It has been said that it was Jesus’ table manners that got him killed. He was fond of eating with sinners, the outcast, and the nobodies. It seems he would invite himself to anyone’s dinner table and he practiced an open table policy when it came to who sat with him at the table. The religious leaders accused Jesus of eating like a glutton and drinking like a drunk (Lk. 7:34).
It was not just his eating habits that got him in trouble but the stories that he told that sounded too scandalous to be told around a meal. A great banquet that was being thrown where outsiders would be insiders. Who can forget the big feast that the crazy father threw for the return of his prodigal son? When your faith revolved so much around a meal, telling the wrong stories around the table could get you in trouble. Telling the wrong stories and inviting the wrong people to the table got Jesus in trouble with those who defined the table manners.
The beginning of his last twenty-four hours of his life starts out around a table. Within in a few hours he would be arrested while praying in a garden. After sunrise he would be tried by Pontius Pilate, taken out to be tortured, and hung on a cross by 9:00 A.M. Six hours later his body removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. But before all these events would occur, Jesus would gather his friends in an upper room for one last supper.
It was the season of Passover. The time when the Jewish people remembered who they were as a people and how they broke free from slavery. It was a powerful ritual celebrating the freedom that God had given the people from slavery under Pharaoh’s heavy hand. In the Jewish Passover meal, after the table is prepared, a child would ask, “Why is this night special above all other nights?”
The elder at the table would retell the story of the people’s deliverance. He would share how Moses was sent by God to tell Pharaoh, “to let the people go.” The story of nine annoying plaques did nothing to change Pharaoh’s mind. But the tenth plague had the power to send the Israelites into freedom. It was in this tenth and final plague that the Israelites were told to prepare their last meal while slaves in Egypt because after that night they would be free. Every Jewish father would tell this story with a sense of anticipation that they may find deliverance from whatever (or whomever) enslaved the people. The table becomes the place to tell the story. It is not just a rehashing of what happened in the past, but a hope of what can be in the present. In telling the story and in eating the meal, the past becomes the present. Freedom is being proclaimed for people who find themselves enslaved.
When Jesus lifts the bread of the Passover meal and says, “Take, eat; this is my body” and when he lifts the cup from the table and declares, “”This is my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he is declaring freedom for those who participate in his life and death. He is saying that through him deliverance has come.
One of the regular rituals found at tables where families still gather for dinner is the asking, “How was your day?” We have done it so regularly in our home that my kids try to be the first ones to ask the question, “Soooo, how was your day?” In that conversation we share our joys and concerns. We express those things that made us feel afraid and those things that gave us happiness. And we do it all around a meal. There is something about a meal that breaks down barriers. In the vulnerability of showing our true selves around the dinner table we find healing and strength to deal with the next day. We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we tell others. We find freedom in the telling of those stories. In that sense it becomes a means of grace. It is not just families that pray together stay together. It could be said that families that eat together stay together.
Some of us sit at divided tables. For some the stories we tell ourselves are nothing more than lies. They are made up stories because that is the best we can do. When asked, “How was your day?” You reply, “Fine” because that is the best you can tell yourself and others. We live in a broken world. A world fallen by sin. It is a world where the lies have been believed and turned into the story of our life.
But at God’s table you don’t have to keep telling yourself everything is “fine.” At this table you don’t have to keep making up stories. If it is true, we are what we eat, and then in receiving Holy Communion you can be grace-filled and forgiven. At this table forgiveness is found, mercy is handed out, and love is digested. When someone asks you why is this table so special above all other tables,” you can reply, “because Jesus showed up.”
When Major League Baseball player Turk Wendell took the field he wore a necklace made from the teeth of hunted animals. Third baseman Wade Boggs would eat chicken before games. It is reported that Michael Jordan wore his college shorts under his NBA uniform. Linus, the friend of Charlie Brown, could not live without his blanket. Why? They were determined that wearing special clothing, reenacting odd behavior, eating particular foods, or carrying certain items brought them luck.
We all have things that we convince ourselves make life better. We just may not carry a lucky rabbit’s foot or have special socks we wear before important meetings. We are persuaded that having certain items or acting in a particular way makes our life easier, more manageable, and less complicated. Some where along the way we picked up those habits, routines, and instruments because someone told us “we could not live without them” or “we need this to make life more controllable.” We are left to believe that “this is who we are, and without it we are incomplete.” We define ourselves with the stuff that makes up our lives and in the process lose our true identity.
In a world that works overtime trying to convince us to buy into the latest product that will add charm to our lives, it is great to have a season that reminds us that if we are going to rediscover our identity we must empty ourselves. Lent is a reminder that we can live without. According to the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting. He spent one day for each year that the people of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness. Because Jesus spent 40 days of fasting in the wilderness while being tempted by the devil, the Church has observed 40 days of Lent prior to the celebration of Easter. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It is on this day that we gather to confess our sin of being charmed by something or someone other than God. We will be marked with ashes and the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For the next forty days, we will make it a daily practice to remind ourselves that our identity is found in God. We will worship more. Pray deeper. Fast regularly. All in the hopes that through the sacrifice we find freedom through resurrection.
The danger of the charmed life is that we can lose ourselves. We get lost in our stuff and our habits. Most of us are consumed by something: eating, shopping, criticizing or blaming other people, television, self-pity, or public recognition. This consumption fills that space in our lives that is made for God. The charms become our addictions. They become the habits and substances we use to comfort ourselves, to block out pain and fear. We no longer know ourselves and make it hard to be known by others.
If you want to rediscover yourself, renew your relationship with God, and redefine your life purpose then accept God’s invitation to the wilderness. I invite you to journey with me into the vastness of silence. Let us travel together into the place that leaves us feeling vulnerable. I know it is a scary place. It is a dangerous place. The feeling of being chased by the shadow of judgment will keep us on the move. In this place we will hear, “the day of the Lord is coming.” But don’t let this be the final word. There is no resurrection without death. If we will let it this season of revealing darkness can give way to the light of new life.
Lent is a reminder that we can live without. via @jprickett #lent #40days
If you want to renew your relationship w/ God, then accept God’s invitation to the wilderness. via @jprickett #lent #40days
If we will let it this season of revealing darkness can give way to the light of new life. via @jprickett #lent #40days
There is no resurrection without death. via @jprickett #lent #40days
I love ice cream. I consider it one of the basic food groups. My favorite ice cream is Mayfield’s Mint Chocolate Chip. At least it was my favorite until the day I betrayed Mayfield and pick up a tub of Blue Bell Mint Chocolate ice cream. You see, I have always been loyal to Mayfield ice creams because they were a part of the community were I resided. I would take my children to the Mayfield Dairy on Thursday’s in the summer and get twenty-five-cent scoops. The elementary school would go on field trips to the dairy and see firsthand the creation of ice cream. By the time a child got into the fifth grade they could tell you by rote memory the process of ice cream development. Mayfield was my brand. I had no clue how other mint chocolate chip ice cream tasted. I just knew Mayfield had it and it was good.
Back last summer the grocery store was out of Mayfield’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and I was in need of my ice cream fix. I gave into temptation and broke loyalty and purchased Blue Bell ice cream. Oh, my goodness, I did not know that mint chocolate chip ice cream could taste so good. I am sorry Mayfield but Blue Bell has seduced my taste buds.
We all have brand loyalty. A certain pair of jeans fit just right and we would not consider the competitor brand. We have our favorite toothpaste. We would not think of switching soft drinks. We are either PC or Apple fanatics. And our heart belongs to a particular brand of shoes.
Marketers call this brand loyalty. They know that we are creatures of habit and if they can win us to their side then the potential is there for having us as lifetime customers. A lot of money goes into building brand loyalty.
We know loyalty runs deeper and has a more lasting impact when it involves relationships. If I asked, “Do you consider yourself a loyal person” most of us would answer in the affirmative. Who wants to be considered as disloyal? We regard ourselves loyal and yet the world is filled with disloyalty. Friends are betraying friends. Politicians are ignoring commitments. Spouses are cheating on one another. Employees are stealing from employers. Secrets that were told in confidence are being told behind backs. If we consider ourselves as loyal people, then who is committing all these disloyal acts? Asking are we loyal or disloyal is asking the wrong question. The question is who or what are we giving our loyalty?
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Daniel the main character is being asked to be disloyal to God. Some leaders in Babylon were jealous of the success that Daniel, the Jewish exile, was having with king Darius. They convince the king to sign a decree into law that states any person who prays to anyone besides the king should be thrown into a den of lions. The scripture says, “Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). The conspirators see Daniel praying, remind the king of his law and that it could not be broken, and they have Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. The next morning the king runs down to the lion’s den to see if Daniel had become an appetizer. He calls out and Daniel replies, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong” (Daniel 6:22). Daniel remained loyal to God even at the threat of his own life. In response to being saved from the mouth of the lion, Daniel responds that he has done no wrong not even before the king. And yet, he did. He broke the law of the king.
Loyalty is not blind. We are not being loyal to our friends when we go along with their plan to hurt others or themselves. We should always strive to be loyal but never to the point where we would be held accountable for someone else’s actions. Loyalty is not being an accomplice to a crime. It is actually being disloyal for us not to guide our friends away from the hurt they intend to cause themselves or other people.
Loyalty is being faithful to a commitment or obligation. It is keeping our word. Loyalty is being faithful to our friendships. It forces us to choose who and what counts in our lives. Who you side with will determine where your loyalty lies. Loyalty means I will be trustworthy no matter how difficult the situation. But we must also readily admit that sometimes we have been disloyal. At times we have betrayed ourselves, those we love, and God.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about his own betrayal and death. One of his disciples, Peter, says, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Less than twenty-four hours later Jesus is dragged before the High Priest. Peter watches from the courtyard. He is asked three times by those standing around about being with Jesus and three times Peter denies it. Peter had just affirmed his loyalty to Jesus and now in the moments when Jesus needs him the most Peter is disloyal. He runs off feeling like a failure.
How many of us can name a time when we have been disloyal? A time when we have betrayed the trust of a friend, family member, or even ourselves? How many of us have let someone down? How many of us have let God down?
The Good News is that we do not have to live as a disloyal person. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. He looks at Peter, the one who was disloyal, and asks, “Do you love me?” He asks not just one time but three times. Then he tells Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 17). In other words, live out the reason that I called you. Be loyal to me and my purpose for your life.
The bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were disloyal, Christ died for us. His loyalty to us gives us back the lives we lost in our disloyalty. When we did not deserve it God remained loyal. God’s forgiveness in the midst of our disloyalty is reason enough for us to remain loyal to God and those we love.
Are you an envious person? Have you ever wished the most popular girl in school woke up with a bad hair day? Have you ever wish that guy who seems to have all the luck would just once walk out to his truck in the parking lot and find a flat tire? You and one other is up for first chair in the band program. Only one space is available. He gets it. How do you feel? Everyone has a date to homecoming except you. The person you would have liked to gone with has asked someone else. How do you feel?
You’re out in the front yard one Saturday morning. You strike up a conversation with your next-door neighbor. She’s beaming about how good life is treating her. As she explains, the most perfect, compassionate, most kindhearted man in the entire world, and her husband, are one and the same person. Her children get straight A’s in school and letter in varsity sports. You, on the other hand, have been talking about separation with your husband and your eldest son just got expelled from school for selling marijuana in the boy’s locker room. Do you find your neighbor inspiring?
Envy is more than the simple desire to have what another has. It is the hatred of what another has, or of what another person has become. The story of Naboth’s vineyard in I Kings 21 deals directly with envy. Naboth has a vineyard beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. Everyday King Ahab would look down from his window and see the luscious grapes of Naboth’s vineyard. The fruit in Naboth’s garden was more succulent than all the acres of his vineyards. He demanded that Naboth sell his vineyard. Naboth refused on the account of it being family land. King Ahab went away envious. His wife, Queen Jezebel, sees him moping around and asks what is the problem. Like a preschooler who refuses to get his away, he tells his wife of his jealousy for Naboth’s vineyard. She schemes up a plan to have Naboth killed and her husband’s envy resolved by possessing Naboth’s vineyard. King Ahab is confront by the prophet Elijah for his actions and told, “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth , dogs will also lick up your blood” (I Kings 21: 19).
Envy is the longing for another not to have something that you wished you had. Envy kills all love, pity, mercy, and compassion. God tells Ahab and all of us who struggle with envy, “You have sold yourself” (I Kings 21:20)! Envy makes us ungrateful. When we struggle with envy we spend all our time focused on what others have and forget that we are blessed people.
Gratitude replaces envy by turning our focus on what we have been given. You don’t have to wait for everything to be perfectly straightened out in your family or at school, or for all your problems to go away. You can choose today to be a person of gratitude. Gratitude is an attitude. It is one’s approach toward life. If you make the mistake of allowing your circumstances, or the people around you to dictate gratitude then you are just waiting for envy to creep up and destroy you.
I am a horrible gardener. But I do like flowers. I don’t know which flowers need to be planted where. How much sun light this one needs versus this one. Or even how much water they need. I just plant the pretty little things and hope for the best. So I planted these little annuals in the bed beside the house. I didn’t know if they would come up but sure enough I have these pretty little flowers. Do they get enough sunlight Probably not! Do they get enough water? Probably not! But they have bloomed where they were planted. I believe that to be one of the secret’s to life: bloom where you are planted. You may not be where you want to be in life today. You may not have the perfect family. You may not get into the school of your dreams. You may not get the role in the drama that you had hoped. Life may not always go your way.
God has planted us exactly where God wants us to be at this particular time in our life. We cannot understand it always. God may be teaching us something, pushing us toward something or someone, or stretching us to see how we will respond. God has us here for a reason. God may be using you to be at work in the life of someone else. I don’t understand it all. I can’t always figure it out but I trust that God knows what God is doing. Don’t let envy take root in your heart. Practice daily the attitude of gratitude.
If you plan on dining in Japan, slurping is an appropriate table manner. It shows approval to the chef. But if you head over to Portugal do not ask for the salt and pepper if they are not already on the table. It is seen as an insult to the cooking abilities of the one who prepared the meal. In the Middle East, even if you are left-handed, make sure you eat with your right hand. It is inappropriate to pick up food with your left-hand.
I suppose as Americans we think about such things as table etiquette. However, what is considered appropriate does not seem as important as it is in other parts of the world. It has given us the reputation as the “rude” American.
Some will say it is because we are just being ourselves and not being restricted by social norms. I think it is because we have lost the concept of honor. Honor is a forgotten virtue in our day. We ignore the admonition to “love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10 NLT). Showing honor is old fashion. It harks back to the days of chivalry. Rudeness is the order of the day.
There are two groups of people we are called to show honor. First, we are told to honor our parents. One of the Ten Commandments declares, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). Our parents are partners in the creation of us. They represent God in our lives when we are young in that they are our primary caregivers. When we give honor to our parents we are recognizing that they give value to our lives.
The second group we are asked to respect is those who have authority over us. In Romans 13 the Apostle Paul tells us to choose to subject ourselves to those who have authority over us. They have been granted that authority by God. So, we are to show “honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13: 7). Authority could include our government authorities. It also includes teachers, coaches, mentors, and others who have taken on the responsibility to guide us into being mature adults. God has placed them over us to teach us wisdom and give us the abilities to be leaders in our world. We are called to honor.
Thomas Carlyle said, “Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are.” If you only look up to people who lie, cheat, and steal their way through life then that will be the person who you will become. But if you honor a person who stands with integrity and lives her life with honesty then you are more than likely to become that type of person. Our lives are shaped as much by those whom give honor as it to those whom we choose to dishonor.
Also, if we choose to live a life that dishonors people, who is to say that, we will be honored when we most need it? If we live our lives in total disrespect, then what happens when we need someone to show us respect? If we don’t give dignity to others, who will treat us with dignity, when we need it the most?
Once there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware distressingly, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. Now he lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live, and his son’s wife didn’t like the arrangement.
“I can’t have this,” she said. “It interferes with my right to happiness.” So she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner.
One day his hands trembled rather more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke. “If you are a pig,” said the daughter-in-law, “you must eat out of a trough.” So they made him a little wooden trough and he got his meals in that.
These people had a four-year-old son of whom they were very fond. One evening the young man noticed his boy playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.
“I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling up for approval, “to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn’t say anything. Then they cried a little. They then went to the corner and took the old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.
“Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Have respectful fear of God. Honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:17).
When most of us think of justice we think everyone getting their fair due. It means treating everyone fairly. Justice is defined as a theory that is applied to each person. Each child must have an equal amount of Christmas presents under the tree. The slice of turkey on each person’s dinner plate must be the same. The same crime carries the same penalty regardless of who committed the crime. Justice in this sense rests on fairness. But does it go far enough? In the 1960’s it seemed fair to a lot of people that blacks and whites were treated the same but separate. Blacks had water fountains just like the whites. They had dressing rooms just like the whites. They could ride a bus just like the whites. Many were saying justice was being offered because even though blacks were treated differently they were given the same benefits. Then Martin Luther King came along with a dream, a dream that moved a nation to see justice being aligned with love and not just theoretical fairness.
The story of Joseph, the one engaged to Mary, mother of Jesus, reminds us that the concept of justice and what it means to be just is always personal. It can never be reduced to a theory. In the birth of Jesus, justice becomes a human subject. A Christian understanding of justice is always personal. It goes further than simply being law abiding to being loving. It makes justice about taking care of the vulnerable and weak. It makes justice more about loving the other than about everyone simply getting what they deserve. It means letting our dreams for a world where love is stronger than hate and forgiveness more powerful than revenge move us to act in radically different ways. The next time someone comes to you with an impossible dream instead of jumping on the band wagon of political correctness take time to listen to see if you can hear the voice of God translating the dream into a hopeful reality.
The Loretta Chapel is a small Gothic chapel on the Old Santa Fe Trail built in 1873. When the chapel was built, the architect forgot to include a way for the nuns to reach the choir loft. The sisters weighed their options. They could build a conventional staircase, but that would take up too much room. They could rebuild the balcony, but that would require too much money. They come simply set up an extension ladder and climb up and down, but these are nuns and that is an accident waiting to happen. So, the nuns started praying and dreaming.
One night while they were praying, a white bearded stranger appeared at the door of the convent asking for work. A toolbox was strapped to his burro and he told the sisters he was a carpenter. When they told him their problem, he offered to build a spiral staircase.
His spiral staircase was an engineering feat. It contained thirty-three steps and two complete turns of three-hundred-sixty degrees with no center support. The carpenter used wooden pegs instead of nails, and his only tools were a say, a T-square, and a hammer.
As soon as the staircase was finished, the unknown craftsman disappeared without asking to be paid. If you were to ask the nuns, they would tell you the carpenter was Joseph, the husband of Mary, the father of Jesus, the dreamer of the impossible.
Of course, the story is stuff of legends. But who will be the Joseph’s today and believe the impossible? Who will be the Joseph’s today and listen to their dreams? Who will be the Joseph’s today and believe in the dreams of others? Your righteousness translates into love when you believe in the dreams of others. Who knows if you believe in dreams, what miracles may happen?
A woman wakes up from her sleep a few days from Christmas and tells her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” “Oh,” her husband replies, “you’ll know the day after tomorrow.”
The next morning, she turns to her husband again and says the same thing, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” And her husband says, “You’ll know tomorrow.”
On the third morning, the woman wakes up and smiles at her husband, “I just dreamed again that you gave me a pearl necklace for Christmas. What do you think this dream means?” And he smiles back, “You’ll know tonight.”
That evening, the man came home with a small package and presented it to his wife. She was delighted. She opened it gently. And when she did, she discovered a book. The title of the book was “The Meaning of Dreams.” Her husband sits besides her smiling.
Do not under-estimate the power of dreams. No matter how practical we try to be dreams are still real. No matter how rationalistic we consider ourselves dreams have the power to shape our world. Frederick Buechner said dreams remind us that “our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious, and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.” Some say dreams have no meaning. Others claim that dreams are as real as the world we live in when we are awake. Regardless, of how we feel about dreams, dreams and visions have moved people in directions that they would otherwise not take.
Joseph, the one engaged to Mary, mother of Jesus, has his life changed by dreams. He is first told in a dream to take Mary as his wife. Secondly, it was in a dream that he was told to gather his family and go to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Finally, it was in a dream that he was told it was safe to return to Israel after Herod’s death. Joseph was a dreamer. I wonder if that was always the case. The scriptures describe him as “just” or “righteous.” A person described as “just” is someone who obeys the law. It is someone who applies the rules fairly. A “just” person is someone who gives equal application to the law. An “eye for an eye” type of person. Joseph was going to do the “right” thing and divorce Mary. At least he was going to do it quietly. He wasn’t going to be one of these revengeful partners who broadcast the adultery on billboards or throwing all their stuff on the front lawn with a large sign announcing the infidelity to the world. Joseph was going to do the “right” thing and divorce her but would do it quietly. He would not let his righteousness turn into revenge. Then he has a dream. His dream changes everything he knows about the righteousness of God and being just.
Joseph takes on the burden of love because he wants her, and God knows she needs him. The angel says, “Believe her unbelievable story and become the husband she needs and the father the child will require.” This child will need a father who can teach him to take risks. He will need a father who can teach him to stand with character in the face of disapproval and to believe the unbelievable. This son whom he will name Jesus will need to learn the compassion of what it means to call God “daddy.” He needs to be able to one day tell a story of a loving father who is willing to risk everything even the ridicule of the whole community to welcome back a wayward son. One day this son will grow up to be a teacher who tells his followers, “A father always gives good gifts to his children.” He will need to learn that lesson from someone. It is as though the angel was telling Joseph, “If you don’t walk the hard road to Bethlehem, who will give courage to this child of Mary to climb the cruel hill to Calvary?”
Through a dream, the angel tells Joseph not to give up on Mary. She needs him. He needs her. The angel’s message gives Joseph the courage to reach out beyond the penalties of the law and love a young girl who is no doubt broken and bruised. Justice becomes more than the equal application of the law. Justice becomes forever linked to love. It is a righteousness that is redefined through a dream. An angel interrupts Joseph’s moment of what seems to be a nightmare with a dream of a birth of a son that will be the salvation of the world. In the dream more than a son is promised, a father is born. Our world is in need of fathers who listen and believe in the dreams of God’s potential for their families.