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Hungry for Love – Berta Cohen, pulpit guest

Preached: September 1, 2013
Scriptures: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Hungry for love may sound like the title to a popular song, but this sermon is not about singing.   It is about eating.  Specifically it is about table manners, about giving and attending a dinner party.  It is about how to be humble and inclusive.  It is about Jesus being invited to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees for Sunday dinner, and how he uses the occasion to teach.  All of this is in our lectionary scripture from Luke this morning.

But I want to begin with the most important meal Jesus gave us and that is when he served us the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

This is the first Sunday of the month—a time when we would usually be celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  As a Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church I am not eligible to serve communion or give a baptism.  These are sacraments reserved for ordained members of our church.  Lately Lay Speakers are being trained to serve communion.  Maybe one day I will feel comfortable doing it.  I am hopeful that Rev. Beryl Ingrahm will lead a communion service on one of the next two Sundays.

My experience of the Lord’s Supper has changed over the years.  Would you believe there was a time in my church going life when I avoided Communion Sundays?  The service was apt to go late, the ritual suggested that I “bewail my manifold sins” and the mood was somber and sad.

I no longer feel any of those things. It’s not that I don’t sin—believe me I do.  But these days, to put it simply, I consider the bread and cup to be symbols of the invitation to be with Jesus—to feast on his love and share his presence with others at the table.  Gail Godwin in her book, “Evensong” says “Communion is the promise of eternal companionship”.  What a beautiful description.  Jesus invitation to come to the table and be with him is always there, and being with him is so amazing.  Why don’t we come more than once a month???

And when we are truly with Jesus, doesn’t the time go by more quickly?  Who cares if the service runs a bit longer than usual—this is too important to rush.  It reminds me of an evening recently when our granddaughter was telling us a story about her school day.  There were many pauses and times when she was searching for the right word or thought to get across her point.  My husband and I could have been distracted, but our love for that child is great, and we did not want to rush her or get to the end of the story one minute sooner than she was ready to finish.

‘Communion is so much more than that single moment when we dip the bread in the cup.  There is the time of gratitude before the bread is broken, there is the time of remembering, the time of prayerful consideration of how this single act has the potential to change us—how it brings renewal, forgiveness, and a covenantal relationship with Jesus, a promise as it were, that he is right here in this room with us.

And as each person is served there is the great sense of community, of praying for each individual as they come to the table.  As I am sitting in the pew, before  and after receiving the elements, I feel a tear come (I call these God tears) as I  see a friend, a recent widow, a new young family, a long time member, my friend with a cane and the gentleman with a walker move slowly toward the bread and the cup.  This is my church family and I treasure being with them at this very special gathering, remembering, loving time.

A few years back my Mothers’ family, mostly from Canada, came together at Lake Chelan for a reunion.  Chelan is the place where my grandparents settled in 1910 and where I grew up as most of you well know.  Church is always part of the weekend get together.  It is part of our family story that my Great Grandfather and my grandparents started churches, if none already existed, in their communities on the plains of Alberta.  This particular time our church service fell on the first Sunday of the month of August so we were part of the regular communion service at the Lake Chelan United Methodist Church.

I was honored to give a short reflection that morning because we wanted to express first of all, how grateful we were to be together as a family.  We wanted to remember those who have gone before us.  We wanted to rekindle the love we have for one another, we wanted to welcome new members of the family, and we wanted to promise that we would gather again in the future at the table.  All of these things are part of Communion with Jesus and so much more.

Jesus often met with his friends over a meal and those times became way more than just food.  They were an opportunity to teach, to welcome the outsiders or newcomers, to honor the providers of the food as he did with Martha, and to recognize peoples’ inner hunger as well as their real hunger—their hunger for love.

Jesus asks us to remember him in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup.  It was not for selfish reasons that Jesus wished to be remembered.  He hoped that we, his followers, would be reminded to love one another as he loves us.  He wants us to remember his ways of justice, forgiveness and compassion in our daily lives.  He asks us to remember him at every meal when we break bread together in gratitude and prayer, and especially at the communion table.  It is this act of worship that keeps alive the conscience of the Christian community and puts us in touch with Jesus’ very being.

Our scripture today is an example of stirring our conscience.  It’s about being humble.  When we are guests we should remember to be grateful for the invitation and not expect preferential treatment.  I want to extend this to being a guest in a restaurant.  On this Labor Day, we would do well to remember the servers, the cooks, and the dishwashers who struggle with their low wages to buy food for their families, are often denied sick leave, which puts all of us at risk, and have no health benefits.

The Riverton United Methodist Church pastor noticed the lines at her church’s food bank were filled with airport workers whose income was so low they could not afford food.  Not only that but some of them work split shifts which affects their family life.  This pastor supports the minimum wage initiative which will probably be on our ballots in November.     Seattle Times 8/28/13 (editorial by Nancy Bartley)

A recent letter in the Seattle Times (8/1/13 Fernando Cruz) was from a young man who has worked at the same fast food restaurant for 5 years.  In all that time, his hourly wage has risen 50 cents.  You can bet the profits of that fast food corporation have gone up at a far greater rate.  This man likes his job, but often works 10-12 hour days, and had to fight to get paid time and a half when he worked more than 40 hours a week.  His son pleads with him, “You don’t have to earn any more, just stay home with me.”  He is too young to understand that his whole life depends on Dad working those extra hours.  More than 30,000 people in the Seattle area work in fast food.  They are the faces of McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, and they are the faces in your favorite restaurant.

But Jesus doesn’t stop, after he talks about being grateful and humble.  He wants us to be the ones who give a luncheon or dinner and invite people who are not like us—the poor, the sick, the stranger.  Who do we invite to our parties?  Confession time—My husband and I don’t give parties anymore except for an occasional birthday celebration for very close friends or family.  The closest we ever came to integrating our table was when we were affiliated with the World Affairs Council many years ago, and what a joy it was.  Now I am grateful to our church for giving me the opportunity to serve and eat with the Tent city folks and host the women and children from Mary’s Place.

This week during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we had stirring reminders of how far we have come toward an integrated society, and how far we have to go.   In his speech, Jimmy Carter said,

“I believe we all know how Dr. Martin Luther King would have reacted to the new ID requirements to exclude certain voters, especially African- Americans. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to the Supreme Court striking down a crucial part of the Voters’ Rights Act just recently passed overwhelmingly by Congress. I think we all know how Dr. King would have reacted to unemployment among African- Americans being almost twice the rate of white people and for teenagers at 42 percent. . Well, there’s a tremendous agenda ahead of us, and I’m thankful to Martin Luther King Jr. that his dream is still alive. Thank you.”  End of quote.

I am thankful that in the UMC, communion is open to all—there is no secret hand shake, no dress code,  no racial profiling, no previous experience, or religious requirement.  Communion is open to all who love Jesus, who seek forgiveness, and are in love and charity with their neighbors.

The communion meal is Christ’s gift to us and is at the heart of our Christian worship together—the ultimate grace filled moments in our life as a family.  Then when we have come into the mysterious presence of Jesus and completely received him, we are filled, and go away from the table to be the body of Christ to one another and to our neighbors.

No wonder I look forward to receiving communion these days.

At the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University where I attended graduate school, there were Protestant, Unitarian, Catholic, and many more, students taking the same classes together.  It made the discussions and questions more interesting and we learned so much about each other and about ourselves.  I graduated with a strong confidence in my own Methodist tradition, including liturgical training from Dr. Beryl Ingrahm, and a much better understanding of my sisters and brothers in other faiths.

Let me tell you how that happens.  The Catholic student discovers that many Protestants have communion once month or maybe even once a quarter.  The Protestant student realizes that communion is part of every Mass in the Catholic Church.  They ask each other why.  Each of them realizes they don’t know exactly why their church is the way it is, so they go off to ask an elder, priest, or minister in their own church.  In that way they learn about their own tradition.  And they share this information in class, and learn about many different church communities.

As a Protestant, I discovered that because we were trying, in the reformation, to distinguish ourselves from the Catholics, we deliberately chose to drop communion from most of our church services. It was more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

We have come a long way since then. Gordon Lathrop, a liturgical Lutheran theologian has written a book titled, “The Essentials of Christian Worship”, one of our assigned text books at Seattle U.  In it he says, “The recovery of full participation in the holy supper as the principal service of every Christian community, on every Sunday, remains the goal of many, not simply because of historical or theological wisdom, though these are not to be ignored.  Rather, it is because we need it….We need to continually practice word next to meal, meal after word, in order for any newcomers—and for the constant “newcomer” in all of us—to see what Christianity is about: not just ideas and words, but the very presence and mercy of Jesus Christ.  We need to be continually formed into ‘one bread’ with all the hungry ones of the world who belong to Christ.”

Back to that classroom with the mix of students–when the Catholic student learns that it has been several weeks since the Protestant student has been to communion, he asks. “Aren’t you starving?”

I hope the next time you have an opportunity to receive communion, you will come, if not starving, at least very hungry to be with Jesus, and feast on his love.  He is waiting at the table to remind you to be humble, hospitable, and grateful.  He is waiting to fill that empty place in you that is hungry for love.  He is waiting to fill you up so you can be bread for the hungry in our community.     Amen