October 13, 2013
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT
I Corinthians 11:17-26
A number of years ago I gave Helen an unusual floral arrangement. It was October and I was into the Major League Baseball postseason and World Series as I always am. I knew I had been spending way too much time with baseball and way too little time with my wife. So I got her some flowers and I had the florist mount a baseball as part of the arrangement. The flowers probably would have looked better without the baseball, but this way she remembers those flowers and I do, too. I give her flowers so often, otherwise that one occasion would probably just blend in with all the many others.
I’m even going to be talking about baseball this week at the “Classics” book study group. Our book is Wait ‘Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s a fun book about her growing up years and her favorite team — the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was the 40’s and the 50’s, when the Dodgers would frequently make it to the World Series but would almost always lose to the New York Yankees. Hence, the refrain: “Wait ’till next year.” The single exception was 1955. And then came 1957 and the unbelievable, shocking announcement that the Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles. Doris Kearns Goodwin says her mother died about that same time. The twin blows of losing her mother and losing her baseball team marked the end of her childhood.
George Will was even more melodramatic. He said it’s possible to trace the decline of western civilization back to the day the Dodgers left Brooklyn.
George Carlin had a comedy routine in which he contrasted football with baseball. In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap. In football you play in a stadium. In baseball you play in a park. In football it can be 20º below zero and still you play on. In baseball if it’s raining you cancel the game. In football the object is to march down the gridiron, through enemy territory and to cross the goal line which the enemy is bound and determined to keep you from crossing. In baseball the object is to go home.
Maybe that’s why I like baseball so much. It’s a simple game. You just have to learn to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. And the whole point is to travel around the bases and the final base is called home.
We all want to go home. We don’t all necessarily want to go back in time to the home we grew up in. For some of us those memories are happy. But for others those memories are painful. For some of you leaving home may have been the best thing you ever did and you never want to go back. Not even in your imagination. And if your family was dysfunctional, there’s a book that might make you feel better about your family. Because your family probably wasn’t as dysfunctional as the Tull family. Their story is told in Anne Tyler’s novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
Mrs. Tull is not a very pleasant person. She is explosive, angry, and vindictive. Mr. Tull is not even around. He abandoned his family when the children were young. The children do not get along with each other. They are frequently appalled by the behavior of their mother. The hero of the story is one of the children whose name is Ezra. He has his own issues, but he is by far the most sympathetic member of this dysfunctional family. Ezra loves to cook. He has a restaurant, “The Homesick Restaurant”. The name comes from his idea that everyone is homesick for something. There is some food they crave because it reminds them of home.
Here’s what Ezra Tull says about the pot roast he has on his menu: “It’s not only a pot roast. This is something more. I mean pot roast is really not the right name; it’s more like what you long for when you’re sad and everyone’s been wearing you down.”
We may think we’re homesick for a certain kind of food. But the food is only a reminder. We’re really homesick for something else. Maybe it’s family when we were all together. Or maybe it reminds us that we never really had a family, at least one that acted like families are supposed to act. But somehow that food sitting on that table, that meal, that breaking of bread is able to symbolize the deepest longings we have as human beings. “It’s not only a pot roast, it’s something more. It’s more like what you long for when you’re sad and everyone’s been wearing you down.”
Our scripture today is about a meal. It’s the meal we know as the Lord’s Supper. Paul says, “I passed on to you what I received.” Paul wasn’t there at the table with Jesus and his disciples. But he heard about it. He received the oral tradition that had been passed down about what happened in that Upper Room. And now he’s passing it on to those in the Corinthian church and to everyone ever since who has ever read this letter. It’s a sacred tradition. It’s important that it not be lost.
The words of the Lord’s Supper are similar to the words spoken at the Passover meal. Jesus, having been raised in a Jewish family, would have been familiar with these words. The Passover meal would have been central to his faith. And especially what the Passover meal represents — God’s promise to Israel that he would never abandon them. He would always be there for them.
And so Jesus, at this moment of his greatest need, shared this meal with his disciples. It was like home for him. Home is that place we are all looking for. It’s that place we are all homesick for. Where God meets us and reminds us of his promise. And the tradition passed down to us tells us that we are to share in just such a meal.
In other words, whenever “you are feeling sad and everyone’s been wearing you down”, come to the Homesick Restaurant. There’s a place there for you. This is what you’ve been looking for. This is home, with Christ as host, and with our new family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, gathered around this table. We’re homesick for this. And so today we can say we’ve come home.
I want you to notice something in the scripture we read. It says this meal is a remembrance. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” So it’s a looking backwards. But it also says it’s a looking forward. Paul tells us that we to keeping sharing in this meal “until the Lord returns.” So the Lord’s Supper is not only looking back in remembrance. It’s also looking forward in anticipation and hope.
As we come to this table today, let’s look back and let’s also look forward. Let’s remember what Jesus did for us on the cross and let’s also anticipate what Jesus will do for us. Because here’s the thing: When we get homesick, it’s not just homesickness for what was. It’s also homesickness for what might be. I think we all share in that forward looking kind of homesickness. A longing for fulfillment, a completion of what is incomplete, a recovery of what is lost. a healing of what is hurt, a forgiving of what is wrong, a redeeming of what is not right. And that’s why we come here when we are sad and life has worn us down, to hear again this promise that God is in charge and that God will never abandon us. God will always be there for us.
On this day as we celebrate World Communion Sunday, we look forward to the day when all the nations and all the races of the world will unite as one family, brothers and sisters, who love God and who love each other. We aren’t there yet. We’re a long way from being there. But at this table, one of many tables around the world, we anticipate that day. We pray for that day. We offer ourselves to do all that we can to bring about that day.
Diana Butler Bass is the author of a book called Christianity After Religion. She tells about visiting her bank to deposit some checks. Three tellers were working that day, all women. One woman wore a pale ivory head covering, the second woman had a red mark on her forehead, and the third woman had a small crucifix hanging from her neck. The author looked at them and laughed. “You look like the United Nations of banking!” They exchanged glances and smiled. The bank wasn’t busy at the moment, so she spent some time talking with these three women, Muslim, Hindu, and Catholic, about their respective religious traditions. As Diana Butler Bass left the bank, she realized she was crying. She said she had rarely felt the power of the risen Jesus so completely in her soul (pages 239-241).
It can happen. It will happen. Until it happens, we are homesick. In communion we anticipate that day.
The real reason Ezra Tull had opened the Homesick Restaurant was to bring his family back together. That becomes apparent as you read through the book. He keeps trying to get them to come to his restaurant and share a meal. Occasionally he succeeds. They come, he cooks a meal for them. They sit down, he starts to serve them. But something always happens. Something ugly. Somebody says something that offends someone else, and they leave angry. Their meals are left uneaten.
It sounds sadly familiar. Like our attempts to have the perfect family meal but it’s never quite as perfect as we would like it to be. Somebody ruins it. Or like our attempts to bring the family of nations together around a peace table. To get them to stop hating and killing each other. And it’s never quite successful. It’s a reminder that God’s Kingdom isn’t here yet. It’s still anticipated.
Mrs. Tull dies. Remember, she is the most dysfunctional of them all. Now she is gone, and the family all comes to the funeral. Even Mr. Tull who had abandoned them when they were children. He comes because Ezra called him and invited him, much to the dismay of his brother and his sister. But he comes. And after the funeral the family gathers at the Homesick Restaurant. It’s not a pleasant meal. Cody, the most bitter of the children, says something that offends his father. And so this meal ends as all the others have ended, with someone getting upset and leaving. This time it’s the father. Only this time the children and the grandchildren are determined that this meal is going to be different.
They all leave the restaurant in search of Mr. Tull. Cody, the bitter son, goes with them at first. Then he decides he’s not really interested in finding his father, so he heads home. And of course, on the way home he is the one who finds his father. They talk. They bear their souls to each other. There is forgiveness. They actually hear what the other is really trying to say.
They look up the street and see the rest of the family. The family is now a search party. They see the family, rounding the corner, searching for those who are lost, those who are estranged from each other, to bring them back to the table.
The children come first, running, and the teenagers loped behind, and the grownups, trying to keep pace, were very nearly running themselves. So all looked unexpectedly joyful. The drab colors of their funeral clothes turned their faces bright. The children’s arms and legs flew out and the baby bounded on Joe’s shoulders. Cody felt surprised and touched. He felt they were pulling him toward them. But it wasn’t really they who were traveling, but Cody himself. “They’ve found us,” he told his father. “Let’s go finish our dinner.”
Remember the invitation to communion? “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him and who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” Those words are there because this is intended to be a family meal. We’re going to pass the peace in just a moment. That’s an important part of the service. Because we are family. Because this is home. Because Jesus is here. Because Jesus wants us to live in peace.
Dear Jesus, we are thankful that the tradition of this meal has been passed down from generation to generation and finally to us. We are thankful that each one of us is included in your invitation. We are thankful that you are here. As we share in this meal, may we look back with heartfelt gratitude, remembering your life, your death, your resurrection. And may we look ahead with eager anticipation to what you are doing and will do through each one of us, your disciples. In your name, Amen.