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The Reverend John Leedy

October 7, 2018
1 Corinthians 11:17-34

A Reading from First Corinthians

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, an

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.


So there I was, sitting across the table from an old man in a monk’s habit at a small restaurant in the heart of Rome. I had been invited to Rome along with a few other Austin pastors for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity back in the winter of 2013. Our host for the week, the old man in the monk’s habit, was none other than Monsignor David Jaeger. And in case you’re ever at a trivia night and the category of obscure Roman Catholic clergy comes up, let me give you a little background on my friend David.

David Jaeger was born to a prominent Jewish family in Tel Aviv and became a Christian at the age of 17. As a teenager he was bullied because of his large physical size, and because he was a genius. He graduated from Oxford University with a Doctorate in Theology at the age of 22 years old – his dissertation written entirely in Latin. He is fluent in nine languages and is able to write in an additional five. He holds a second Doctorate degree in Canon Law and was appointed ambassador to Israel by Pope John Paul II and has worked on numerous peace accords between Palestine and Israel. In 2011, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth appointed him to serve as one of the 19 auditor justices of the Roman Rota, the highest tribunal court of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for the legal system governing the worlds 1.3 billion Catholics. And as our host for the week, David wanted to take us out for dinner.

Lord, what does that dinner conversation sound like? “So, uh, David, how was work last week?” “Well, I settled a six billion dollar property dispute for the king of Spain, negotiated a peaceful settlement to a hostage situation in the West Bank, and finished memorizing the Bible in Russian, what about you John?” “Oh, me? I bought some crayons. Off Amazon. They’re cheaper in bulk.”

So we arrive at the restaurant with David and some of his distinguished colleagues from the Pontifical University and we’re seated at a table for twelve. It becomes immediately clear that David is a regular here and has the local status of an A-list celebrity. David is seated in the middle of the table and the waiter brings him, and only him, a menu. But instead of taking the menu, David shakes his head and makes a gesture like this… to the waiter. The waiter bows, nods to the other waiters round the room, then all the waiters in the entire restaurant disappear. Super! We’ve now crossed into a scene from The Godfather where I get the funny feeling there’s about to be one less stinkin’ Presbyterian in Rome.

Twenty minutes of small talk go by before the first waiter emerges from the kitchen. The first waiter, then the second, the third, fourth, fifth– each carrying bottles, baskets of piping hot bread, and trays full every kind of pasta imaginable… it’s like that scene from Beauty and the Beast when all the furniture comes to life and they sing “Be our Guest, Be our Guest!” The waiters begin depositing these family-size portions of food before us and just like that the table is filled to bursting with the vivid colors, smells, and flavors of Italy’s best cuisine.

The magic of the table begins to do its work and conversations begin to flow, laughter cascades, and people who once were strangers begin to tell stories as the plates are passed. More wine is poured and another round of waiters swirl around us – bringing second then third courses to the table. People share pictures of their families and loosen their belts as all of the desserts are brought out, again, family-style. At this point, I am nine months pregnant with food baby triplets and am confident that I have never, ever experienced a feast like this. The stories, the new friendships, the wild abundance – what wonders this table works.

What wonders this table works indeed. I’m sure many of you have stories like this, of a meal shared where time slowed down and the food kept coming and your heart sang with the joy of being with others at the table. And even if you don’t, I think there is something fundamental in our humanity that understands how a shared meal brings people together in remarkable ways. It’s no wonder that so many religious celebrations around the world of every faith tradition imaginable involve the sharing of a meal. And it’s no wonder that Jesus chose a meal among friends to institute one of our two sacraments, The Lord’s Supper – that table set long ago where Jesus told his disciples to take, bless, break, remember, share, and pour.

We remember that holy meal on this World Communion Sunday – holy in the sense that this meal is set apart for the work of God. This table is set apart as the Lord’s Table.

This bread, this wine – these are the gifts of God set apart for the people of God. This is no ordinary table, but rather a table with no edges – a table that extends around the world in every place and time where the people of God gather to share in the abundance of God’s love. Think about it for a moment – can you think of anything or anywhere else that exists in our culture where no matter who you are, where you came from, or what kind of life you’ve lived, that you are welcomed without condition?

This is why communion, and especially World Communion, is such a powerful celebration – such a prophetic witness. It reminds us that the powers of divisiveness and exclusion, the powers of fear and oppression, the powers of violence and hate do not have the last word. It reminds us that there is a place, and will always be a place, where you are welcome, no matter what.

So, the dinner lasted four hours. Four hours of laughter and stories and carbohydrates. I didn’t think it was possible to feel both totally wrung out and stuffed all at once. I was slouched back in my chair, listening to the sound of new stretch marks being formed on my stomach, when a waiter comes back to the table, carrying a stack of checks. Plural.

For some reason I thought that when our host, David was taking us out to dinner – I assumed… you know… he had a tab here or something. I thought back to the amount of food the table had eaten and started getting nervous. That was a lot of food, and those bottles did not have a “three buck chuck” vibe to them.

And then I remember – David Jaeger is a Franciscan… and Franciscans are not allowed to own property. David, for all his power and influence, does not own a single dollar.

Everything on him, in him, and around him is dependent upon the charity of others. Well, isn’t that special? I mean super cool, radical way to live and all that, but for heaven’s sakes man, take us out to IHOP or somethin’. Yeah, the bill was expensive. It’s perhaps the largest restaurant bill I’ve ever paid. Beyond that, it was the largest share of a restaurant bill, one of eleven, I’d ever paid. My share was, you guessed it… $217.95.

I think about that dinner a lot – not because I’m still paying it off or anything, but because it makes me examine my values. It made me wonder how much an experience like that was really worth to me? If I had known the cost going in, would I have wanted to participate? If I had known how expensive those four hours would be, would I have been able to relax and celebrate and enjoy the food? Would I have been willing to come to the table if I knew the bill had been $500? $1,000? A million? What if participating in that one meal had cost me everything? What if sitting at that table meant my life would never be the same again?

The table of Jesus Christ is one where all are welcome, without exception. The table is a place where the abundance of God’s love flows from Christ our host to meet us where we are and in our moment of need. The table fills us to bursting with the joy of celebrating all that is good, and just, and beautiful, and hopeful. But don’t think for a moment that all this abundance, and joy, and love comes cheap. When we extend our hands to receive a piece of bread, we hear the server say, “The body of Christ.”

Those words are both a statement – “this is the body of Christ”, as well as a question “are you the body of Christ?” The church is the only body Christ has on this earth and we are the hands and feet of Christ for the world. When we take that piece of bread, we are responding yes to both.

“Yes, I do this in remembrance of the body of Christ.”

And “yes, I am part of the body of Christ.”

These two statements: one looking back in remembrance of the person of Jesus Christ and one in the present moment of literally re-membering the body of Christ in the here and now, are words that fundamentally alter our identity. Becoming the body of Christ in this world demands everything we have to give. This is not a fast food and small talk kind of table. There is no such thing as a drive through communion window. This table demands that you are all in – that the things this table stands for are the things you dedicate your life to stand for. This table changes us and changes how we are called to live both in this place and out in our daily lives.

This is what Paul is talking about in his admonition to the church of Corinth. If the Lord’s Supper is a place of radical welcome, why are there factions and divisions among you? If the Eucharist is a time of thanksgiving and abundant love, why are some walking away hungry and humiliated? The Corinthians have made the table into a cheap and powerless thing – a thing where the haves keep on having and the have nots continue to suffer. They come together as a church with lives unexamined and unchanged – business as usual. It’s the equivalent of a sacramental dine and dash – enjoying the benefits of the meal and skipping out when the bill comes due and they are called to live as the body of Christ in the world. The Corinthian church had become a place indistinguishable from all other places. For Paul, this is worth getting passionate about.

For us, too, this is worth getting passionate about, because there are too many places in this world where the poor still suffer. Because there are too many places in this world where women are told to sit down and shut up. There are too many places in this country where children and people of color are left behind or left out. There are too many places of ego and greed and exclusion, there are too many places filled with gossip and violence and bigotry. And this isn’t one of them.

When we come to this place, we stand in protest against all those other places. When we come to this place and this table, we walk away from the lives we knew and become one with the living body of Christ. And when we leave this place, we leave ready to start fresh, ready to claim a new way of being in the world. We leave this place both wrung out of all that is hateful and divisive and stuffed to the gills with hope. And you better believe Jesus is sending you out the door with a doggy bag filled with enough leftover justice to go around.

What is an experience like that worth to you? What would you give to share in a meal like that? How much change are you willing to make when the bill comes due? Believe it or not, this is not a sermon about signing up to do more stuff at church or giving more in the offering plate. This is about who you are as a person and who I am as a person, and how we all treat others around us. If we truly become the body of Christ at the table of our Lord, then we truly become one with all people everywhere who share in this feast. In the same way this table has no edges, so too are we a body with no edges, a body without division or status or privilege. And this table casts a vision for that world that could be – that will be one day. It’s a world where violence and suffering are no more, and all God’s people are safe and fed, where all God’s people are treated with dignity and respect. Can you imagine that? Can you see it? Can you taste it? Let the feast begin. Amen.