A sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-9 and Psalm 63:1-3 preached on October 2nd, 2017
In his book Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, author and religion professor, David Dark, shares a moment when his 4 year-old son was sitting down in front of the TV watching Scooby-Doo.
Now, let’s stop there for a second. Maybe you know how I feel about Scooby-Doo. There are some who’d say Scooby-Doo is a badly-drawn and hastily thought-out, repetitive, formulaic cartoon. But those who think that are wrong. Like we talked about last week, there are glimpses of the Gospel everywhere we turn, and Scooby Doo is a treasure trove of Gospel truth.—
I digress. David Dark’s 4-year-old son was sitting in front of the television, watching Scooby Doo, and it gets to the part where Shaggy and Scooby are getting hungry and they go out in search of food, but inevitably their search for a snack gets them in trouble. They find themselves walking through a dark hallway where all the sudden they’re confronted by a monster, or at least a man in a monster costume, and Shaggy jumps into Scooby’s arms (or, perhaps, the other way around), and they hold each other and shiver together in fear. And David Dark’s 4-year old son walks into the next room where his father is and says,
I like the part in Scooby Doo where they hold their ‘chother.
And at once, David Dark, the religion professor, had a word to describe sacred community, and it came from the mouth of his 4 year-old son: Chother. Chother happens when Scooby and Shaggy grab on to ‘chother so tightly that there’s no way to see where the dog ends and the man begins. They hold their ‘chother.
Since this is a brand new word, let me use it in another context. You may not be able to recall a band from the late 1960s whose name was The Hollies, but you know their hit: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Well, none of you are heavy, you’re my chother. Because we’re sacred community, you and I, we get to carry chother. And if we do that well, it’ll be hard to tell, just like Scooby holding Shaggy (or the other way around) where I end and you begin.
In church, we gather with chother. We come together to hold chother in prayer and conversation, in worship and song. And today, on this World Communion Sunday, we gather with chother around Table. To hold chother is to practice something ancient yet enduring—and certainly today, more than any other time—counter-cultural.
Around this Table we gather, and in the act of gathering, whether we realize it or not, we confess that the only way any of us can be whole is if we’re willing to be a part. When we gather with chother around the Lord’s Table, we’re admitting a few things about ourselves. The first is, that we do not feed ourselves. In fact, no matter what table we gather around, we come confessing that we do not feed ourselves. Being hungry means being in constant need of sustenance that can only come from outside of us. Whether we’re talking about hunters and gatherers from thousands of years ago foraging for food, or how we go to Kroger to hunt for bargains and gather food in our grocery carts, it’s all a confession that we have to go outside of ourselves to find our nourishment.
The second thing we come confessing to chother and to God when we gather around the Communion Table is that we’re in constant need of this nourishment. That daily, we have to seek out the goodness and abundance of God’s creation to feed ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray Give us this day our daily bread, because for all our wit and wisdom, when it comes down to it, we are entirely dependent upon God, life’s true and only Source for our hunger and thirst.
Psalm 63 is an early morning Psalm. The first Christians gathered together every morning and sang these words with chother. No matter how much bread and water might pass their lips that day, this song was a way of saying,
God, my tongue will taste food and drink today, and it’s all a gift which you have given us.
Our need for food and drink should always remind us of our need for God. In fact, chewing food and swallowing water, if we’re mindful about it, could be the best prayers we’ll ever make, and whenever we sit down for a meal to refuel our bodies, we are invited to pay closer attention to our constant need and utter reliance upon God, and by doing so, nurture a life of gratitude. Because every swallow and every chew can be—if we let it!—a way to say Thank You.
There was a monk who was once asked, “Hey, did you make this bread or did Someone give it to you?”
The monk replied, “Yes.”
From the very first verse of Psalm 63, the writer confesses his total reliance upon God.
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you.
That Hebrew word for whole being actually refers to the throat or esophagus. That’s where the ancient Hebrews believed the soul was.So, with each swallow, they believed that their souls were being fed. Each gulp of water was a way to nourish their souls with the gifts of God. Each bite of bread a reason to celebrate God’s goodness. A full throat is a full soul. Every gulp is a prayer. The psalmist is confessing for us what our lives are like. Hunger is a sort of longing, and we move from longing to being filled and satisfied, and then back again to hunger and longing, over and over again confessing our constant dependence upon God and His good creation to live. No one gets to have their existence alone; our stomachs tell us so. Existing alone would mean starving.
Around the world, there are thousands of tongues longing for water to quench and food to sustain.
Thomas Merton was a 20th Century Trappist monk who lived and served from the Abbey of Gethsamane in Kentucky. In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Muhammed Ali Streets, a young Thomas Merton was walking along when he had what he referred to later as a laugh-out-loud epiphany. Other times, he called it his Louisville epiphany. It was this moment at the corner of these two streets that Merton found it suddenly impossible to view passing strangers as some sort of random and impersonal occurrence.
At the corner of Fourth and Muhammed Ali, it hit Merton that each person around him was interesting, beloved, full of stories that were meaningful and holy—that even though he had no idea who they were, they were his chother. Merton wrote about that epiphany later, saying,
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of counterfeit self-isolation. The whole illusion of separate, holy existence is a dream.
That day, the Laughing Monk found out that there is no “they.” To be whole is to be a part.
That, friends, is what we celebrate whenever we gather around this Table. We call it communion because we do it in community, with chother, and there’s no way else to do it. And on this World Communion Sunday, we can be sure that on every continent, in all the Americas—Canada, all through the U.S., in Central and South America, in Europe, Russia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, and in the Asian nations. In a 1,000 lands, with 1,000’s of people with 1,000’s of parched tongues, Christians gather around table with chother. And by gathering around Table, we confess that our longing for God is both spiritual and physiological. That both our souls and our bodies depend entirely upon the real, and the really spiritual food and drink that God provides. And when God feeds us these gifts from His creation, we will then use our full mouths, and our water-nourished lips, and our thousand watered tongues to sing God’s praises!
The psalmist recalls his time in the sanctuary. That’s where he beheld God’s power and glory. Whenever the faithful make their way to the sanctuary, they never arrive alone. There is always a community gathered there to worship God with chother. Worship has never been a solitary effort. No one gets to do it alone. And friends, that is what this Table says: No one gets to have their existence alone.
We come here thirsty and hungry. With empty hands that need filling. With hearts and souls and throats that long to be filled with the right things. With a thousand parched tongues that need watering. We come to this Table holding chother up so that we can be fed from it. We come completely dependent upon a God who graciously offers us these gifts. A full throat is a full soul, and every gulp is a prayer! Friends, taste and see that the Lord is good!!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!!