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Come to the Table [Taste & See]

Taste & See: Sermon #1 - Come to the Table

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • May 8, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.

Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here today. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

 

Introduction

Our six year old daughter Mikaela’s desk is also the first piece of furniture I purchased when I moved here to Ann Arbor 19-years ago, it’s a simple wooden table. I’m thinking about this table because I had to disassemble it, move it, and reassemble it over the weekend because Mikaela got an upgraded desk. I was helping some friends move, who also were downsizing, and they gifted our family with this beautiful antique desk & chest, which is now serving as Mikaela’s desk. I was happy to receive this gift because I had an ulterior motive, it has six drawers that will now allow Mikaela to keep her work space neat and tidy.

 

As Sebastian, my son, and I worked together to remove the bolts that held the original table together, it got me thinking about this simple table and all that it represents. I had my first dinner party in Ann Arbor at this table. I served countless meals for friends and family at this table. And it was at this table that I had my first date with my wife, Maria.

 

For most of us the table serves as the center gathering space in our lives. We eat our meals at it. We pay our bills at it. We do our homework at it. We share the stories of our lives at it. Each table is unique, some are heirlooms–past down generation to generation. Some are new, larger than the previous ones, so we can get more people around them. Some are temporary. Some are handcrafted with love and care, while others are assembled using difficult tools with sweat pouring forth. And some are just small enough to hold a dinner plate and a drink.

 

When space is made for us at one of these tables, it can become transformative. When we find ourselves welcomed at the table, space made for us, we realize something powerful about ourselves. We may find ourselves loved, accepted–no longer alone. As we take our seats at these tables, we become known, which opens up space for us to share who we are, all of us: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

When we make space at the table for another, in that act of hospitality and welcome, we consecrate the table, we set it apart, we act with intention, we lean in. It’s almost the same thing that God does for us when he calls us his own. In calling us, he sets us apart, which makes us holy.

 

Let me push here on “holy” for a moment...

Don’t think about holiness exclusively in terms of purity or righteousness, it also means being welcomed, invited in. This is a gift of hospitality, not because of anything we have done to earn it, but because of who makes the invitation. We become holy because God calls us his own.

 

Here again is where we wrestle with being accepted and called to transformation.

 

Before we can become holy, we have to accept the invitation that God places on us. He welcomes us to the table, but if we refuse his invitation, are we really set apart, holy? Nope, we stay right where we are. Accepting the invitation is the first, among many, steps that we take on our transformation journey. We don’t have to have everything figured out, we just have to decide whether we want to accept the invitation.

 

Sacred Meals

The meals we share at these tables are just as important as the space made for us at the table. Often we tend to focus on the routine of sitting and eating, but something significant happens as we discover that what we are doing can also be sacred.

 

If we allow it, our meals have a unique way of creating space in our lives.

 

A sacred space.

 

A time to commune,

a time to fellowship,

a time for reflection,

a time to celebrate,

a time to be thankful,

a time to mourn.

As we make our forward, we start with a short story. In Genesis 14 right after Abram liberates his nephew Lot. Abram is greeted by the King of Salem, Melchizedek. Let’s pick up the story in verse 18:

 

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

 

Right here, we are alerted that something special is happening, what might look like just a blessing ceremony is actually a sacred meal, celebrating victory, liberation, and freedom.

 

There are a couple nerdy things I want to point out:


In this story, we have this mysterious King of Salem, which also happens to be the ancient name for the city of Jerusalem, this King of Salem just appears, blesses Abram, and brings out two key elements: bread and wine. We can think of these elements as “a type and shadow” of something that will come into a greater focus later. When they show up later in the story, they will have new meaning and importance, which is why I bring them up now. Abram, in response tithes a 10th of all he has to this King of Salem.

 

Why does Abram do this? I believe that Abram tithes a tenth of his possession because he recognizes that this is a sacred meal and God is present.

 

For Abram, this becomes an act of worship. Jesus tells us that worship is the act of giving of our whole selves to God “in spirit” and “in truth.” We can think of the “in spirit” as the internal response to God, this is mostly invisible, a private interaction between us and God. And the “in truth” is what we do: our actions and our deeds. And the interesting thing is that one cannot occur without the others. Remember James 2:14-17.

 

Abram recognizes the sacredness of this meal with Melchizedek and responds by worshiping through giving. There was space created for Abram in this sacred meal, space to recognize that all he has belongs to God. And I think that recognition created a freedom, a response to let go instead of horde. Our shared sacred meals do that for us, they can create freedom, liberty, welcome, and peace.

 

From here we jump to the first meal in the New Testament, it’s a meal at a sinner’s house, Matthew, the tax collector.

 

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10-11)

 

Matthew invites his friends. Other tax collectors and law-breakers, sinners. Just a moment on Matthew, he’s a hated insider. He’s a collaborator with the occupiers. In one sense, he’s also given up. He’s given up on the hope that God will rescue and restore his people, Israel. Instead of holding out, resisting, or fighting the Empire, Matthew surrenders and joins the hated other, he collaborates with Rome.

 

Remember, eating together is a sacred event. Sometimes we recognize that; sometimes we miss it. A shared meal can become a profound act of union. As we share space at the table and eat the same food, our lives are being constituted by the same substances. Ancient cultures acknowledged this mystery by practicing certain strict customs and rituals around meals. It was prohibited for those who were considered “righteous” to eat with those who were “unrighteous.”

 

The law-keepers show up questioning Jesus’s disciples asking them why their teacher does what is prohibited, eating with law-breakers, the sinners. There’s a way of unpacking this that is unfair the Pharisees, so give me a moment as I enter the text from their frame of reference. They want the subjugation of their people to come to an end–Israel is in exile under Roman rule, reign, and authority. The Pharisees want the shalom (peace) of God restored. They believe that the best way for God to reverse and restore their fortunes is to turn inward, and sacrifice. To really honor the law that God gave to govern and order their daily life. In their intense focus on Torah, they are focusing on the letter of the law, completely missing the spirit of it, especially, if the spirit of the law is to reveal to everyone what it means to be the people of God. That the Creator God, the God of Israel is as Moses describes him,

 

6“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 36:6-7)

 

So when the Pharisees ask Jesus’ disciples why he’s eating with tax collectors and sinners,  they were essentially asking why was Jesus “getting into bed” with these sinners? How could anyone who wanted the freedom, peace, and liberty of God to break out do what was prohibited eat with sinner? This question was tied up in their belief that God wouldn’t act until the people were ready, until the people had cleaned up their act. If the people remained unholy, unrighteous, and unworthy, it would prevent God from coming and – surely a teacher from God would know this and understand it. And refuse to eat with those who were sinners.

 

Remember our conversation about the tension of being accepted and called to transformation? This tension is playing out right here among Jesus and the Pharisees. On the one side the Pharisees are calling for only transformation. The only way that God will return is if we shape up. In one sense they are correct. We will not recognize God’s move and action among us if we continue to live within and under the Empire as it demands. We have to see that the Kingdom of God is breaking into our midsts. And Jesus wants to resists this one-side view of the problem, yes, we are all called to transformation and we are accepted at the same time. That is why the radical table fellowship that characterized Jesus' movement was so scandalous. It was thought that only the righteous would be accepted because if you already accepted why change? Well, you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you change.

 

Jesus resists the religious rulers in the same way he resists the Empire, by subverting it, and revealing the truth about God. God is sacred, holy, and good, Jesus reveals exactly who God is to us and he knows that God isn’t corrupted by us, he isn’t stained by our brokenness, our sin. Instead, God heals us, he restores us, he renews us. This is the God who rescues us. This is the God who accepts us and welcomes us to the table. And at the same time, he calls us to follow him into life, which requires us to change.

 

This is the theme that brings us to the Passover meal, the annual retelling of the exodus, the liberation of the people of God from bondage, captivity, slavery.

 

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16)

 

Jesus shares this last meal with his friends, and among them is one who will betray him with a kiss, turning him over in the hopes of forcing Jesus into action–the action of liberation, bringing an end to their exile.

 

Jesus eagerly desired to eat this Passover with his friends. He’s aware of his vocation, understanding now just how God plans to reconcile the world back to himself. This shared sacred meal, this freedom meal, this liberation meal, what we have come to know as the Last Supper, is the ultimate meal of redemption.

 

You and I are welcomed at this table. This is the table of redemption. But we can’t approach it, if we don’t believe we need forgiveness, healing, restoration, space, mercy, grace. That’s what available at this table–the table of redemption–if you don’t need these things, then you won’t come to it. But you are welcomed.

 

Eat this Bread, Drink this Cup

This is the meal where all the drama of the story, the long and winding love story of God and humanity, expressed on this good earth, under his good rule reaches its climax. Just as God acted in times of old and rescued his people, he’s doing it again. He’s come  personally this time to rescue the creation from the powers: sin, death, and evil.

 

This is the enactment of the dramatic story with struggle, suffering, betrayal, and faithful wrestling with each other for our soul–this is where it comes in concentrated form: his body broken for us, his blood pour out for us... this is the real presence of God, in Jesus, here with us, really here, found at this table, the table of redemption.

 

Here’s our invitation today, come to this table, eat this bread, drink this cup. When we come to the table and partake, we join in fellowship with Jesus, we identify with him, we accept and receive his act of obedience, his profound act of selfless love, which becomes our pathway to freedom.

 

When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we acknowledge that we need to, we acknowledge that we are held in bondage, and this is our pathway to freedom. When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we surrender ourselves to this King of Glory, we consent to his Lordship. When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we receive his love pour out for us. This is no mere ritual or rite without meaning, no, it’s full of meaning, purpose, significance. This is a sacred meal and we are welcomed, not because we are worthy, holy, righteous, but because he made a way for us. He makes us holy, worthy, and righteous.

 

He calls us friends, no longer are we the enemies of God. We have been welcomed, space has been made for us.

 

Practical Tips:

1.) Take an “One Human Family” (1humanfamily.org) yard sign as a declaration that there is space for all of us at the table. This yard sign is a simple act of welcome and hospitality.

 

2.) At your next shared meal, try this exercise of mindfulness. Look around the table and spend a moment making eye contact with each person. Silently offer an inward blessing for each person, one person at a time. As you acknowledge who is at the table, consider who isn’t at the table. Acknowledge that the people and the food that you will share is a gift. Become mindful of the miracle of the food brought to the table for our health and enjoyment -- the farmers and the workers who cooperated with the earth and sky to produce the food, the labor that harvested it, those who transported and prepared it to make it available to us.

 
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