But if you had been a guest at that meal, if you had been able to stay for a while, you would have recognized that our Thanksgiving of 2002 was anything but ordinary. In fact, we were not supposed to be there. It was our year to be with Kim’s family in Lubbock for Thanksgiving. My brother, Chris, was supposed to be in Albuquerque with his in-laws. But we all received the same phone call only 24 hours earlier that caused all of us to redirect our holiday plans. On the day before Thanksgiving of 2002, we learned my father had very advanced cancer. Though no one would say it out loud, we all feared this might be our last Thanksgiving meal with our father. Three months later, our fears were confirmed.
With that knowledge, we all gathered around the table that day and shared a meal. We, in turn, shared the things we were most thankful for. New children in the family, strong relationships with each other, a beautiful meal, and time…the time we had that day together. I will never forget that Thanksgiving meal of 2002. Have you ever had a meal that suddenly, and without warning, turned into communion? There we were gathered around an ordinary, wooden table. I’d been there with those people many times before. But on that particular day, God was with us in a special way. God’s presence was at that table in a special way. That Thanksgiving meal, for us, turned into a time of communion. There is always the possibility that an ordinary meal can turn into a supper with God!
And I think God designed it that way…
I may have asked you this before: Have you ever wondered why God created us to need food? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! I love food. One of my favorite things to do in the world is sit down at a table with a huge steak, fresh rolls, asparagus, and a Coke… It does not get much better than that! But, why did God create us to need food? It seems we would be far more productive if we did not have to stop and eat so often! I assume God could have created us without the need for food. I’m kind of a nerd this way, but I REALLY have thought an awful lot about that question over the years, and here is my conclusion. I believe God created us to need food so that we would be forced to stop, to gather at a table with other people, because sometimes an ordinary meal can turn into a supper with God!
We see this scenario play out so often in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus used meals as teaching moments throughout his ministry. Just consider a few of the meals Jesus had with his disciples in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 5, we find Jesus attending a banquet at a man named Levi’s house. It was during this ordinary meal that Jesus found time to present one of his most enduring principles. “I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance.” In Luke 7, Jesus is again dining at Simon the Pharisee’s house. While he was there, he made a bold proclamation that only God can make. A sinful woman showed up to crash the formal dinner party, and Jesus noticed her. In fact, he said to her: “Your sins are forgiven!” It was during that meal that Jesus began to claim divinity for Himself. Over in Luke 9, we find the story of the feeding of the 5000. The crowds have swelled. The disciples of Jesus are getting concerned, “Who will feed these people.” And, once again, during a meal, Jesus said to them: “You give them something to eat.” He taught them that they were to be active participants in His ministry on that day, and forever. In Luke 10, Jesus is having dinner at Martha’s house. Many of you know that story. Mary is hanging out with Jesus and the disciples in the living room. Martha is busy in the kitchen. She gets agitated, believing Mary is being lazy! But in an incredible teaching moment at that meal, Jesus said: “Mary has chosen what is better.” Would you believe that we again find Jesus at a meal in Luke 14? This time He is having dinner at another’s Pharisee’s house and he said the most amazing thing. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and blind.” During that meal, we really saw the heart of God. In Luke 19, when Jesus was at Zacchaeus’ house, he said: “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Luke 22 records the story of Jesus’ last Passover meal with His disciples. What a special moment that must have been. Who knew that the words: “And He took bread, broke it, and gave it to them…”—who knew then that Jesus was referring to Himself every bit as much as He was referring to the literal bread at that table?
God created us to need food, knowing that as we gather around the table together, great things are prone to happen. And at no time was this more true than here…
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.This is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible…always has been! Can you imagine what must have been going through Peter’s mind during those last few days? He had denied every knowing Jesus. He lacked courage at the most important moment in his life. Jesus had been killed and then, Jesus wasn’t dead anymore! I have to imagine that Peter had one of those moments…“Wow, He really was the Messiah and I blew it!” But Jesus showed up that morning for breakfast, yet another meal, to set things right with Peter. By the time Peter, James, and John arrive on shore, Jesus has the fire started and He is ready to cook. Pay special attention to the language. John is very specific about the language. He wants you to see something about this meal! The main course was fish and bread. But John says…
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14, NRSV)
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish…Same language that was used when Jesus fed the 5000 people with bread and fish and strikingly similar to the language used during Jesus’ last Passover meal with His disciples. Directly after the food is passed out, Jesus has the well-known conversation with Peter.
“Peter, do you love me?” Feed my sheep.I think John wanted us to see something about this meal. This ordinary meal turned suddenly (and without warning) into communion. Ordinary meals are known to do that from time to time…That is why it is so important for you to share as many meals as possible with your family.
“Peter, do you love me?” Tend my sheep.
“Peter, do you love me?” Feed by sheep.
As the next campaign in our STAND@Home ministry, we are encouraging our families to eat together. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So simple, yet so often neglected in our world. So simple, and SO IMPORTANT! The Columbia University: Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse conducted a study for over a decade. They found that the more we eat together as a family, the closer our relationships become. They found that the more often families eat together, the less likely children in those homes are to: Smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, have eating disorders or, consider suicide. And they found that the more often families eat together, the more likely children in those homes are to: Do well in school, delay having sex, eat vegetables, use big words and learn which fork to use! Eating together, even as Scripture teaches us, is about more than the food! In her book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, Miriam Weinstein suggests that family meals are rituals. They are formative to husbands and wives and children and grandparents. When we carve out time to be together, in those normative moments, special things happen. The more quantity of time we dedicate together, the more likely we are to experience quality time.
So, we are challenging each family here to eat together at least three times a week over the next 4 months. Listen, I know our schedules are crazy in our world. There were two days last week, that I was a taxi service from 4:00 in the afternoon until 8:00 for my children. Play practice, lacrosse practice, baseball game; in our busy world, it is virtually impossible to find time to eat together as a family. But I don’t know how to say this any more emphatically: We must make the time. We must make it a priority. We must change other items on our calendars to make them fit around our family meals. It is that important. And this isn’t just important for families with small children. Even if you do not have children at home, it is important for you to eat with your spouse. If you are single, it is important for you to find people with whom you can share a meal, your brothers and sisters here at Glenwood, friends, neighbors, co-workers. I believe God intended for us to share meals in the context of community. Because, sometimes ordinary meals can suddenly turn into communion!
Some of us have never made eating together a habit, and to be honest, it might be a bit awkward. “What do we do when we get there?” Let me make a couple of suggestions for you. First, there was a book published a few years ago entitled: 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking, by Mary DeMuth. A great resource for conversation starters. It is $6 on Amazon! Other ideas: Join hands in prayer around the table, read Scripture together around the table (Kim recently suggested this for our dinner time.) Have everyone share a high or a low about their day. You don’t have to prepare a Bible lesson for dinner! Make it simple. Allow God to work in the context of your time together. By the way, moms and dads, this is also a wonderful occasion to teach your children about service. Allow each child a responsibility around dinnertime. Who will set the table? Who will bring the dishes to the sink? Who will clean the table after dinner is finished? What a great way to instill a propensity for service in your children!
As with our other campaigns, we want to help you succeed in your efforts. Our STAND@Home Center is stocked with resources about eating together at home. We have a Meals@Home booklet we’d like to give each of you when you leave here this morning. Also, we have some built in incentives for you! We want you to tally the number of meals you eat together as a family. We have two cards: “Our family ate together at least 3 times this week," and “This is how many times we ate together this month.” Turn those cards into the STAND@Home Center each week or month. We will have a weekly drawing here during our worship time to give away gift cards to local restaurants, family resources, and other gifts.
My prayer is that God will use these four months to help you create a wonderful habit (ritual) in your home. Because it might happen today or next week or next month…you will sit down with your spouse or your children or your neighbor, hamburgers will be on the table, maybe, if you are lucky, a Coke Zero! And as conversation ensues, suddenly, you might not even notice it at first, the aftertaste on that meal will begin to taste a bit like bread and wine.