Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 15, 2018

2018.04.15 “How Will We Know It’s Jesus?”

Central United Methodist Church
How Will We Know It’s Jesus?
Luke 24: 36 – 48
The 3rd Sunday of Easter<
April 15th, 2018

Christ a Apostles

“Appearance of the Risen Christ Surrounded by the Apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308/11”

As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” – Luke 24: 36 – 48, the New Revised Standard Version

As I prepare to conclude my professional ministry, there are many ways I could quantify it, such as churches I have served, people I have known, sermons I have preached, meetings I have attended. But one of my favorite ways would be: meals I have eaten.

When I preached in rural churches 50 years ago, I can still remember those dinners in family homes, mostly farmers, even though I barely remember the churches, and nobody remembers the sermons.

In my first church in Memphis, we had a weekly Wednesday night Fellowship dinner. Bessie, a wonderful African-American woman, came in every Wednesday morning to prepare the meal. I still have Bessie’s recipe for dinner rolls; unfortunately, it makes 130 of them, so I’ve been trying to divide it by 10 now for about forty years. (If I ever do make the full recipe, you are all invited!). Not every meal was a feast, every time I’m in the south and drive by a Krystal Burger, I remember once having lunch there with a friend and parishioner named Dale Bradley, an older woman from Mississippi.

When I came to Chicago, thanks to church diversity, my gastronomic appreciation expanded and I learned to eat internationally: Filipino, Indian, Mexican, Korean, Caribbean, and African food all became part of the menu. What’s church food without a little spice?

In West Chicago, when we built a new church, we knew we were ready to be a church not only when we figured out how to make a portable altar in the fellowship hall/homeless shelter/ sanctuary/multipurpose room, but also when the new stove arrived. You got an altar, you got a stove, you can be a church.

Here at Central, as you know, our church potlucks are also international. Not only the fabulous potlucks we share, but also those of the other five congregations who share our building. I have always said you can tell who worshiped here last by the smell of food in the building. We may not rival McDonald’s with billions served, but we’ve served thousands, and with better food at that.

In church, we can’t talk about eating together socially without also talking about eating together sacramentally. (There is a difference, but the line is thin.) With people attending who don’t speak English, our every Sunday Holy Communion is for them – and for all of us – a weekly means of grace, no matter what language we speak. I will always cherish the memory of all the color of the hands, of you, the people of Central, to whom I have offered each week the body and blood of Christ.

Eating together – both socially and sacramentally – has been an essential part of Christian faith from the beginning. As an example of this, in today’s Gospel, eating is the way Jesus disciples knew they were in the company of Christ.

Even though we are two weeks past Easter, in today’s reading it is still the first Easter day. Every year I ask myself why we read over-and-again these post-Easter stories. Perhaps the answer is, that in these stories Jesus’ disciples are filled with questions, just as we are still filled with questions. What happened? What does it mean? What do we do now? Do we continue where we left off or start all over? Will Jesus go away and leave us again? What will happen to us? Will anybody believe this? Will we be resurrected as Jesus was?

They ask these questions because not only have the women returned from the empty tomb with news that Christ is risen, but two other disciples have returned from a round trip to Emmaus, during which they also encountered Jesus. The way this mysterious stranger talked about the Scriptures made their hearts burn within them, but it was only when they sat down to eat at the end of the day – when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them – that they realized WHO he was. They were so overjoyed that they walked all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the other.

Then, it happened again; suddenly, Jesus was there, startling them; they thought he was a ghost! At first, he offered them the Doubting Thomas option: “See my hands and my feet, that it is me; handle me, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see.” But that didn’t do it – don’t you love how Luke puts it? “While they were disbelieving in joy,” (which sounds like a lot of church people I have known), Jesus asks the dreaded question all cooks hate: “What’s for dinner?” Fortunately, no one said, “I don’t know Master; what are you making? Evidently, fish was on the menu; they handed him a fish and he ate it, right before their eyes, like Julia Child at the end of a cooking demonstration.

Then their eyes were opened and they knew it was Jesus because – after all – he was only doing what he always did: he ate with people. He ate at the home of Martha and Mary, and with Simon the Pharisee. He observed the behavior of the respectable at banquets, and ate with the disreputable in public. He told a parable about a father who threw a feast for his son, and another a rich man who refused to share even his crumbs with a beggar named Lazarus.

No wonder Jesus complained, “John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Luke 7: 34-35, The Message). Even now, the question Jesus asks of us is not so much, “Will you baptize them?”, as “Will you eat with them?” This would prove to be a immediate test between Jews and Gentiles in the early church, but even now, after 20 centuries, though the divisions have changed, it is still a question that awaits resolution; not just who will you allow, but who will you welcome, and eat with?

Only then did Jesus began to wrap things up, explaining the Scriptures, completing the story which God had intended from the beginning, commissioning them to be the witnesses of all they had seen and heard: “You are witnesses of these things.”

They were the witnesses then, but we are the witnesses now, although in a different way. We weren’t there like they were to walk with and listen to and eat with Jesus, but we still have his words, we are still eating with him, and we are still completing his story, God’s story. I like how Kristen Bargeron Grant, a United Methodist pastor in St. Paul, MN, once described what it means for us to witness for Christ today:

“We are witnesses when we can invite someone to look into our homes, our families, our friendships, our work, our checkbook, our daytimer — and find Jesus there. We are witnesses when we allow ourselves to be touched by folks who are lost and afraid. We are witnesses when we live in a way that defies any explanation other than the presence of the risen Christ within us. Look, touch, see, believe! It isn’t a ghost. It’s the living God.” (Fresh Evidence, Living by the Word, the Christian Century magazine, April 19, 2003)

If we don’t do this, if we don’t welcome others and eat with them in Jesus’ name, if we don’t share our witness of what we have seen and heard regarding the Jesus story in the world today, well, I have always liked the modern-day parable told by the late Fred Craddock, of what might happen. He recounts:

The first little church I served was in the eastern Tennessee hills, not too far from Oak Ridge. When Oak Ridge began to boom with the atomic energy, that little bitty town became a booming city just overnight. Every hill and every valley and every sandy grove had recreational vehicles and trucks and things like that. People came in from everywhere and pitched tents, lived in wagons. Hard hats from everywhere, with their families and children paddling around in those trailer parks, lived in everything temporarily to work. Our church was not far away. We had a beautiful little church – white frame building, one hundred and twelve years old.  The church had an organ in the corner, which one of the young fellows had to pump while Ms. Lois played it. Boy, she could play the songs just as slow as anybody.

The church had beautifully decorated chimneys, kerosene lamps all around the walls, and every pew in this little church was hewn, hand hewn, from a giant poplar tree.  After church one Sunday morning I asked the leaders to stay. I said to them, “now we need to launch a calling campaign and an invitational campaign in all those trailer parks to invite those people to church.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they’d fit in here,” one of them said. “They’re just here temporarily, just construction people. They’ll be leaving pretty soon.”

“Well, we ought to invite them, make them feel at home,” I said.

We argued about it, time ran out, and we said we’d vote next Sunday. Next Sunday, we all sat down after the service. “I move,” said one of them, “I move that in order to be a member of his church, you must own property in the county.”

Someone else said, “I second that.”  It passed. I voted against it, but they reminded me that I was just a kid preacher and I didn’t have a vote. It passed.

When we moved back to those parts, I took my wife to see that little church, because I had told her that painful, painful, story.

The roads have changed. The interstate goes through that part of the country, so I had a hard time finding it, but I finally did.  I found the state road, the county road, and the little gravel road. Then there, back among the pines, was that building shining white. It was different. The parking lot was full – motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there.  And out front, a great big sign: “Barbecue, all you can eat.”  It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all of these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs – all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, “It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.” (Craddock Stories, p. 28 – 29).

How will we know Jesus is among us? When we eat together, with friends and strangers, in his presence. In the name of Jesus, who will you eat with this week?

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