The Upstairs Front Room

Here is my message - two true stories, but not at the same time - that I gave at the Maundy Thursday service tonight.

John 13
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

I’m going to tell you about a time when I was a waiter at the Front Room on Ninth and Judah in San Francisco, around 1990. It was kind of a neighborhood joint, we served chicken dishes, like chicken la crema or chicken parm, and salads with home made dressing, we had steaks and sandwiches. But the thing we were most known for is our Chicago style deep dish pizza. Before Pizza Hut invented the cheese in the crust thing, we did it with a thick pan, with the dough wrapped around the outside, then sauce would go on the bottom, then cheese, then the toppings, and then more cheese on top of that, so that when they wrapped the dough back over, the cheese would go inside the crust. Now I’m hungry.
I was one of the two waiters there, and the other was Guy, he was raised on a kibbutz in Israel. Our owner was Cambodian. And then we had two cooks, Chen from China and Danny from Iran. So if you’re keeping track, our staff was from China, Iran, America and Israel. Little united nations going there. We also had a couple of dishwashers but they were notoriously unreliable.
You work at a neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco for awhile and you end up with some regular customers. I had Jim the book store owner, who would sometimes tip me with paperbacks, Abe, the tailor who always had to send something back, Susan, the Korean grad student – actually went out with her for awhile before we realized that our fathers had both fought in the Korean war. On opposite sides. The thought of in-laws who had already tried to kill each other put the kibosh on that relationship, we were still friends though, she always came by. Then there was Tammy the Tazmanian she-devil, and the zoo workers, and my very favorite, Crazy Uncle Bud, who wore a fedora and suit coat, not matter what the weather.
The interior was like this the front door split into two sides, 15 tables on the main floor, but we also had this single room upstairs that could hold about 20 people, and so the owner bought a big screen tv and offered 2 dollar pitcher Tuesdays and thursdsay, but for some reason ,most people didn’t want to go up there – the stairs were kind of steep, but I thought it was a nice place. Didn’t really take. We had a couple of softball teams that tried it out, but we didn’t get the regular business in the upstairs room. Until one day, I saw on the reservation board Guy’s Gang. Apparently, some friends of Guy wanted a place for a private celebration – wedding or funeral, or some such, I never did find out. And they wanted the place to themselves. The owner figured out how much a typical Thursday night would run, made sure his waiters would get a good tip, and so we shut the place down for Guy’s friends. Deals were made, hands were shook, and we were ready for the big party in the Upstairs Front Room.
I thought it would be a pretty easy night, and it would have been, except that Cheno got sick and the dishwasher didn’t show up of course, and the owner took off for Reno, so it was just Danny the cook, Guy and me, the three of us for what turned out to be 13 guys.
They came in promptly at 6 and it took everything for me to not bust out laughing. Apparently the invitation said “formal dress” for whatever celebration they were having, but they had all gone to the Goodwill, because they looked like a motley crew of dudes. Blue collar types with a coat of one color, and pants of a different color, and a shirt that did not match, ties of all shapes and sizes. The biggest guy looked like he was right off the boat, and his suit was two sizes too small, so he was stuffed into it. There was one guy who was nerdy, but he was nerdy nerdy, not hipster nerdy. It looked like they were trying, but did not have a sense of style. Except two guys, one who looked like he had a tailored outfit and the other, obviously the leader – he had on a dark plum coat with matching pants, a black turtle neck and ankle boots. He just had this look – he wasn’t trying hard at all, but it was quality.
As they walked up the stairs, they were really happy, like they were going to the party, and the first thing the main guy did when he got to the Upper Front Room was turn off the tv.  We walked up behind him – they were Guy’s friends, or at least one of them was. We had agreed to split the tip, and so when we got them settled with menus, the main guy said, “We’re not going to need any of those. If you’ll come and sit down, I’ll tell you what we’d like.”
That’s kinda strange – most people don’t have you sit down when you take an order, but we rolled with it. After we sat down, he pulled up a chair and faced us and he said, “Here’s what we’d like. I’d like to get four deep dish cheese pizzas, no meat, just cheese. I need 13 glasses and three bottles of wine. And once you deliver those, you’ll be done for the night.”
And he smiled.
Man, I thought – 1200 dollars to get four cheese pizzas, but it’s not my money. And he had a really cool smile. So we went down and delivered the order to Danny, who shrugged when he saw the order. the pizzas take about 25-35 minutes to cook, so we didn’t really have anything to do except point to the sign on the door when people tried to come in – Private Party!. But I was so curious about what was going on upstairs, and for the first ten minutes, nothing really happened. You know, you could hear lots of people talking, but you know how when you’re watching a game and something surprising happens and you gasp? After about 10 minutes, we heard that gasp. And the mood of the room changed – it was no longer a party atmosphere, it’s almost like someone was getting fired. And sure enough, the guy in the expensive suit came storming down the stairs and he pushed open the front door and ran straight cross 9th avenue. If one of the Muni trains had been running, it would have flattened him, but luckily the lights were with him. None of the other guys came down after him, but you could tell they were watching him go from the railing on the balcony.
“Is one of them crying?” I asked Guy. It sure sounded like it, but I wasn’t going to go up. I kinda poked my head out to see if there was anything obvious wrong. A few minutes later, though, something else weird happened. I was taking the plates up, because the pizzas would be ready in about five minutes, and I saw the big guy, with the small suit saying, “I’ll never betray you. I swear to God!” and the main guy gave him a look filled with love and said, “You’ll do it three times tonight. But the good news is, it looks like our pizza is almost here.” All eyes were on me, and the other guys gave a nervous laugh, but you could tell that the Big Guy was unnerved. I felt dumb, and made two stacks of uneven plates on one side of the table, and placed napkins forks and knives at each place. not a word was spoken when I was there, until I got to the main guy, and he said, “It’s just you and Guy and the cook?”
And what’s his name?
He smiled again and the sweetness and the sadness of it nailed me to the floor.
I wanted to ask him what was going on, what the celebration was for, why the guy ran out, why would his friend betray him, but what I said was, “The pizzas will be here soon.”
I went down and Guy and I brought up the pizzas a little later, and I dished it out, because the pans are hot, and the cheese gets everywhere, so I had to do this kind of motion – slicing the cheese with the spatula and we had a kind of a fireline going all the way around the table, and finally, all 12 guys had a piece. Can I get cheese and peppers? No thanks. I left, and five minutes later, Guy went up to see if everything was all right, and he came back down shaking his head.
What? I said,
Weirdest thing, he said. I went up and each of the guys had a piece of pizza on a fork, and the main guy was standing, and he said, “When you eat this, you are one with me.” and he turned to the guy next to him and gave him his bite, and they each turned to the guy next to him and they all fed each other.
I know. And then he said, “when you drink this, you’re one with me,” and he gave a sip of his wine to the guy next to him, and the same thing happened. The last thing he said was “This is a new way. Remember me and remember this.”
Weird. You don’t think this is some kind of cult do you? They weren’t wearing black Nike track suits, were they?
But it wasn’t done getting weird. They stayed up there and talked for awhile, and it was a pretty somber affair. We couldn’t make out any words, but we know the one guy is talking and I was thinking, “Man this is not a great party.” But it got to be about time to clean up, and I was just thinking of going to clear some plates, when the main guy comes down with his plate, glass, knife and fork and I’m thinking, “Dang, we have to comp him a pizza because there’s a dirty fork or plate, or something was floating in his wine glass. And the whole party behind him.
He puts the plate, glass, fork and knife down on table number 7, takes off his plum coat, takes off his black turtle neck and says to me, “Do you have an apron I can borrow?”
I take off my blue apron and he puts it over his head and he says, “The dish room is this way?”
Now we have a nasty dish room. It’s no wonder the guys never show up, because it is a hot, steamy, smelly room. And no matter how often we try to hose off those rubber mats, there’s a kind of permanent sour milk smell to them. I just have one thing to say – hot, steaming water and bleu cheese dressing. But he goes right in with his plate and glass his fork and his knife and he washes them with the hose, and soaps them up with the dish wand, really cleans the inside and outside of the cup, scrapes between the tines of the fork, and then he gets a clean towel and dries them, and puts the plate on a stack, the wine glass on the overhead hanger, the fork and knife in their places.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
And sure enough, one by one the guys all file back upstairs, and take each other’s dishes, and while some of them are busy with the dishes, the other guys are cleaning the rest of the restaurant. Some guys are wiping the tables, the other guys are vacuuming, putting the chairs upside down on the clean tables, the nerdy guy is helping me count the money, another guy is helping Danny clean the grill and wash the big pots of spaghetti sauce, another guy is folding the cloth napkins, another guy is making takeout pizza boxes for the next day’s shift. The only thing Guy, Danny and I did was tell people what our normal jobs are and where things went.
And even though the main guy went to his work cheerfully, when he saw that everyone was working, he went off by himself in an alleyway out by the dumpster, in a little hallway, it wasn’t inside it wasn’t outside. But he was squatting and leaning against the wall and I could just look at him and tell he was distraught. That’s the only word for it. I kinda poked my head in and he saw me, and gave me a reassuring smile, so I left him alone, and as I was working by the kitchen, I could hear him crying. I don’t know what it was, but he was really upset.
And even though the message was for his friends, Guy and I learned something from him that night. We never did our jobs the same again, because when he showed his friends how to do what we do, he made it seem special, and new and fresh and different. It actually changed the way I worked as a waiter, and more than that, how I lived my life. I came up with what I call the Waiter’s Prayer after that. Lord let me be of use, that I may glorify you through my acts of service.

I heard a rumor that the guy got murdered a couple of days later. That really made me sad. I never saw him after that anyway. But some of his friends came around, after about a year or so. They were different, and not just because they weren’t in their funny clothes. And here’s the weird thing – whenever they came they insisted on doing their own dishes. I said, “What are you doing, why are you doing your dishes?” We do it, they said, because we remember. We remember what he told us.

And I do too. I’ll never forget that night, and my prayer is you don’t either.


1. to wheedle, cajole, or coax.
This week's word might not have taken the cake if it hadn't been for's examples.
Some words have poetry in their meanings, and cuittle is one of them. As you can see, it rhymes with "idol," and its synonyms look like they are a combination of them: wheedle (we-dl), cajole and coax. If I were going to make up a word like cuittle, I'd have made it cajeedle, but words are not mine to make.
But unusual spellings/pronunciations are not enough to whet my wheedle. Let's hear from Sir Walter Scott, shall we?
The Papist threatened us with purgatory, and fleeched us with pardons; — the Protestant mints at us with the sword, and cuittles  us with the liberty of conscience…
-- Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot , 1820

I'm fascinated to know what this means. So I looked up to see what the context of this quote is:

So soon as the more numerous body of riders had
turned off to pursue their journey westward, those
whose route lay across the river, and was directed 
towards the north, summoned the Bridgeward, and
demanded a free passage.

" I will not lower the bridge," answered -Peter, in
a voice querulous with age and ill-humour. — " Come
Papist, come Protestant, ye are all the same. The
Papists threatened us with Purgatory, and fleeched
us with pardons ; — The Protestant mints at us with
the sword, and cuittles us with the liberty of con-
science ; but never a one of either says, ' Peter, there
is your penny.' I am well tired of all this, and for
no man shall the bridge fall that pays me not ready
money ; and I would have you know I care as little
for Geneva as for Eome — as little for homilies as
for pardons; and the silver pennies are the only
passports I will hear of."

Being a Protestant, I wanted to find out what we do, and how it differs from the Catholic especially in the area of how we treat bridgewards. The Catholic - excuse me, Papist - threatened him “with purgatory and fleeched him with  pardons.” Taken from the context, fleeched would be analogous to cuittles, which is sort of like the the carrot Boyd Crowder offers his meth cookers, rather than the stick (purgatory and sword). There is no dictionary definition for fleeched, but for mints there is, which is "to hit or strike at (someone or something)." As opposed to the chocolate treat found on the pillows of finer hotels.
So I learned two new words (cuittle and mints), and am left wondering at another (fleeched). And to top it all off?
Cuittle  is of uncertain origin.
A mystery wrapped inside an enigma fleeched inside a contradiction.
I guess the lesson from all of this is that for all the mintsing, and fleeching and cuittling and threats, the only way to get across is to pay the penny.

There’s probably a sermon there somewhere…

Wholly Weak

Things are poppin' around OSLC this week, this Holy Week, this week when the other days get a whiff of greatness.
Sundays, of course, are God's day, a day we are to keep the Sabbath Wholly, to borrow a book title from Marva Dawn. Wednesdays are the unofficial Church Day Honored by Absolutely No One Anymore. Not bitter, just noticing. Regardless, Ash Wednesday kicked off the season of Lent way back in February, and the day before that is Shrove Tuesday.
But during Holy Week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday step up to bat to take their place in the divine pantheon, leaving only Monday to be a day with no redeeming value. Ever. The only day we worship on Mondays is every seven years or so when Christmas or Christmas Eve lands on its God-forsaken day.
So this week, we have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, leading up to Easter Sunday.
Maundy Thursday (pronounced by everyone as Monday Thursday, which just seems to be slagging on Monday once again) is taken from the Latin mandatum, or commandment, because it is the day in which we remember that Christ changed everything old into something new and improved - he gave us a new commandment to love one another as God has loved us. When I was a non-traditional whipper snapper, I suggested to my internship pastor that we change the words of institution (heaven forfend!) to read, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he gave a new commandment, took bread...." I said, "It's more positive!" I'm not convinced I'm wrong, but I do look back and wonder how anyone could stand me. This year OSLC has two (2!) Maundy Thursday services; one is an elaborate Seder meal, all courses and education included, for $25. It's sold out! (I sense a youth fund raiser for next year...) That's at 6. Then at 7, there's a free Maundy Thursday service in which I'm preaching. You get what you pay for. That's all I'll say about that. Though I am excited to continue the dramatic MT service that we've enjoyed for the past five years or so (has G-rod been here that long?). I'll be lucky if I don't get stoned.
Good Friday is always an outstanding service, featuring seven elders doing 2.5 minute homilies for each of the seven words on the cross. This is the Tennebrae service (that's right - the one with the loud bang.) My wife and I commemorate the death of our savior on the cross by eating Mexican. There's absolutely no significance to that, it's just something we started doing and continue to do because most great traditions are very silly.
My favorite part of Holy Week starts on Good Friday - our prayer vigil. We pray continually from noon Good Friday to noon on Easter. We used to haul people out of bed at three in the morning Fri and Sat night, but we've caved to culture and allowed people to pray in their jammies. I usually anchor the prayer team by praying right up until the sunrise service; I'll be there again, doing my text-prayers for the second year. Mostly to East Coast friends who would hopefully be up by then...
Holy Saturday, in the ancient church, was the time when new Christians were baptized, late at night, so that when they came out of the underground cavern - I know, wouldn't that be cool? - they would arise along with Jesus into new life. We have it at 6 pm. I don't know if we're going to use our new fountain or not, but it's always an awesome service. We have four baptisms slated.
And of course the wonder and majesty of Easter, the time when fasts end and celebrations begin!
By the end of Holy Week, your hard-workin' staff will be wholly weak.
Maybe I'll give up puns for Lent one year.
And there would be great rejoicing. Maybe that will be the same year the powers that be declare that along with all the other days, we'll celebrate Manic Monday.

The week that was 2

Part of what makes life life is examination.
I'm clearly no Socrates, who said it best: "An unexamined life is not worth living.
I'm going to reprint something from Loyola Press which I hope will have a positive effect on you. It's an exercise called the Daily Examen, and it was started by Iganatius of Loyola.

Prayerfully Reviewing Your DayThe Daily Examen

Part of the rich tradition of the Catholic Church is recognizing the need to reflect on the day's activities—to remember God's invitation and our response or lack of response. Saint Ignatius of Loyola developed a simple method by which you can review each day in a way that will help you grow in self-understanding and free you to follow God's will. This practice is often called the Daily Examen. Many people choose to practice this prayerful review of their day before going to bed at night by following the five steps below.
Stillness: Recalling God's PresenceRelax in God's presence in your favorite prayer place and posture. Be aware of how God shows his love for you in all his gifts to you. Be thankful as you think of God the Father's love, the love of his Son Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and to help you to look honestly at your actions this day and how you have responded in different situations. With the Spirit's inspiration you can recognize what draws you close to God as well as what pulls you away from God.
Gratitude: Expressing ThankfulnessReview your day and give thanks to God for his gifts. Try not to choose what to be thankful for but rather to see what springs to mind as you reflect. Think of the concrete details of your day—the aroma of coffee brewing, a smile from a co-worker, or a beautiful rainbow. Recall the gifts that God has given you that you can share with others—your ability to help in a crisis, your sense of humor, or your patience with children. Pause and express your gratitude to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Reflection: Looking Back on Your DayAgain review the events of the day and notice how you acted in the many situations in which you found yourself. Recall your feelings and motives to see whether you considered all of the possibilities and freely followed God's will. Ask yourself when you were conscious of God's presence. Think about opportunities you had to grow in faith, hope, and charity. When we think about why we did or did not take advantage of these opportunities, we can become aware of how we might change our actions in the future. Be grateful for the occasions when you freely chose a course to help others. Perhaps you let a shopper with a small order go ahead of you in line or did not join in a conversation critical of a co-worker. These are examples of responding freely as God wants us to. When we reflect on the times we did or didn't act with God's grace, we can be more sensitive to developing habits of positive responses.
Sorrow: Asking for ForgivenessAfter you have asked for the Holy Spirit's guidance in recalling and reflecting on the actions of your day, spend time talking with God or Jesus. Express sorrow for the times you failed to follow his direction and ask him to be with you the next time you encounter a similar situation. Give thanks to God for the grace that enabled you to follow his will freely. Feel the sorrow and gratitude in your heart as you converse with God.
Hopefulness: Resolving to GrowAsk God to help you as you look forward to a new day tomorrow. Resolve to cooperate and trust in the loving guidance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Conclude the day's prayerful review with the Lord's Prayer.
By prayerfully reviewing your day, you will experience the difference it can make in the way you live. If you make a habit of practicing the Daily Examen, you will grow closer to God in your thoughts and deeds and will be free to choose to follow him.

This is a great pattern for daily time with God. Of course, reading your Bible, or a verse or two each day is important, but the Daily Examen is trying to apply what you've learned in Scripture against the hard reality of life. This is an excellent elixir to anxiety, too, because as you stop and are still before the Lord, you begin to see how his work in your life compliments what you already know is true: God loves you and wants to be your Father.
Think how different this is than our normal prayers - Lord, help me pass my test, or help heal Auntie Em. We're not asking anything from God except forgiveness. You can think of this as Havin' a Cuppa with God.
So let's begin:
Be still. I felt God's presence this week in planning, implementing and creating a labyrinth at Central Ave. Elementary. I love that God's presence is permanently embedded on the pavement there. I took some time this morning to pray the labyrinth there.
Gratitude: I thank God for the story he gave me to tell to the youth group Wed. I felt like they totally bought in to the premise of the story and I can't wait to share with the congregation on Maundy Thursday. I love being creative, and combining my knack for stories with the truth of Scripture.
Reflection: I met with my awesome Splash Group leaders first thing this morning, followed by a spirited class discussion on the perils of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with my confirmation class. After a take-out lunch at Famous Daves, I got some new cleats for softball (3 pm) and Ultimate Frisbee (5 pm), which I went to after my Sunday nap. Got home and put away the overdue laundry while watching the end of the Yankees/Red Sox game. Looking forward to TV Time/Popcorn in a few minutes. Overall, one of the better days of the year so far! Thank you God!
Sorrow: While I was very active, I didn't get a chance to spend much time with my wife, so that was not ideal. As my schedule gets busier, I'll need to spend more time with my partner.
Hopefulness: (I love that it ends with Law and Gospel!) My hope for this week is that I can knuckle down and work on my confession paper for Christian History. I'm excited to start, but haven't gotten over that initial hump yet - so what better week than Holy Week?
My other hope is that you will all spend some time tonight - tomorrow night - the next night - examining the amazing life God has lent you.


Copyright © 2012 Our Savior Lutheran Church