"Jesus’ Worship Way: A Mind-Opening, Message-Sending Meal"
Rev. Michael Bailey
Can you recall a time you were surprised by dinner guests? Maybe you grew up in a house where folks stopped by and were invited to dine on whatever the family was having. During the high school years of our youngest son, Ian, that was a frequent occurrence. Ian, you see, has the most embracing of everyone spirit I’ve ever encountered. He’s met ambassadors; I think he was with us once when we met the Archbishop of Canterbury, star athletes and even a first lady. And yet, when he was in high school, his school was the largest in North Carolina and he played football. So, he had friends from all kinds of backgrounds! And, a few of his friends were nearly homeless. At least once a week, he would have a buddy over to visit and they’d wind up eating with us. I shall never forget the first, and I suspect last time, Cortez ate venison stew! It just wasn’t something popular in his neighborhoods and he could barely get over the image of Bambi in his bowl. On another occasion, I came in to preach at another church and the whole front row was filled. Now, as you know, the front row is filled only when there’s confirmation or a baptism. I sat through the prelude, call to worship and opening hymn before I looked up and there was my whole family! Michael, Jr. and Kelly from San Francisco, Kip and Anna, Joey and Carrie and his entire family. They’d all surprised me for father’s day and we had a glorious meal that afternoon at an Italian restaurant.
What was your most surprising dinner guest or guests? Turn to a neighbor and share with each other.
I suspect that no matter what surprise guest or guests you shared about with a neighbor, none of us had more of a surprise guest than the disciples had while locked in that closed room in Jerusalem long ago.
Think of the emotions that filled the room: They were in fear of the authorities as other gospel writers inform us, but my sense is they were in a high state of confusion as well. Think of it! They’d been through the Last Supper, the betrayal, the mock trials, the crucifixion on the day they were gathered in that room, the first Easter, they had reports of the tomb being empty, Jesus meeting and calling Mary’s name and now, they were just hearing a report from Cleopas and a companion, maybe his wife. Cleopas and his companion were on the Emmaus road, making a 20-mile journey. While travelling they encountered a stranger and told the stranger all about the Passion and the empty tomb. The stranger opened and interpreted the scriptures in an inspiring way. They invited the stranger to a meal and in the breaking of bread they recognized the stranger as Jesus. Now, I imagine they were breathlessly reporting this to the other followers. And suddenly, there came the most un-expected dinner guest in the world. Jesus was standing with them and they were scared witless! Jesus recognized their doubts and fears and put them to rest by passing the ancient Palestinian “not a ghost test”, he ate. Then, similar to the Emmaus event, after he was recognized as the real, flesh and blood Jesus, recognized in the meal; then, he opened their minds to Scripture and gave them a job and an identity: they were witnesses. And our passage ends and yet there are some important lessons here for us all!
Remember this, no matter how confused, how doubting, how afraid you are, Jesus is with you! Think of all of the times the disciples were confused: about Jesus identity when he asked, “who do you say that I am?” Or, when they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Or arguing and misunderstanding his kingdom demanding, “Let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left when you come into your glory.” And now the ultimate confusion “Was he raised from the dead?” Here’s the important fact, Jesus is with you when you’re confused, when you don’t have the answers, just as surely as he was with the first followers. More, he was with them in their doubting times. Last week Preston preached about Thomas, Jesus came to that doubting one. Jesus was with the man who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus is with you in your doubting times, just as surely as he was with the disciples in theirs. And maybe most importantly, Jesus was with the first followers in and through their fears: from fears of drowning in the midst of a storm, to fears expressed about the cross he often spoke of. He was there for them in their fears and will be with you in yours. Remember, He promised, “I am with you always”. And that means you, even mixed up, confused, doubting and fearful you!
And then, another important lesson for us all is that it’s crucial to be with other followers of Christ, even when they and we are confused, filled with doubts and fear. Can you imagine this little group as the first congregation? Can you imagine how “they didn’t have it together?” Sometimes we come to worship, to church and seemingly hide behind our “I’ve got it together” looks, answers and assurance of well, everything. But behind the smiling faces and the Sunday clothes, if we’re honest before God and each other, we’re not much different that the little band of believers that was the first congregation. We’re marked by grief, fear, doubt; we’re seeking security in all the wrong places. But note this, Jesus doesn’t show up because we’re so holy, deserving and assured; Jesus shows up because we’re so broken, afraid and vulnerable. His nature is to be with us in the worst of times, isn’t it? So, never skip church because “you don’t deserve it”, because you don’t believe well enough, because you’re too sinful and afraid. Don’t skip church because you don’t “feel” like it! I’m sure those disciples didn’t feel like being together; word would have spread of their running, hiding and denying and yet they were there! Jesus knew them and us, through and through; Jesus knew their fears and doubts and didn’t condemn them! He opened their minds and transformed their lives. It can happen, he teaches, where two are more are gathered in his name; because he is there; here, even today.
And then, let us never forget that holy meals are transformative for confused, doubting fearful followers. The two on the Emmaus road didn’t even recognize who Jesus was until the bread was broken. The little band in the upper room met the real Jesus in the sharing of food. Our holy meal is communion. The people called Methodists have always believed that communion is spiritually therapeutic and that some have come to salvation in the mysterious presence of Christ in communion. Make the holy meal of communion a priority in your life! It means forgiveness, newness and a re-focus of living. It means healing is available for the worse condition that afflicts us all, sin.
Finally, let’s receive our charge today; the same one given in that room: we leave the gathering of followers with the task and identity of being witnesses. Isn’t it interesting what Jesus didn’t tell them to be: Jesus didn’t tell them to be great pray-ers, Bible memorizers, social workers or theologians. All of those are important and flow from the primary identity and task given then and today: we are witnesses. And what can you witness to with an authority no one else has? Simply this, how Jesus has saved you from your sins and directed you in new life! Your transformed life is your witness to the fact that Jesus is alive! Never forget who you are and Whose you are and what He has done for you. Never fail to share that transformation in word and deed.
Share a time when you had surprise dinner guests.
Share a time in your life when you had doubts, fears or confusion and now, looking back, experienced the presence of Christ.
Share a time when you went to worship and had a significant spiritual experience.
Share what communion means to you personally.
Share one way that Christ has transformed your life.