Sermon for Easter 5


You are what you eat. Well, this was probably more true to the people of Peter and Paul’s day than it is for us. I don’t know about you, but when I read about a sheet full of food animals floating down from heaven, I’m thanking God for delivery.

That wasn’t the case for the first followers of Jesus. You see they were Jewish, Jesus was a Jew, Peter was a Jew, Paul was a Jew. And one of the things about Jews is that they didn’t eat certain things. Now it wasn’t just a custom, like most of us tend not eat horse in this country. No, what Jews did and didn’t eat was decided by God. It ‘s part of the commandments, the laws of their faith, that Jews do not eat anything from pigs, no pork and no bacon. And that’s just one of a great very many animals that the people of God we forbidden by God to eat.

But it’s more than just a restricted diet. It defined who they were, with whom they ate, and with whom they didn’t. So, it wasn’t like they just skipped that particular part of the first century Middle East buffet table. The point was to actually make the Jewish people, God’s chosen people different, the laws were meant to make them distinct and stick out from their neighbors. They were to be ritually, clean, holy. While everybody else wasn’t. This was God’s commands. What they ate and what they didn’t defined their faith, defined who they were, kept them, the chosen people of God, separate and holy. So you were holy or not depending on how you followed God’s laws, and a big part of that was what you didn’t eat.You literally were what you ate.

And the Jews were not be like everyone else. Everyone else was doing it, was not a value, carried no importance for God’s Chosen People.

Everybody’s doing it, didn’t work with my parents either. But we tried it. When we wanted to do something, like were blue jeans to school or go to the dance on Friday night, we’d remind our parents that well, “everybody else is doing it”. My parents had their own phrase, they had their own comeback, do you know what it is? “We’ll, we’re not like everyone else”.

As I was growing up, that message was crystal clear. It was shared with us in the Winzer household in so many different ways, even if my parents didn’t use those exact words. The message was clear: we’re German, we’re bette than that, we’re better than them, Germans are superior. Driving into the cities of Allentown or Philadelphia, going through the neighborhoods, my parents didn’t keep their judgmental, prejudiced, and bigoted comments to themselves. They freely degraded the African Americans and the Latino family’s we saw. Of course, my parents didn’t actually call them African Americans, Latino’s or even Puerto Rican’s. It wasn’t till I went to college that I learned that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country, but a territory of the United States.

In so many ways, big and little, conscious and unconscious, I was told that I and my family, that people like me were better, we’re superior, more intelligent and that meant there was something wrong with people who were poor, or who looked different, who spoke differently, ate differently than me.

One day, years later when my parents were visiting my husband Brad and I early in our marriage living in Chicago we went shopping at a local grocery. This was something we did with a bit of fear and trembling because my father in particular didn’t keep his thoughts to himself but spoke his mind out loud. So we’re walking down the aisles, and he’s making comments about all the “ethnic” food until he sees his favorites, tripe, souce , head cheese, whatever right there next to the pigs feet and the chitlins. It was as if a sheet from heaven came down, and on it were not just these foreign things but his favorites as well. Here he was and he was as ethnic as those of whom he was just laughing at. He wasn’t the norm, he wasn’t special. He was the same as everybody else.

When it comes down to it, that’s one if the things we read in these verses. God wants all God’s children at the heavenly picnic blanket, around the table. The Holy Spirit was going even out to the Gentiles, among the unclean. And what’s really radical is that all these other people didn’t need to change, didn’t need to become like the Jewish Christians, didn’t need to eat, didn’t need to change who they were, they didn’t need to hinder the Spirit.

We too can ask ourselves as individuals as a church, who are we to hinder God’s Holy Spirit. Because God’s Holy Spirit is moving, in this place, and among us, God is calling for us all to make room around all our tables, whether it’s at this table of Holy Communion (our worship table), whether it’s downstairs at the Lao New Year Party, our fellowship tables, around our bible study, our council, and committee tables we are to be asking, checking ourselves, are we hindering God? Because this church isn’t here because of you, it isn’t here because of me or some church program. The Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is in our neighborhood, in our lives. The Holy Spirit is calling us to be the church right here. So, if as a church we ask only one question,it needs to be, who are we to be hindering God?

Now, I’d like to be able to tell you that my dad’s heart softened, that his eyes were opened. But in this life, I didn’t see that. However our faith tells us, and I believe that God can do great things. I believe that even my father’s prejudice and bigotry could not ultimately hinder the Holy Spirit. My belief, my hope is that in the new life pictured for us by John, from the reading from the book of Revelation that my father is gathered together and is standing before the throne of God, around the table of the feast of the Lamb that has no end, and he is rejoicing that next to him are all God’s children. That my father Donald Paul is with those he loved well, in this life, and most I importantly with those he did not, all joined together in the forgiveness, the love, the grace of God in Christ. Amen.

Good Eats

Bread of Life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

It is said, we Lutherans will talk and share all about having a good time at a restaurant much more than we’ll talk about God or Jesus. In other words, we’d rather talk about food than faith. Well since that’s oftentimes the case, let me tell you. It was for an anniversary or some other special occasions. Brad and I made our reservation at a fine restaurant. We get dressed up, get there, are seated at the table, handed our menu, and then the server asks if we would like to start with a glass of wine. I said, “No thank you”. Well, let me tell you the meal went downhill from there. The server asked again if I wanted wine at least 2 or 3 more times. I believe I was pregnant at that time, but I didn’t feel like I needed to justify or defend my decision. Anyway, then when it came time to order, well my choices were let’s say not to the server’s standards. It was probably something like I wanted blue cheese dressing on my salad, and then an entrée with a cheese or crème sauce, and he promptly suggested I order something else—that that was too much cheese. Well, the food was excellent, but the meal was ruined.
We all know, there’s more to a meal than just filling our stomachs and consuming calories. We are hungry for more than just tasty treats. We sit down whether it’s around a table, in a both, or even on the floor like Jesus most likely did with his disciples. We need to feed more than just our bodies. Sometimes we’re hungry for a nice conversation, or maybe we just want some peace and quiet, maybe we’re hungry for family.
This is one of the strengths of Community Night. It’s not just a meal program. It’s not just to feed people. We are trying to build a community St. Paul’s, our neighbors. No matter how much money we have, we are all hungry. The same is true in today’s story from the Luke’s gospel. Now first of all when I read the gospel, if it felt to you like we started somewhere in the middle of something, you’re right. So far in the Easter Sundays we’ve heard from Mark, last week from John, and now from Luke. This story is part of all the events of that first Easter day. Jesus isn’t at the tomb, but he does show up and walk with 2 of the disciples (who don’t recognize him). They walk and talk all the way to the town of Emmaus, they then sit down, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and whalaa they’re eyes are open and they know it’s him—it’s Jesus. He disappears, and these two run all the way back to Jerusalem to the rest of the disciples and are telling them about seeing Jesus, about walking with him, talking with him, about the bread, when Jesus appears and that brings us to the “Peace be with you” he greets his disciples with this morning.
The point is, Jesus is resurrected. He’s not a ghost. He’s got a body, but see it’s all brand new. It’s something so new, this resurrection thing, is so new we’ve never ever seen it before. The wounds are still there, but they don’t slow him down. In this story, Jesus eats some left-over cooked fish. Now it wasn’t that he was hungry from that long walk to Emmaus, and his return to Jerusalem. He’s eating because the disciples were hungry; they were hungering for something to make sense. They needed that meal to calm their fears, their confusion, to give them purpose and direction. That meal, even though it’s just a bite fish was more about the experience of love and forgiveness of Jesus than about the food.
So another memorable meal I’ve had was at a tiny restaurant in Rome. My husband and I were travelling, and we were using one of this guy Rick Steves’ guidebooks. And we were hungry we’d been running around Rome sightseeing all day, and in this guidebook Rick suggests a particular little restaurant. Well luckily we find it, through the door with our guidebook open in our hands. With that the owner, manager, server I don’t know, I don’t speak Italian, and his English wasn’t great—he greets us, grabs the book, closes it, gives it back to us and maneuvers us to a little table. There are people all around us. We are not handed a menu, but quickly brought something to drink, and then offered plate after plate of food. We looked around us watched in wonder as each table was served, it seemed not all the same things, it was like the people of the restaurant somehow knew just what was needed. One table with a couple ate just a few things and then moved on while others like us seemed to sit through course after course—the place was filled with smiles, laughter, and warmth. We were truly fed.
Much like today. You see this day is a very special day for us. Five of our children, young people will join us to receive their first communion. In so doing, they will take a bit of bread, taste a bit of wine. This will be new to them, but there’s so so much more here than just that first taste. This is for them and for us, a first course in a much bigger meal. It is a taste of the joy that will happen with the feast that will have no end. But until that time, because Jesus knows that his disciples are still hungry. We are still hungry, we are still hungry for welcome, hungry for forgiveness, and meaning, direction, and purpose. We are hungry for peace in our hearts, in our relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our world. We are hungry for love.
So Jesus invites, calls, pulls to this table. Now I said just a moment ago that this is a special day for us, I said that very specifically—yes it is so important for these children but it’s also for us. For while, at this meal, we will not be completely filled, it will not magically remove all of our hunger, our questions, our pains. But we will be fed; we will be welcomed, and this meal will be deeper and better because we will see God in action in the lives of these young people, and together our eyes will be opened, and we will recognize that Jesus is here, among us, that we together are fed, forgiven, and loved—this is the meal we share. Amen