A Place At The Table

A sermon preached by Randy Marshall at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.

April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18

John 13:1-35

April 15, 2:32 PM, an e-mail from Marci Glass to Randy Marshall:

“So, I’m told nobody is going to want to hear me preach on the 28th after surgery. I thought I’d be okay, but Bruce told me not to preach that day. Interested?”

April 15, 7:19 PM, an e-mail from Randy Marshall to Marci Glass:

“Revelation 21 and John 13 — who could resist that.
Actually I’d kind-of like to hear you preach on Revelation so soon after surgery.But it’s probably the better part of wisdom to give you a pass that day.  So sign me up.”

That’s how it started.  Then I sat down with the lectionary texts for today.  I read them, several times.  I started to outline them, trying to find their message for us, for today.  And what I discovered was that today is Food Sunday.
You may have already noted the food themes in the Acts and John passages, and lest you think I’ve forgotten, don’t worry, before we’re done today we will spend some time with the text from Revelation.  But first we really do need to talk about food.  So we start with the reading from Acts.

Last week we heard that Peter had been called to Joppa to the bedside of the recently deceased Tabitha.  After raising her from the dead he stayed for a while with Simon the tanner.  It is there that the servants of Cornelius found him and invited him to return with them to Caesarea to speak with their master.  That event is recounted in the next chapter; Acts, chapter 10.

But our scripture this morning is from a different telling.  Our reading this morning places us in Jerusalem, where Peter is defending his actions to the gathered apostles.  I would suggest that this is the first recorded Presbytery meeting, and I’m probably not far wrong.

There are a couple of things worth noting about this passage – both having to do with food.

First, note the charge leveled against Peter: “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Not “Why did you baptize them?”

Not “Why didn’t you ask our blessing (or permission) before undertaking this mission?” 

The concern is with food. Who did you eat with while you were there?

Second, it shouldn’t escape our notice that the trip to Caesarea where Peter committed this grievous offense was immediately preceded (yes, I believe God was preparing Peter) by the vision of the sheet.

When we read of Peter’s vision we should hear God saying, “Look Pete, I know you have all kinds of laws related to food – what you can eat, how it is to be prepared, who you will eat it with.  None of that matters any longer.  In my kingdom, in the new order, all are welcome to the banquet.  Nothing, no one,  I bring to the table is unclean.”

These would have been shocking, scandalous words in Peter’s time.  But why are they no less scandalous today?

I think part of the answer lies in the concept of ‘safety’ (or is it really “comfort”?).  We share a meal with those who we know, those who we like, those who agree with us.  We share a meal with those who are, in some significant way, like us.

Back then, and even today, sharing a meal was a sign of community.  Breaking bread together is something a community does – whether the community is a family celebrating a holiday; a group of friends heading to Raedene’s after Sunday School; a congregation enjoying a chili cook-off or a pot luck supper; PW Luncheons, Men’s Lunch, Brewed for Thought – shared meals are community events.

And we’re careful about who we let into our community, aren’t we.  The people we define as ‘community’ tend to look like us, dress like us, act like us, speak like us, share our views of politics and religion and child rearing and gun control.   After all, you don’t tend to eat supper with those who would cause you harm – unless your name is Jesus.

When you look at the description of the last supper in John 13 it is noteworthy that all of the food references have to do with Judas, and with his role as the betrayer:
•    Verse 18: ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’
•    Verse 26: “’It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.”
•    Verse 27: “After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.”
•    Verse 30: “So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out.”

Jesus clearly knew what was going on.  He knew Judas’ heart.  He could very easily have excluded Judas from the meal; “For what you are about to do you have forfeited your place in this community.  You are no longer welcome at my table.  Please leave.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

But that’s not how Jesus operated.  And that’s not how we are called to operate either.  In one sense that last supper was a small meal shared between a teacher and his closest disciples.  In a larger sense that supper was the inauguration of a much larger meal – the great banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.

And while Jesus might have excluded Judas from the supper (but of course he didn’t), there is no way that Jesus, or Southminster would exclude anyone from the banquet.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, or what you are contemplating doing; where you have been or where you are headed.  All are invited to the table.

I know.  These are hard words – a difficult calling.  How are we to break bread with bombers and school shooters?  How are we to accept child molesters as members of our community?  How can we sit at table with government officials who hear most clearly the voices that bring the most money, or sell the greatest fear?  It’s a bridge too far.  Somebody has to draw the line.  Somebody has to put his foot down and say; “Judas, you’re out.”  And if Jesus won’t do it…

Nobody said it would be easy, this being a Christian thing.  As a matter of fact Jesus was quite clear on the matter.  Unless we are ready to take up our cross and follow him we aren’t really ready to be his disciples.

“Take up your cross and follow me.” 

What does that even mean in our 21st century world?  What is the modern equivalent of being crucified by the Roman Empire?

Sometimes it seems that this, too, is a bridge too far.  We sit here this morning; secure, safe, comfortable, warm.  We have enough to eat (much more than enough, really) and beds that we can call our own.  We are, by and large the privileged few.  We live in a world run by people like us.  The only fear we generally feel is the fear that is sold to us by our many media sources.  Wrapped in the thick rich blanket of opulence it’s difficult for us to think about taking up our crosses.  We even wonder why we would want to take such a bold and risky step.

But that is our calling.  Yes, it’s a call to be bold.  Yes, it’s a call to take risks.  But what it definitely isn’t is a call to complacency.

More-so I see this as a call to action.  The question is what kind of action?  Where?  How?  When you think about it there are places where our Southminster community is already responding to the call.  Taking a stand for human rights – in the streets, in the statehouse, in our Presbytery; making connections with grade school kids in our own back yard – connections that are changing lives and that will last a lifetime.  Our youth are working down at Whitney Methodist Church – helping to serve free meals to any and all who walk through the door.  These are just a few of the ways we are carrying our crosses.  I’m sure there are more.

Just as I’m sure there are more opportunities.

A couple of weeks ago Marci and I attended the first meeting of what promises to be a confederation of churches in the valley who are all working on the issue of hunger.  The conversation ran the gamut from gardens to chickens to identifying those in need to issues of distribution and more.  There is much work to be done, but there are many hands anxious to be involved. You can learn more by liking their Facebook page – Focus on Food for Boise.

food

Mathew 25…  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’

One of the advantages of being involved with Focus for Food is that we get word of events and matters of interest.  One such is a showing of the new documentary “A Place at the Table” on May 10 at the Egyptian Theater.

This event is sponsored by a whole list of organizations including AARP-Idaho, Boys and Girls clubs of Ada County, CROP Walk, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran church, All Saints Episcopal church, and many others (but not Southminster – Interesting).  movie

According to the preview materials the documentary shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides — as they have in the past — that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.

John 21
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

At Brewed for Thought last week Marci mentioned that First Presbyterian Church has been working with other  churches who take turns serving free hot meals.  These Friendship Dinners have been served every Thursday for the past 18 years to anyone who walks through their doors. First Church has approached us to find out if we would be interested in helping out when it’s their turn to host on the First Thursday of each month.  friendship dinner

They have the kitchen and the supplies. They just need hands to help, ears to listen, hearts to share compassion.  It’s been said that it’s really as simple as finding out where the Holy Spirit is moving and getting involved.  This might be just that kind of opportunity.  I suspect that our mission committee will be taking a look at the offer but if you’d be interested in being involved please let me or the mission committee know.

Matt 22:Then the king said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.   Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’   Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Wedding banquets were large extravagant affairs – more-so then than even now.  Several times in the Gospels Jesus compared the Great Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet.  As it turns out, the same image is presented in today’s  reading from the 21st Chapter of Revelation.

Honestly I don’t think we spend enough time with this last book of our Bible.  The Revelation to John is often used to predict the imminent end of history, the agonizing destruction of all but the elect – the 144,000 men (no women, just men) who will be spared the final tribulation, or not, it depends on who you listen to.

In truth it really doesn’t matter who you listen to because both the pre-tribulation theologians and the post-tribulation theologians are missing a fundamental part of the message.  Listen to these words from Revelation 21, beginning with the first verse:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

We, whomever “we” turns out to be, aren’t going there.  The New Jerusalem is coming here – here to Boise; here to Texas; here to Boston; here to Bangladesh, here to Syria, here to wherever tears need wiping away, here to wherever death – physical death, spiritual death, emotional death separates us one from another; here to where mourning and crying and pain have replaced laughter, the play of children, the joy of productive, rewarded labor.

I wish I could tell you that they are wrong – those preachers of doom.  I wish I could tell you that we aren’t approaching the end of days, the final apocalyptic battle.  But I can’t.  They might be right.  Today could be the day.  It might happen yet this morning, or during my nap this afternoon.  But I can tell you this.  If that’s where we focus, if we let ourselves be drawn into worrying about the end of it all, we run the risk of missing the entire message of the Bible.  We are called, called to wipe away tears; to minister to the poor and the lonely, the downcast and the outcast, those who are different, silent, strangers thirsty for the water that is a gift from the spring of the water of life.

We are called to participate in the great banquet – the very celebration of life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And we are called to share that celebration with all, every one we meet, in every circumstance, every hour of every day.  To live as kingdom people proclaiming grace and peace and, oh yah, Food!

Amen.

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One thought on “A Place At The Table

  1. I sent this because of the reference to the way we take communion in John 13:26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had sipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. I’ll work on the rest of King James chapter later today, as it’s early, and I need to eat and shower, wash clothes etc. Father is moving better, walking better, wanting to be included more with Gizzy, and I think he’s not wanting a lifetime of being left out because he can’t breathe. I hope it’s a good sign.

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