Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ, in the name of the Triune God. I bring you greetings from your sisters and brothers at Holy Spirit as we give thanks for the privilege of sharing in ministry with you for the sake of the gospel here in Reading. This afternoon we will share in the CROP walk for hunger, but today especially I want to lift up and share our gratitude for a way you support our ministry over the years that ties in to our readings for today.
At Holy Spirit, we have an afterschool ministry called the Doves Nest, which provides a free meal, tutoring, literacy assistance and fun for 40-80 kids three days a week. Most of the time we are grateful for the meals we receive from the Kids Café program of the Greater Berks Food Bank, but a few times a year we are blessed by a feast when members from here at Nativity lovingly prepare and deliver a special meal that takes the place of the usual food.
I can assure you, that when the kids, especially the older ones, get wind of the fact that a meal is coming from Nativity, that good news spreads like wildfire! Poor Shirleen has to plan her arrival so she’s not mobbed by the kids. News of a meal from Nativity is like the proclamation of a feast! The kids go around and make sure everyone knows the news- “you gotta be here- this is the GOOD stuff!”
While I am sure that no one is thinking of well aged wines (God forbid!) or fatted calves, it is indeed a great meal. One that invites our kids into something different- knowing that great preparations were made, for them, and the taste of that great meal lingers in their memories and speaks love. And for some of our kids this meal sustains them in the midst of places that don’t seem all that great or maybe even loving. And that’s where our readings come in.
Admittedly, it’s hard to overlook the intensity of the language in the gospel this day, which doesn’t seem all that loving either. But it’s helpful to remember this is a parable. A story told to show a truth. Not told to show that the story is fact.
And I’d like to suggest that at this point in the gospel as Jesus has been sparring with the leaders for some time about who he is and what he’s about and it’s helpful to see that the strong images are intended to get attention about a truth about God’s power and purpose. Because you don’t want to miss out on what God’s up to. It’s a message humanity often misses.
All our readings this day call to mind the tensions of the world but they also point to God’s providing in the midst of it. In exile and strife, and struggle and confusion, there are these meals. Spoken of to a people in exile, to a church in conflict, to those beset by enemies, and those who weren’t expected to be included. There are these great meals.
In different ways, we ourselves know what makes for a great meal in our lives. It can be a great meal just because the ingredients are exquisite and the chef talented. It can also be a great meal to be with family or a special day. Or maybe you’ve been hungry for a long time and you finally get to eat. Maybe you’ve been sick and unable to taste or take in food, but now you can. Maybe you’ve been in a place of dark shadows, of loneliness or loss, staring at an empty chair, but today an empty chair is filled with a dinner companion- and that’s a great meal. Perhaps you’ve been at odds with someone but now there is a peace at the table. All of those are great meals, are they not?
Even our psalm this day lifts up a feast, however unlikely.
Psalm 23 is the most well known passage of Scripture in much of the world. We probably all know it well. After we hear the Lord is our shepherd and we are led by still waters and to green pastures, but before forever with God, there it is. “You prepare a table before me even in the presence of my enemies.” Even when we’re surrounded by struggles whether they are people or emotions. This is gospel for us in all kinds of times and places.
I heard it this past week as one of my colleagues told a story as a Vietnam vet of being in a watchtower on a hill with a few guys, eating lots of C-rations, and being pretty isolated. But occasionally they’d get mail. And on Christmas Eve he got a package from his fiancée.
Inside was a canned pheasant. I didn’t even know you could put a pheasant in a can. Canned pheasant and mandarin oranges and popcorn. An odd feast. And way too much for one person but those cans had to be eaten as soon as opened. So he and his fellow soldiers there in that tower surrounded by shots most of the time, had a feast, one he still calls one the best ever- as the shots stopped for a awhile, and there was a feast on Christmas Eve.
From those cans came a feast that spoke of the love of his fiancée, the protection of God and the goodness of something unexpected and abundant.
This is what our Scripture shows us- not only the goodness and power of the food, but of the provider who continually prepares and invites. Our God continually lovingly prepares for and invites those who long for it, and those who don’t get it. Those who will savor it and those who will dismiss it. Even in places and times we can’t expect-God provides a feast, prepares a table and says “Come.”
And Jesus asks, “Do you really want to miss out on grace?”
God is feeding us too. Again this day-in the midst of our busy-ness and our challenges. Our frailties and doubts. Dark places and short-comings. There’s a great meal here that offers the power to sustain us today- it is a feast and celebration!
And so, we’re invited to take all those other things that fill our hearts and minds, and are maybe even distracting us now and STOP.
Stop what we’re about and be fed with good things. Good things that will be carried in our hearts and minds so we can so as Paul encourages- think on these things. Think on the truth and honor of what God offers, the pure grace and wonder worthy of praise-
the things God gives, that are stronger than enemies, and dark places and prison cells. Because the God of peace meets us in this meal and is with us. And it starts here.
In order to be the church that shares good news, I think we must first stand in that grace and take it in again. And the best part is that we’re invited! To be lovingly fed by Christ and strengthened to walk in God’s world and to love others- to share as the kids would say, the news of the good stuff!
This is the invitation- so Come and be fed. AMEN