“Share at the King's Feast”

21 November 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

November 21, 2010

Luke 22:24-30

“Share at the King's Feast”

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

This is the last Sunday of our lectionary year, and we arrive with Luke at the Last Supper.  Today’s Gospel lesson brings this final reminder from Jesus of what an alternative Kingdom he brings.  Christians around the world know this day as “Christ the King” Sunday. In New England, we also call it “Thanksgiving Sunday,” in honor of our Pilgrim ancestors.  Either way, we remember how sacred it is to break bread together — whether it’s here at church or at home with family.  Either way, we’re called to share at the King’s feast, because of the Good News of Jesus Christ – his promise to call us into his Kingdom, and to always be present with us, wherever two or three are gathered together in his name.

All week I’ve been collecting your stories, and I thank you for sharing your families’ holiday feast traditions with me – as you might imagine, in a congregation as diverse as ours, they are many, and varied.  It made me very hungry!  From cranberry bread with cream cheese to pumpkin pie, classic roast turkey to honey ham to pasta to Armenian kubeba, they all have some elements in common – family gather around the table to tell and retell family stories, to share in the feast, and to give thanks for God’s bounty.  But every family adds its own special touch – for one family, it’s an after-dinner hike around the block – truth is, the women always throw the men and children out the door to get them out of the way for the clean up, but it’s sacred tradition just the same!  Another family has the all-important gathering of the football fans around the big screen TV in the den. 

As for me, I married into the family of Henry Martinez Garcia – master chef for the U.S. Navy and later a butcher for Safeway Stores, where Thanksgiving was truly the high holy day of the year.  But for the Garcias, Thanksgiving was always much more than a festival of meat and tasty meat by-products.  Under Grandpa Henry’s loving hand, the turkey was carved the way I’m sure Michelangelo carved a sculpture – it was a sacred act, much more than mere catering.  But before this penultimate moment, the women had to preside at the kitchen stove over the sacred alchemy of gravy-making – “double, double, toil and trouble!”  And before that was the sacred morning of snacking at the table as the turkey roasted – over the sharing of the sacred poker game.  Wagering for spare change went on all morning – it was a true festival of joking, teasing, and yakking. 

My husband John just last night reminded me that the cardinal sin at that table was to do what this scripture warns against – to be like “the kings of the Gentiles [who] lord it over [other people.]”  Players were never allowed to take the game, or themselves, too seriously.  That’s what the teasing was for.  It was the way Jesus said it should be at that table of grace, the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”  The elders would teach the children, help all the little cousins play their cards the best way possible.  Having grown up with Southern Baptist grandparents, who had grown up in a church that taught that all card-playing was a sin, I was as stupid about poker as the nearest 5-year-old – but everyone pitched in to help me figure it out.  Still, I’d sometimes manage to blurt out opening lines like “Now what is it again that beats a straight flush?” and all my new relatives would just groan and throw in their hands. 

But here’s the thing that made that game very like the Kingdom that Jesus calls us to join and to lead – no matter how bad it got for someone, no matter how broke they became with a string of bad luck, they were never allowed to cash in their chips.  That’s because we were all family – when one ran short, and it was usually me, someone would reach into their own pot and scrape up a handful of fresh quarters.  We shared.  The game was never about winning or losing, but just about being together and enjoying the day.  Win or lose, poker-stupid or poker-savvy, we all got invited back to the table when the sacred bird was to be carved – we all were invited to feast at the King’s table because we were all one family.  Our Kingdom was ruled not by laws or armies, but by a spirit of holy love.  And wasn’t this the vision of God’s Kingdom that Jesus shared with the world?

This is Christ the King, according to Luke – Jesus the servant leader rules the world because he gave his life for us, not because he killed and conquered and plundered a King’s fortune of great wealth.  This Jesus born illegitimate and homeless in a manger was a new kind of king, one unlike any the world had seen before.  This Jesus was to end his life on earth as a humiliated king, stripped and beaten and crucified for love of us – saving through his holy love generations like us yet unborn, nations yet undiscovered.  This Jesus turned the world upside down with the fatal foolishness of his reckless love and selfless sharing.  In the age of Hercules and Caesar, it was illogical for God to send such a son as a savior.  Why should the King of Kings love and serve us, giving his life for the world?  As Paul writes in the first chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Tyrants laugh at the power of love, and gorge themselves on every luxury life has to offer – yet the greatest at God’s table, Jesus says, is the one who serves. 

Don’t we know this to be true? Who is the greatest at your Thanksgiving table?  Who has the most moral authority?  Isn’t it Grandma bringing out the turkey, Grandpa carving?  The greatest are the ones who serve, the ones who have sacrificed the most for love of family – those who have labored for love of all.  Only a real fool would fail to take that sacrifice seriously – to think the greatest is the nephew who drives up in the nicest car and has the most stuff, or the uncle who knows the most about football, or the card shark who wins the silly family poker game. 

In our prayer shawl group last week, Anita Volpe was telling us a great story about her mother’s delicious Armenian kubeba.  It’s a traditionally spiced dish of layered ground meat, bulgur wheat, and pine nuts – something made for special occasions, special Armenian family celebrations.  It seems that one of the brothers-in-law, a non-Armenian, one time was clueless enough to interrupt the glorious arrival of the kubeba to the table by saying, “Hey, can I have some catsup for my meat loaf?”  Oh, how slowly she turned, the matriarch, in the direction of the blasphemer, at the suggestion of such desecration of holy kubeba.  “No,” she said.  “No catsup.”  And some kind soul quickly changed the subject and saved a human life.  Isn’t it true, though?  At Thanksgiving dinner, you just don’t mess with grandma and her food.  She’s the queen of all who serve.

Over the years, my brother-in-law Mike and sister-in-law Becky and I had to almost literally wrestle Grandma Lucy out of the kitchen to do dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, but we loved getting to do that together – to carry on her tradition of serving others.  In her last years, Grandma had to help with Thanksgiving from her wheelchair, but we knew we had to find real work for her to do – she was too smart to fall for some kind of patronizing, made-up kid job like napkin-stacking.  I think many of us have loved ones who are aging, whose greatest tragedy has been the loss of their ability to serve others.  We see that process in reverse with little kids, who are beside themselves with joy when they get their first kitchen job.  It’s their greatest pride, to finally be big enough to help with something – just to set the table.  I loved that my Nana taught me to make her pies, let me work at her side – she’d make a big one, and I’d make a little one, in a tart pan.  Teaching our children to share and to serve is the heart of Christian Education, right?  The kids are loving their kitchen rotations, I hear, in Sunday school – because they get to take home and share what they make.  Later today our youth groups are packing Thanksgiving treats for Brookfield Social Services, and the highlight of their year is the summer mission trip. 

With our Thanksgiving litany, “Sharing the Fruits of our Many Ministries,” we celebrate all the ways we share in our church.  Sharing is really the center of our mission, especially this time of year, in this so-called “season of sharing.”  Jesus has called us to a King’s feast, inviting us to his table of grace.  He has conferred on us a kingdom – with the honor of being stewards of his church.  Let us never forget what an honor and privilege it is to share in the Kingdom of God.  Let us continue to give generously and with joy – not obligation.  Let us look forward to sharing the Good News of God’s love and join Jesus in inviting the world to share at the King’s feast. 

Thanks be to God for this Good News.   

Luke 22:24-30

24A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.


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