“Sunday Dinner with the Family of God”

2 Corinthians 11:23-26

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

October 5, 2014

 

Bobby was Steve’s best friend in Junior High School.  They had a lot of good times together playing sports, eating meals together in the cafeteria at school and in Paradise Sweet Shoppe after basketball games.

 

Their families were different.  Bobby’s father owned the Clothes Locker – a classy children’s clothing store.  Everything in the store was fairly expensive.  Steve’s family didn’t shop there.

 

Bobby’s mother didn’t work, but she dressed!  She was probably the best-dressed woman in town.  She wore make-up and wore it well.  She was probably the best made-up woman in town.  Her hair was always styled to perfection.  She was probably the best coiffed woman in town – at least in Bobby’s eyes.

 

Steve heard that their house was spotless inside, and the furniture never sat on.  Bobby didn’t know because it was years before they let him go past the back door of the house.  This might’ve been so, because Steve usually smelled like a barn.  Finally, Steve got an invitation over to Bobby’s for dinner.  He was nervous, because he knew it would be different than at his house.  Bobby’s mother spoke very politely and firmly that he and Bobby should go and wash their hands before supper.

 

They sat down at an elegant dining room table.  It had a white lace tablecloth, and Steve was afraid he’d spill something on it!  Everyone had matching tumblers instead of jelly glasses.  The milk was in a pitcher instead of a bottle.  There were fancy little dishes for the ketchup and mustard.  There were two forks, and Steve couldn’t imagine why.  Each place had a cloth napkin that Steve had only seen on Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas.  Steve’s family shared a couple of dishtowels!  It was fairly quiet with stilted conversation with the adults doing all of the talking.  The message was clear that the kids weren’t to talk.  There wasn’t much nonsense or superfluous talk.  When anyone wanted anything, it was “Please pass the butter.”  The response was “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”  After dinner Steve asked Bobby if it was always like that, and he said it was a regular evening meal.  Steve survived it!

 

Shortly, Steve invited Bobby over to his house for dinner.  Bobby had been in and out of Steve’s house many times, because his mother had no restrictions.  Steve’s dad threatened to put in a revolving door to cut down on the heat loss and help with traffic.  Bobby had grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from time to time on the run but had never had a real sit-down meal.

 

The night Bobby came for dinner, they had hamburgers and buns, French fries, and corn on the cob – a rather extravagant meal for them.  There was a crowd at the table – Steve, his mother and father, three sisters, two cousins from next door, and Bobby!  They crowded around the kitchen table, for the dining room table was used only for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas.

 

The noise level was high, and Steve’s mom was standing at the stove frying the hamburgers in two cast iron skillets, frying the French fries over another burner, and boiling the corn over a fourth. Between the talking and the cooking it was pretty noisy.  Bobby looked stunned!  Steve’s mom put a plate of hamburgers on the table along with a plate of French fries.  They were gone before Bobby could move!  At their farmhouse kitchen table, it was every person for themselves!  Bobby was quicker when the second batch arrived!  There weren’t a lot of “pleases” and “thank yous” or “you're welcomes.”  Steve’s mother encouraged manners, but they didn’t happen always.  The space above the table was filled with the sounds of eating and talking and hands and arms flying everywhere reaching for food.  Occasionally, there was a “salt” or “butter.”  There was one fork and jelly glasses, a ketchup bottle and a mustard jar on the table.  It was different from the dinner Steve had at Bobby’s, but he survived it.  Bobby probably approached dinner at Steve’s with as much fear and trembling and Steve had when he went to Bobby’s for dinner.

 

Everything was new and different.  That’s not to say it was right or wrong.  It was just different.  Bobby and Steve shared a meal together – the food and the experience.

 

Bobby died of cancer, and Steve misses his best junior high school friend.

 

Sitting around the table over the Christmas holidays with in-laws, with everyone talking excitedly, and grabbing the ketchup and mustard – with none of the glasses matching – Bobby came to mind.  Suddenly, Bobby sprang to life in Steve’s heart.  Here it was in the midst of a holiday meal.  Here it was in the midst of a meal that Bobby wasn’t even present for, Bobby was suddenly, momentarily real.  The meal and the setting made him real for Steve.

 

Someone once said that what distinguishes humans from the other animals is the capacity to make meaning.  We are meaning makers.  We mint a dime and say that stands for ten pennies.  We design a flag and say when you see it salute it, for stands for our country.  We write a wedding ceremony to unite two persons as life’s companions.  We are the ones who turn a tree into a Christmas tree.  We turn a band of gold into a commitment, a song into a national anthem.  Other animals can’t do that.

 

Meaning, though, isn’t something we give only, but it is something we get.  We gain from it.  We give meaning to our flag and get a sense of pride when we watch as it is raised over an Olympic Athlete.  We gain because we have allowed that object to become meaningful in our lives.

 

Sometimes the meaning isn’t tied to the object but is attached to a familiar ritual: Funeral – a ritual that allows us to begin healthy grieving, family Thanksgiving Dinner – a ritual that may have meaning for many of us – over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.

 

When we ascribe meaning to certain objects and rituals, it allows the mysterious, the incomprehensible, the intangible to become somehow real to us.  The Vietnam War becomes very real when those who weren’t over there see the Wall – the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC.  The Wall isn’t the war or the sacrifice, but it is a powerful symbol that can conjure up incredible memories and emotion to affect our lives.  The reality of God’s love becomes visible when enacted out as Nativity drama.  Seeing the Mona Lisa or singing Handel’s Messiah, or receiving an award by allowing us to extract meaning can make something invisible real.

 

That’s what we are doing here today.  We’re sharing a meal called Communion.  There’s not a lot of food here, so we aren’t sharing it for the food we get.  We share it to extract and share the meaning.

 

William Willimon, a professor at Duke, writes about Communion and refers to it as “Sunday Dinner.”  What an image – Sunday Dinner.  We are all here like a family to share Sunday dinner.

 

We’ll be fed, but something more will happen.   The invisible, the intangible, the mysterious will somehow become suddenly real.  Some will experience the real presence of God.  Some will experience a sense of family.  Some will experience a sense of security, of belonging to something larger than themselves.  Part of this experience will come from the ritual itself.  Partly from the repeating of it and the security of doing something over and over again – like feeding the birds every morning, like walking the dog, like going to work.  Partly from renewing our vow or commitment – touching base with our spirituality.  Partly from the meaning we draw from the objects themselves – symbols: the bread, the cup, the body, the blood, the thinking about Jesus’ sacrifice.

 

Because we believe in the Communion of the Saints – that Communion unites Christians everywhere – past, present, and future – some of us will find the Bobby’s become real and alive in our hearts and memories.  We may expect it.  Or, it may catch us by surprise.

 

Today we celebrate the whole people of God—red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.  And, what an appropriate day too; for it is World Communion Sunday.  This is the Sunday that all the Christians throughout the world celebrate Communion on the same day (in small huts, large cathedrals, country churches and city churches, on each and every continent!  We come from different backgrounds.  We come from different churches.  We may find the dinner table set a bit differently.  We may find the manners and the customs a bit strange, the glasses a bit different – everything a bit more formal or perhaps less formal – but it’s still a meal, still a chance to commune together, still a chance to be together with each other before God.

 

Come!  Let’s us join together at the Lord’s Table . . . for Sunday dinner . . . with the family of God.