Sunday, August 19, 2012

For Now the Feast is Spread


(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on Sunday, August 19, 2012, the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15B. The sermon derives from the RCL pericope for the day, specifically Proverbs 9:1-6 and John 6:51-58. The portions of the hymn "Come, Let Us Eat" from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #491, indicated by the bold and italicized print were sung by the preacher during the sermon.) 




One of my favorite of many favorite memories from my time at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary occurred at the beginning of my second year. A classmate of mine had been married the Memorial Day weekend previous. With everyone going their different directions over the summer, my group of friends didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate properly. So once we were all back on campus, we decided to hold a dinner party in the new couple’s honor. Jill, the hostess extraordinaire and one of the primary ring leaders of our group, volunteered to hold the party in her apartment. Unfortunately, her apartment wasn’t that big. So, we had to rearrange the furniture and borrow tables enough to seat us all...in her living room. Then we all scrounged for our hand-me-down china and silver, crystal glasses, and serving dishes. Who cares that nothing really matched. Throw in the table cloths, including mismatched cloth napkins and napkin rings, some flowers in odd sized vases, and we had ourselves an exquisitely eclectic and elegant dinner party. The food, lovingly prepared by various members of the group was great and the conversation flowed as easily and prodigally as did the wine. Top it all off with coffee and dessert, and there was no doubt, we poor, and I do mean poor students had experienced ourselves a rich feast,...a banquet meal reminiscent of the Kingdom of God.

Come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread,
come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread.

Listen again to our passage for today from Proverbs. This time from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation.
         Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home; 
it's supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, 
   wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids, 
   Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place, 
   and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
"Are you confused about life, don't know what's going on? 
   Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I've prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, 
   roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live! 
   Walk up the street to a life with meaning."  1

The writer of proverbs introduces us to Lady Wisdom. And what is it that Lady Wisdom does? She throws a dinner party to which she invites everyone within sound of her voice. All are invited to come to the home Lady Wisdom has built and furnished, a massive home supported by seven pillars. All are invited to her home for the banquet meal, to receive all that Lady Wisdom provides. She spares no expense. She even goes so far as to roll up her sleeves and prepare the house and the banquet meal herself. She gives prodigally, frivolously to all who are impoverished. To everyone she gives life, and not just any ol’ life, she gives life with meaning.  

If this Proverbs imagery sounds familiar, it should. The writer of Proverbs, using the feminine imagery for God, clearly wants us to see God’s Kingdom and God’s character in the person of Lady Wisdom. After all, does not God also call all people together to enjoy her exquisitely eclectic and elegant feast? Does not God also spare no expense, even giving of herself in service to her people? The banquet meal which God serves to everyone, metaphorically represents God’s desire to give prodigally, frivolously to all. And to all, to every one God gives life, and not just any ol’ life, she gives life with meaning.

Come, let us drink, for now the wine is poured,
come, let us drink, for now the wine is poured.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Jesus through his life and ministry lived out the image of the banquet feast. When he attended a wedding feast and turned water into wine. When he declared that the kingdom of God had come near and then welcomed sinners and ate with them. When he fed thousands with five loaves and two fish. When he ate that upper room meal with his disciples. When, after the resurrection, he made them breakfast on the beach and warmed their hearts, breaking bread with them. Jesus is the living sign of God’s Kingdom. In him we share in God’s banquet. In him we receive life, and not just any ol’ life, life with meaning.

Come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread,
come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus states, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life...” Notice it does not say, will have eternal life. Not, will get an I.O.U. they can cash in some day, if they live up to my expectations and commands. No, in some beautifully mysterious and deeply gracious way, Jesus is promising that by his presence here now, that by feasting on him now, we have life, real life, abundant life,...now. 

God in Jesus is after all the God who became flesh and blood, who stepped down to reclaim and renew this very earthy....earth. God’s not balling this ol’ world up and throwing it away, whisking us off later to some pie in the sky, sweet by and by. No, in Jesus the kingdom of God has come near, down here, in our everyday lives, in this place of suffering and want and hunger and brokenness and desire and death.  Here Jesus is calling us, calling us to renewal, calling us to healing, calling us to live life to the fullest, now in him.  

St. Irenaeus, writing some 1800 years ago said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  That is what God in Jesus, what Lady Wisdom wants for us. She wants her children to be fully alive, living the life with meaning, the abundant life. 

Come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread,
come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread.
Our Lord's body let us take together,
our Lord's body let us take together.

But, before we get too carried away, thinking this abundant life is just any ol’ life. Or, that it is a life defined in the way our popular culture and politics might define it. We need to remember, this “life with meaning” to which Jesus invites us, it is controversial and in many ways offensive. It likely doesn’t look anything like any formal meal you may have planned or attended. At Jesus’ banquet nothing quite matches up. The abundant life which Jesus gives is more like...a dinner party held in a converted living room, with hand-me-down china, mismatched napkins, and food cobbled together into a rich feast. Yes, the abundant life, the life with meaning that Jesus gives is exquisitely eclectic. It is made up of all those things which actually breathe life. Art and music and play and laughter and friendship, but also so much more. It is life lived in service, loving friend, neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike. It’s life lived caring for the widow and the orphan, the poor and the hungry. It’s life lived acknowledging our own brokenness, our sin, and our need for forgiveness and healing. It’s life lived acknowledging God in all and through all, working to heal and redeem this world. It’s life lived in community, exquisitely eclectic community. Community made up of young and old, abled and differently abled, straight and gay and transgendered, married and single and divorced and partnered, ethnically diverse, people who are broken and sinful and people who think they are not broken or sinful, all cobbled together like a rich feast. That’s the kingdom of God. That’s the life with meaning. That’s the abundant life, the life we get to live in and through the serving, crucified, death-defeating, life-giving Jesus. 

In Jesus' presence now we meet and rest,
in Jesus' presence now we meet and rest.
In the presence of our Lord we gather,
in the presence of our Lord we gather.

This life is here now, for you and for me. God’s Kingdom, God’s exquisitely eclectic and elegant dinner party is here now, breaking in all around us. It looks a lot like funeral receptions on Sunday afternoons and potluck suppers on Saturday nights. It looks a lot like smiling volunteers serving 229 of our hungry brothers and sisters at KARM (Knox Area Rescue Ministry). It looks a lot like writing letters to political leaders on behalf of the hungry as part of the “Bread for the World” offering of letters. It looks a lot like us gathering here to kneel and make confession, hearing words of forgiveness. It looks a lot like us gathered here praying for ourselves, each other and the world around us, and reaching across the aisle to share peace, deep peace. It looks a lot like us being willing to change, and give up some of our wants and needs in order to reach out to those who are not here, inviting them to gather with us.  It looks a lot like us -- the exquisitely eclectic, broken, dysfunctional, beautiful children of God -- gathering here together at this rich feast, as we hear the words of Jesus. “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you.” 

It looks a lot like us hearing the words of promise that come from the wisdom of Jesus this very day....
Are you confused about life, don't know what's going on? 
   Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I've prepared myself for you, my flesh and blood for you. 
So, leave your impoverished confusion and live! 
   Walk up the street to a life with meaning.
Walk up the street to a life with me...
for now the feast is spread.


In Jesus name. Amen.

1 Proverbs 9:1-6 from "The Message" translation, Eugene Peterson.

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