Thursday, January 27, 2011
I haven't yet found myself wanting to be very creative with the Sermon on the Mount. What I really want to do is just read the text and talk about it and read it again and talk about it. I feel like the scripture speaks for itself and that I don't really need to or want to add much to it. I might feel differently after a couple of weeks of not-so-creative sermonizing. But for now, I'm happy just to listen to the words on the page come alive through the Holy Spirit.
If you're itching for a more "creative" sermon, there are some posted here on the blog and others on my facebook profile.
I hope you'll enjoy.
These may be the first major questions for most expectant fathers, but not for Joseph. Joseph’s story is quite unique, unlike any other soon-to-be Daddy I know. Father Ron Rolheiser tells us that, “The background, in so far as we can reconstruct it, to the relationship between Joseph and Mary would have been this: The marriage custom at the time was that a young woman, essentially at the age of puberty, would be given to a man, usually several years her senior, in an arranged marriage by her parents. They would be betrothed, technically married, but would not yet live together or begin [intimate] relations for several more years. The Jewish law was especially strict as to the couple remaining celibate while in the betrothal period. During this time, the young woman would continue to live with her parents and the young man would go about setting up a house and an occupation so as to be able to support his wife once they began to live together.
Joseph and Mary were at this stage of their relationship, legally married but not yet living together, when Mary became pregnant. Joseph, knowing that the child was not his, had a dilemma: If he wasn't the father, who was? In order to save his own reputation, he could have demanded a public inquiry and, indeed, had Mary been accused of adultery, it might have meant her death. However, he decided to "divorce her quietly", that is, to avoid a public inquiry which would leave her in an awkward and vulnerable situation.”
And then, Joseph has a dream.
A dream, people. Not a paternity test, not a tangible messenger, not a letter…a dream. People have all sorts of crazy dreams. I used to have this recurring dream where I’d be in the meat aisle of the grocery store and my hands would start shrinking as I got closer to the packaged hamburger. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that dream. But I haven’t declared never to set foot into the grocery store again and I don’t wring my hands every time I see packaged hamburger. The dream was a dream, it wasn’t real.
Dreams, in our culture, are often discounted. Most folks reject them as no more than strange brain waves processing the day before and preparing for the day ahead.
Joseph’s dream, it was something different. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in this dream and told him not to be afraid, to take Mary as his wife, and that the child inside of her was from the Holy Spirit. Our God chose to strangely speak to Joseph by whatever means necessary, a dream, for revelation.
And this is who our God is, the one who does strange things to reveal Godself to us…one who becomes human and invites a respectable man to receive even this supernatural baby and the child’s mother as his wife.
Upon receiving this revelation, he agreed to take Mary home as his wife and to father the child as his own. He spares Mary of embarrassment and shame and chooses to provide a place for this child to be born and raised.
Joseph takes in this baby that isn’t even his!
Some of us may have had a hard time coming to terms with the issues of parenthood. Having a baby, raising a child, is no easy task. It involves sleepless nights, lots of messes to clean up, diaper changing, potty training, trips to the doctor, bills from the doctor, disciplining, arguments, decisions on schooling, and more.
And Joseph, after he had that dream, agreed to take it all on. And this was no ordinary child, this was to be the a child conceived from the Holy Spirit, a boy named Jesus who will save his people from their sins, a baby named Emmanuel which means “God with us”. You or I, looking at Joseph’s situation might not choose the same way. In fact, some of us might think he was a little crazy. That dream did a number on him!
Who is this Joseph, that he could agree to such a huge responsibility?
This story in Matthew 1, shows us that Joseph is a devout believer, “deeply faithful to everything within his religious tradition, and yet at the same time open to a mystery beyond both his human and religious understanding.” (Rolheiser)
When God broke into Joseph’s life in a new and previously unimaginable way, Joseph welcomed him in. Joseph dealt with what seemed an impossible divine conception with obedience and hospitality. “In essence what Joseph teaches us is how to live in loving fidelity to all that we cling to humanly and religiously, even as we are open to a mystery of God that takes us beyond all the categories of our religious practice and imagination,” writes Rolheiser.
John Foley, writer for the Center of Liturgy at St. Louis University says, “Joseph was a good man. He already had a storehouse of trust in God’s love. He did not experience this storehouse as broken into, shattered or pulled to pieces by the dream. Instead the message fit right into the design of Joseph’s life with God. And so he followed.”
With risks and diapers and sleepless nights and all, he received the baby, Emmanuel, God with us, into his home and into his arms.
What a beautiful picture of extravagant hospitality, welcoming this stranger who in this case is the baby Christ Child. Author, Christine Pohl writes,
“Offering [hospitality] welcome is basic to Christian identity and practice. For
most of the church’s history, faithful believers located their acts of
hospitality in a vibrant tradition in which needy strangers, Jesus,
and angels were welcomed and through which people were
transformed. But for many people today, understandings of
hospitality have been reduced to Martha Stewart’s latest ideas for
entertaining family and friends and to the services of the hotel and
restaurant industry. As a result, even Christians miss the
significance of hospitality and view it as a mildly pleasant activity
if sufficient time is available….A quick review of Jesus’ life and ministry finds hospitality at the center. Jesus is both guest and host, dependent on others for
welcome and startlingly gracious in his welcome to outsiders,
seekers, and sinners. Meals were central to Jesus’ ministry and a
shared meal soon became the center point of Christian worship.
Hospitality is a lens through which we can read and understand
much of the gospel, and a practice by which we can welcome
Joseph was one of the first to offer hospitality and welcome…. to Mary, even at the risk of his own reputation and standing in the community…And then to welcome the baby Jesus into his life and raise him as his own… that is faithful, that is obedience, that is a willingness to being open to a God who works in mysterious and out of the ordinary ways, that is trust in God, that is an amazing act of hospitality!
Hear this poem written by J. Janda, author of In Embrace:
Loved as his own
Was not his
Could ever be his
Whom he protected
Watched grow so
Bloom in mystery
And scatter blood seed
Root in despair
And blossom white
As his staff of lilies
UCC Minister, Kate Huey gives us some helpful questions for reflection: “In what ways do we need to listen to the still-speaking God for our instructions, too, as Joseph did so long ago? In what ways do we need to strike out in new directions, to persist in opening our doors and our hearts rather than seek righteousness, in looking forward instead of back? What dreams do we have of something new and different and daunting? What hope longs to come to fruition?” (UCC) “ What does it mean to you, to our church, to the Body of Christ, that God reaches out to guide Joseph into such an act of radical hospitality, receiving a child not his and a woman pregnant not by him as his own?” (Methodist GBOD)
May we, like Joseph, let the Lord enter in. May we rejoice at the prospect of having God among us. And may we, like Joseph, recognize and accept the overwhelming and splendid responsibility of living in the presence of Emmanuel, God with us.
Peace is small, like feelings of calm and moments of quiet.
Peace is strong, like beating swords into plowshares and choosing discussion rather than destruction.
Peace is big, like wholeness, Shalom.
Shalom…God’s peace….peaceable kingdom…looks like the wolf living with the lamp, the leopard lying down with the kid, the cow and bear grazing together, a baby reaching up to play into the mouth of a cobra, and a toddler having a tea party with a viper.
The peaceable kingdom that Isaiah describes is almost too abnormal for us to believe. In her reflections on the peaceable kingdom, minister and writer, Kate Huey writes,
“The promises are astounding and perhaps even unbelievable: "the order of nature" that we all learned about in science class, the violence of predators that we came to accept as natural, will be overturned. The rules of life will be changed, bent in the direction of gentleness and peace, not just any peace, but shalom. "Shalom," Walter Brueggemann says, "is creation time, when all God's creation eases up on hostility and destruction and finds another way of relating" (Peace). Things are going to go back to the way they were originally created, the way things were meant to be. "This poem is about the impossible possibility of the new creation!" We are told, he says, that "the old practice of the big ones eating the little ones is not the wave of the future….The rightly governed world will indeed be detoxified, no more a threat to the poor, the meek, the children, the lamb, the kid. The new world will indeed be safe for the vulnerable" (Isaiah 1-39, Westminster Bible Companion).”
God’s peace is so strange, abstract, and rare in our broken world that I’m not sure any of us would often recognize it when we saw it. The great bigness of it looks like the image given to us in scripture, but it also looks like the little glimmer of wholeness we experience every now and again. Even if we wanted to be peacemakers, would we know what to do and who or what to look for?
I believe there are several very important elements that characterize Divine Peace.
First, I’d like to suggest that God’s peace has something to do with a ruler. “and a little child shall lead them,” says Isaiah. Minister and writer, Safiyah Fosua says,
“…under God’s promised new ruler, springing from the lineage of Jesse, everyone and everything in creation could live in peace with one another, posing no threat to any. The necessary precondition for this kind of peace to emerge was a promised ruler who would act with justice and righteousness, judging with particular care to ensure the poor received justice and their oppressors would not stand. So characterized by righteousness and justice, as well as devotion to God would this ruler be, that the prophet says he wears righteousness as a belt around his waist, faithfulness as a belt around his loins.”
God’s promised ruler is characterized by the kind of righteousness that is radical, changing this world’s order into the divine order, molding the chaos we have become accustomed to into the peacefulness of the kingdom of God.
I remember hearing about a ruler like that, someone who turned things up on their heads and revealed God’s kingdom to the blind. “The righteousness Jesus offered,” says John Donahue, “the love he proclaimed – was too radical, too inclusive, too dangerous to survive without creating chaos for the status quo – then or now. “
Isaiah didn’t know of a man named Jesus. Jesus had not come into the world yet. But, Isaiah proclaimed a God of peace, even in a world of injustice. He foretold of a righteous leader who would not put up with wickedness and inequity.
As we seek to be peacemakers, we must look toward the righteous ruler the Prince of Peace. One who, as Donahue writes, “ is strong an d mighty in battle, all right – but the battle in which he is engaged is a battle over fear and the weapons he employes are the weapons of mass reconciliation; truth and justice, peace and love.”
Secondly, I’d like to suggest that living into God’s peace has a lot to do with repentance. Much of the book of Isaiah is about repentance: Isaiah Chapter one:
Hear, O heavens, and listen O earth; I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me…children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel… Why do you continue to rebel?...your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire… it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners…Hear the word of the Lord…listen to the teaching of our God…I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams…I am weary of your festivals…Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; through they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The Peaceable kingdom is a place of great transformation, a place where humble repentance is required. “Professor Mary Hinkle Shore writes that humility will prove stronger then the military might of any empire.” The kind of humble repentance that Isaiah describes begins with cleansing, removing evil from our doings. But, it does not stop there. Repentance also includes action: “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed.” (Is 1)
“One is reminded of Jesus [here], who wasted no energy on the legions of the Roman Empire, but kept his attention on the sick, the marginalized, the broken, and exerted his power on their behalf.” (Shore) The Peaceable Kingdom of God does not allow for people to hurt or destroy one another. It is a state in which the “earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Is 11:9) The Message version of this scripture puts it this way, “The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.” The repentant remnant will be recovered and restored to the peaceable realm of God.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, when we are looking for the peace of God, we must remember that it is a peace that passes all understanding. It is supernatural, beyond what we can imagine or fathom. Bigger than us. Greater than our powers. Belonging to God. Not of this world alone. “In his book, Peace, Walter Bruggemann encounters the promises [of peace] very personally: ‘Un heard of and unimaginable! All these images of unity sound to me so abnormal that they are not worth reflecting on. But then I look again and notice something else. The poet means to say that in the new age, these are the normal things. And the effect of the poem is to expose the real abnormalities of life, which we have taken for granted. We have lived with things abnormal so long that we have gotten used to hem and we think they are normal.’” (Huey)
To seek the peaceable kingdom is a daring adventure. One in which we hope for a “new normal” in the midst of old status quo. The adventure of following righteous ruler who begins his leadership with the miracle of a virgin born baby lying in a animal feeding trough, sleeping with cows and sheep, lit by the night light of a great star in the sky, and listening to the lullabies of angels overhead. An adventure that calls us to be cleansed in the way of Christ at the waters of the Jordan, to take up our cross and follow the one who took notice of the gave sight to the blind man and healing to the pleading woman. This Advent adventure of peace requires us to pray for our enemies and welcome the stranger into our midst. The Peaceable “new normal” sits us at the table with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and criminals and gives us one piece of bread and one cup from which to eat and drink and share together.
The table is set, the ruler is reigning, may we seek to be cleansed and take action toward humble repentance so that we too may be restored to the Peaceable- God With Us- Kingdom. In the name of Emmanuel, Amen.
Job Title: Senior Manager/Director
Job Description: This is an ideal opportunity for an experienced marketing professional, someone who can lead a very talented team. Responsibilities will include defining and executing a strategy for the team, day-to-day management, designing campaigns around customer needs, research, statistic analysis, creating published works including growth and flow charts, planning and executing, budget analysis, cost management research and implementation, creation of legal contracts, strategic development towards measurable goals, and ongoing campaign management. Prior experience with management and marketing is desirable. We are seeking a highly motivated, analytical, and intellectually curious individual who wants to join and learn from a world-class company. If you pride yourself on being both creative and analytical, an active problem solver and a team player, then this is an opportunity to launch a fast-paced and rewarding career in a cutting edge field. Requirements: BA/BS degree with a minimum 3.3 GPA, some substantive work or university experience involving numerical analysis, some prior experience with monitoring and controlling projects, familiarity with Microsoft Excel or other analytical tools, 7+ years of marketing experience, 2+ years of experience managing direct reports, creative and analytical mindset, strong command of written English.
And like us, our ad in the paper received a lot of responses. Calls came in what seemed like once every 5 minutes. “Hello, my name is such and such. I am calling about the ad in the paper. I have sent my resume and cover letter via email as instructed. I was calling to make sure you received it. Could you tell me a bit more about the position and the hiring process?” The Human Resources department met to go through the 200+ resumes that were sent. After much deliberation, and honestly- quite a bit of laughter and tales of applicants, the organization narrowed it down to a handful of candidates.
Each candidate was asked to come in for an interview. Each of the candidates had some great qualities. One was very charming, knew just what to say and when to say it. One had a good balance of confidence and humility, self motivated and a team player. Another was really smart, had gone to a great school and knew all sorts of interesting information. All of them had the skills listed in the advertisement. They were experienced at strategy and analysis. They knew how to create budgets, write contracts, form policies and procedures for obtaining goals. They even knew a thing or two about statistics and cost management. Happy with the selection of candidates, they sent a representative of HR team to speak the Boss about their findings.
“Boss, we’ve found several really good potential managers here. In fact, they are so good that we’re not sure which of them to call back for a second interview. Would you take a look at their profiles and our notes and tell us what you think?”
They handed the boss a tall stack of papers. The boss took a look at the papers. Then, the boss handed the papers back and said, “These are all very interesting candidates. I like this one here and here, but in all honesty I’m not sure that any of them have exactly what we need in this position. There seems to be something missing from each of them. What I’d like for you to do is start over and see if you can come up with a better candidate.
So, with their heads hanging, the HR team went back to the drawing boards and started at square one. This time, they posted the ad in several publications: a highly renowned magazine, several websites, the local paper, and a broader based paper. 100s of resumes came in. The HR team scoured them, in search of just the right person to be manager. After quite a bit of digging and a lot of late nights and coffee, the HR team finally narrowed down the search to one candidate.
This time, they all went to the boss to present the candidate.
“Boss, this one is the one. You name it, this one’s got it: strategic, planner, financial guru, logical and rational, the perfect person to monitor and control projects and manage day to day happenings.” They handed the paperwork to the boss and even went so far as to show the boss a promo video on the candidate.
“I like this one. You have worked hard and have been diligent in finding a candidate that meets the requirements described in the advertisement. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what was missing in the other candidates and your work here has been a good attempt at filling that void, but I have to say...there’s still something missing.”
The HR team was shocked! “Are you kidding? We’ve worked for weeks to find the perfect candidate to be manager. We came up with a great job description. We ran an ad in all the well known publications. We poured over resumes. We spent weeks searching and researching. We’ve come to you with THE best candidate. And you say there’s still something missing? Well, at this point, we’re at a loss. We have done all we can do until you give us some more guidance as to what you are looking for.”
The boss took a file from his desk and handed it to the team. “As I said, I’ve been doing some thinking and I think I’ve figured out what’s missing. I think we’ve been taking the wrong approach here. I want us to regroup a bit, maybe take a look at the job description and see if it can be tweaked to better fit the needs of our organization. I’ve done some research and I’ve put together a few ideas. In this file, you’ll find a more full description of what I’m looking for.”
The team took the file and, with grumbling, left the boss’ office. After a much needed breather, the team gathered in the conference room so that they could go over the boss’ file. The team leader tossed to file at the intern, “You open it!” And so, the intern opened the file. Inside was this note:
In our search for the perfect manager, we have come up short. I believe the perfect steward for our organization is out there. Maybe we need to take a moment to reconsider the requirements for such a person. Below, you will find my recommendations:
* What we’ve been looking for is a person who looks good, will represent our company well. I’d like for us to reconsider this as a priority. So what if the candidate wears birkenstocks or has dreads? In order to find the perfect candidate, we may have to let go of our preference for business suits and shiny loafers.
* We’ve been searching for someone who is financially responsible and can manage and balance a tight budget. I want us to think outside the box a bit on this. I’d like for us to begin looking for someone who knows what it is like to have nothing, maybe even someone who has been homeless, someone who isn’t too proud to rely on the resources of others. I’d like for us to consider a candidate who can carry nothing but the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet, but still manage to live in abundance.
* We’ve been advertising for someone who is savvy in statistics, strategic planning, and cost management. Let’s choose to be out of the norm and find someone who thinks it is more important to give things away than it is to store things up for ourselves. Someone who wages against conventional odds, someone who is resourceful enough to create something out of nothing, who is able to take the smallest ordinary things and multiply them into enough to sustain thousands of people.
* We’ve been going at this wrong. We’ve been looking for someone who will climb the ladder to success and raise above all others. Let’s get someone in here who for the sake of others will lower himself and endure shame and even persecution.
* Who cares about flow carts and pie charts? I want someone who can draw a line of justice and compassion in the sand.
* Time Management is important. I want this person to schedule large chunks of time, 40 days even, for prayer and fasting.
* We said we wanted someone who could draw up legal contracts for our clients, my new suggestion is that we find someone who will choose persons over policies. Someone who will choose to be in relationship rather than sign a document saying so. I’m looking for someone who will inspire us to follow his lead without legal mandate.
* And we’ve talked about needing someone that is a good executioner, one who monitors and controls all aspects of our projects, including closing a project. I’d like us to reconsider this idea, to instead consider one who endured execution and has lived to tell about it. One, who might be able to inspire in us a sense of victory and joy in abundance. One, who will motivate us to be like him.
I truly feel like these are the requirements we should be looking for in our search- Someone who will be an example of creative and unique management, someone who will be so intriguing and inspiring such that we will all begin to follow in his ways and grow in our own management skills.
I believe in you. I know you’ll be led toward the right person,
The intern, after having read the whole of the document, looked at his superiors and said, “You goofs! You’ve had me read and sort and collate and answer phone call after phone call while all the time you’ve been searching for the wrong person! Had I known this is what you were looking for….well, let’s just put it this way, I know just who The Boss is talking about.”
And the intern went on to tell a story that begins with a baby in a manger, a story that goes on to tell about a man who fed the hungry and healed the sick, a man who gave notice to the needy and worked miracles for the grieving. This man gave living water to a thirsty woman and sight to a blind man. He embraced the children in his arms and welcomed the sinner into his presence. This homeless man wrote the book on how to be a good steward. He gave everything, including his life, out of Love for others.
The Human Resources team sat perplexed.
“I’m game! Let’s hire him!” one of them said.
“On the spot? Just like that?” another responded. “I’m not so sure about this. If he comes on as our lead manager, we’ll have to follow his orders and do what he asks us to do. And I’m not sure about all that. Birkenstocks? Dreads? Homelessness? Prayer? Giving stuff away? Feeding the hungry? I’m not sure I’m game for all that.”
“Yeah!” agreed another, “What if we end up losing money? What if because of his leadership, the organization goes down? I’ve worked hard to save up for retirement. I’m not going to dip into my savings, ‘cause of him!”
“There go my lattes, my mani pedis, and my monthly trip to Loft”
“Oh goodness! I hadn’t thought of that! I’ve got a lot of medical bills I gotta pay. I’m not hiring some guy that’ll threaten my insurance payments.”
“And I’m not so sure I want to be dealing with homeless folk anyway. They are always asking for something, always begging.”
“Just as soon as we get him in here, he’ll start asking us to help finance his plans. I’m not down with that! I’ve been saving for a vacation to Disney World and nobody’s messing with my Mickey!”
“I like flow charts! What’s wrong with flow charts! Straight, easy to predict lines. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not here to take chances like that”
“If this dude takes over as senior manager, he’ll be our supervisor and we’ll be done for! We’ll have to follow his leadership. We’ll have to do whatever he asks us to do. And, well, I don’t know ‘bout all that!”
“Yeah! He’s going to start asking us to volunteer to work extra hours for free!”
“And he’ll probably ask us to do some things we don’t want to do.”
“All I’ve gotta say is I’m not taking my work home. This is work, home is home. The two don’t mix.”
“Oh, and don’t forget all that stuff the intern told us about praying and fasting and junk.”
“Praying’s not the half of it. Did you hear him say something about paying a living wage to the mailroom staff and opening up jobs for the folks on the West side of town?”
“Yeah, and am I right or wrong when I say I heard him tell us something about eating fish and bread. I hate seafood! And we better not have to do away with the endless buffet down in the cafeteria.”
“This organization’s goin’ down in flames!”
The conversation went on. Some paced back and forth, some wrote feverishly in their notebooks, others put their heads on their desk. By the end of the day, only one person was left in the conference room. The others had gathered their things, packed them up, and left.
The intern gathered the boss’ papers and put them back in the file. He then went to the Boss’ office. “Boss,” he said, “We’ve got a problem. I found the senior manager you were looking for, but we’ve got several new positions to fill in the Human Resources department.
The next day, a new add went out,
Organization: The Body of Christ
Job Position Title: Stewards of the Kingdom
Job Description: This is an ideal opportunity for one who seeks to follow our head manager. Responsibilities will include day-to-day management of God’s resources, using your gifts to meet others’ needs, study of scripture & application to life, relationship development, ongoing prayer, sacrifice, generosity, and obedience. Prior experience is not necessary. We are seeking any individuals who want to join and learn from Christ himself. This is an opportunity to live an inspiring and rewarding life in a cutting edge field. Requirements: following the way of Christ and willingness to serve.
I think you’re a shoe-in. You should apply. Amen.
When I moved into the Pastor’s study several weeks ago, the one remaining item from Sam’s time here was a copy of the November 2009 issue of Our State magazine. We don’t subscribe to this magazine at home, but I get to read it often because my in laws have a subscription. I love this magazine. The pictures are beautiful and the articles are interesting, and sense I’m a native to North Carolina, the magazine’s themes and topics are often like a trip down memory lane and a good visit back home.
This issue of the Our State magazine is dedicated to FOOD! Biscuits, barbecue, pecan pie, collards, fried okra, chicken and dumplings, country-style steak, banana pudding, fried chicken, country ham, figs, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, sweet potato pie, apple stack cake, oysters, seafood chowder...you hungry yet?...chess pie, pound cake, brunswick stew, new potatoes, grits and eggs, ribs...I’ll stop there before you all start drooling and run out the door for lunch.
At the back of the magazine, there is an article about artist, Shirley Willis. Shirley creates all the faux food displays at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. From the pictures and descriptions of the food, you would never be able to tell that it is not real. She’s made all sorts of appetizing, but artificial, creations: “small cream puffs held together by caramel and garnished with spun sugar, baked cinnamon apples, baked shrimp in scallop shells, roasted turkey, baked shad, and green beans garnished with bacon, a holiday dessert buffet of pastry swans swimming on a mirror lake surrounded by wafers, sugared fruit, tea cakes, and other 18th century delicacies.” Oops...sorry...there I go again getting everybody hungry.
But wait, maybe there’s no need for apologizing. You were hungry before I even started talking to you about food, weren’t you? If not, then why do we have the table set for you here? We come to this place and gather together to receive what we hunger for, the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant. God’s table has a place setting for us all and it is overflowing with abundance.
I remember talking with a friend one time about his family’s Thanksgiving traditions. He said that his mother used to have so much food and people at her Thanksgiving meal that she would begin cooking a week early. Her husband and sons would move out any unneccesary furniture and put it into a storage unit until after the festivities were over. Each room of the house was dedicated to a different food group. There was the meat room, the veggie room, the salads room, and the dessert room. The whole family, neighbors, friends, and guests would come over on Thanksgiving and spend hours and hours eating and enjoying one another’s company. Afterwards, everyone would pitch in to help clean up the big mess.
God’s table overflows with an abundance that this woman could not ever imagine. The pitcher at the Lord’s Table overflows with grace and mercy. The refills are free and they keep on coming. The plates are filled with nourishing peace and joy. Eat to your heart’s content. The table is made with gracious welcome and loving unity, so that all may be invited, received, and embraced. The chairs are built with rock solid truth and faith to keep you from falling and to bear any amount of burden or heavy weight. Everyone who gathers at the table is both the waiter and the guest, serving one another and sharing in fellowship. God’s table is beautiful, abundant, overflowing, welcoming, and nourishing, yet there is still hunger in this world.
On my way to work the other day, I met a man named Tim. Tim was standing at the top of the exit ramp from I77 getting onto Tyvola Rd. When my car got to the top of the ramp, I was stopped right beside Tim. I wanted to but couldn’t ignore him. I looked around the car to see what I had to give him and remembered the apple I had packed in my bag for a snack. I rolled down the window. “I have an apple,” I said. “I don’t want your apple,” said Tim. “I’m not being mean, I’m just being honest. I’m an alcoholic,” he said, “What I desire overrides an apple.” I looked at him, smiled, and started forward when the light turned green.
A single mom in my neighborhood has six children. She receives some money at the beginning of the month, but it does not cover all of her expenses. In talking with one of her daughters this past week, I came to realize that this mom often cries with worry about how she will buy groceries for her children.
This week, a college sophomore at University of Texas in Austin, opened fire, shot and killed himself on UT’s campus. Those who knew him were shocked, saying that he “was an excellent student who ‘wouldn't or couldn't hurt a fly.’ [His] high school principal, said teachers remembered him as being brilliant, meticulous and respectful.” http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100928/ap_on_re_us/us_ut_gunman
Gypsies from Romania, the impoverished from latin america, the Karen people from Myanmar, plus many others seek refuge from despair only to be trapped in exile from any semblance of home.
Father Pedro Arrupe, the Jesuits' superior general, said, "When people are hungry anywhere in the world, the Eucharist is incomplete." (at the International Eucharistic Congress, which was held here in the U.S., in Philadelphia, in 1976)
Read Scripture: The thought of this affliction and homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me with grief and mourning. (Lamenations 3:19 & 20)
My sister in law has a funny word for that frustrated and mad feeling you get when you’re hungry...you know the feeling that you’re going to rip off someone’s head if they talk to you any more about the decision of where or what to eat because all you want to do is eat and at this point it could be italian, mexican, thai, or cardboard for all you care, you’re just hungry! This state of mind, according to her, is called “Hangry”. When we’re hangry, any amount of waiting is torturous. Each minute we are being kept from the table is another minute of grief and pain.
The hungers of this world often physical hungers, but they are also often spiritual and emotional hungers. Hunger for companionship, hunger for acceptance, hunger for welcome, hunger for a place to call home. We are hungry...even more than that, we are Hangry, hungry and with righteous anger...bowed down with grief and mourning...and we are waiting for all of us, not just some, to be nourished.
On this World Communion Sunday, we cannot help but notice the empty seats at God’s table, seats that are waiting to be filled. There is a room at the table for Tim, if only we will welcome him. There is a space at the table for the single mom and her children, if only we will notice them. There is a seat for the college sophomore in Texas if only we would embrace him. There is a seat at the Lord’s Table for those who seek refuge, if only we will move our purses and bags that are taking up extra space and share with our neighbors.
Read Scripture: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
We come to the table, filled with God’s bounty, we eat the bread and drink the cup and we wait, quietly with hope for God’s salvation to be made complete in us, in all of us.
The Lord is our portion, therefore we will hope in him. Amen.
Anyways, many of my facebook friends mentioned something like "I hope all those men in your life treat you well on your birthday." Greg was silly and mentioned something about wanting to know who the men in my life were and it all made for a good chuckle. But it all got me to thinking....Man! There are a lot of men in my life. There's Greg, John Tyson, Zeb, and even the dog is male- Matthew...there's Joe who lives with us and Jason next door and Jamar and Kevin who lives with Jason. And Jason's dog is a male- Jesse. And there's all the neighborhood guys...Felix, Xavier, Rhaji, Quavian, and others. And there are the (mostly) male ministers I plan camp with- Frank, Ben, David, Stuart, Steve, Joe, Michael. The list goes on...
But the "men in my life" didn't take me out after the community meal and treat me to Amalie's pastries and girl time. Nope. Joanie did that! And Ana, and Lorie, and Melody Ann, and Faith! Thanks, girls, for knowing just how to treat a girl right!