Sermon – October 12, 2014

A Place at the Table.

A couple of weeks ago and then I went up to a farm much like our Sola Gratia Farm just outside of Fairbury. It was a feast. The event was to celebrate the farm to table relationship that this farm had with a number of top drawer chefs from Chicago and around central Illinois. The farm sells its organic produce and responsibly raised and slaughtered animals to these restaurants, and they were there to celebrate and say thanks. It was a feast. We sat under a large white tent. A band was playing, there was wine on the table, and the food was supplied by the restaurants who benefit from the farm. So, we could just walk down the line eating every manner of delicious thing from bread to soup. I am not a foodie. I only really remember the goat tacos, but I know a feast when I see one. It was just awesome.We were all there because we were celebrating a covenant and all looking with new hope to the future. That’s what a feast is all about, and it was a good one.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we were all there to share the food, the relationship, the agreements and promises on which these partnerships are built, and to celebrate.

Scripture has characterized our relationship with God in such a way. Gathering to celebrate the covenant, the unexpected fare shared by all those called to the feast. The hopefulness that is borne out into the lives of those who participate in it. Of course, the feast that God prepares is of an eternal and magnificent nature. A feast, as Isaiah describes, that will destroy the shroud of death and wipe away all tears, a feast that the Psalmist writes restores our souls and gives us courage and hope as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. A feast and fellowship that the apostle Paul writes will bring us a peace which passes all understanding. This is the feast that bears witness to the fidelity of the covenant maker and which nourishes us with hope and love and peace.

That is what the invited guests in Jesus’ parable rejected. This is what they were too busy for. They were going about their business, tending their livestock, carrying on with their lives, and couldn’t be bothered by this invitation. In fact, some were so offended by it that they beat and killed the messengers. They did not recognize the generosity of the invitation, and they dismissed the host as a meddler in their own affairs.

That has to bite a bit, because we, too, are issued this marvelous invitation to dine with the king. We too are invited to share in the celebration, the promise, the nurturing fare of the banquet. How do we respond? On what are we feasting today? Who has prepared our table? The abundance that we live in, I fear, may obscure the grandness of the feast God call us to. We live in a place, in a country, where in the eyes of the ¬world and from the view of history, a feast is prepared for us everyday. That is little that we need to survive and we have the means, if not the will, to provide for those basic needs for those who lack them. In the midst of this obvious and irrefutable abundance, though, there remains a hunger, a longing for a more sustaining fare. Through our abundance and blessings a hunger breaks through our culture in our politics, in our news, in our entertainment. You would think people would be stampeding to the church, but they are not. But this all suggests there is a longing for more.

The banquet that God prepares for all people has to do with hunger and needs that cannot be satisfied by the menu the culture prepares for us. The feast that has been prepared for us in he kingdom of God , in the here and now, presents us with a different menu, meant to nurture and nourish our deepest needs. The feast that God has prepared for us speaks to the longing in our hearts for wholeness, for fellowship, for understanding of our place and our relationship with God.

It is a fare that the heart must discover, that the heart must understand, and surely it begins by recognizing the host. That may be the stumbling block. To truly share in the feast we must look past the others and recognize the host, recognizing not only the goodness of God, but the passion of God for God’s people, and God’s authority and will to do something about it.

And he has. When Jesus teaches this parable, the tension is mounting in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has driven the money changers out of the temple. He has launched into a public teaching which confronts and accuses, instruct and challenges the prevailing understanding of God, God’s people and who has a place at the table. The blind see, the broken are healed. Plots are being laid to take him out. He is in a city he will leave on only two more occasions, once to go up to the garden to pray and struggle with his fate, and the other to bear a cross to the top of a hill overlooking the city. At stake are the covenant, the promises of God, the restoration of our relationship with God, and our salvation. Jesus is preparing the feast. Jesus is laying the table.

We cannot choose God. God has already chosen us. The invitation to the banquet table of God, the credentials for our fellows hip were issued on the cross. Here God exercises God’s prerogative to choose, and God chooses us. Not because God needs the company, but because God desperately wants us to receive this gift, to share in this celebration, to feast on this restoration and peace, to take our place at the table.

As we stand with that invitation in hand, we do have a choice. To continue with the affairs of our daily life, to be satisfied by the meager fare of another banquet, to fumble and fuss with all the reasons we might think God would not choose us, . . . .or to claim that place at the table which God has prepared.

Friends, we sample this feast again today, hearing the promises of peace, of a retreat of the clouds of despair, the reassurance of forgiveness, rekindling of hope. Here at this table, we are met by the one who has invited us. We are brothers and sisters and children of the king. All of us belong. The host of reasons that we think God might not want us may still nag. The clutchings of ego may still pester us, the differences among us may still try to rise up and grab all our attention, pride may cause us to hesitate. But this morning we are called back into our proper place at the table of Christ, quietly and humbly receiving what only he can give.

We gather to celebrate a covenant and look with new hope to the future, and in this God rejoices.. That’s what a feast is all about. It is quite a feast. It is quite a choice.