The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY

Delivered 3/7/04
Text: Matthew 26:17-19, 26-28
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

A little flight of fancy here.(1) You are stacking dishes in the kitchen of the restaurant where you work the evening shift when a well-dressed courier arrives at the back door. "The owner won't be back until tomorrow," you tell him.

"I am not looking for the owner, I am looking for you."

"Huh?"

"I am from the White House," he says, which explains the dark suit and briefcase. "I came to deliver this letter."

"Huh?" Part of you wonders what you have done wrong. Another part of you wonders if this isn't a joke your cousin Alfred is playing to get back at you for the horseradish in his car. And all of you thinks this guy has the wrong person. But you dry your hands on your apron and take what the man hands you. It is a personal letter. There is an emblem on the envelope and your name is written, not typed, in elegant cursive. The stationery is the heavy expensive type, which blows the Cousin Alfred theory; he's too cheap to buy this. Que pasa? You open the letter and, well, yaba-daba-doo, it IS indeed from the man himself. An invitation: The President of the United States requests the pleasure of your company...

You look up at the fellow who brought it and he is smiling like this is the part of his job he likes the best. You look around in the kitchen for somebody to show it to, but you are alone. You think about running into the restaurant and sharing it with Alma the waitress, but you can't because you are too numb to think that quickly.

The invitation is to a state dinner. A dinner given in YOUR HONOR, a dinner dedicated to YOU. Huh? Your ex- threw you a surprise birthday party during the first year of your marriage, but besides that, you cannot remember when someone has had a dinner for you. Not the kids, not the neighbors. Not your boss...you don't even know if you have ever given yourself a dinner in your honor. And now the commander-in-chief wants to.

"What's the catch?" you ask.

"No catch, just a request that you come to the White House. May I give the president your response?"

"Huh?"

"Your answer. May I give the president your answer? Can you come to dinner?"

"Well, a-a-a-of course. I'd love to go."

The big night arrives. You have made all the appropriate preparations. Cleaned and pressed, washed and waxed, sugared and blowed. And so you go. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You are met out front by more black suits who escort you in. Inside the doors, a garçon of sorts takes over. Your steps echo as you follow the tuxedoed guide down the tall hall lined with portraits of past presidents.

At the end of the corridor is the banquet room. In the center of the room is a long table and in the center of the table is one plate and beside the plate is one name - yours. The attendant motions for you to sit and when you do he leaves and you do the thing you have wanted to do since you stepped into the residence. You look around this way and that, up and down and all around. You say for the first time out loud what you have been saying inside ever since the invitation was delivered. "Wow!"

You have never seen a table this long. You have never seen crystal this nice. You have never seen china this valuable. You have never seen a setting with so many forks or a candelabra with so many candles.

"Wow."

Under your feet is an oriental rug. Probably came from China. Over your head is a chandelier with a billion pieces of crystal. Got to be German. The table and chairs are made of polished teak. Indian, no doubt. Straight ahead is a hearth with a fire and a white mantel. Above the mantel is a painting - a painting of...gulp...a painting of YOU! That is you up there. Same eyes, same goofy smile, same ski-jump nose. That is YOU!

"Wow."

"I keep it in here so I can remember you."

Say what? The voice from behind startles you. You don't have to turn and look to see who it is - there is only one voice like that. You wait until he is right beside you before you look up. You know he's there because he places his hand on your shoulder.

You turn and look and there he is, POTUS, the president of the United States. A bit shorter than you imagined, but every bit as authoritative. The square jaw. The deep eyes. The dark suit. The red tie. The apron.

The what?

Yeah, the president is wearing an apron! A common kitchen apron just like the one you wear when you work that asks, "Have you hugged a Presbyterian today?" And, as if that isn't enough, behind him is a dinner cart. He reaches for your bread plate and gives you a dinner roll. "I am so glad you could come and be my guest."

You know you should say something, but what you were going to say is forgotten somewhere between the last "Wow" you said and the first "What is HAPPENING" that has taken over your brain.

You thought it was shocking to get the invitation. You thought it was breathtaking to see the White House. Your jaw hit the floor when you saw your picture on the wall. But now this? The commander-in-chief as a waiter? The president serving you food? The chief executive bringing wine and bread to your table? All those neatly prepared compliments and carefully rehearsed accolades that you had prepared are suddenly forgotten and you blurt out what is really on your mind: "Wait a minute. This isn't right. You aren't supposed to be doing this - I am. You aren't supposed to be serving me. I'm the dishwasher. I work at the diner. You're the top dog. Let me have the apron and let me put the food on the table...Sir. "

But he won't let you. "Keep your seat," he insists. "Today I honor you."

I warned you this was a flight of fancy. This kind of stuff doesn't happen...does it?

It does for those who see it. It happens every week, in banquet halls around the world, the king honors the common. Regular folk right out of the kitchens and car pools of life, at the table. The honored guests. VIPs. Hosted and served by the one in charge of history. "This is my body," he says as he breaks the bread.

And you thought it was a ritual, just an observance. You thought it was a memorial to something that was done way back when. You thought it was a re-enactment of a meal he had with them. It is so much more. It is a meal he has with you.

When you read Matthew's account of the Last Supper, one incredible truth surfaces: Jesus is the person behind it all. It was Jesus who selected the place, designated the time, and set the meal in order. "My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house."

And at the supper, Jesus is not a guest, but the host. "And [Jesus] gave to the disciples..." The subject of the verbs is the message of the event: "he took...he gave thanks...he broke...he gave..." Jesus is not the served, but the server. It is Jesus who, prior to the meal, had put on the garb of a servant and washed the disciples' feet. Jesus is the most active one in the room. Not one who reclines and receives, but the one who stands and gives.

He still does.

What's that? Just a minute. Oh. There is someone at the door for you.

Amen!


1. Adapted from Max Lucado, "Served By the Best," And the Angels Were Silent: The Final Week of Jesus, (Portland, Or. : Multnomah, 1992), pp. 157-163

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