April 23, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, "Called to Break Bread"
April 23, 2023, Sanctuary Worship, "Called to Break Bread"
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Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Two weeks ago we heard the story of Mary being the first one to see Jesus after the resurrection; but, more importantly, the first one to talk to the risen Christ. However, despite having spent much time following him as a disciple, Mary doesn’t recognize him. She doesn’t recognize his voice until he calls her by name. As we know, names are important to God. We continually read in scripture how people are told what to name their children or their names are changed by God, such as Abram to Abraham and Saul to Paul.
Names were not only important in biblical times, but are important today. It is an ‘inviting in’ to be permitted to call someone by their first name and a sign of respect when effort is put in to say the name correctly. Having worked with so many people of ethnic backgrounds, it wasn’t always easy to pronounce the names I came across.
At my last church, I had one child in the congregation, whose mother was Cameroonian and her father was Jamaican, a match made in diverse Miami. Her name was a challenge to remember and say. I worked hard to learn how to say it properly. It was the name given to her by her parents. A beloved name for a beloved child. And so it was in that moment when Jesus called Mary by name, personal, intimate, respectful; and when she heard her name, she recognized Jesus. The scripture tells us that we will know his voice and it is that intimate, personal call that we respond to.
Similarly, in today’s scripture, the two disciples don’t immediately recognize Jesus. They are walking down the road, walking away from the chaos and horror that they encountered in Jerusalem. They talk with Jesus, and like Mary, don’t immediately recognize him. It isn’t until they are at their home and breaking bread with Jesus that they recognize him. Breaking bread together is also something that is important in scripture. It is not only in recognizing Jesus and his sacrifice in the last supper, but eating with others is an invitation to a deeper relationship.
When I first moved to Jerusalem, I knew no one. I began to get to know this one young man who ran his uncle’s souvenir shop in the Old City. I don’t remember how early on it was after I met him that he invited me to have lunch with him and two of his uncles. A woman from the family brought a huge tray with meat and pita bread. They all began to eat, picking up the meat with the bread. I was too new to Jerusalem and had not at that point gotten to learn how to eat like that – with my hands. Osama, who would become my dearest friend while I was there, saw my hesitation and broke off some pita and scooped some meat with it and handed it to me. He continued to do this for me as we ate. His invitation to eat was not just an invitation for food, but an invitation to be part of the family. And with my unfamiliarity with customs, he took charge and made sure I was fed. Breaking bread together. It was in that act of eating among friends and in that act of welcome the disciples were able to see Jesus for who he was.
So these are the two things I want you to think about this week. First, in Revelation 3:20 it says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.” How do you invite Christ in to eat with you? For if we don’t invite him in, we won’t see him for who he is. How do you invite Christ in? I believe that Christ calls us by name each and every day and each and every day knocks at the door of our hearts, wanting to come in so that the relationship can grow in intimacy, in deeper connection. We need to grow in our intimacy with Christ, so that we can be empowered to do the work that we are called to do in Christ’s name.
The disciples all fled after the crucifixion. The disciples in this story were walking away from Jerusalem. But after their encounter with the risen Christ, they were able to return to Jerusalem. Return to the chaos and begin to do the work that Jesus commissioned the disciples to do before his death.
So that leads me to the second point for this morning. We believe in the Resurrection of our Savior, but the chaos that came with that crucifixion exists today. We know that historically congregations have moved out of locations when they’ve become chaotic, when the area that the church existed in became economically or environmentally challenged. We know how churches migrated out to the suburbs as communities deteriorated. And even with this church, while the building remains the place of worship, how has the congregation changed in where you live in proximity to the church? While the church has remained here, has the distance in which the congregation travels increased over the years?
Today the Session is starting its study of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations – the book that you will be asked to read in the fall. And one of the things it talks about is knowing who your neighbors are. Does this congregation know who the neighbors are? Do you know their names?
One thing I was reading this week talked about how even when people give in service to others, barriers are up. Food is served at a soup kitchen, but there is a counter between the servers and the recipients. What opportunities are there for people who volunteer to get out from behind the counter and talk with the people who come? The mission committee talked about this at one of their meetings, about how nice it is when they do have enough people that some of them can go out and visit with those who have come to eat. There are videos online of people who go out and give food to the homeless and talk with them, learn their names, learn something about them. The comments that were made by some of those homeless people was that they felt seen, which they often don’t. They felt that for those minutes that those people talked to them, their lives mattered.
I think I’ve mentioned before about the book, African Friends and Money Matters, in which it speaks about Americans giving of their money and Africans giving of their time. It’s understandable with the economic differences and the difference in time demands that it is easier for Americans to give financially and Africans to give of their time, but both are needed. It is increasingly difficult to find volunteers. Yes, people are working longer, and our society places many stresses on people, but if we are to live out our faith, we need to find those pathways that allow us to not only help people with our money, which is definitely needed, but to help them to feel seen, to feel validated, to feel that their lives matter.
I recently went to a CAJE event, which if I remember correctly stands for Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment. I’m in the beginning stages of learning about all that they do, but I have to say that I’ve been impressed by all they’ve accomplished so far and the things they are currently working on. There are currently 27 churches involved. They were recently able to get started a dual diagnosis mental health clinic, which is currently in its soft opening. They have set up a way for renters to get repairs made by holding the rent money in escrow until the landlords make the necessary repairs. And they are working to set up a way for poorer homeowners to get funds to make repairs, which can be a problem when income is only keeping up with mortgage, food, and utilities.
There are also other things that are being done, but you can see that a lot of good is being done in the name of Christ with the money is donated. As I sat at the meeting, I thought about how those people being helped would surely know that CAJE was the one helping, and see the goodness of Christians in this community helping out, but what more could be done? What could be done to get people out from behind the counter, so to speak, to get to know the people being helped by name, to get to know them more personally? I don’t know the answer to that, but as this congregation goes through the study of where and what you feel God is calling you into, I hope that you will consider how God is calling you to be involved in a way that allows you to know people by name, that allows you to break bread with others. For that is truly the best way to help them see and know Christ. Getting to know people by name, getting to know their life stories, sharing in the breaking of bread. This is what brings people together. This is what makes each of us seen and validated. There are many challenges to doing ministry in these modern times, especially when technology has become such a large part of our lives; technology, which in and of itself can be a barrier to connection. but I think it is important for Christians to wrestle with this dilemma. How do we invite Christ into our homes and how do we bring Christ into the homes of others? How are we called to break bread with those who need to know Christ, who need to see Christ?
I don’t have the answers, but as we go through this discernment process in this transitional time, may this be something we pray about and consider. Amen.