Sermons

Table-time; Rev. Dee Ledger, March 17, 2019

Meal time.  Does that arouse any particular feelings for you?  Aside from the hunger that we try to satisfy, for some of us, mealtime can be the loneliest time of the day.  We may turn on the radio, the t.v., our phones or our computers, just to keep us company or to fill the silence.  For some, meal time is actually the most rushed time of the day.  We need to shuttle the kids somewhere, or we are working late, or we have somewhere to be—a meeting or a game or some special event and we squeeze the meal into the time we have—which is often very little.  In Massachusetts, I once knew an elderly woman, living by herself, who dreaded mealtime because she could no longer open cans using a manual can opener, so she just chose to skip the meal entirely.

For some, meal time is a tense time—a time when arguments flare or when a difficult silence reigns, or a time when the stress of navigating a marriage or a relationship bubbles under the surface of the table awaiting to erupt.  Even if none of this is true for you, we know that many families often struggle with meal-time.  Either the kids won’t sit still long enough,  a loved one can’t or won’t eat, preparing the food is problematic whether we prepare for one or many, or our scheduling a real, honest-to-goodness time to eat together becomes  an issue—with work-life or extracurriculars interfering more times than not.

Writing for The Atlantic, Cody Delistraty shares a couple of facts about modern-day mealtimes:

  • the average American eats one in every five meals in his or her car;
  • one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day,
  • and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.[1]

Given the importance of mealtime in both Jewish and Christian faiths, and given the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in the Christian faith, we might consider how we approach our family meals as a Lenten and a Sabbath practice.  How often do we eat with our families or have intentional fellowship with our friends and loved ones over a meal?  Who is present at our tables, who is not, and what might we change?

Today, we have a very well-known psalm – Psalm 23.  In it, we hear, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”  Sometimes a line of scripture is so familiar that we cease to consider what the words might really mean.  So, to more fully appreciate these words and the idea of God as a host to an extravagant meal in the presence of one’s enemies, I want to use another psalm.

In Psalm 69—we hear this:

“But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,

or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.
” (verses 13-15)

 

This psalm is the prayer from someone—possibly David—who is in great emotional anguish.  He prays that God will rescue him from his enemies.   But interestingly, in the same psalm, the psalmist also declares:

“They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

 Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.”
(verses 21-22)

 

For David, this prayer is a plea for justice.  Meal-time for those who oppress others will become a time when they entrap themselves, a time when those who prey upon others will themselves suffer retribution from their sheer bounty, a different kind of turning of one’s table.  This image of tables being a trap may feel hard and difficult next to the image of God setting a table in the presence of our enemies, but it is worth holding this tension, to more fully appreciate the idea of both an open table that welcomes one and all, and table that is prepared even while one’s enemies are present.

But first, we need to define one’s enemies.  Today, I want to suggest that our enemies are not another human being per se, but those entities, ideas, and behaviors that would seemingly prevent us from sharing our humanity with another person.

Unlike Psalm 23, psalm 69 is an imprecatory psalm.  That’s a fancy word for those psalms that call down curses on one’s enemies.  We might call them the “cursing psalms.” For example, psalm 69 also says, ““Pour out Your indignation on them, and let Your burning anger overtake them.” (vs. 24)

Again, let us re-define our enemy in terms of the entities that prevent us from being more loving and more humane towards each other.  Perhaps it is a rising hatred that we are tempted to feel.  Perhaps it is our arrogance or our ethnocentrism or our prejudices, whatever they may be.  Perhaps it is our wealth or our health, our addiction or our impatience.  Perhaps our enemy is our in ability to be more flexible with members of our own household, or perhaps it is a quiet rage, our haunting past, or a grudge from which we are not yet free.  If the definition of enemy is one that would do us harm—perhaps a good definition of our enemy is that which only ever offers us “poison for food” and “vinegar for our thirst.”

Keeping this in mind, how in the world do we read psalms contain curses?  If we are commanded to love our enemies as Jesus says we must, should we even pray those psalms that would seem contrary to the kind of blessings that we see in Psalm 23?  And if we are to read psalms filled with curses, how might we hold together Jesus’ words and the imprecatory Psalms? Matthew D. Musteric asks this question in the Lutheran Forum.  He says:

“The words of Jesus do not forbid praying the imprecatory [cursing] Psalms. Rather, they guide how we pray these Psalms, namely with great humility and not in the spirit of personal vengeance. In fact, praying the imprecatory Psalms can be an act of deep Christian love, insofar as they allow us to release the burden of revenge to the Lord and not take blood vengeance into our own hands.

“Praying the imprecatory Psalms against our enemies might be followed by a prayer that visualizes making the sign of the cross on the forehead of our enemy. It is under that cross that we are united with our own enemies as fellow-enemies of the Lord—and objects of God’s love and redemption.”[2]

Sisters and brothers, we sit down at our many and various tables, we might imagine our various enemies sitting down too.  Viscerally, we might understandably lose our appetite in the process, but we do not relinquish our humanity.  But we try to eat– together.  Before our various internal and external enemies, our God prepares a meal knowing that a shared meal can offer healing, hope, and help, even when we don’t feel like eating, even when our internal enemies try to poison us with overconsumption, over-busyness, terror, threats against our person, our property, and our faith.  We eat among hidden land-mines of bitterness, vengeance, racism, narcissism, neglect, and complacency.  We eat from God’s bounty with God and satisfy our physical and spiritual hungers in the presence of these enemies, despite these enemies. We eat with the simultaneous understanding that, at the tables around the world, at the existential table from which we all receive from God, we are united in God.  As Martin Luther King, Jr, once dared to hope, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

Delistraty tells this story: “After my mother passed away and my brother went to study in New Zealand, the first thing that really felt different was the dinner table. My father and I began eating separately. We went out to dinners with our friends, ate sandwiches in front of our computers, delivery pizzas while watching movies. Some days we rarely saw each other at all. Then, a few weeks before I was set to leave for university, my father walked downstairs. ‘You know, I think we should start eating together even if it’s just you and me,’ he said. ‘Your mother would have wanted that.’ It wasn’t ideal, of course—the meals we made weren’t particularly amazing and we missed the presence of Mom and my brother—but there was something special about setting aside time to be with my father. It was therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day, and on recent events.”[3]

In the presence of death, God prepared a table before two lonely and grieving people, who having little appetite, each needed something more than their daily bread.  The psalmist prays, “In the presence of mine enemies, thou preparest a table before me.”  Yet, when we cannot slow down we cannot receive this abundance because we do not see it, and we do not choose it.

A story:

“Once upon a time there was a family, torn apart by conflict that sought out the services of a family therapist. Even in the therapist’s office, they kept sniping at one another. The father was distant, the mother complained of how she got no respect, the teenage son slouched moodily in a chair and the young daughter dissolved into tears every time the others raised their voices.
Despairing of making any headway with this dysfunctional bunch, the therapist decided on a simple intervention. ‘I have just one prescription for you,’ she said. ‘I want you all to sit down together every night and eat dinner together. Nobody rushes out. You all stay at the table until everyone is finished. And I want you to start the meal by holding hands around the table and saying grace.’
‘We’re too busy,’ said the mother pointedly.
‘I hate cooking dinner,’ complained the father.
‘We’re not even religious,’ sneered the son. ‘How phony would that be?’
‘I’m afraid to,’ objected the daughter. ‘We’ll just fight.’
But the therapist held her ground and persevered. When the family objected that they didn’t know any graces, she told them to just say, ‘God is great, God is good, and we thank God for this food.’
The father spoke up next. ‘You mean to tell us that, for a hundred dollars an hour, that’s the only advice you have for us?’
‘That’s it,’ said the therapist. ‘Trust me on this one.’
Skeptical as they were, the family agreed to give it a try.
On the return visit, the therapist began by asking how things were going. To everyone’s surprise, the sullen teenage son spoke up first. Still looking down at the carpet, but with an unfamiliar smile on his face, he replied: ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever done. Now, at least I know I can see my dad once a day.’[4]

Sisters and brothers, a table is prepared before you.  On the menu, there is joy.  Peace is the main course and appetizers of grace abound.  A cup of soothing tonic is poured for your troubles and hurts.  The bread of shared humankind is broken and passed around.  The bonds of affection are nourished and strengthened you have a seat at this table because your God is the host and you are God’s beloved.  In the presence of all that would dissipate your energies, break your heart, and empty your courage, and numb your soul, a feast awaits your arrival, even in the presence of your enemies.

Can we make some time for it?  Can we nourish not simply our bodies but also our souls?  Can we finally sit down with each other and eat?

 

[1] Cody C. Delistraty, “The Importance of Eating Together,” July 18, 2014,

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/the-importance-of-eating-together/374256/

[2] https://www.lutheranforum.com/blog/shall-christians-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms

[3] Cody C. Delistraty, “The Importance of Eating Together,” July 18, 2014,

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/the-importance-of-eating-together/374256/

[4]  A favorite anonymous story in my files qtd. from www.homileticsonline.com