Defining Moments: Jesus At The Table

Mark 14:12-17, 22-25

February 22, 2015

In 2015, it is astounding how many people use the Internet service known as Facebook. Young and old alike are almost addicted to the opportunity that Facebook provides to share what’s happening in our daily lives and to catch up on what’s going on in the lives of others. It really has become the place today where we talk about our children and grandchildren, do a little bragging and, dare I say it, catch up on the latest gossip near and far. Today, 58% of Americans have a Facebook account and there is a good chance that someone here this morning, already bored with the sermon, is on Facebook right now. Now, don’t feel compelled to raise your hand if it’s you!?!

As many of you know, the person credited with founding Facebook is a Harvard University drop out by the name of Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg remains the head of Facebook even today and at the current age of 30, he is one of the 20 wealthiest people in America. Not as well known to most of us is the original Facebook cofounder whose name is Eduardo Saverin. When the idea of Facebook emerged while Zuckerberg and Saverin were are Harvard, both contributed out of their strengths. Zuckerberg was the primary ideas man and visionary while Saverin provided the initial $15,000 to start Facebook and worked on the first business plan. Their partnership quickly faded however. Over time, the two developed what could be called irreconcilable differences. They feuded and lost confidence and faith in each other. Zuckerberg eventually fired Saverin and the two parted ways. Their initial collective brilliance which propelled two college kids to be billionaires by their early 30s is no more and will likely never be experienced again.

Life is full of disappointments, breakups and fractured relationships. As human beings, we let each other down regularly. And, often, our disillusionment with one another leads to our drifting apart and to our own irreconcilable differences with family, friends, work associates, church and even at times with God.

Jesus faced a similar moment of disappointment in our passage for today with the group of men who were his closest friends and partners in ministry whom we know as the twelve disciples. This passage, which is the biblical basis for our celebration of communion and in the text Jesus and the disciples have gathered in a borrowed upper room to celebrate Passover together which was and remains the sacred, annual Jewish commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is a meal where every element is symbolic and brings to mind some aspect of the original story of God’s delivering his people from the Egyptians. The meal, as a result, could and still can last for four to five hours.

As they prepared, Jesus was aware that his life on earth was also moving to its critical conclusion. So, he took two of the elements of this already sacred meal and he reworked their meaning and for that matter the meaning of the whole meal. He wanted these his closest friends to once more have a chance to understand who he is and how his life fit into God’s saving work.

At the same time, on a basic human level, it seems that Jesus wanted one more quite, reflective meal and evening with his closest friends – thus the phrase, the last supper.

What is so profound, however, is that it all took place in the midst of what must have been deep disappointment for Jesus. What I mean by that statement is this. Each and every one of these twelve, his friends, would let him down in the next 24 hours. And, further still he knew it. Peter would deny him. Judas would betray him. James and John would go to sleep on him in the garden. All twelve would drift away into the shadows fearful that they would be linked to him and find their own lives in danger. They would all disappoint sooner rather than later. He knew this and yet he still chose to spend his last peaceful night with them. Rather than distance himself from them and have nothing more to do with them, he once more tried to help them understand how much he loved them.

This was one of Jesus’ defining moments. He chose to be faithful to them and to love them in the very midst of their epic failure. And the truth is that the same faithfulness exists for us.

Even in our lives, God’s faithfulness is far deeper and much more secure than our own faithfulness. Said another way, God’s faithfulness to us is not dictated by our faithfulness to Him.

What is very sad and very wrong is our temptation to often assume that God treats us like we treat each other. When we fail someone or when we disappoint another, that misstep generally comes with consequences. Others often shy away from us, withdraw from us or no longer trust us as they once did. And yet, in God’s mercy and grace this is not how our Heavenly Father responds. Sure God may be disappointed in our sin or failures, but our place at God’s table and our invitation to God’s love remains secure. With the disciples at the table that night, Jesus had the uncanny ability to see what the disciples could be rather than only seeing what they were in the moment . God’s gracious love for us works in the same way I believe.

One of the things that Ann Marie and I have long been interested in is the Biltmore house in Asheville. We both visited there as children, had visited there as Adults in the past and have really enjoyed being able to go somewhat often since moving to Laurens and being relatively close by. Recently we were there and enjoyed some new information about the Biltmore house during the two World Wars. One of the interesting stories was about a man named Herbert Noble. Noble was a servant at Biltmore when WWI started. Like others at Biltmore, he volunteered for service. And, like others at Biltmore, he was guaranteed by Mrs. Vanderbilt that after the war, his job would be waiting for him. It was secure. The interesting thing about Noble is that when he came back, he did so with a severely injured hand which limited his abilities. That unexpected affect of war, however, changed nothing. He was still seen as someone with potential and value for the estate and his job was restored. In fact, Noble would work at Biltmore for another fifteen to twenty years after the war.

Thanks be to God that our Lord’s faithfulness to us is much greater than our own. And, thanks be to God that we are seen not in light of what we currently are but in light of what we still can be.

At the same the, this defining moment of Jesus with the disciples not only challenges our thoughts about how God treats us but it also challenges how we should treat others. So often, when we deal with disappointments, or the fracturing of relationships, much of our focus is on the other rather than on ourselves. We bemoan what they have done, we speculate what they will do next and we discuss how they have hurt us. Yet their behavior is out of our control while what remains in our control is how we will choose to respond. Jesus was in the same place in our passage for today. He refused to control what the disciples did no matter how hurtful it might be. He left them fully in charge of their lives. But, he did take full control of his response to them which involved seeing their continued potential and worth in the midst of current missteps. Jesus’ challenge, I believe, is for us to do the same.

It is easy for us to give those who disappoint us what they deserve in light of current circumstances. It is much harder for us to continue to be faithful in situations where our faithfulness doesn’t seem to be warranted. Yet, remember what happened to the disciples. By and large in the book of Acts, which follows the Gospels, we find that Jesus’ continued belief led to their flourishing on the other side of the crucifixion.

Who is it in our lives or what group in our lives have we given up on out of disappointment. Whose lack of faithfulness to us has caused our own faithfulness to erode? And yet in light of God’s treatment of us, who needs our continued belief in who they can still be rather than in what they currently are?

You may have heard the news this week that a new book is on the way from beloved children’s writer Dr. Seuss whose real name was Theodore Geisel. Recently, some unpublished Geisel manuscripts were discovered and they will be published this summer. Ironically, it is great good fortune that led to Geisel being a published author at all. The first Dr. Seuss book was called And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. During the early 1930s, well over twenty publishers found no value in the book and rejected it for numerous reasons. In fact, on the heels of his latest rejection, Geisel was on his way home one day to burn the manuscript to And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street when he ran into an old friend with whom he had gone to college. The friend had just become the children’s division editor of a publisher called Vanguard Press. Vanguard was known at the time for taking chances on authors that no one else would and they decided to offer Geisel the same unexpected trust. Geisel was so thankful that he changed the title character of the story and named him after his college friend’s son Marco out of his gratitude. The courage and faith of Vanguard and Geisel’s friend led to the world getting to know Dr. Seuss who himself always said that without them he would have probably become a dry cleaner! While Random House became the ultimate publisher of Dr. Seuss, for over 50 years hence, And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street continued to be published by Vanguard.

Do you realize that God still believes in you? Do you recognize the person that needs you to still believe in them? Without question, sometimes what is most important is not what we see on the surface in the moment but rather what may be lurking underneath in the form of what could still be in the future through our faith, belief and support. Amen.