Pastor Todd Buegler
Lord of Life Lutheran Church
April 26-27, 2014
I believe that how we eat our meals can tell us a lot about the kind of life we lead. For example: if you are someone who occasionally stop at the gas station, and shovel the fast-food bags out of the floor of your car because the pile is too deep, well that might tell me that you are in a job that requires that you move from place to place…perhaps in sales…maybe you have a large territory and it feels like you live in your car.
If you eat most of your meals at your desk, while sitting at your computer, perhaps you have a high intensity job that is very deadline driven. Or, maybe you just don’t like your co-workers.
And if, when your parents ask you where you’d like to go eat, and the only answer you can come up with is either pizza or Dave and Buster’s, well…you might be one of our 5th graders receiving first communion this weekend. Or, maybe that’s just my family.
Statistics and studies are pretty clear about the value of families eating meals together. Researchers have been able to quantify the significant difference between families or couples that eat meals, most notably dinner, together and those that do not. And the differences are remarkable.
According to Dr. Anne Fishel, a developmental psychologist, dinner may be the only time of the day when families can really connect, leaving behind individual pursuits like playing video games, emailing and doing homework. Dinner is a time to for a family to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who they are as a family.
She goes on to say that over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed that sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for:
- Lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression
- Higher grade-point averages
- Increased self-esteem and resiliency when facing problems, or crisis.
- Lower rates of both obesity and eating disorders. And;
- Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading
So 5th graders, next time your parents want to skip the family meal, I want you to give them a desperate look, and tell them that you can feel your IQ already starting to drop. But seriously…what else can families do that takes less than an hour a day and packs such a punch?
I grew up in a household where dinner was almost always eaten together. It was never spoken of; it was just kind of an expectation. We were all pretty busy, but still, almost every night our family managed to gather at our kitchen table. The exception to this was Sunday nights. Mom called Sunday nights “left-over” night. My brothers and I called it “every man for himself” night. We were on our own. When we were hungry, the rule was to go to the fridge, and pretty much whatever was in there was open game, and the rules were kind of loose.
I remember one Sunday night, after I had already eaten…probably left-over pizza or something; I was in the living room, and looked over into the kitchen, and I saw my brother Scott, scanning the fridge. He smiled, grabbed a can of redi-whip and went to his room.
But besides these Sunday nights, we usually ate together. The dinner table was the center of our family life together.
The table. It is also the center of our faith life together. It is where we, as people of God gather every week. I’m not talking about the tables in Fellowship Hall when eating the donuts…though don’t get me wrong, those are pretty important too. <walk to the altar> I’m talking about this table. This is where the people of God gather. And this is where 172 of you, fifth graders, will receive for the first time, this most important of all meals.
There is something basic and primal about meals together. It is when we talk, it is when we listen; it is when we work things out. Meals bring people together.
I recently heard a story on public radio about Julio Diaz. You might be familiar with him. In 2008, Julio was a 31 year old social worker living in New York. Every day he would commute to and from work on the subway. His habit was to get off one stop early every day, so that he could eat at his favorite diner.
One night, he was walking out of the subway station when a teenage boy approached him and pulled out a knife. Diaz said “He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him ‘here you go.’”
As the teenager began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The would-be robber stopped and looked back at his would-be victim. “What?” And Diaz tossed him his coat. “Why are you doing this?’”
Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner. If you really want to join me…hey, you’re more than welcome.” Diaz explained to the reporter that “I just felt like maybe this kid really needed the help.”
They went into the diner and sat in a booth.
“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by…they’re all saying hi to Julio and make small talk. “The kid asked, ‘you know everybody here. Do you work here?”
“No, I just eat here a lot” Diaz says. The kid asks “but you’re even nice to the dishwasher.”
Diaz replied, “Well, didn’t you ever learn that you should be nice to everybody?” “Yeah, but I didn’t think people actually did that” the teenager said. Diaz tried to make conversation with him: asked him what he wanted out of life. The teenager’s face turned sad…he didn’t answer.
When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this ‘cause you have my money and I don’t. But if you’ll give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”
The teen didn’t even think about it. He handed back the wallet. Diaz says “I paid, and then I gave the kid $20…I figured maybe it’ll help him.” But Diaz says he asked for something in return…the teenager’s knife. The would-be mugger reached into his pocket and handed Diaz the knife. Then he got up, and walked out.
In that simple meal…something happened: a simple relationship was formed. Values were taught. There was resolution. There was grace. You see, when people gather around the table, the focus is almost always on the things that unite, rather than the things that divide. Nobody sits down at the dinner table with the intent of having an argument.
And let’s be honest, we live in a world that will almost always default to division. In the church we describe our world as sinful and broken. We confess that we are ‘captive to sin’ and cannot free ourselves. One of the ways this brokenness shows up is as division. And frankly, we’re experts: Gender, race, ethnicity, money, sexuality, politicals, religions, denominations, class, education, and football teams. 5th graders, you experience this every day on the playground. Adults, you experience this every day at work. We’re good at dividing ourselves up.
So I don’t believe that it’s an accident that Jesus chose a dinner table to gather his disciples, and to share in this special meal. At Jesus’ table, there is no division…there is no “in and out.” Everyone is in.
5th graders, at our First Communion Festival, we learned that Jesus gathered his disciples in that upper room, around a low table, to celebrate the Passover meal…the meal known as the Last Supper. And it was at that meal, that Jesus instituted what we have come to know as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
And so today, 2000 years later, in this room, around this table, we gather to celebrate this same meal.
And so 5th graders (and the rest of you too), there is one simple thing I want you to know and remember about this sacrament: It is about unity. It is about coming together. It is about “all.” All of us; and all of God. Unity with each other…and unity with God.
Know this about unity with each other: All are welcome here. Period. Simple. No exceptions. Jesus welcomes all to the table to receive the sacrament.
Now, there are some churches that have slightly different rules. Some churches would say that the sacrament is for those who are already united in their beliefs…in their doctrine. They say that you have to be a member to participate in the meal. I understand that argument. But to me, it’s a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of question.
We believe that it is in the coming to the table that we are unified. The act of drawing us together into community…of creating unity, that is God’s work, and it happens when you receive the sacraments.
And so, at the communion table; at Jesus’ table there is always room for more. All are welcome.
And let’s think for a moment about unity with God.
It is Jesus who calls all to the table to experience his real presence, promised and given for you. What does that mean? It means that when you come forward, when you receive the bread and the wine, when you touch them to your lips…you are coming into physical contact with the Holy. In this moment, Jesus is really present with us in a way that we can’t completely comprehend. How God works is sometimes a mystery.
And this bread and wine, this is not an “every man for himself” event. It is an act of God, and it is done together. Because of Jesus’ great love for us our relationship with him is restored. And because of that, it allows our relationships with each other to be restored. This meal brings hope and healing. It brings peace to the brokenhearted and joy to those who are sad.
5th graders…and everyone else. As a member of this family of God…as your pastor…and as the parent of one of you…I want you to know how much you are loved, and how very proud of you we are. I want you to remember that just like your dinner table is the center of your family life, here at Lord of Life, this altar…this table, it is the center of our faith life together.
In just a few minutes you will hear the words “welcome to the table of the Lord.” Know that we mean that. You will always have a place at this table. Know that Jesus asks you to invite others…there is always room. And know that in this bread and wine you will touch the Holy…you will experience the love and the grace of God, and that this grace…it will bring you life, peace, love and joy.
Come, and receive. This meal…it is for you. It is for all.