Sermon Notes 10/12/14 Isaiah 25:1-9 Psalm 23 Philippians 4:1-9
A feast prepared for all people.
God’s feast is for all people – not just the chosen, or the faithful, or the believers. God lifts the veil and sets the table for all people and nations. How have we as church tried to share or limit God’s generosity?
Questions to ask ourselves:
- Where do I live under the shadow and fear of scarcity?
- Where do I live the generosity of abundance and enough?
- Where do I or have I experienced a feast? How does that story help me understand God’s goodness and provision?
- When have I been welcomed to someone else’s feast? What was that like?
A feast prepared for all people.
When is the last time you attended a feast? How do you know? How do you draw the distinction between a meal, a banquet, and a feast? I suspect that every culture has an image of a feast – usually in honor of an individual or communal life event – a birth, coming of age, marriage or death. In the US we have some 20 & 21st images that often come to mind – the iconic paintings of the First Thanksgiving with American Immigrant Pilgrims in black hats and Native Americans in feather headdresses all gathered around a table overflowing with all kinds of natural bounty. I can’t hear the word feast without thinking of Dr. Seuss and all his Whos down in Whoville celebrating Christmas, and the Grinch carved the Roast Beast. More recent film has given us the Hogwarts feasts with never-ending food that just keeps appearing.
In the New Testament we see Jesus perform his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2). These were celebrations that went on for several days – sometimes as many as 7 days. Jesus uses the image of a feast to illustrate the Kingdom of God in Matthew 22. The point in these two stories as in the passage from Isaiah is similar – God desires that we would relish in the bounty of God’s goodness. Too often, however, we choose the scraps we can produce for ourselves rather than the abundant good that is available to us.
In the passage from Isaiah 25, the prophet recalls how God humbled the proud and powerful. At the same time, God has been “a refuge to those in distress” (25:4). Then comes the promise of ultimate restoration and renewal: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines… (25:6) The feast will be “for all peoples” – i.e. all nations, tribes or people groups. The vision offered starting with Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12 is that all people will be blessed. Yes, God calls a people to be set apart and holy – first Abraham and his descendants, the 12 tribes of Jacob / Israel. Later the church is grafted in to the people of Israel and the covenant is renewed – a New Covenant in water and in blood, in the Spirit and Fire. All of these are not simply because God plays favorites – they are called and formed “to be a blessing”. They are called to communicate that
A feast will be prepared for all people.
This story moves in three stages:
- We recognize our current state. Are we those of power who have been brought low, or are we the poor and needy who find refuge in the LORD? Perhaps both?
- We understand and accept that God is calling us to the feast that is being prepared. God wants us to live in abundance and blessing. God continually works and calls out to us. Finally, we come to the end of our striving, and we accept that God loves us and receive the blessings that God has for us.
- We follow Christ out to the world to proclaim the feast for all and to bring others in.
Part of the challenge for a church is that simultaneously we include people who are at each of these three stages. Some folks are just coming to terms with their reality. Others are receiving the call to discipleship and beginning their journey with Jesus. Still others are venturing out of the boat to walk with Jesus to the ends of the earth. And honestly, each of us at that third stage circle back to stages one and two occasionally.
There have been seasons in my life and ministry when I have awoken as from a dream, only to realize that I’ve built a house of cards that is beginning to collapse around me. This can happen in any area of our lives – our profession, our marriage, parenting or other relationships, our physical health. It happens at the personal, communal, national and global scale. When a major financial collapse comes as in 2008-9, what can be said but that people of pride and power built a house of cards using their own cleverness and capacity rather than leaning on the wisdom and power and grace of God. There are multiple explanations for why the collapse happened – globalization, a weak dollar, deregulation of banks and the subprime mortgage fiasco – but any version is still a house of cards horror story with hubris and blind ignorance as the central narrative.
That same scenario could be repeated with any of our crisis and collapse chronicles. Think of the current Ebola crisis, or the efforts to respond to the shifting landscape of militaristic misappropriations of the Islamic faith. We ignore warnings, and the evidence before our eyes, because we think we know best. We desperately want to believe our own version of events. One of our difficulties is that we believe the lie of limited resources. The result is that we often fight over what resources we perceive in a perpetual win/loose downward cycle of decay.
The Truth is completely opposite. We live in a world of abundance, a universe of unimaginable capacity, and serve a God of limitless possibilities. Each of us has limits, certainly. Collectively we are limited too. Even if you and I pool our resources, it won’t be enough to do all we want or desire. BUT… if we will recognize our limitations, accept the grace and power available to us, we will find that we have enough. The path forward is the same for all – the three stages identified above.
The feast is not the end of the story. Isaiah continues: And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. (25:7) A veil of fear and darkness prevents us from seeing God’s abundant provision available in creation and in each other through community. We cannot lift the veil off our own eyes. Only the power of Spirit can do this. We must be willing to let it be lifted. When Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come out!” Lazarus might have chosen to stay in the tomb. (John 11) Even when he did come out there was work to be done: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (11:44) “Remove the veil of darkness, the covering of death!” And the next scene is a feast – “they gave a dinner for him…” (John 12)
Jesus has now given this ministry to his disciples. We are given the privilege of speaking these word to one another and the world that Jesus has spoken over us:
- Come out of your tomb – God’s power and our response
- Have the veil of darkness removed – the support of our community
- Join in the feast
Now this could all lead us toward a name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel or some Polly-Anna-ish version of our faith that says if we will just believe in Jesus then everything will work out great for us. This of course is not true, at least not in the present physical realm. We know at least three reasons for this:
- God is the supreme but not the only power at work in the world. Other forces, variously referenced as Satan, the Devil, the Adversary, the Prince of the Air, the spiritual forces of evil.
- We want more than to be loved by God, we want to be like God.
- We live with the consequences of other people’s choices.
Paul offers us some very useful counsel at this point as he writes to his friends in the Philippian church in chapter 4:4-9. He tells us how to pray. He assures us not that everything will magically be fixed, but that we will receive peace in heart and mind, even in the midst of difficulty. Then Paul proceeds to tell us how to manage our thoughts, where to focus our attention. He says, “Don’t worry,” but he does not leave it at that. He understands that we have some choices that we can make:
- Where we look for strength and security (ourselves or God)
- How we respond to situations (Fear and grasping or gratitude and generosity)
- How we treat other people (with harshness or gentleness)
- What we think about (what is difficult and dark or what is good)
- What we do as a result of these thoughts (what we want, or what Jesus has taught us)
When we who are people of faith and have known the goodness of The Lord and the bounty of His feast find ourselves in trouble, Paul offers us a way forward. If we will make ourselves available to others in openness and generosity of spirit, they will tell us where they hurt and struggle and need support. God will then work through us to offer them hope, to welcome them to
the feast that is prepared for all people.