Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Table talk"

Message preached September 2, 2007
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Luke 14:1,7-14

Order of Worship

            Iím usually more of an observer at weddings. Yes, I know Iím front and center for the actual tying of the knot, but for the rest of the affair I prefer a seat somewhere on the fringes; which is, as I see it, the way itís supposed to be. As the minister, Iím not the main attraction. This makes it hard for me to get a handle on this wedding story Jesus told. You wouldnít find me aiming for a place of honor around the table. At any big meal, wedding or otherwise.

            Maybe it has something to do with my introvert tendencies. Possibly Iíve absorbed enough of this "humility" stuff over the years to nudge me in that direction, though I donít think Iíd give myself that much credit. Iím just not that easy in a "spotlight" position. Go figure. At my latest wedding event I discovered Iím not alone in this.

            As you may know, Rob and Jeanesse Miller gave me a huge gift when they asked me to fly out to Seattle to perform their wedding. It was one of the highlights of my summer. Among the many blessings along the way, was the opportunity to hook up with my niece who lives out there with her husband, and my sister, who flew out to join us. Jeanesse and Rob graciously included them in my invitation, and together we sat at both the rehearsal dinner cruise (WOW!) and the wedding reception.

            Iíd love to show you pictures, but you didnít come this morning for a travelogue. What I do have to share is some table talk. As we sat observing the joyful celebration around us, I learned my sister and my niece share my preference for being out of the spotlight. Bev and I tried to talk Emily into joining in the dance, something you couldnít have dragged either of us out on the floor to do, but my niece was too shy. By the way, folks, Rob and Jeanesse are impressive dancers. It was fun to watch them as we sat around that wedding table off to the side.

            Jesus spent a lot of time around such tables. Oh, I know, practices were different back then. They didnít sit in chairs, for instance. It was more like reclining on pillows, leaning up against the table with your feet behind you. The story of the woman of the night who washed his feet with her tears makes more sense when you consider such a meal-time arrangement. Perhaps you recall the judgmental table talk on that occasion. Jesus, however, was always concerned for those on the rougher end of life. At that feast, he didnít ask this prostitute to come and sit beside him in a place of honor. Such might have been too scandalous. But with his words he did honor her, because she had cared for him. In so doing, as Ken Medema might sing, Jesus "asked her to dance." I have no doubt we will see her at the wedding feast of the lamb.

            "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind," Jesus said. Or, as Eugene Petersonís paraphrase puts it, "people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. Youíll beóand experienceóa blessing. They wonít be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returnedóoh, how it will be returned!óat the resurrection of Godís people." What a dance that will be!

            Recently Iíve come across the writing of a retired Yale pediatric oncologist by the name of Diane Komp. "Each of us," she says, "has a personal parable for an idealized feast.... The banquet I long for most," she adds, "has nothing to do with cholesterol burdened beef and fries. For the past twenty-five years, I have had the privilege of working with children with cancer and of sharing in their lives. When you witness many soul-fortifying lives, your standards for a feast become more regal. May I invite you to a simple gospel feast?"

            Letís take her up on that invitation as I share a vignettes of couple dying children who taught her (and maybe us, also) how to live. I think thatís what Jesus was getting at when spoke about where we should sit at a wedding feast, or who we should invite when we hold a banquet. Itís amazing what you learn from the places and persons from which and whom you might least expect blessings. But thatís how it is with Godís kingdom dance.

            The first story first is "of a very special house call and of a little saint who taught (Dr. Komp) the healing joy of servanthood." Listen to her table talk this morning:

            "Morphine moved silently and painlessly through a small butterfly needle taped to the skin of his abdomen. Donny called the device his Ďbeeperí and smothered it with Smurf stickers. He was Doctor Donny, on call. For this nine year old Ďdoctorí with Downís syndrome, the small battery-operated pump anchored to his pajama waist made it possible for him to stay at home and control the pain of terminal leukemia.

            "Hospice nurses came to adjust the dosage from time to time, and Donny moved from his bedroom to the living room where Smurf-bedecked sheets and pillowcases transformed the couch into a most acceptable base of operations. He had more friends than most of us will have in longer lifetimes and could visit with them all in between snoozes.

            "As the leukemia progressed, he had less energy and more cat naps. My phone rang one evening after the nurse had visited and told his parents that he might die that very night. His mother called to ask my opinion. When I arrived, Donny was dozing peacefully on his Smurf sofa, surrounded by a half-dozen assorted friends. He was paler than when I had last seen him, but his pulse was steady.

            "ĎI went out of the prophecy business a long time ago. I wish I could be sure, but you know how unpredictable these things are.í As if on cue, Donny rose from his Ďdeathbedí with a luxuriant yawn. The Prince of Smurfs was hungry and decided to take his guests Ďoutí to dinner. He assumed the role of maitre díhote at a mythical restaurant and escorted us to our tables.

            "Invisible pad and pen poised in his hand, Donny went from guest to guest, reciting the specials of the evening. For each guest, a different ethnic restaurant was presented with a complete selection from suppe to nuez. After he took the order from his last guest (in a Mexican restaurant), he flopped back into Smurfland and resumed his nap with a self-satisfied sigh of contentment.

            "ĎIt wonít be tonight,í I confidently prophesied, and Donny grinned in his sleep." 1

            As further table talk this morning, allow me to share a second vignette from Dr. Komp. Listen.

            "My young patient Bill had four parents, but his prayer was for them to be one family, with one heart and a new spirit. At the time he was diagnosed with leukemia, Billís biological parents and step-parents thought they were doing their best to survive divorce, remarriage, and the sharing of children. But they rarely shared a meal together.

            "What helped this family most to survive was living far away from each other and limiting their social intercourse to small-talk at drop off and pick up of the children. They were more successful than most similar families of our times, and Bill certainly did not seem damaged by belonging to a less than traditional American family unit. In fact, it was in the context of the reorganized family that he began to think about God.

            "The initial contact of the quartet of parents in the hospital was highly civil. When the stress of former spouses in daily contact finally hit, this group did the unprecedented. They knew the root source of their stress, and rather than displacing their family anger onto the medical staff, they talked to each other. Kathy was shocked to learn that she had more in common with her ex-husbandís new wife than any other woman in her acquaintance. The mother and step-mother formed a nucleus for reconciliation and communication.

            "When Bill relapsed and his death appeared inevitable, he indicated a desire to die at home. In attempting to honor that request, we found that it would not be medically easy. He came to our hospital from a region distant from us that had no type of hospice care. With the help of a nurse in that community who volunteered to make home visits, the four parents lived under the same roof, sharing the nursing responsibilities. After Bill died, the family invited me to dinner.

            "The two mothers worked together in the kitchen on the meal. Both homes were in need of repairs. During the last weeks of Billís illness, the two fathers made significant progress on the house where we met to eat. In the spring, they were planning to start together on the other house. They had shopped together to buy me a gift and talked of their future plans.

            "They talked about the holidays to come. No other friends or family members could really understand as well the anticipated emptiness of the year to come. Billís birthday was near Christmas, and the holidays for all of them were irrevocably tied to that event. They planned to spend all the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year as an extended family. Through Bill and in Christ, they could come to feast together." 2

            Jesus said, "when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ĎFriend, move up higherí; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Again, I appreciate Petersonís paraphrase of this: "If you walk around with your nose in the air, youíre going to end up flat on your face. But if youíre content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself." Wow!

            To conclude our table talk this morning, letís turn to the back of your bulletin for another story, this one written by a friend of mine. By the way, the pastor of the church in Seattle that Rob and Jeanesse attend is the son of Louise Rieman, who wrote these words. In an email this week, I learned from Jeanesse that their pastor owns the house where Caitlin in living this year in Manchester. Small world! Read with me Louiseí story, after which weíll pray her prayer.

            "Fresh pineapple, rice, vegetables, meat sauce, ugali all prepared and ready for us to indulge-a feast! A love feast! It was our closing time as a Church of the Brethren work camp in southern Sudan; we had invited the church leaders of the community to join us again for this last time of sharing, feasting, and worshiping together. We wanted to offer them the gift of love feast. With tears sliding down our faces, we washed each otherís feet-a first-time experience for some.

            "As we prepared to eat together, we gave thanks to God and then did something very counter-cultural, because this celebration of Christ in our midst seemed too important to compromise. We announced that the cooks and drivers would go through the line first to receive their food. Then a tall, dignified church leader standing right behind me said in his booming voice, "In Sudan, the bishops and commanders go first ... ," but before I could open my mouth to explain why we were doing it this way, he went on to say, "but this is the way Jesus would do it. This is amazing! We must do this more often.



May our banquets include those we wouldnít think of inviting.
May our hearts embrace those we have trouble loving.
May our behavior honor those not highly regarded.
May our desire be to continue the work and attitude of Jesus.
Amen. 3

            1 from "Invitation to a Simple Feast," by Diane M. Komp, Theology Today, vol. 49, no. 4, Jan.1993, p. 480-81 (note: parts of this essay are taken from the book A Window to Heaven: When Children See Life in Death, copyright 1992, Zondervan Publishing House). Read yet another online essay of hers.

            2 ibid, p. 482.

            3 Louise (Louie) Baldwin Rieman, co-pastor Northview Church of the Brethren, Indianapolis, Indiana Church of the Brethren Living Word Bulletin Anchor/Wallace, Sleepy Eye MN 56085, "The Living Word Series"  

(para traducir a espaŮol, presione la bandera de EspaŮa)


©2007 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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