Thoughts and Prayers: Come Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest
(Matthew 15:36, Matthew 26:26, Acts 27:35, and Luke 11:3)
The Rev. J. Michael Solberg, July 15, 2018
The Union Church of Hinsdale
Let us pray: ComeLordJesusBeOurGuestLetTheseGiftsToUsBeBlessedAmen.
Those were certainly the first words I ever knew by heart. It was among the first sentences I ever spoke. It was certainly the first religious thing I ever said. And it is probably one of the theological statements that have most shaped my view of God, life, and everything. It takes about 2.6 seconds to say it. Said once a day, every day of my life for maybe 15 years, and often enough after that, those could well be the most important 2.6 seconds of my life.
The words were part of my earliest childhood. The syllables and the cadence were already in me as I learned to speak. In fact, I was probably 5 or 6 before I realized I was saying individual words. And 7 or 8 before I had any sense of what the words mean. (position)
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us, be blessed. Amen.
Head bowed. Eyes closed. Hands folded. In positioning our bodies this way to pray before dinner every evening, I learned that prayer was something different. It was a moment of time when you paused to notice something that was always there, but which you didn’t really think about otherwise. Prayer is like a fish noticing water. This God we addressed in prayer was always there, and it was important, in this instant, to take note of it. I also learned, or rather, took for granted, that this was something my family did. Some sociologist might say it showed we were a religious family, but what I learned was more direct, personal: we took notice of God. And, as children tend to generalize their own experience, I just assumed everyone else did this too.
Come Lord Jesus: I learned that Jesus was someone who could be spoken to, related to. Someone who, somehow, listened. It never really concerned me that this was a different kind of listening and relating than other kinds. There was talking to people, and there was talking to God, and they were similar, but different. Come Lord Jesus. Being so deeply set in my heart and mind, it was a great gift when I learned much later that those words come from the closing words of the Bible. The last page, the next to last sentence, the Book of Revelation says, “Come Lord Jesus.” Rather than being some longing plea for God’s future intervention and the second coming of Jesus, I knew those were personal, friendly words. We had invited Jesus to our table every day for years, and the last words of the Bible did the same, in a comforting, assuring way.
Be our guest: I also learned that we wanted Jesus to be our guest. I suppose this was the intended effect for children, but thinking that Jesus is also sitting at the table with you, really makes you try to behave. Not to open your mouth and show your partially chewed chicken to your older brother. Maybe even to eat your peas. Be our guest. But even as a kid, I had this sense that Jesus was not just our guest at the dinner table, but that he sort of hung around for the rest of life too. It was sort of a child’s sense of the prayer that the pastor said at communion when I was a child: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid:” Generally, you want to try to be good in front of a guest.
Let these gifts: I learned that our food, that basic of life, was a gift from God. And gifts are great. And gifts are to be appreciated. When you call your daily bread a gift, it makes you grateful for the little stuff, but also more grateful for everything. If dinner was a gift, then breakfast was a gift too, and clothes, and toys, and friends, and time, and life. Let these gifts. I wish the words didn’t rhyme in English, because it makes it sound more trite, but calling my food a gift helped me have an attitude of gratitude for all things. Later on, I could see just how central gratitude is to our story of faith. The Book of Deuteronomy makes it plain. And although we don’t personally grow pomegranates and mine copper, these words seem particularly, stunningly applicable to life in our neighborhoods:
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
To us be blessed. I am not sure how I put this together as a child, as it is a little less clear than the other phrases in this prayer, but I somehow got the idea that if these gifts were to be blessed to us, that meant we were not just supposed to receive them as a blessing, but to use that blessing for others. It’s the basic idea of stewardship: what we have is not our own, but all things belong to God and we must use what God entrusts to us as God would have us use it. Sharing is part of it, but as the pastor of my youth said, it is not just giving away 10% to God through the church, but it’s what you do with the 90% that matters even more. All of it is God’s and God trusts us to pay attention to God’s priorities.
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
Probably the most important 14 words in my life. 2.6 seconds, every day, can make a difference.
But then again, maybe not. I am not sure what to make of this, but it is clear that these are not magic words of spiritual formation. This is a common prayer, at least in Lutheran families, and I have family members, and many family friends, who also grew up saying the same words in the same types of families, at every dinner for years and years. But the vast majority of them now have little interest in faith or the church. With no hint of evaluation in this, I can observe that we are very different people. So it’s funny the way these work out. Very similar childhoods, same type of church, same 2.6 seconds every evening at dinner, different outcomes. Also, my mother and father divorced when I was 18 – making me roll my eyes whenever I hear the phrase, “The family that prays together, stays together.” That’s demonstrably false.
But here’s something: Although I always said the words in the context of family my family dinner table, I think they had the effect of broadening my faith beyond my sense of family – or to put it a little differently, they connected me to a larger family – the church. ComeLordJesusBeOurGuestLetTheseGiftsToUsBeBlessedAmen. Although we never said those exact words at church, I knew they were church words. I knew they made a connection between what was going on at home and in my young life and what was going on at church. Those 14 words connected me to something far bigger than the five of us. They connected me to a deep and rich story of faith that I somehow learned was even bigger than family. Later on, when I learned that Jesus said to his disciples “Unless you love me more than mother and father, you are not worthy of it,” I could get the point, even if the original context makes it less poignant today. Anyway, when my parents divorced, I was, I eventually discovered, angry about it, but I didn’t have any struggle of identity. I already pretty much knew who I was. I already had an even deeper, richer, more formative story. Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
The four passages that Grant read earlier all connect giving thanks to eating food. I think it is a little like we used to tell our children beginning at age four – Henry on the cello, and Muriel on the piano – you only have to practice your instrument on days you eat. When you do something whenever you eat, it becomes part of you. It was absolutely taken for granted among people in the Bible, and in most of the “Christian world” for about 1950 years later. Today, I don’t know. Some do, some don’t. So to the extent I can speak not for myself, but for thousands of years of our faith tradition, I hope you say grace. I hope you say a little prayer before you eat. A prayer of divine awareness. A prayer of gratitude. A prayer of personal stewardship. A prayer that connects your daily bread to something far bigger, grander and more beautiful. A prayer that makes Jesus a guest, and guide, and ruler of your life.
One of the church fathers from just a couple hundred years after Jesus said, “Christians are made, not born.” That may have been a little more obvious back in those days when Christianity was a minority religion, still persecuted, still requiring serious, intentional and personal commitment. It might be less obvious today, when Christianity is the most widespread religion in the world, and very often culturally, even if not legally, the dominant faith in Western countries like ours. But as cultural Christianity continues to wane, we are learning more and more just how true it is that Christians are made, not born. Any parent of the last 30 years knows that no matter how deep your faith, it doesn’t naturally rub off on your kids. If it is going to happen, it’s got to be generously, constructively, invitingly intentional– even to your own kids. The saying of grace before eating is one of a myriad of ways to try to do that.
And a modern theologian (Carl Braaten) says, “Christianity is always ‘only a generation away from possible extinction.’” That seems very consistent with what most of us have experienced in our families and in our society since WWII.
Christianity can’t be sustained in the form of buildings, books, or institutions, only through living faith passed on from one witness to another. And one way we pass that on is through the formation of prayer. Fourteen words, 2.6 seconds, does not make it a sure thing – but it is surely the kind of thing that the Holy Spirit can use to work in someone’s life.
And this doesn’t stop being true when you reach age 13. No matter your age, no matter your family situation, no matter the way in which you do or don’t eat with family or others, it’s still a blessed thing to do. With the regularity of eating, say a prayer. A prayer of divine awareness. A prayer of gratitude. A prayer of personal stewardship.
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.