Revised Common Lectionary reflection for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 23
October 15, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 22:1-14
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people look for signs of God’s abundance and welcome all around them, and then in turn try to extend hospitality and welcome to everyone.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. Isaiah 25:6
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5
Then [the king] said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Matthew 22:8-9
Food and ministry go hand and hand; this is most certainly true. After all, food is a tangible way to show care and concern, one that transcends awkward words and intentions. Don’t know what to say when someone’s grieving? Bring food. Want to help out first-time parents? Bring food. Want to welcome the new neighbors? Bring food. What to do when someone is ill? Bring food. Want to get people to church on a given Sunday? Plan a potluck, and bring food. Context and culture will dictate the menu, but most faith traditions will speak earnestly of the importance of food and feeding in their ministries.
There’s more to the centrality of food in the church than the bounteous array displayed on our potluck tables. We serve a God of abundance, a God who regularly provides sustenance – from food for the first humans, to manna in the wilderness, to finest wine at a wedding feast, and finally to God’s own self in the Eucharistic meal. Throughout time, throughout the narrative of Scripture, God just keeps on giving and feeding and loving. Sure, there’s plenty of occasions where God appears to be more than a little miffed (yes, striking people down or ordering a slaughter is a tough image of God to reconcile with the grace, mercy, and love we associate with Jesus), but nonetheless, the overarching message for this week is that God invites and provides.
In fact, the God in this week’s lessons calls to mind a Southern auntie who keeps on heaping your plate with good things, cajoling you into one more slice of garden fresh tomato or another helping of peach pie. The abundance can be overwhelming, yet the last thing you want to do is offend a Southern cook. It does not go well with one’s soul to refuse food.
But the gospel lesson for today illustrates that we do refuse God’s hospitality, or we seek it on our own terms when we want it. Worse yet, our choices and actions often serve to deny others a place at the table and their portion of God’s abundance. In the United States, for example, nearly 49 million people struggle to put food on the table, and more than one in seven people in the U.S. lives below the poverty line (income of $22,113 for a family of four in 2010). For more information about hunger visit the Bread for the World website here.
How does this connect with three lessons about God’s abundance and provision this week? That’s a really good question for those of us who preach and teach. Evidence of God’s abundance is all around us, and yet many of us – and a lot of our congregations – live out of sense of scarcity, fearing that there will not be enough for us, much less for anyone else. Our challenge, this week and every week really, is to help people live into the reality of God’s provision, care, and abundance. In bread and wine, in word and deed, we are fed richly. There is more than enough for all and an open invitation to come to God’s table. May we never ignore the invitation and continually share the good news of the feast that never ends.
For what do you hunger? Some may hunger for food. Others may hunger for community. Still others may hunger for acceptance. Regardless of the hungers we bring to the table, God is able to provide, to fill, and to satisfy our needs. The key to coming to God’s table of blessing is to leave our own notions, preconceived ideas, and expectations at the door. Invite people to imagine what a world would look like where all hungers are satisfied by God. Invite congregants to ponder the following questions (or similar ones that are appropriate to your context): What would it take to make sure that all people had enough and that the doors to your community are open to all? Do you already have a feeding program? If so, are the people who come to be fed also fully included in worship and present at the Lord’s Supper? If not, why not? Who is missing at God’s hungry feast?
Keep on Keepin’ On: This week’s epistle lesson is reminds us to keep on doing what we have learned and received and heard and seen – in Paul, in Jesus, and through the faithful witness of teachers and leaders and other caring Christians. Being a Christian is not always a cakewalk, and in this lesson Paul instructs the two women Euodia and Syntyche to quit fussing and get back to the work of discipleship. It’s easy to become sidetracked and to forget what’s really important in life. Paul offers some good tips for how to stay on track. Invite the youth to explore how these things – rejoicing, avoiding worry, being gentle, praying, pursuing truth, justice, and honor, and all manner of good – help keep us on track and filled with God’s peace. It’s not easy, but by the grace of God and with the help of the Spirit it is possible.
The real “happy” meal. Most children will be familiar with “happy meals” from McDonalds. You get a kid’s meal and a prize. Ask the children how long it would take after eating a happy meal to get hungry again. Honor all answers. Tell them when we come to the communion table we are celebrating the real “happy meal” – the meal that lasts and lasts and keeps us energized and ready to serve God. How can a little piece of bread and a sip of wine or juice do that? The meal satisfies because it is God’s holy meal and because God keeps on giving. God’s meal feeds our mind, our body, and our spirit. What’s the prize? Life everlasting. Sure beats a plastic toy! Close with a short prayer. If you want to give children a small “prize” for their eternally happy meal, consider a small pocket cross.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lessons all point to God’s wide welcome, radical abundance, and gracious love. The question for us as disciples is how do we reflect, share, and introduce others to this amazing God? Is our table a welcome place for all people?
Stewardship at Home
This week spend some time examining the role food plays in your faith and your discipleship. Do you regularly support feeding ministries and hunger programs? Do you participate in community meals and/or invite neighbors and friends in for shared table fellowship? Have you ever known real hunger or been worried about having enough food to put on the table? Each time you come to the table this week, ponder or discuss some aspect of food and faith. At the end of the week consider what you have learned. How will it inform your discipleship in the future?
Photos: TED Manhattan and Johnny, Creative Commons and © Wellford Tiller – Fotolia.com. Thanks!