This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Kenneth Tanner about the readings for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost [A] (Genesis 32.22-31, Psalm 17.1-7, 15, Romans 9.1-5, Matthew 14.13-21). Ken is the pastor of Holy Redeemer in Rochester, Michigan. Our conversation covers a range of topics including Biblical character identification, new names, God’s marks, pentecostal prayers, divine time, false witness, Pauline anguish, faithful food, better education, and bigger tables. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Don’t Lie
I used to love Thanksgiving: the food, the family, and the fellowship. But now I kind of dread it.
Gone are the days of civil and non-partisan Thanksgiving tables. Now we wear our red hats or bicker about the midterms, we jockey seats to surround ourselves with those of the same persuasion, and we find ourselves replenishing our wine with every passing political anecdote.
Therefore I have created a brief thanksgiving liturgy to be used by anyone in order to redeem the table. You may say it privately to yourself, or you may publicly read it aloud, but the hope is that it will bring a sense of theological clarity to what was once one of my favorite holidays…
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom who have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
Read Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He taketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters; he restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Bible is one long and flowing narrative about the goodness of creation, the brokenness that often comes through sin, and God’s work to restore all of creation to its wholeness. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that we will inevitably walk through dark valleys, but we will do so with the Lord by our side. It is therefore at our Thanksgiving tables that we discover the strange truth of what it means to sit at a table prepared in the presence of our enemies; our enemies might not be our families and friends, but our greatest enemy might actually be ourselves. And so, let us take a moment to reflect on our own brokenness and the grace that God has offered, such that we can then go around the table and truly express something for which we are particularly grateful for this year. Or, to put it another way, how have we experienced our cups running over this year?
Lord, help us to be mindful of those who do not have a table such as this one around which we can gather, celebrate, remember, and rejoice in all that you’ve done, are doing, and will do. As we eat and feast together, let the breaking of bread be a foretaste of the promised resurrection made possible through your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” Because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
My first Sunday at Cokesbury felt like a whirlwind. I remember being extremely nervous and trying desperately hard to remember every name that I heard. I remember praying out in the narthex that God would make something of my nothing. I remember worrying about whether or not all of you would laugh when I made a joke about being closer in age to the youth than to almost everyone else.
But I also remember feeling like I blinked and the worship service was over and all of the sudden I was upstairs sitting at a table with my wife and son, wondering what had just happened. People were milling about, waiting to eat their food, when someone motioned for me to stand up and pray, so I did.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “Lord, bless the food we are about to receive that it might nourish our bodies for your service. We are grateful for the land that it came from and the lives that were sacrificed for it. Please help us be mindful of those who do not have food like this, and friends like these. Amen.”
And like the words implies, with the “amen” everyone promptly dug into all of their food.
But, anyway, after eating there was some time for questions and answers. I don’t remember any of them. Though I do remember that after all was said and done, somebody came up to me and asked, “Are you going to pray like that before every meal?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I asked if I misspoke during the prayer, after all it was a rather overwhelming day. And they said, “I don’t like thinking about things dying just so I can eat.”
When we eat, we are doing something remarkably profound. It is always more than satiating the hunger in our bellies, it is always more than moving our mandibles to chew, it is always more than a perfunctory necessity. For us to eat – others have to die.
But many of us, including that person my first Sunday, don’t like confronting the profound reality of our eating and our food. We’ve grown content with the ultra-commodification of our eating whereby we can get anything we want, whenever we want it.
And we don’t have to think twice about where it came from, or what it took to get to us.
Food is important! No only because without it we die, but because our food, and how we eat it, says so much about who we are, what we believe, and what we value.
Just about every religious system in the world have some sort of rituals, or rules, or expectations about food. In Buddhism vegetarian diets are desired, in Hinduism beef is prohibited, in Islam and Judaism the consumption of pork is not allowed, and in Christianity, we believe Jesus is the bread of life.
Food is important!
And yet here, in America, our connection with and to our food is one that has altogether lost its sacredness.
20% of all American meals are eaten in car. That means the average American eats at least one meal in the car every other day. And the overwhelming majority of those meals are consumed alone.
1 out of every 5 children will go hungry, multiple days without eating, at least once a year. And among Black and Latino children the rate is 1 in 3.
And somehow (!) we throw away more than 40% of our food every year – a waste of $165 billion annually.
We have such little respect for the food we eat, and don’t eat apparently, that we rarely even think about it. And those who hold the power and economic dominance in food production have convinced us that we should prefer food that is already prepared. Countless companies will grow, deliver, and cook food for us (just like out mothers) and convince us to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, pre-chewed, into our mouths is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.
Food, though theologically and biologically important, has become just another chore on our never-ending to-do lists and with every passing year our kitchens more and more resemble filling stations, just as our homes more and more resemble motels.
Eating food is one of the most primal and basic and simple ways we learn to delight in each other, and in the goodness of God’s creation.
Eating with other people is without a doubt one of the most important and practical ways by which we overcome the barriers of ignorance that separate us from one another.
We are what we eat.
Or, perhaps a better way to put it would be: we are consumed by what we consume.
It was on the other side of Easter when the disciples were out fishing one night, and when they returned to the shore in the dim morning light, they saw a man standing by a charcoal fire. They know, or maybe they don’t know, that its the resurrected Jesus, and he has decided to make them breakfast on the flames – bread and fish.
We know that they ate, but we know nothing of what they talked about during the breakfast chatter – but when the food was finally consumed, Jesus asked Peter three times about his love.
Three times in order to redeem the three denials of Jesus prior to his crucifixion.
And as Peter’s frustration grows with the persistent line of investigation, Jesus’ resolve remains steadfast – Feed. My. Sheep.
The food by the shore is simple, it is local, it is fresh. And it is after consuming the food that Peter is in the place to be redeemed – to be turned back to the Lord from his wanderings. It is in the call to feed the sheep, to feed the disciples, perhaps both literally and figuratively, that Peter returns to the fold of discipleship.
This story, this little vignette by the charcoal fire, is a prelude to what we do at this table, God’s table, when we commune with one another and the Lord. As we break bread we are being warmed by the fire lit by Jesus, we are filled with the bread of life to do the work of God in the world, and we are made right in our willingness to answer Jesus’ question.
Jesus knew that one of the quickest ways to our hearts is through our bellies. And there is a vulnerability, strangely enough, that comes with food and with gathering around a table together. Taking the time to make a meal, whether simple or complex, shows a deep love for whomever we are cooking.
I imagine that many of us can remember profound moments from our lives, little windows of profound change and discovery, that came around a table with food.
And yet, we are eating around the table with others less and less. We see our eating and our food as another notch on the check-list instead of the life-giving and transformative moment by the seashore.
Because this table, in this sanctuary, is not the only table where we break bread and discover the presence of the Lord. This table extends far beyond the confines of our church and is available and manifest whenever we gather to eat.
As I noted at the beginning of the sermon, and every sermon this month, we have been taking time to encounter the simple qualities of complex realities, but we have also been leaving each Sunday with a challenge.
This week we are encouraging everyone to invite someone over to eat.
The meal can be as simple as cold cut sandwiches or as complicated as a five-course meal, it doesn’t really matter (though the more intentional you are with the food the more your guest will feel the love). But we are asking everyone to consider a person, family, neighbor, co-worker, whatever and invite them over for a meal.
That might sound overly simple but that’s kind of the point. We want everyone to consider how their tables are an echo of this table right here and how gathering at home for food with others is a foretaste of the new heaven and the new earth.
And so you can leave it right there, invite someone over for a meal, or you can take it a step further by going through all of the food you currently have – in the fridge, in the freezer, in the pantry – remove anything that is expired, and donate everything you know you won’t actually eat. And then map out all of your meals for the following week. Instead of resigning yourself to picking up a prepared meal, imagine taking the time and energy to make a least one meal a day.
And finally, if you want all the extra credit you can muster, having already invited someone to your table and then reimagining all the food you have, invite someone to eat at God’s table. It can be the person, or family you invited to you house, or someone completely different. But if we believe that what we do at this table is absolutely transformative and all powerful, then find one person to invite next Sunday when we will gather at this table yet again.
Because here, around the bread and the cup, we are truly consumed by what we consume. As we feast we are not individuals daydreaming about our own salvation, in communion we are absorbed into something much larger than our individual identities.
This is something we do, together.
As Christians, strangely enough, we believe that through eating we become the body of Christ and that entails a willingness to be food for others.
Just as we are fed, so too we feed those around us.
This table, any table, is an opportunity to meet the risen Lord by the fire beckoning us to another meal in which we become what we eat. Amen.
You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
When I was in college I lived in a house with a handful of other young men, though I was the only one who went to church. We had all, at some point, been involved with a church, but my roommates no longer felt the need to attend. However, as I was the one who usually made dinner for all of us, I insisted that we pray together before feasting together.
For the first few months of living together they begrudgingly participated and politely bowed their heads as I thanked God for all of our blessings. After time they started holding hands with one another while I prayed and even asked for me to included particular things in my prayers. And on one particular night, when I inexplicably forgot to pray, they were the ones who reminded me to pray on behalf of the table before we ate.
For years it was expected in many a Christian home that there would at least be a prayer before the common meal of dinner. Today, however, Thanksgiving has become one of the last refuges of prayer at a meal for many who follow Jesus.
We should pray before every meal recognizing that, as we read in Deuteronomy, the Lord has provided so much for us. But prayer is a habit that has to be cultivated; it is not something we can just institute overnight. However, we all have to start somewhere.
There is a wonderful resource for developing a life of prayer titled Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals. And in it you can find the following prayer for before or after a meal:
“Lord God, Creator of all, in your wisdom, you have bound us together so that we must depend on others for the food we eat, the resources we use, the gifts of your creation that bring life, health, and joy. Creator God, we give thanks. Holy be the hands that sew our clothes so that we do not have to go naked; sacred be the hands that build our homes so that we do not have to be cold; blessed be the hands that work the land so that we do not have to go hungry. Creator God, we give thanks. Holy be the feet of all who labor so that we might have rest; sacred be the feet of all who run swiftly to stand with the oppressed; blessed be the feet of all whose bodies are too broken or weary to stand. Creator God, we give thanks. Holy be the sound of children laughing to take away our sorrow; sacred be the sound of water falling to take away our thirst; blessed be the sound of your people singing to heal our troubled hearts. Creator God, we give thanks. Holy be the bodies of those who know hunger; sacred be the bodies of those who are broken; blessed be the bodies of those who suffer. In your mercy and grace, soften our callous hearts and fill us with gratitude for all the gifts you have given us. In your love, break down the walls that separate us and guide us along your path of peace, that we might humbly worship you in Spirit and in truth. Amen.”
What would it look like to use this prayer before our Thanksgiving tables on Thursday? Or, perhaps more importantly, what would it look like to use this prayer every time we gather at the table to eat?
1 Corinthians 8.1-9
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that, “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us closer to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Here’s the situation: The church in Corinth had lots of issues and Paul, as an apostle, wrote to them addressing a number of concerns and problems. At times he wrote about sexual immorality, at others he wrote about the importance of inviting everyone to receive the Lord’s Supper, but here in chapter 8, he brings up the issue of eating meat that was sacrificed to idols.
In Corinth, the elite would sacrifice their livestock to idols and then share the food with others. For some of the Corinthians they believed it was perfectly fine to eat the meat because they knew there is only one Lord and eating food would never bring them closer to God. However, others believed that if they ate some of the meat that was formerly sacrificed, they would be supporting the belief system in idols and would therefore be committing heresy.
Is this still an issue for us today? Unless your butcher is praying to satan before he/she presents your beef, then this probably does not affect you. However, this passage is not merely just about meat sacrificed to idols, and in fact is still relevant to us today.
When I moved into the parsonage I was very excited. I had spent my entire life either living with my family, or sharing apartments with roommates. For the very first time I would be living in a house, with a yard that I could take care of, with a fireplace that I could actually burn wood in! I would be living on a street with neighbors, and I casually day dreamt about someone knocking on the door to ask for some sugar. Staunton was going to be my Mayberry.
Yet, after moving everything in and getting settled I still felt isolated. I had our church community, of course, but I really wanted to meet my neighbors and create new relationships. I waited for them to stop by the house, but no one ever came.
That’s when Lindsey and I decided to throw the first ever Bowie Street Bash. We actually wanted it to be David Bowie themed, but we were a little worried how our neighbors would respond to me dressing up like Ziggy Stardust complete with tights pants and a lightning bolt across my face. So instead we just made simple invitations to spend a Sunday afternoon together at the parsonage in order to have some fun.
Everyone came and we had a blast. We shared stories and talked about what Staunton used to be like. I saw in my neighbors true friends and realized that I was going to love living on this street.
When things were starting to wrap up, and each neighbor was preparing to head home, we said our goodbyes and promised to get together again sometime soon. However, before one of my neighbors left, she asked if she could speak to me for just a moment.
“I don’t know if you drink.” she said, “but if you do, I want you to know that you are more than welcome to put your empty beer bottles in our recycling bin.”
I stood there mystified. Why in the world would she offer her recycling bin for our bottles? But before I could even ask, she answered my question: “Some of your church members are known for doing drive-bys to see what you’re really up to.”
Can we, as Christians, properly fit into the world of our surrounding culture? What are the lines to be drawn between accommodation to the reality of culture and unacceptable compromise?
For instance: That afternoon I began to wonder about whether or not we, as Christians, can drink alcohol. There are plenty of verses in scripture that speak against it: Do not drink because it leads to debauchery (Ephesians 5.18); Your body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6.19); etc. And there are plenty of verses that allow for it: Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2.1-11); Jesus shares wine with his disciples during the last supper (Matthew 26.17-30); etc.
The question at hand is this: Have we grown too comfortable with our cultural setting?
Almost every Sunday I have someone approach me after worship to apologize for not being here the previous week. Now I want you all to know that I love each and every one of you, but I do not take attendance at church. When some of you have explained and rationalized your lack of attendance, I honestly did not remember that you were not here with us.
“Taylor, sorry we were not here last week, our grandchildren were in town and we wanted to spend as much time with them as possible”, “Taylor, sorry we were not here last week, our son had a basketball game on Sunday morning and we wanted to support him.” , “Taylor, sorry I was not here last week, I overslept and would not make it in time for worship.”
I almost always respond with an affirmation of your lack of attendance by saying, “you were where you needed to be!” Most of the time I truly believe what I say, but sometimes I wonder… Have we grown so comfortable with our surroundings that church has become just something to do? Or do we believe it is the location of where we discover something worth living for?
Paul feared how much the Corinthians were growing comfortable with their surroundings. Many professed a strong knowledge that there was only one God, so whenever they ate meat sacrificed to idols they knew what it really was. Paul commends them for their knowledge but then challenges them to see that their wisdom is not enough to help those young and weak in their faith.
You might know that you can drink responsibly, but would you offer wine to a recovering alcoholic? You might know that you love PB&Js, but would you serve one to someone with a peanut allergy?
Each of us has a stumbling block and it might be very different from the people in the pews with us.
Maybe you struggle with alcohol. Perhaps you are guilty of lusting after what others have. Some of us might fret too much about the way we look before we leave the house. A few of us might spend more time worrying who will win the Superbowl than we do about the people wandering around downtown who won’t have a warm place to sleep tonight.
1 Corinthians 8 encourages us to shine a light on our lives to see whether or not we are eating in the temples of the idols that surround us.
One of the most frightening forms of idolatry for churches today is the overwhelming power of materialism. Christians, whether we like to admit it or not, are enmeshed in economic practices that draw our loyalty away from Christ and divide the community by disregarding the poor and the needy.
Other than the irony of fighting for deals on Black Friday after Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday is a sobering reminder of the power of materialism in our world today.
Tonight, Americans will eat 14,500 tons of Potato Chips, enough to fill 39 Boeing 747 Airplanes. We will eat 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, which could fill 13.5 million large buckets of popcorn from the movie theater. We will eat 4 million pizzas, which (when stacked on top of each other) would be taller than 910 Leaning Towers of Pisa. We will drink 325.5 million gallons of beer, which could fill 500 olympic size swimming pools. And we will eat 1.23 billion chicken wings, literally enough to give every person in the United States three wings each. (http://mashable.com/2015/01/28/super-bowl-food/)
What does it say about our culture when tonight we, as a country, will eat so much when so many go without food? And don’t even get me started on the commercials; millions upon millions of dollars have been spent for 30 seconds of ad space when people in our country cannot afford to go to the doctor when they are sick.
Love is greater than knowledge.
Love is more important than our looks, football games, our jobs, alcohol, and everything else in all creation. Love is what sets the church apart from the rest of the world. Love is what conquers all things and helps to show the world turned upside down.
Knowing all about the Civil Rights movement means nothing when we speak in prejudiced tones about people who do not look like us.
Knowing all about the importance of feminism means nothing when we still degrade women in the workplace and pay them at a lower percentage than their male counterparts.
Knowing all about the plight of the poor and needy in Staunton means nothing when we neglect to actually do something about it and let our love become manifest.
All of us will profit from looking in the mirror of 1 Corinthians 8 and asking whether there are ways in which we are using knowledge as a weapon rather than as an instrument of love.
Can we drink as Christians? Can we work hard to earn tremendous amounts of wealth? Can we watch the Superbowl and host big parties? Of course we can, so long as things like alcohol, money, and the Superbowl do not become idols that we worship more than the Lord of life.
The idols in our lives will never bring us closer to God. The more time we spend in culturally accepted practices that are disconnected from discipleship, the further we move away from the Lord. For the church in Corinth, they knew that food would not bring them closer to God whether from meat sacrificed to idols or not. Thanks be to God that the meal we will share in just a few moments will no longer be food, but instead it will be the body and blood of Christ.
When we gather at the table, love truly trumps knowledge. All of the idols of life fall away and pale in comparison to the gift of God on the cross for people like you and me. The table is where we discover what love really looks like; sacrifice, faithfulness, and hope.
We have set up a mirror here at the front of church. When you come up to receive the body and blood I encourage you to take a moment to look at yourself in the mirror, open your eyes to your life and see your own stumbling blocks. Let 1 Corinthians 8 be the mirror by which you begin to wrestle with the idols you worship, so that you can turn back to the Lord and let love be greater than knowledge. Amen.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty.
I still feel full. More than Thanksgiving, the days following Christmas are filled with such bounty that I never stop feeling full. Family and friends gathering together require an abundance of delectable foods, an assortment of particular presents, and time for catching up with stories and laughter. The wake of Christmas leaves me reminded of how much my “cup runneth over” with a tremendous number of blessings.
Our house was recently filled with family for the holiday and it was when I was cleaning up wrapping paper and doing the dishes that I was struck with how much God has blessed us. The crumbled bits of paper and the empty plates signified, more than the actual gifts and food, how much God has provided for us. Each ripped wrapping paper and each plate conveyed the fullness that we received from one another, leaving us stuffed for days to come.
When the Israelites were exiled from their homeland, God promised that they would be returned and would rejoice. Everything would be turned upside down after a great period of suffering; young women will dance, the men shall be merry, mourning will turn into joy, and sorrow will be replaced with gladness. Even the priests will be given their fill of fatness (something I can connect with right now) while God’s people will be satisfied with God’s bounty. The time after Christmas reminds me of the great promise that God made to the people regarding their exile, and the promise God made good on when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Similarly, we are reminded of the great gift of Christ through the gifts of family, friends, food, and gifts during the season of Christmas.
However, we must be careful to not let the presents overshadow the value of presence. There is a great temptation to so deeply root ourselves in the tangible and material that we neglect to value the beauty of being. The great gift God gave was not so much that he provided a fleshly human being, but instead provided a human to dwell among us, to stand by our sides, to hear our prayers, to know our weakness, and to love us in spite of it all. You could wake up on Christmas morning and open every earthly thing you’ve ever wanted and it would still pale in comparison to the gift of God humbling himself to the form of a slave to truly be Emmanuel, God with us.
As we prepare to take steps in 2015 let us remember that the gift of presence outweighs the gift of presents, let us look to the ways that Jesus came for us to learn how to be there for others, and let us be truly thankful people for all the things that make us full.
1 Corinthians 15.57
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Favorite Thanksgiving food? Mashed Potatoes (or as we call them in my family: Mashed-for-Taylors). Favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Getting together with a number of friends and family the day after thanksgiving for a giant kickball tournament (Kids vs. Adults, and I’m still young enough to be considered for the kid team!). Strange Thanksgiving memory? The year my grandmother kept praying for God to take care of the people in Siberia, when she really meant to say Syria, and none of us could figure out why she was so adamant with her prayers. Favorite Thanksgiving pastime? Standing outside with my Dad in the cold while he prepares to fry one of our turkeys.
I love Christmas and I love Easter, but Thanksgiving is equally wonderful in my opinion. There is just something so special about all the traditions coming into focus with incredible people on an annual basis. I look forward to this week with eager anticipation because I will get to see family for the first time in a long time, I will get to laugh with my sisters at the expense of our parents, and I will get to enjoy my mother’s incredible cooking.
Of all the Thanksgiving traditions, my favorite is the moment after the prayer, once we have finally sat down in our seats, when I have the privilege of inviting everyone to go around the table and share what they are most thankful for this year. At our house, tears are always inevitable. During the time of thankfulness I witness my cousins maturing to an age when they can truly appreciate some of the blessings in their life, I witness family members break down in the recognition of how wonderful their lives really are, and I witness friends and acquaintances truly become part of the family. Expressing our thankfulness at the table is, without a doubt, my favorite moment during the Thanksgiving experience because you get to share in God’s glory made manifest in the lives of those gathered together.
Over the last few months we have had too many funerals at St. John’s. Too many times have I stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the life, death, and promised resurrection of someone in our community while friends and family wept in the pews. For every funeral I have used the words from Paul: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even in the midst of horrendous suffering and loss we give thanks to God for the gift of those persons we have lost, we give thanks to God for His continual and abiding presence, and we give thanks to God for the great victory over death through Jesus Christ.
No matter who we are and no matter where we are, we have something to be thankful for this year. It might not be a new job, or a loving spouse. It might not be a lucrative career, or perfect children. But there is one thing that we can all be thankful for: the gift of God in Christ.
May God’s grace and presence be with all of you this week as we give thanks back to God for our blessings.
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
I prayed all week for the weather to cooperate. We had been planning the Community Cook-Out for weeks and the weather forecast kept pointing toward tremendous amounts of rain to fall during the scheduled event. As a church we had already procured a considerable amount of food, dedicated volunteers, and three bouncy houses. Yet, as the days passed and we came closer to the celebration, I became worried that it would not take place at all.
After many prayers, Saturday came and the weather wound up being perfect for the Cook-Out! The clouds provided a cool atmosphere for the children to play on the bouncy houses and allowed for us to celebrate on the lawn without having to worry about too much sunshine or rain. When people began to arrive for the event I prayed and thanked God for providing such a wonderful day for our community and was thrilled for our church to serve the folk of our neighborhood.
I spent most of the afternoon grilling more hamburgers and hot-dogs than I could possibly count. Every time I thought I could take a break, more people arrived and lined up for food! From my vantage point I was given a clear line of sight of everyone and all of the activities that were taking place: children (and adults) playing on the bouncy houses, families sitting at tables while enjoying food and fellowship, young people lining up to have their faces painted, frisbees and footballs being thrown through the air, and conversations taking place between people who had never met. While standing behind the grill I was overcome with a sense of wonder at how our church was living out its call to participate in God’s kingdom by being the body of Christ for the world.
The psalmist wrote “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” During our Cook-Out we had different people from all over the community present to join together in fellowship: parents and families from the pre-school, neighbors who attend different church, friends who do not attend church at all, and people from St. John’s. As we enjoyed the afternoon together I was given a glimpse of how wonderful and joyous it can be when a neighborhood lives in unity; I experienced Christ’s presence through the conversations and outpouring of love between strangers.
This week let us all seek opportunities to live together in unity. Let us look for those around us who are still strangers and do whatever we can to foster new friendships.
How can you live out Psalm 133 this week?
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
I stood behind a table filled with enough food for a feast. We had completed our service and work in Beckley, West Virginia and now we were hosting a community meal for the many families that we had worked with during the week. The room was full of exhausted middle-schoolers sitting next to the children they had been reading with all week in addition to the parents and relatives that were invited as well. The meal was free for all in attendance and there was a steady line for 45 minutes as we served and ate together.
Offering food and drink without a cost is a remarkable gift that the church has to offer to our communities. In two weeks our church will be hosting a Community Cook-Out for the people in our neighborhood for free. Like the prophet Isaiah we are inviting everyone who thirsts to come to drink from our waters, to eat what is good, and delight themselves in rich food.
However, we recognize that (as Paul said) “food will not bring us close to God” (1 Corinthians 8.8). Without a willingness to build relationships with the people we serve and dine with, food will remain an ordinary element of life. When we served the food to the people in Beckley, West Virginia it would have remained a simple and nice gesture unless we were willing to sit side by side with our brothers and sisters and foster new relationships. Even with all the greatest and most delicious food it would have meant very little without our youth sitting down and laughing with their new friends. It is my hope and prayer that everyone in attendance that night will remember the joy of conversation rather than the food that we provided.
Offering food and drink is a wonderful thing to do as Christians. Hosting a meal at our homes for neighbors and friends reflects the goodness and abundance that God has provided in our lives. Yet, if we are not willing to offer our friendship with our food than we have neglected to take the necessary step to live out God’s Word in the world.
This week I challenge you to think about someone in your life who could benefit from receiving a free and delicious meal. Perhaps you have someone that you could take out to lunch, or invite over for dinner. But more than that I encourage you to think of how your willingness to love them and offer your sincere friendship will have a greater impact than any food or drink you could ever offer.