Sermon – October 9, 2005

I am not big on remembering food events. Ann could recall a lunch that we had 10 years ago at a Vietnamese restaurant on a side street Beaumont, Texas, and still comment on the quality of the hot sauce. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. I don’t somehow relate to food in any conventional way, but I do remember one feast. I remember the feast we shared at our wedding. A friend of mine is trained as a chef and I asked if he would prepare the entree for our wedding reception. He agreed to do so and so he called my mother-in-law, and said, “OK, here’s what I want you to do, Nancy. I want you to get a bunch of turkey breasts and soak them for a couple of days in a brine of rock salt, tea, and the following spices.  Put them in the fridge, and when I get there from North Dakota in a few days, I’ll take care of the rest.” I suppose you can imagine Nancy’s anxiety. Her daughter is getting married, a bunch of people are coming and some guy she doesn’t know tells her to soak a bunch of turkey breasts in tea and he’ll come in a few days to take it from there. Are you kidding me? I don’t know for sure, but I am willing to bet she had a back up plan with a local caterer.

Well, come wedding time, we scoured the neighborhood for enough grills to cook this concoction on, the whole time noting that my future mother-in-law was a little short of breath. As it turned out, it was a magnificent fare. The turkey was tender and brown and tasty and we ate every bite.  All the side dishes were prepared by the families and friends. Aunts and uncles peeled potatoes, moms and friends cooked cakes, and Ann and her sister and some college and seminary friends raided neighborhood gardens for the flowers. All of our friends came and shared it with us. And we had quite a feast and celebration. All of our friends came and shared it with us. And we rejoiced. 

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.

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. The 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 fellowship 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.