all a matter of coming to our senses, letting God love us and throw us a party. I don’t think Jesus was saying anything more complicated than that.

A shepherd, a peasant woman, an indulgent and loving father. That’s some the ways Jesus understood God, this God who risks the wilderness and tears apart the house to find us. Jesus knew this is the God who waits, and waits, and waits until we find our way home, never giving up on us, but believing we will come to our senses. God is the one who is the most relieved when the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost car, the lost son are found. It’s God who wants to celebrate, have a party.

It’s really interesting that Jesus doesn’t tell us how the third story ends. Does the older son go to the party or not? And what happens with the younger son? Does he allow grace and love to change his life? Or, after the party is he back to his old ways? This is a story we have to finish for ourselves. How lost are willing to admit to being? How ready are we to throw ourselves into the arms of the loving, forgiving God Jesus keeps showing us? How willing are we to party with everyone like God does?

What we do know is that we get to be the men and women of doubtful reputation hanging around Jesus. Who cares who grumbles about people like them, sinners like us? We are all safely and happily in the car and on our way home. That’s what Jesus wants for us.

When Less is More: the Road of Discipleship

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

The first time I accepted a piano student and later learned that she had no piano, I was in a bit of a state of shock. Frankly, in all my prior years of teaching, it had never occurred to me to ask an inquiring parent if the family owned a piano.

As this student–I’ll call her ‘Susie’–began piano lessons, the mother offhandedly commented, “Oh, by the way, we don’t have a piano, but Susie’s grandmother does, and we have friends with a piano…”
As you might guess, Susie didn’t get to her grandmother’s house very often, and the poor child was never prepared for lessons. It wasn’t long before she quit.

I learned something important from this experience. Now I always ask parents if they have a piano or at least a keyboard before I agree to start a piano student. When a parent seems surprised by this requirement, I reply, “Would you learn to read without having any books available?” That always helps me get my point across.

I tell this story because it is relevant to the text before us today. Jesus is doing something that rarely happens in contemporary evangelism–he’s deliberately, carefully thinning out the crowd that follows him. Some people might be looking for a healing, a quick fix that will help them get on with their lives. Some might be tagging along with friends or family. Others might be curious. Some might be hoping for a military conqueror. Others might even by spying for those out to discredit Jesus. Too many are following Jesus with questionable motives, and he is determined to tell them the truth about following him.

Jesus presses the crowd to consider what it really means to be his disciple. He engages in strong Oriental hyperbole, or exaggeration, in telling his followers they must “hate” mother, father, wife, sister, and brother in order to follow him. Jesus is trying to get their attention, and such extreme language should do it!

The family is the bedrock of first century Jewish society, the foundation upon which the social order rests. Honoring one’s mother and father is part of the Ten Commandments God gives the Jewish nation through Moses. How could Jesus possibly challenge unbridled loyalty to family ties?

He doesn’t stop with the family, though. Jesus tells the crowd that each must carry his or her own cross. What? Only criminals carried their own crosses! Was Jesus asking the crowd to identify with such unlikely company, or was he warning them that following him could lead to lots of trouble? It’s hard for us to imagine what Jesus is getting at when crosses today are symbols we see in churches or necklaces we wear rather than means of execution.

Jesus goes on to speak about giving up one’s possessions, which could also be translated “give up all your possessing.” The verb form of this word widens our understanding. It evokes a deeper image: give up your clinging; give up your grasping; give up your acquiring for the sake of acquiring. Relinquish, release, let go of anything that gets in the way.

As if these challenges are not enough, Jesus offers one final challenge. Not so fast, people! he cries out. I’m not looking for quick conversions; I’m looking for those who will travel the distance with me. Sit down and count the cost, and then make your decision about Who and what you will pursue.

Kings plan and strategize when they fight wars. In an occupied land, this is an analogy that people understand. Builders draw up plans before beginning construction. That’s as obvious as needing a piano to learn how to play one. Take some time, Jesus cautions, and think about what journey you are taking and where you are going. Where is your allegiance? What or who is most important to you?
Little did the crowd that followed Jesus that day imagine how quickly Jesus’ journey would change.

Before long, he finds himself alone, bereft of the very support he most needs from his hardy companions who swore their allegiance to him not long before. Soon, the accolades turn to jeers, the road to victory is paved with a torturous crucifixion.

We stand today on the other side of the story which ends with an Empty Tomb and a promise of Pentecost, not a dark sky and a lonely cross. Yet, even with such an assurance, we know that life has its twists and turns, and that the proof of discipleship comes in the long journey, not the quick conversion.

Recently, I was watching CNN and the newscaster announced, “Next, we have a shocking report on Mother Teresa. Stay tuned…after the Commercial Break.” My mind first raced to the typical CNN celebrity revelation–sexual immorality–but I dismissed that idea as soon as it entered my head. “Impossible,” I thought. “This is Mother Teresa!”

CNN had me hooked. I had to stay tuned to find out the shocking news. After the commercials, and a host of other inconsequential stories, CNN finally got to Mother Teresa. Personal journals, recently released, chronicled some of her deepest questions and doubts about her faith.

To tell the truth, if someone released my personal journals, the same thing could easily happen, although without the notoriety and fame!

The newscaster called on some religion expert who explained that this wasn’t such shocking news after all, because saints were often known to endure something called “the dark night of the soul.” It felt extremely surreal to hear CNN broadcasters converse about “the dark night of the soul” as if they were talking about some new vaccine for measles. Nevertheless, they spoke as if they were making public some secret phenomena reserved only for the most saintly of saints.

In truth, the “dark night of the soul” is an experience anyone on the long journey with God will encounter. It is a time when all the light that is in us becomes darkness, all the light that is around us becomes night, all the murmurs of God’s voice fall silent, and we are left to throw ourselves upon the One whom we trust and cannot see, feel, or find.

It is no surprise to me that Mother Teresa would struggle, lament, love, sacrifice, hope, persevere, yearn, ache, doubt, and question. This is really not that shocking to any person of deep and enduring faith.

There is a paradox to seasons of questioning and doubt. In reality, they are a call from God to continue reconstructing our faith, a call to go deeper and higher in the journey of discipleship.
The challenge before us today is this great offer of Jesus to follow him wherever he leads. The journey embraces a Garden of Betrayal, a lonely Cross, and an Empty Tomb. It includes the outpouring of the Spirit of the living God and the gift of community–the very body of Christ in the world. It is a journey of temptation and promise, risk and reward, relinquishment and renewal.

I invite you into a time of prayer as we prepare for the offering. I invite you to consider your own journey with God and with the people of God, your own personal call to discipleship.

Chaos in the Lunchroom

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

There are commentators on Luke’s gospel who say that you can reduce its narrative to three categories, Jesus is on the way to dinner, Jesus is at dinner, or Jesus just left dinner. There is a lot of eating that goes on in Luke, and we are looking at another one of those eating stories this morning.

There is probably no way we can truly understand the importance of the role meals played in first century Israel. Meals were about a whole lot more than eating or hospitality. Social order was worked out at the meals Important topics, or at least topics the guests deemed important, were discussed. People were watched closely at the meals to see if they performed well by observing the religious and social customs. This story, in fact, mentions at this meal everyone was watching Jesus’ every move.

There was a pecking order to the meals. The most important people sat at the front tables and carried on most of the conversation, and everyone else was expected to listen. Lesser guests sat at tables farther back, and some people were allowed to only watch what took place. Everyone knew their places and stayed there. Except for Jesus, of course.

It was a big deal to be at the dinner, toward the front. The only thing I can liken it to is the lunchroom in your stereotypical middle school. As most of us are painfully aware, there is a social order that is precisely worked out in most school cafeterias. The popular kids, and they and everyone else knows who they are, take precedence over everyone else in the lunchroom. No one would imagine the seventh grade outcast pulling up a seat at the table where the most popular kids congregate. It just isn’t done. Everybody knows where and with whom they are supposed to sit.

Jesus wouldn’t have done any better in the middle or high school cafeteria than he did at most of the dinners we read about in the gospels. Not only would he have sat wherever he pleased, but he would have encouraged everyone else to do the same.

Jesus was more than a bit tired of all the distinctions that were so prevalent in his culture. He was intent on breaking down the walls that divided men from women, Jews from Gentiles, masters from slaves, rich from poor, and all the other distinctions that remain important to us.

Jesus knew we were all equal before God and each other for, at least, a couple of reasons. One is that we all share the same DNA, though I don’t think he talked much specifically about DNA. But Jesus did talk about the fact that we are all human beings, created by the same God, all connected to each other.

Jesus wasn’t about to let people reside behind their walls of religion, nation, gender, status, and income. Those things that we place so much stock in were, for Jesus, ridiculous distinctions that have no place in God’s realm.

People got real upset with Jesus because he hung out with what they considered the wrong people, women, tax collectors, poor folk, the outcasts. But Jesus didn’t see those folk as any different than the wealthiest, most connected, and pious of the lot. People were just people to Jesus. And that was such a radical thing. So radical that the lunchroom enforcers killed him.

Jesus also knew there was something else that linked all human beings. Our need. Rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay, man or woman, we all have some very basic needs we share.

We need forgiveness for our guilt and our fear, or as the Apostle Paul says it, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all know that. We know about our alienation from God, each other, and even ourselves. We are lonely and hurting with the kinds of wounds only God can heal. We all share that. We don’t have to keep hurting each other, rather we are here to help each other heal.

We share the need to know that God really, really does love us. We talk about that all the time, but this was new territory for Jesus. He came along saying that God loved everyone regardless of where they were born, how much money they had, what their gender was, how religious they were. This was new stuff to the dinner crowd.

And Jesus knew that we need each other. God created us to live with one another, not apart from each other. All these divisions we cling so tightly to cut us off from what we need, each other.

So Jesus wasn’t about to go along with all our prejudices, all our divisions, the need to live behind our walls, because he knew that was bad for human beings. What folk did at banquets in his day is the same that goes on in school cafeterias today. It was a metaphor for what troubles us, what brings so much pain and heartache and death to our world. Like the people at the dinner parties in the first century, the kids in the lunchroom are just acting out what goes on in our world. If you can separate yourselves from one another around the banquet table or in the lunchroom, it isn’t too much of a leap to start killing each other because that person is of a different religion, lives in a different country, or is a threat to me and my kind.

So Jesus had a solution for the banquets, anyway. He told his host at this party that the next time he has such a shin dig he shouldn’t be concerned about inviting the rich or elite, but poor folk and the outcasts. That was turning everything upside down, because suddenly giving a big feast isn’t about ingratiating yourself to the popular kids, but connecting with people who don’t have much to offer other than themselves. It won’t help business, or strengthen anybody’s social status, but it would get you into the kind of stuff that God does, including humility.

Can you imagine what would happen if everyone just ate at whatever table they wanted in the school cafeteria? That’s the vision Jesus has for us, chaos in the lunchroom. The popular kids don’t congregate at the one table, the gifted and talented kids at another, the jocks at another but everybody just finds someplace to sit in the cafeteria and enjoy whoever it is they are eating with. Any kid could sit anywhere, and be accepted at any table. That would disrupt the whole social order, and shake up everything at school. But that’s what Jesus was always looking to do, shake up things for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

This meal thing was real important to Jesus. The night before he was killed, he was at a banquet with the men and women who were his followers. And he told them, and us, to keep eating together, and to remember him when we did.

And what do you suppose he wants us to remember? That everyone is invited to the meal. When we eat together, whether it’s around the communion table, or the tables in the Community Room, Jesus wants us to remember that he came to tear down the walls that divide us, to expose our divisions for what they are, tools of Satan. He wants us to remember we come to all our tables with each other in the same condition, in need of God and each other. Our call is to keep causing chaos in the lunchroom.

It’s no surprise that the culmination of the age is pictured as a feast. Jesus likes to eat. Always has, always will. But at that banquet there are not going to be some seats that are better, or some people that everyone wants to share a table with. And Jesus surely isn’t going to be looking for the dignitaries, because that will be a category that no longer exists, or maybe everybody is a dignitary.

School cafeterias are tough places. They are living parables of the kind of world that we have created for our children. Churches, at times, aren’t much better. The Church has been as strident as most institutions in maintaining separation between people in this world. Contrary to everything Jesus taught, and often in his name, we have created a whole list of people who aren’t supposed to be at the banquet, or sit at our table.

But things don’t have to stay that way, Jesus says. We just need to remember him and who he ate with, and how he wants to eat with us, sit at our table.

We read that the first followers of Jesus ate their meals together with glad and joyful hearts. Jesus brings chaos to the lunch room so something new can be created.

We’ve experienced that chaos in this congregation. We eat a lot with each other around here. And our eating together downstairs or around our own dining room tables is as sacred as the meal we are about to share in this room. The most surprising people end up at the same table and we remember Jesus who brings all of his wonderful chaos into this world and our lives.