At Jesus Table the Meal and the Gathered Become Holy

A sermon based on Luke 9:28-43a
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on March 3, 2019
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Welcome to our fifth Peace Sunday. The last time I preached on a Peace Sunday back in January it was Epiphany a Holy Day on the church calendar. Today it is Transfiguration Sunday another Holy Day. It is not what I guess we’d call a holiday in the sense that there not Transfiguration greeting cards and decorations, and we do not get tomorrow off.

But you know what? In Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches there IS a big deal made about it. They have a Transfiguration Feast. It is in August and there is much ado. People bring the first fruits of the harvest to celebrate and bless and, of course, partake in gratitude and fellowship. There is good reason to have it in the harvest season, because as we heard the Transfiguration story has references to dwellings, booths being built. This implies the Jewish Festival of Booths may be when the story took place. The Festival of Booths is holiday that blesses and celebrates the harvest in gratitude, with tents – booths– set out in the fields or symbolically in buildings for the commemoration.

In the mainline Protestant tradition, though, we have Transfiguration on this Sunday the one at the end of the Season of Epiphany. Basically the Epiphany season has traditionally had, for Protestants, as bookends to the season two epiphany Sunday holidays and stories. See the Transfiguration story is considered an Epiphany of its own, where Jesus’ divine nature is affirmed and encountered by humans.

While in the first Epiphany story the Magi encounter it following the illumination of a heavenly star to God incarnate in baby Jesus, in the Transfiguration story the disciples encounter it following the illumination of the heavenly adult Jesus to God incarnate in Christ.
I love that today we are having two meals on this Transfiguration AND Peace Sunday. We have Communion, a partaking of the Lord’s Supper in this service and then at noon we are having an “Intergenerational Shared Meal.” And that is not counting our snack at fellowship time in between. Lots of feasting today! As I mentioned, feasting fits with older Transfiguration practices. Our feasts will include spiritual practices and discussions about the Spiritual nature of breaking bread together.

Our interfaith friendly conversations later in Adult Forum and at lunch may not include a specific focus on the Christian tradition of the Transfiguration, but I am obviously am delving into it. This sermon, of course, will once again be about love. The reason that constantly preach about love is because Jesus did. Because love is God incarnate. Jesus’ primary directive is to Love God and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells us there is no greater command than that. It cannot be overruled by anything, which means it overrules everything. There are in that directive three category of beings involved. God. Others. Self. Our job is to love all three. Love God. Love others. Love self.

The hardest category for most of humans is to love others. We tend to condition love for others to basically those we want to love. Jesus made it clear we are to love everyone, even those we do not want to. That is not to say that this love others thing means we are supposed to like everyone. What we have to do is want everyone’s healthy existence, what I usually call desire their well being. And we are supposed to act on others’ healthy existence as best we can. Like and dislike are not supposed to condition love.

I have preached before that God tells us in the Transfiguration story to listen to Jesus, emphasizing listing to his love messages in general. I do not, however, recall lifting up specifically the very first words Jesus utters after God’s directive in the Luke Transfiguration story. Those words, as Pastor Anna read, are surprisingly words in anger and exasperation and frankly dislike in that moment. Yet clearly in that moment Jesus still loves them. He still heals the sick that day,. He stays with his followers. He cares for them. He goes on with his life of teaching love and later with his sacrifice of life for love of them, of us, of everyone (whether they or we are likeable or not!).

After Jesus came off the mountain the first words in Luke that we are meant to listen to were in response to a statement by a father with a son bedeviled by a spirit. The father tells Jesus,

“‘I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?’”

The Lectionary makes that part of the story optional and we can see why. It’s hard to hear, let alone listen to. It may be one of the hardest things to listen to. Which made me balk at preaching it today. But those verses also have the best news ever, because it means that in any given moment whether Christ has a reason to be angry at us, or to dislike us we are still wholly and completely loved. We matter much always. Following Jesus means we understand that, AND most importantly that we try and be like Jesus and love even when we are angry or do not like someone.

Christianity is all about love everywhere all the time, even to the faithless and perverse. And truth be told we can are at times faithless– in the inconstant sense of that word. And we are at times perverse – in the obstinate sense of that word. When we are inconstant and obstinate we are not very likable. We don’t like to think of Jesus as not liking followers, let alone as angry, even if followers mess up and are obstinate about it. We want Jesus to be lovey-dovey and peaceful all the time, at least toward his followers. The Gospels evidence Jesus gets angry and is still loving– gets angry and is still be peaceful. It demonstrates we can do that too– and are supposed to.

Anger includes strong feelings of annoyance and displeasure. And this week I have to admit I have been angry at the news of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters enduring another round of very public and painful discussions as another denomination voted against treating LGBTQ as equals in church. The pain and the discrimination against LGBTQ in churches has long displeased me, and I believe that it displeases God and violates Jesus’ command to love others. There is no sin in being LGBTQ, the sin lies in the continued oppression of LGBTQ for their undeniable goodly creation by God. The love of God and the Way of Jesus should never be used as an excuse for such pain and discrimination. Indeed God’s love and Jesus’ Way call us to alleviate that pain and end that discrimination by actively and relentlessly aiming toward equality for everyone.

In my anger I still desire sinfully discriminating denomination’s churches’ and members’ well being, indeed desiring their equal treatment of all members is a manifestation of that desire, it leads to their health as well as the health of LGBTQ and the church in general and all the rest of us. Just because we have bouts of non-violent anger or dislike involving others, we can still love them, desire their well being. In fact we are commanded to. And it works both ways just because someone has a bout of non-violent anger or dislike toward us does not mean they cannot love us, desire our well being. In fact they are also commanded to.

Non-violent anger may not seem befitting of the Prince of Peace or the usual gentle-as-a-lamb Jesus we imagine in our heads. But that is in our heads, because whether we like it or not, or have every thought about it or not Jesus get angry in the Bible and more than the one time set out in the reading.

This story today is not an aberration either. There are a number of instances of Jesus being upset in the Gospels, and not lacking love. Most famously Jesus showed anger in a temple protest about the lack of seeking justice and loving kindness by Rome’s appointed temple elite. Jesus gets upset at his followers when they nod off in the garden not tending to his need for their support as his arrest and execution loom. Jesus gets upset too when Peter will not listen to Jesus’ description of the suffering he will endure. Jesus angrily rebukes him even calling him Satan. And actually earlier when the devil tempts Jesus in the desert Jesus got angry. And he is angry later at the devil’s spirit making people ill. Jesus gets angry at religious people who put strict application of rules above helping those in need. All of Matthew 23 depicts Jesus mad at religious hypocrites saying woe to them and calling them things like “blind guides,” “snakes” and a “vipers brood” for putting their self righteousness fundamentalism of scriptural compliance over real righteousness and justice for others.

See the optional part of the Lectionary text is not out of line with the hidden in plain sight history of Jesus sometimes getting angry and disliking people…. like all humans do at one time or another. Jesus was fully human. Unlike most humans, though, Jesus does not let it effect his love or actions of love for others. He never stops loving anyone. THAT IS WHAT WE ARE TO LISTEN TO IN THE STORY!

Now I do not want to leave the impression that Jesus was angry and disliked people most of time. While he may have been mad in our lesson and at other times he only seems to get angry when people are not loving either God, others or self. Jesus gets upset when people do not do what is needed for the mutual healthy existence of others. In the story today a boy is suffering because unconditional faith in love was not provided in a healing fashion. If we listen we hear Jesus’ anger and dislike, and that it did not stop his love and healing care.

This is a story when listened to, teaches that unconditional love can be provided when we are angry or dislike people. That is after all a major stumbling block to our loving like Jesus– humans withhold love when we are angry or dislike others. The lesson today is we can, and we should, and we must, love even those who upset us, those we do not like– AND we must love them in the moment of our anger and dislike, as Jesus does.

The Bible, of course, has many MORE instances of Jesus’ gentle loving conduct than moments of Jesus’ anger and dislike. It is most interesting to me though that Jesus does not seem to ever get angry or express dislike during the meals he hosts. At his table, Jesus leaves anger and dislike behind. His table is a sanctuary. The meal and the gathered become Holy. Think about the very last supper that Jesus had with his followers. Jesus knew Judas had betrayed him, yet Judas was invited to that meal. Even when JUDAS’ betrayal was revealed during the meal, it was done without a display of anger by Jesus and his followers. JUDAS was still fed. JUDAS was not even asked to leave the table by anyone there. At Jesus table all were and are invited and welcome. There were and are no bars. Everyone can be there and partake, be nourished and loved.

Jesus hosts this table and all meals in this church. All are invited to Communion no requirements whatsoever. Jesus’ meals were, and ought to continue to be, safe and holy places where anger and dislikes are set aside–a setting where sinners, rich, poor, elite, even the betrayer of Jesus can wholly participate in peace, peace that sets aside at the table any and all sin and any and all negative response to sin. Where all are seen as Holy. Jesus meals are meant to be a sanctuary. That was a part of Jesus remarkable meal ministry throughout his earthly mission. His meals included everyone AND dislikes were set aside and anger was not shown even to someone like Judas. The Holy Meals here in this worship service, and other meals we share in this church try to replicate that. Those we are angry at, those we dislike, those God might be displeased with get to participate undisturbed by whatever unholiness (real or imagined) they or we might have hanging about us.

At meals with Jesus everyone at the table and the meal itself is considered Holy, while unrepented wrongs are not excused, neither are unrepentant wrongdoers. And even away from the table where anger and dislike are allowed, violence and hate are not! Love for God, love for self and love for others must prevail in all we do. In that WAY, one day the experience of Holiness for everyone at Jesus’ meals will become experienced everywhere for everyone. That is the good news!