I don’t remember where I found this quote but Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once asked a missionary from one of the islands in the Pacific which was the greatest virtue of the people whom he helped there. The Missionary answered, “I can tell you their greatest virtue in terms of what they regard as their greatest vice, namely ‘Kai-Po,’ which is the sin of eating alone.”
According to the missionary, some of the people would go without food for two or three days until they could find someone with whom they could share the blessings of their meal.
Think about that for a minute, the sin of eating alone. My least favorite meal is to go home and eat lunch by myself. Like the South Pacific Islanders, I think all meals are communal in nature. I don’t think it’s an accident that at the center of the Christian faith there is a table where believers break bread and drink from the cup together.
It is actually called the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist however, over the years we have referred to it as Holy Communion or simply Communion. Think about the image that word alone brings to mind. We gather together to share the blessings of our mutual love for God, to give thanks for our salvation through Christ AND to experience anew the power and presence of the guiding, comforting, strengthening power of the Holy Spirit. And we do so around a table laden with the bread and wine which remind us of God’s love for us.
This table becomes a Holy meal around which the followers of Jesus gather to commune with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit and with each other. This Table is an all you can eat Buffet of God’s Grace that unites us no matter where we are.
Most United Methodist Churches celebrate the Sacrament on the first Sunday of the month. I really don’t know when the practice came into being but I like it. I like it because on the first Sunday of each month I know that friends I have in other congregations, Pastors I know and love and millions of other I don’t know all pull up to the same Table, for the same sacramental meal and are fed by the same Grace and Unconditional Love of God.
The only difference is our location. When we gather for the Sacrament of Holy Communion we are all sitting at the Same Table, just in Different Chairs. We are sitting at the exact same Table Jesus sat at during what we call the Last Supper. That night Jesus shared this meal with the Disciples. But at the same time, He invited each of us to join them in this Holy meal of remembrance.
When we receive this bread and wine it comes from the very same table, through the very same hands. But this meal transcends time and space. For the only difference is, we’re sitting in different chairs.
In just a couple of weeks that will be the case once again. The next time we come to this Table together we will be at the Same Table but in Different Chairs. Our relationship will change but the one who brought us together to begin with, the one who has lead our lives for the last 6 years and the one who provides this rich meal will never change. The Table will always remain the Same because it is His Table. We will always have a place at the Table because our place was bought and purchased by His Blood and the sacrifice He made for our sakes. And it is that unmerited gift from the Son of God which insures our place at the Table.
That night when Jesus gathered the Disciples he had a lot of things he had to say to both Disciples and to us. Listen to what Jesus said as recorded in John 15:11-17 (NRSV)
 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
The phrase that has always stuck out for me is “I no longer call you servants, now I call you friends.” That has always moved me, to be known as a Friend of Jesus. To be named and called a Friend of Jesus by Jesus himself. I think it is awesome.
In a couple of weeks, our relationship will change. I will no longer be your Pastor. Jon Farrer will be your Pastor. And while that change in status saddens us, it also excites us. God has something new in store for Mary and I and for this church. The change in status also means a change in relationship. Jesus told the Disciples they were no longer His servants, now they were his friends. That applies to us as well. I am no longer your servant. You are no longer my flock. But now we are friends.
That means I won’t be doing weddings and funerals except those I’m invited by your Pastor to assist in. I will no longer be able to give advice on how a ministry should go or how to deal with an issue or a crisis in the church. That will be Jon’s job. I can celebrate the accomplishments of the church, of your family, of your lives. I can mourn with you when there is a loss. But as a friend, not as a Pastor. That’s the way we do things in the UM Church. No person can be the Pastor of two congregations. Nor can any Pastor interfere in the ministry of another Pastor.
I have always taken that very seriously. It’s common curtesy and etiquette.
But being your friends is an exciting thing for me and for Mary, not that we don’t think of all of you as friends and family already, we do. That’s the wonderful strength of the church. It IS family.
Retirement doesn’t mean that part of the relationship is over. It means the friendships can go on and on and on. Pastors come and go, but friends are friends forever (as the song says). And I will support you as friends. But please know that Jon is my friend and my colleague, too. And to be his friend and colleague in ministry I’ll support him as your Pastor in whatever way I can, while you and I remain simply friends.
II. IN MY HEART:
A. There’s a movie titled “In Her Shoes” starring Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine. It’s pretty much strictly a chick-flick about family, sibling rivalry, growing up and discovering who you really are in the midst of messy relationships. Near the end of the movie, the Cameron Diaz character Maggie reads a poem by e.e. cummings, at her sister’s wedding. Watch.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it
in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) (1)
B. What I want you to know is that Mary and I carry your hearts in our hearts. We love you and we always will.
Years and years ago when I was a teenager, whenever we went to the grocery store, my little brothers always wanted to ride the electric pony or the electric fire engine. It cost a nickel but you could buy baseball cards and bubblegum for a nickel, too. My little brother Scott always opted for the ride, while my brother Glen always bought baseball cards, which meant he had something to take home with him after the trip to the grocery store.
Scott would get mad when the ride was over. No matter how long it was it was never long enough. My Dad would always tell him the same thing, “Well, looks like your nickel is all used up.”
We’ve had a wonderful ride together. And while it seems like our nickel is about used up, it doesn’t mean the ride is over; because, like Glen, we have more than just a ride to remember. We have something to take home with us, the Table where we never eat alone. It’s what and who the Table represents that binds us together. In a couple of weeks we’ll being sitting at the Same Table, just in Different Chairs.
But even though we’ll be in different chairs “we carry your hearts, we carry them in our hearts.”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” Copyright 1952, © 1980, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]”