A sermon based on Psalm 63:1-8 and Isaiah 55:1-13 preached on World Communion Sunday, October 4th, 2015
The changing of the seasons is a wondrous thing. Just a few weeks ago we were in our bathing suits, diving into pools to cool ourselves down, and now all the sudden cold rain is falling from the sky, and we find ourselves fighting the temptation to turn on the heat in our houses just because it feels too early to give in to the colder weather, as if our stubborn resistance to the inevitable changing of the seasons will somehow keep the warm weather among us for a bit longer.
Even if we invite the change of Summer into Fall, each and every year still the same, this abrupt changing of seasons takes us all by surprise. The lavish growing season is past and now among us is the Harvest, where we gather in what we need to last the upcoming winter. It’s in these colder seasons that our traveling circles grow smaller. We stay closer to home. We take out the extra blankets from our closets and drape them over our beds and our sofas. We huddle in closer to one another. We rely on one another a little more to get through the unkind weather that awaits us. Such is the signal that Autumn sends out.
Last November in New York City, about 500 people gathered at Saint Bartholomew’s Church the day after Thanksgiving to eat together. The meal was catered, and guests were served roasted turkey, buttered mashed potatoes, red velvet cake, and pumpkin cheese cake, among other fine foods provided by some of the greatest chefs in Manhattan. Each table was adorned with red table cloths and candles. The guests were serenaded by piano and saxophone. Some well-off residents paid $100 for a place at this great banquet. Others there paid nothing. Nothing at all. But each were invited to the feast, anyway. See, this was a holiday dinner for the homeless, and each $100 ticket paid for 2, maybe even 3 plates. Some of Manhattan’s most well-off residents paid the bill in exchange for the honor of eating side-by-side with some of their worst-off neighbors. There in that hallowed space of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, a wonderful, sacred thing happened—something with the power to change everyone who gathered around table that day.
The host that day said he was encouraged that only 2 of 167 people who bought dinners asked not to be seated with the more than 250 homeless people there. At each table, there was a host assigned to foster conversations between the well-to-do and the homeless—to make everyone there feel at ease—and the night was a smashing success. They hope to do it again this year. They also hope that it becomes a nation-wide trend.
One of the paying guests had this to say:
How many parties do you go to with people of the same socio-economic status and you’re bored to tears? It’s good to mix it up.
One homeless man declared to his fellow tablemates with a smile upon his face and a good amount of dignity in his voice,
Tonight, I’m not homeless.
Today we gather for a Feast around the Lord’s Table. On this World Wide Communion Sunday, we share in a meal with countless Christians in many different places who gather around the same table because, just like us, they have been invited to come—to be reminded that wherever a community gathers together in God’s name, there everyone will have a place at the Table—will be fed, nourished, sustained, and upheld.
There’s no A- or B-list here. No qualifications needed, no reservations required. No labels like homeless or well-to-do. We all come to this table with empty hands. In fact, that’s the only way to come. We must come knowing that no matter what we could bring, it would never be enough. We must come only with our hunger and our thirst, nothing more. In fact, if we brought anything else to this table, it would only show our distrust of God’s powerful ability to sustain us. All we’re told to bring is our emptiness, asking that God may fill it at this meal. God is our host–out Heavenly Host–as we gather around this Table. It is here that we are reminded of God’s great love for us. Here, we are astounded that we have a God who ardently and zealously seeks and finds us, calls us His own, and ushers us in and says to us, “come, accept, delight, and be fed!”
There are so many empty things in our lives. So many questions we’d like answered. So many relationships we’d like healed. Most of us have made mistakes that we regret making, some of which may have changed the course of our lives in one way or another. We have all said cruel things to others. Thought even more cruel things about others. We have valued things that weren’t worth valuing, people who weren’t worth our time and effort; and we have too easily dismissed other things and other people who we wish we had valued more. God knows about all of these things—our brokenness, our failures, our mistakes and shortcomings—and invites us to the banquet, not despite them, but because of them. Because we who are hungry and undernourished and broken need to be fed with the right things.
It’s at this Table where we will find, as Isaiah suggests, what’s truly valuable, worth partaking in, worth giving ourselves to. He exclaims in verse 2,
Why spend money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?
We hear voices all over the place, no matter where we go, that do a great job convincing us of what we need to buy, and be, and do, and accomplish. Most of them are offers to spend our money, our effort, and our time, our devotion. And don’t we realize, after buying in, that whatever it was they were selling wasn’t worth buying in the first place? It never really delivered on its promise to fill a missing need of ours. We find out that, whatever it is, it was wasn’t made to satisfy us, but only to appease us temporarily.
This message from Isaiah isn’t only an invitation to a meal. It’s an invitation to assess what’s important and what will truly satisfy. That’s what stewardship is. At its heart, stewardship is earnest reflection upon those things in our lives that have true value and worth. It’s the practice of setting our hearts in the right place, so that we can do all we do—live or entire lives, time, talent, treasure, and all—giving ourselves to those things that truly build us up and nourish us—and our whole being to things that satisfy. The rest are empty calories, junk food for the heart, mind, body, and soul. God wants us to be satisfied, but only with the right things.
We’re entering Stewardship season. Next week and for the rest of October, we will hear from each of our Committee chairs about what we have done this last year, and what we hope, with God’s help and direction, to accomplish in the coming year. Stewardship season too easily gets whittled down to money. There are, indeed, important questions and considerations we will focus upon this next month that have to do with money, but stewardship is bigger than that.
This month, there will be a time for you and your loved ones to consider how much to give to the the mission and ministry of your church, and we will talk about that, but stewardship season is also a time to ask ourselves bigger questions—far greater questions, like:
How much time and energy do I spend simply sustaining my existence—the existence of my family—rather than celebrating a Divinely-inspired life?
That question is printed on a slip of paper right in front of you. And this one, too:
How can each of my days be lived as if I am the one invited to a lavish banquet of God’s grace?
Keep this slip of paper. These questions are for you. They are your preparation for this Stewardship season.
And here’s the most important thing about the Stewardship season: It starts here. At the Lord’s Table. With God as our Host—our Heavenly Host—treating us to feast. Without money. At no cost at all. Here’s the thing about what happens at this Table that you’ll never see anywhere else: In a world of self-service, scarcity, stinginess, and empty calories; when we gather together for this feast, we don’t feed ourselves. Instead, we are fed. Here, we rely not upon our own own devices, our own worthiness, our ability to afford this meal: We cannot afford it. It’s simply impossible to afford it. It is instead given to us, lavished upon us, because God is gracious and merciful to us. Come, and be fed!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!