Krista Ducker, 5/20/22 Opening slide: Introduction: “When Jesus Shows Up” Scripture: John 21:1-14
We have already come across this chapter in this series; just a few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ re-commissioning of Peter, which happens after today’s passage in verses 15-19 of John chapter 21. Remember that Jesus’ words to Peter are forward-looking; Jesus gives Peter the three chances to once again profess his love for Jesus and he commissions him with the command; “feed my sheep.” So there is something happening in this Johannine epilogue that shifts the focus from what Jesus has done, to what the disciples are now going to do. And what I would like to suggest is that, as is always the case with Jesus, the process is as important as the teaching. We know this to be true; the words of Jesus cannot be separated from the way of Jesus. Put another way, how Jesus teaches is as important as what Jesus teaches. So I’d like us to look together at the how of this miraculous encounter. What happens when Jesus shows up, and what can we learn from the how of Jesus’ interaction with his followers. And I have a request for you today; as we dive into the story, don’t just dissect it with your intellect it--feel it in your heart. Imagine in your mind’s eye the scene as it unfolds before us. Smell the salt air and the scent of fresh-caught fish.So what do we notice when Jesus shows up in this story? I think the first thing we notice is what happens before Jesus gets there. It’s an early morning at the edge of the Sea of Tiberias. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples were together. And notice what it says in verse 3: Peter declares to the group; “I am going fishing.” Not; “Let’s go fishing” or “Do you guys want to fish with me?” No; “I am going fishing.” And then notice what his companions say right back to him; “We will go with you.” This may seem like a small, insignificant narrative detail. But remember where Peter is in this story. He made perhaps the three biggest mistakes in his life when he denied Jesus over the course of the crucifixion. This interchange happens in the moments before he is graciously re-commissioned. He could be riddled with shame and guilt; not sure where he stands with his friends. Perhaps so ashamed that he couldn’t even assume they would want to go fishing with him. So in a way he offers them the opportunity to say no. “I’m going fishing.” perhaps underneath that statement is a hidden hope that his friends might choose to join him; and they do. A small act of solidarity among friends. I wonder whether this small, loving act could be read as evidence of the Holy Spirit already at work among them. Think about it; In the chapter preceding this one, the risen Christ appears to these very men and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them (20:22; “Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This competitive group, so ready in previous months and days to jockey with each other for position, in this moment receive their friend; “you will not go alone. We will go with you.” It is a small and significant mercy. And what we learn is that when Jesus shows up, the broken are befriended.
Peter was not shunned. His friends showed up for him. And he was not left alone. In much the same way that Jesus came alongside the Samaritan Woman at the well, these disciples came alongside Peter in solidarity and friendship. And then Jesus himself showed up in the flesh; but as was the case with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the disciples journeying to Emmaus, the disciples didn’t recognize him at first. It took a miracle to open their eyes; but not just any miracle. A particular one; a miracle that met their need. Verses 5-6 tell us that Jesus, observing form the shore, comments; “children, you have no fish, have you?” When they answer that yes, in fact, they don’t have any fish, Jesus invites them to cast their nets one more time, and suddenly the net fills with one hundred and fifty-three fish, the text tells us. It is then, finally, that they recognize Jesus. As we observe Jesus’ way with the disciples in this passage we notice a second characteristic that happens when Jesus shows up: Needs are met. Specific, particular needs; and they are met in such a way that it becomes clear to all involved that Jesus is behind it. Specific, particular needs; and they are met in such a way that it becomes clear to all involved that Jesus is behind it. A third thing we notice when we observe Jesus’ way in this encounter is that the hungry are fed…
It’s interesting isn’t it, that meals at table play such a prominent role in Jesus’ resurrection appearances. If we look at all the appearances of the risen Christ that happen after the empty tomb, we notice that they happen around tables; in Mark 16:14, he meets the disciples as they are seated around a table. In Luke he reveals himself to the disciples in Emmaus as they break bread together, and then he appears to the whole group of disciples and ate food to show he was real. And of course here in John, he appears to the disciples as they are working on the water and cooks for them himself. If, as we read so many times in scripture, Jesus’ way of teaching is particular and intentional, with every word and action pregnant with meaning, then this must not be a coincidence. Jesus’ way is to feed the hungry; not just physically, but spiritually, as we see he does with Peter in the next passage. When Jesus shows up, the hungry are fed; and fed abundantly. Remember how Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana; his first miracle. How he fed thousands with just a few fish and some bread. Where Jesus shows up there is abundance; Jesus’ way is one of extravagant hospitality--his is the way of more than enough. There are many ways to hunger; and perhaps it is true that the simplest way to show we have love to give is in the sharing of our food. Think of the conversations that might spring up around a table generously shared; what deeper needs might become evident once the need for the nourishment of our bodies is met. When is the last time you opened your table? What happened? What might happen next time? We serve such a generous God. Take a moment to place yourself in the story. Jesus quietly observes his friends out on the boat; perhaps he noticed their loving response to Peter earlier that morning. He sees the empty net. Gently inquiring, he playfully urges them to lower their net just one more time. He laughs with them in delight when they finally realize who it is as their net strains to hold its catch. Then while they are busy hauling in their huge haul, he goes about the quiet work of building the fire; perhaps the disciples feel the warmth of it as they come in from the water’s chill. They hear the hissing and crackling of the wood and see the warm, welcoming face of their friend and their Messiah, inviting them to breakfast. What better way to give courage to these men, who have been through so much and yet still have so much to do? Jesus offers them the simplest thing in the world--love, in the form of fish, bread, and a warm fire. John 20 tells us that in the first meeting the risen Jesus has with his disciples in a room darkened by fear, Jesus blesses his friends with peace; he commissions them and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them. And then, it seems, the story ends; but for this wonderful little epilogue in chapter 21, where we learn the character of jesus’ way in the world--a way that has been passed on to us, the church. In much the same way that Peter and the disciples find their brokenness healed, their needs met, and their hunger satisfied, so we can be nourished, healed and provided for as we grow to know Jesus better. Where is there brokenness in your life? What is the empty net in your life? Where are you hungry? Jesus wants to come to you, meet your need and nourish you today--and he invites you to do the same to others. This is why we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Not only do we have hope; we can pass that hope on to others. What does it look like when Jesus shows up? This is true for you; it is true for me; and it is true for everyone. May we not keep this good news to ourselves, but surprise those around us with the generous, abundant grace of God in Jesus Christ, as we listen for and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Pastoral PrayerLord, save us from ourselves.We continue to do the same things over and over,expecting different results.Lord, save us from doing too much.We go fishing every day,not noticing you waiting with a meal on the beach. Lord, save us from doing too little.We say we love you,and yet so often we neglect your sheep.Lord, save us from ourselves.Help us to hear and respond when you say, "Follow Me." Lord, in our mind’s eye we imagine you, smiling over a crackling fire, offering us nourishment after hours of hard work. A friend and savior; a walking miracle; God with us. Help us to receive your smile of love washing over us; reminding us that we are loved; and not only us but the whole world. Your fire beckons all of us to come and be fed. Your Spirit invites us to go and feed others; “feed my sheep” you told Peter. And so, may we open our tables, stoke our fires, and offer your nourishment to a hungry world. We pray these things in the name of Jesus as together we pray the prayer our savior taught us…. Lord’s PrayerOur Father who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come.Thy will be doneon earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us,and lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory,forever and ever.Amen. Benediction: I share this Celtic blessing with you as we depart from this place: May God bless the world in which you move,and bless your home and bless your friends.May God bless the eyes with which you see,and bless the ears with which you listen.May God bless the way you use your hands,bless the way you employ your tongues.And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. In the name of Christ: AMEN.
“That They May be One” Scripture reading John 17: 17-23 17 When Jesus finished saying these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. … 6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth. 20 “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. 21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.
I am deeply moved by the way our community responded to Thursday’s storm. I have seen amazing generosity and kindness shown to one another by the residents of our city: (Anyone experience kindness?) Let me tell you my story: Jenny and I were out walking around Hillside Park on Thursday afternoon – at 5pm (I know – we thought that we would have time for a walk before the storm arrived). We saw the cloud and turned back home – and the siren went off. A group of students opened their door and invited us to shelter inside of their home
This weekend I saw a City where people worked together to make life better for everyone. No division, no one demanding to be helped first – just people helping people. And here is the sad thing – the fact that I am struck by the human co-operation is a comment on how we have become as a society: Sadly, the Pandemic seems to have bent us out of shape. We have become distant from each other / individuals have allowed themselves to say offensive things on social media / and we have begun to see division and meanness as a normal way of life. But this past weekend has shown me that deep down, we are better than this. And I was reminded of the prayer of Jesus in John 17: What we have is a summary of what was on the heart of Jesus : here is the most important thing that Jesus wished for at the end of his ministry: And Jesus says these words three times: 21 I pray they will be one, Father 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one.
Jesus prays that his disciples may be one. But it is not as simple as this - because the disciples were not a homogenous group. Some were fishermen, some were the sons of a business owner, one worked for the IRS, while another worked for the revolutionary forces trying to overturn the Roman government. Some came from rural Galilean roots, one had a Greek background, and one was thought to be Syrian. There were men and women, some were wealthy, most were poor, some were religious, and one was a thief. Jesus had been key to holding this group together – and he worried about their unity if he was not around. 21 I pray they will be one, Father
Jesus is not the first to try to keep a group of people together: This has been the challenge of every King, President, General – and the mother of every family on earth. I can still recall my mother saying to our family “If you don’t stop arguing I am going to send you to bed without supper.” People have come up with various solutions for maintaining unity in groups – if you discount the threat of starving the kids… Some have suggested that the group needs to have a common language or share a common culture – politicians throughout history have said that the only way a nation can be united is to make laws that impose the same beliefs on everyone / often followed by “we need to prosecute people who have a different view”.
In contrast to the externally imposed beliefs – many of us choose to keep our views to ourselves. We seek unity by avoiding disagreement at all costs: We refuse to touch any of the “hot button issues” and so we do not speak about politics, we do not speak about history and especially we avoid speaking about race. All this in the hope that this will keep us all together.
This was my experience in my growing up: I come from South Africa. We had a political system called Apartheid: which was a system of laws that imposed a particular kind of Christian nationalism on the country. Truth be told it mostly kept the white people in charge and the black people as servants of the whites.. And the system needed the military to impose law and order. And it required police to keep the people quiet. It did not work – it just kept us all angry with each other
Imposing unity by law is understandable – but it is not Christian.
Jesus prays for unity – but he is not praying for uniformity. The unity that Jesus was praying about had nothing to do with having a common language, or a common culture. Neither did it have anything to do with avoiding difficult issues.
Jesus knew this one truth: being united as one, was the result of hearing God’s calling to serve. These memorable words from Jesus: 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. The disciples knew that they were a diverse group. But they also knew that they had been called by God – and sent to serve the community.
The United Methodist Church has embraced this as our practice: we refer to ourselves as “a big tent” – meaning that there is space for people of different languages, races, cultures and theological positions. We do not try to make everyone do things exactly the same – in fact our motto is quite clear: “Open hearts / open minds / open doors” Everyone is welcome – the thing that binds us is the call of God on our lives. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, said that to be faithful to Jesus is not about us all saying the same thing: ‘orthodoxy, or right opinions, is at best a slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part at all,’
Recently some people have formed a new Methodist Church – which they have called the Global Methodist Church. This is an attempt to create a church where everyone thinks the same, and believes the same. This is understandable – but definitely not Methodist. And Brookings FUMC will not be joining them….
….because our unity is not found in trying to make everyone think and say the same thing. We have old and young / conservative and progressive / academics and farmers. We are diverse – but we are united in our love of God – and our desire to share the love of Jesus with our community.
This is what I saw these past few days: a diverse community of people who were united in serving our community.. I pray that it was not just a thing for the storm. I am inviting us to let this be the character of our city. Let this be the character of our church. And let this be the character of our families. Let us be diverse / let us have different opinions / different histories / different races – but nevertheless let us be united by our desire to serve God.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene John Chapter 20. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[a] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. Introduction:
Today I want to reflect on the power of calling someone by name – Do you have preferences in the way someone else speaks your name? More importantly – can you detect how someone is feeling based on the way that person says your name? That goes for me – and my mother. When she was angry I would get my full name: “Peter” : and if she was really mad then it was all three names…..
Today’s story from the Gospel of John is a story about calling someone by name: Mary Magdalene is a disciple of Jesus. And Jesus calls her name.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary was one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry from her private reserves. So, she was probably wealthy. The same passage also states that seven demons had been driven out of her, which points to a person who has been healed from a troubled past.
Mary was a woman of courage. When Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples ran away. Mary did not, and she stood at the foot of the cross in a public show of support for Jesus. And now she is at his tomb, early Easter Sunday morning – to pay her last respects. Only – Jesus body is not in the tomb. And she finally breaks down in despair: she held it together for his crucifixion, and his burial – but now she cannot keep going. And so we find her crying in the garden.
And Jesus finds her in the garden. Here is the amazing thing about Jesus: he does not rebuke her for crying. He does not tell her that she lacks faith / or that she is weak / or that she must pull herself together… He does something else entirely: he calls her name…. John 20 vs 16: 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
A name she had heard thousands of times – but never with such love and concern. And I see the effect that this had on her:
Mary moves from tearful hopelessness to a newly resurrected hope.
I am offering this story to us today as an invitation to hear Jesus calling our names with the same love and compassion. Because….. Saying someone’s name is sacred: it can move someone from hopelessness to newly resurrected hope. The Bible is filled with stories of saying names: Genesis 1 tells us that God named “light,” and “land” and “stars” and “sea.” Naming is a Godly activity that created our world from a dark, hopeless nothingness. Genesis 2:19 tells us that after creating the wild animals and birds, God brought them to the man to give names to each one. Naming is a sacred task done in partnership with God. God called Abram and Jacob and Simon, and then re-named them Abraham and Israel and Peter -- their names marking a dramatic shift in the direction of their life, a new orientation, a new mission, a new way of life bound in faith to the God who named them. Naming is a Godly activity. Naming is what gives new dignity, and renewed life. Many of us have incorrectly taken on labels as our names. Maybe we have been labeled a “loser” or a “dropout” or “stupid.” Maybe we’ve labeled ourselves “unattractive” or “over- weight” or “undesirable.” But God doesn’t settle for labels that limit. Instead, God gives us names that call us into a new Godly identity crafted just for us. God sees us individually, has good plans for us individually, and wants us to have a distinct name, purpose, and calling. I wonder if mislabeling yourself has prevented you from knowing that you are loved by God. Today, we as a church are invited to remember the extraordinary power of speaking a name over someone. We will do this by baptizing two young people – and speaking out their names. We will do this by saying the names of those who are to confirm their baptism as infants.
For those being confirmed: Hear Jesus saying your name because he knows you… He made you with care, and is calling you today to follow him. Today you can choose to trust that he has your future in his hands. Like Mary you can respond with the words :”Rabboni” – Teacher – teach me the way to live.
And for the rest of us – be reminded of our own confirmation – of our names being called, and us saying : Jesus I am here for you. And alongside our given family name comes this one powerful name: “beloved child of God.”
But I would fail us if I left us here: I believe that Jesus sets an example for us to follow: We are challenged to speak the names of other people with the same kindness and compassion that he used when spoke Mary’s name. Let us speak the names of the people we meet with warmth and Kindness… Let us speak the names of people in a way that moves them from sadness to joy Let other people know that they are loved.
You who are being Baptized & Confirmed will hear your name called out by Gretchen – but perhaps today you can hear your name called by Jesus: Hear Jesus saying your name with love and joy
Think for a moment about how you might respond; would you respond with; “Nah, I’m good. I don’t need to know.” “It’s okay, just keep it to yourself.” Of course not! your ears perk up; you know you’re going to hear about something extraordinary--maybe you’re even the first to hear it. So you’re all ears. Nobody says something like this and follows it up with something boring, like:
“You’re not going to believe what I just saw. There was a guy at that picnic table over there? You know the one under the tree? And you know what he was doing? He was EATING A SANDWICH. Right there. I saw it with my own eyes!”
Nobody says something boring after that phrase. It’s more like; “You’re not going to believe what I just saw; there was a dog riding a skateboard.” Whatever it is, you know that a person who says “You’re not going to believe what I just saw” has a story to tell. They are a witness to something extraordinary.
A witness is made when something extraordinary happens, they see it, and they tell the story.
It is a heavy thing to bear witness;
A witness is one who testifies to their presence and attention in a particular moment in time when something extraordinary happens. A witness stands up in a moment of uncertainty and says; “I was there. I saw it. This is what happened.”
This is the kind of moment that met the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus on that early Easter morning so long ago. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women who were with them had come to the tomb to finish the customary burial rituals they had begun to prepare before the sabbath. While surely this was a sad and difficult moment for them, it would not have been out of the ordinary. This ritual happened every time someone died; it was simply what the women always did.
But when they arrived at the tomb, we are told, something very out-of-the-ordinary happened. They found the tomb empty, and the stone rolled away from the entrance. Then they were met by two men in dazzling clothes, who told them the body wasn’t there; that Jesus had risen, just as he said he would. And at this moment; something fundamentally changed; these women became witness-bearers. They now carried with them the weight of a story only they could tell; for only they had seen it.
And what is characteristic about Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ resurrection, is that the stories keep coming in rapid succession, like an action film. In Luke’s telling, we are led from one scene to another as the resurrection story gets out; after he hears the women’s account, Peter runs to the tomb to find it empty just as they had said. He goes home amazed. Then Luke tells us that on that same day two of those who had been with the women and heard the story were talking about it on the way to Emmaus, when they were met by a man who asked them what they were talking about. So they bore witness to this man, they told the story, and the man turned out to be Jesus himself!
They broke bread together, and then Jesus disappeared from their presence. So immediately, “that very hour” the text says, they got up and went to the rest of Jesus’ followers and told them what had just happened. I can just imagine them rushing into the room and blurting out; “You’re not going to believe what just happened.”
Then in the very moment that they were discussing this together, Jesus himself appeared to them. He showed them the scars on his hands and feet, ate some fish, and then gave them the greatest commission of all. He told them;
As I read chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel, I am struck by the way Jesus appears to these disciples, these dear and beloved friends of his. It’s like he is giving them opportunities to articulate for themselves the wonder of what is happening, as it is happening. First, the women; then the two men on the road to Emmaus; then the disciples who can’t help but chatter amongst themselves in wonder Jesus could have appeared to everyone all at once; but he doesn’t. It’s like Jesus is giving them a chance to practice the art of bearing witness for themselves; so that the story is not just Jesus’ story--it is their story too.
Luke’s gospel concludes by telling us that these newly commissioned witnesses…
Friends, the message Jesus gave to his disciples is the same one that he gives us today; “we are witnesses to these things.”
We have a great story to tell! A story of one who patiently walked alongside us, sharing in the dust and grime of ordinary life, lifting up those who had been ignored and left behind, healing and restoring, bringing new life into dead places and finally conquering death himself so that we might have eternal life. This is the story of Easter.
So what is your story?
Perhaps today is a day when you have found it hard to be joyful.
Challenge after challenge seem to come your way. You try to do all the right things and make good choices, and yet, you find yourself empty, like the men on the road to Emmaus who said; “But we had hoped he was the one.” We had hoped things would be different. Maybe you’re there today; confused that things have not turned out the way you expected. Allow Jesus to reveal himself to you in these moments of worship. Trust that the risen Lord is bringing new life to you.
Perhaps you have been through a recent devastating loss;
like the women rising on that first Easter morning you are going through the motions, doing what is expected, all the while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. May you find in the resurrection story the hope that reminds you that God brings life out of death in ways you might find hard to believe at first; but that are nonetheless real and true.
Maybe, like Peter you’ve heard the story and you’ve come to see for yourself. I hope that like Peter you might be surprised to find an empty tomb bereft of its prize; I pray you find in this blessed sanctuary a room crammed with joyful witnesses, an invitation to believe, and the courage to tell your very own resurrection story.
As we approach the table of the Lord on this Resurrection Day, hear this, beloved of God; Christ invites all to come to his table who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. In the United Methodist church we practice an open table; we do not put limits on whom God invites to God’s table. And so, all are welcome to come, be nourished, and be made new as we share in this outward sign of God’s inward redeeming grace. Do you love him? Do you seek forgiveness? Do you seek peace with your neighbor? Come and be fed.
Setting: a meal at the home of Levi, one of the new disciples; He is also known as Matthew. To understand the radical nature of this meal, we must go back to the passage just before it. Let me offer a dramatic representation of this, from the series the Chosen: Jesus is with his disciples as he comes upon Levi Matthew in the tax booth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IUL9yq0We8 (up to “Get used to different”, at about 2 minutes)
What is not only radical is that Jesus is at Levi’s house, but that Levi offers this hospitality and Jesus received it. The first thing Levi thinks of upon accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him is to get everybody together for a party. Remind you of anyone? Zaccheus does the same thing in John chapter 3. What we learn from these stories is that the instinctive response to being chosen by God is to celebrate--to get people together and rejoice. This is the nature of radical hospitality; it is spontaneous, celebratory, exultant and inclusive.
Sometimes we can make assumptions in our relationships about who is sick and who is well. As we open ourselves to radical hospitality, both in the giving and the receiving, God begins to gently open up the sick parts of us to healing from surprising places and people.
Nouwen was opened up to a new level of spiritual intimacy and vulnerability when he was led to serve at L’Arche Daybreak, a home for those with physical and mental disabilities in Canada.After straining and striving in the hallowed academic halls of Yale and Harvard, he found himself among those facing enormous challenges in navigating the very simplest tasks of daily life. There he met Adam, about whom he writes;
I think about the community Nouwen describes here, and compare it to times when I’ve been in professional gatherings. Many of us have gone to them; they may be organized around a particular profession, or an academic discipline or a business venture; I find when I have attended these things I sort of grit my teeth through the posturing and the preening, as we all try to “make an impression” or “get noticed”; pass around business cards or instagram handles and do our best to look successful. It’s exhausting. You know what the best part of those gatherings is? After all the formal sessions. When people gather in groups of haggard people, tired of the show, and be themselves.
Intimacy is not fostered in great halls of power but in quiet side rooms where people allow themselves to be vulnerable, in a community of the weak.
In our text today, Jesus receives the radical hospitality of Levi Matthew the tax collector. He reclines at table with those the powerful people ignore, overlook, judge, or ridicule. He enters into spiritual intimacy around food and drink in a community of the weak. It is his way. And it makes no sense to the powerful people in town.
I’m sure there were many who raised their eyebrows at the Harvard and Yale professor who left the halls of academic prestige and influence to spend his days with those who struggled to get dressed in the morning. But thiat is the way of Christ. And Nouwen found in community with them that vulnerability leads to solidarity--when all are included, all are built up and encouraged in the Body of Christ.
It is the first Sunday of the month, and as such it is our custom here at Brookings First UMC to celebrate communion. There is a distinctively Methodist practice when it comes to communion that demonstrates our commitment to Jesus’ radically inclusive way in the world. We practice an open table. Consider the scene at Levi’s house on that joyful evening. He invited all his friends. The disciples were there. Jesus were there. All were welcome, even the scribes and Pharisees if they could have stopped looking down their noses at these people long enough to see them. All were welcome around the joyful table of radical hospitality, this rowdy, celebrating group of misfits. This is the way of Jesus; it is the way of shocking welcome, of arms wide open, of spiritual intimacy and open communion.
IN her book Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans said;
As we gather around our communion tables, whether it be here or in our homes, we are practicing the radical hospitality, the spiritual intimacy, and the open communion that are hallmark’s of Jesus ministry on earth. The sacrament of communion opens us up to communion with God and communion with one another as we share the bread and the wine; as we remember the body broken and the blood poured out. We celebrate, we remember, we give thanks. It is a most intimate, incarnational act.
What does it look like to be a community of the weak? It looks like saying “yes” when Jesus meets us along the way of our lives and calls out; ‘Follow me.” It looks like sitting down at the table of abundance with no one left out and always room for more. It looks receiving the gift of one another, letting our hair down, and passing the bread and cup. As we come to the table today, know this; you are welcome. You are always welcome. Come and celebrate the feast of Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord as we gather around this wonderful meal everywhere and in every place; bless us all your children. As we eat this bread and drink this cup linking arms around the world, pour your grace into us all. Grace us with your presence as we quietly and loudly pray to you. May we see in each other your light, your love and you. May it not matter our differences, our names, our languages, our looks, and our way of doing things. May what matter today and everyday be that we are one in you. And as we pray many we call to mind our brothers and sisters who are unable to be with us today whether in body or spirit. May you bring comfort to those who are grieving, lonely, heartbroken, ill or broken of spirit. May you strengthen those whose lives feel shattered, don’t make sense, in crisis, and experiencing loss. May you say the healing word to those who need it. May you bring the human touch of love to those who have not been touched. May you love the unloved through us. May you shine your light into those whose world is covered in darkness. May you use us to feed the hungry, clothe the ones who need clothes, give a cup of water to those who are thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and those in prison. May our lives be awakened to you, Lord, to your love and to your kingdom whose door is always open to all. Amen. (introduce Closing song) Benediction: Go in peace and may God’s peace go with you; and may you bring bring hope and healing and radical welcome to all whom you meet. AMEN.