Thursday, October 6, 2011

Good News in the Shape of a Table

Preached on World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2011

Scripture readings: Exodus 17:1-7; 1 Corinthians 10:1-17; Mark 10:28-31

A college graduate was asked which books helped him most in getting through school. He thought a moment and he said: “That would be my mom’s cookbook and my dad’s checkbook.” The graduate survived and succeeded because there was more to him than met the eye. He was part of a family, and he had the resources of his family to help him.

This is what Paul was writing about to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. In our reading from First Corinthians Paul describes what it means to be more than meets the eye, in being part of a family, the family of God.

We belong to a very ancient family that is bound together by a common tradition. We share one family story.

This family has had many ups and downs. It has prospered, and starved, and enjoyed victories, and has been defeated. It has been enslaved and it has been liberated. It has lived in splendid cities, and tiny villages; and it has wandered in the desert. It has made many wrong choices, and completely missed the boat, but it has never ended.

The story of this family is always changing, and always the same. It is always the same old story, and it is always a new story.

Paul writes: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud, and that they all passed through the sea.” (Paul is talking about the pillar of cloud that guided them through the desert, and about their crossing through the Red Sea on a land bridge exposed by God.) But the point of the family here is that Paul is talking to essentially non-Jewish Greek Christians about their Jewish forefathers, because it doesn’t matter what your race is (or your nation, or your past). The love of Christ makes you belong to God’s family just as much as the people who seem to have inherited their place in it, and have their names written on the pews.

I knew a girl from a town near to my hometown who belonged to a family named Handforth. She had blue eyes and blond hair. She had two brothers. One of them was an American Indian. The other was an Eskimo. They were (all of them) adopted. But they were raised to be members of the Handforth family.

When we talked about our future plans, and how we would make our way in the world, this girl would repeat the Handforth family story and tradition. She would say what her father had taught her: “No Handforth has ever gone hungry”. She was not a hereditary Handforth; yet she was very much a Handforth.

Paul was one of the hereditary members of God’s family (the family of Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Jesus), and the Greek believers were his new brothers and sisters. They were very much members of the same family. Somehow his ancestors were their ancestors too.

This seems odd, but it means that whatever your story is, it becomes a part of the story of the family of God. And equally strangely, the ancient story becomes your story: wandering in the wilderness, and living in tents with Abraham, waiting for the Lord to give you a home in the Promised Land; wandering in the wilderness, and living in tents with Moses, on your way back to the Promised Land; or living in exile in a foreign land and trying to find a way to get back to the Promised Land.

There is a lot of wandering, and lostness, and trying to find your way, in the story of God’s people as told in the Bible. The story of the family of God is mostly a traveling story, or a hoping to travel story. And it makes your story into a traveling story, too. It makes your life into a journey to God’s Promised Land: the land of God’s love, and peace, and hope.

The story is the same in the New Testament. The family story puts us with the disciples on the road with Jesus; headed (first) for a cross and (then) for a resurrection. And then there is more traveling with the disciples, and with Paul, as they spread out over the world.

The story of the family of God is the story of being on a journey. Sometimes it seems like an endless journey, but it is not endless. It has a goal. It has a finish line. It has a reward. It has a promised land. It has a heaven; and a new heaven and a new earth.

What makes us brothers and sisters is that, all around the world, Jesus Christ gives people a common journey with a common goal. The goal is to be a family (because the journey is not just a personal journey). And the goal is to get to God’s Promised Land together, as a family: to be aware of the troubles along the way, and help each other through those troubles.

Part of the story of the family of God, no matter where they are in the world, is that God provides for them on the journey. Paul says: “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”

There is a verse from the twenty-third Psalm that goes: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This means that in the very midst of the situations that scare us, that bring trouble, and danger, and risk, and insecurity to our lives, God provides for us and takes care of us. Part of this comes from God providing us with a spiritual family.

You know I am a worry wart. I am a terrible worrier, and so I don’t always believe this. But I almost always believe it after the fact.

(Tell the story of the tire blowout when I was driving my mom’s car: night time, no flashlight, the jack not working, and there was help. It could have happened to my mom, but it was best that it happened to me. It could have happened at no better place or time.)

The fact of the Lord caring for us is always there; whether we see it at once, or only after the fact. This is the common story of the family of God.

To help us remember our story, Jesus Christ gave his family (gave us) a table to share together. He told us that, at this table, he would feed us the food and the drink of his very self. (“This is my Body. This is the new covenant in my Blood.”)

The table where we come to eat is the table of the cross of Jesus. The food and drink is Christ giving his life for our lives, and for the life of the world. The food and drink is the grace, and mercy, and strength, and peace that come from Jesus, and his presence and his partnership with us.

Paul speaks as if that table had really been there from the very beginning. Even the people of Israel sat at the Lord’s Table in the desert, when they gathered the strange, daily bread that appeared on the ground around their tents every morning, and when they drank water from the springs that flowed when Moses hit the cliff with his staff.

Paul imagines a spiritual rock that followed them everywhere (a spiritual rock, mind you). That rock was Christ long before he walked with human feet upon the earth.

But this is our story, too. As we follow Jesus, who walks with us with human feet, Jesus follows us too, and fills us, and quenches us in our desert.

When those of us who were my Polish grandmother’s (my Baci’s) family gathered for a feast in her apartment, there was no room for a table there for us all to sit at. We all had our own TV trays or our places on the floor. We had no prayer, but we all laughed a lot and we were all one in spirit, and maybe there was no ceremony except the audible groaning afterwards.

Well, all the males of the family groaned, not the females. The food was good, and Baci always made us eat too much. But maybe that groaning was our prayer of thanks, said after the meal, all of us (men and boy) in unison.

This big world is scattered full of little tables where the family of God gathers to be fed. There is only one table set in Washtucna, and one in Kahlotus, and three around La Crosse. But there are thousands, and millions, of these little tables set around the world. Some of them are very fancy, and others are very plain. Maybe some of our brothers and sisters have to use the earth itself as their table because they have no other table.

We are not alone, the Lord is always with us, but he has not called us to be the only ones who eat with him. You might not see it but (wherever you go) there you probably have brothers, and sisters, and fathers, and mothers, and children there, and the whole world is full of your family.

Some of them don’t even know, yet, that they belong to your family. They haven’t seen their way home yet.

They are on the same journey you are on. You are on the same journey they are on; and this is true whatever is going on in their world or in yours. And we all have the same destination in Christ. So let us work and pray to help each other get there. Let us work and pray to help those get there who don’t know (yet) that they belong to this family. Somehow let us play our part in this big family, all around the world, so that we all arrive together in our Father’s house.

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