You know how the conversation goes: someone invites you to join them for a meal and you respond by asking, “What may I bring?” insisting that you do not want to come empty-handed.
At first hearing we may not think the Old Testament story and the Gospel are telling us “what to bring to a meal,”
but that is just what we have heard.
Think about the story of Isaac and Rebekah. His father wants him to have a wife “just like Dad,” and so
he sends his servant out to find that perfect date who – in the servant’s judgment is Rebekah.
Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent.
He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.
So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
a story with a happy ending and our queue as to “what to bring to dinner.”
Might you have your own version to tell or to repeat what you have heard someone else tell you?
A friend asks to bring another person along to a meal who meets someone who later becomes a mate for life; proving what can happen when what you bring to dinner is another person.
The flip side to bringing another person is when others at the meal react with, “What’s he/she doing here!”
To bring another person runs the risk of stirring up the Gospel ruckus that prompted Jesus to make sure everyone could hear the objections some were raising about Him:
…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
This is where the Gospel raises questions we may not want to hear:
The first one is: “Dare we risk being like Jesus as we bring His habit of praying before eating to a meal?”
Robert Raines, who after serving three parishes for twenty years, directed Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, tells of an early morning drive through the mountains where he came upon a young man standing by the side of the road playing a trumpet, filling the new day with the sound of the Doxology:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise, Father, Son and Holy Ghost!
James W. Moore, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
Dare we risk bringing Jesus’ habit of praying to a meal?
Second question: Dare we risk being like Jesus as we bring His openness to a meal that may raise objections, as like Jesus, we enjoy chatting with individuals others are shunning with updated titles of the first-century’s stigmatizing labels: “Tax collectors and sinners?”
One time, I was heading over to be with friends, choosing as we usually do, to sit with certain people we accept and who accept us in their company, but every seat was taken. I had to sit with someone others were avoiding because he was shabbily dressed and was as they said “not one of us.”
As we ate we began to talk about the weather, the menu, and other light stuff, until I dared to ask what brought him to the meal…and learned he owed his life to the person who was the featured speaker. Then, he shared his faith story and as he did the Jesus he has come to know became more real to me and he became family to me, in and through Christ.
In the old Biblical tradition I wanted to end that meal with a prayer-song of thanksgiving:
“Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love…like to that above!”
But I knew that would really draw more glares and stares from people who were already disapproving of my enjoying the company of a person they judged to be “not one of us.”
My heart ached as I thought of what they were missing, and the undeserved blessing I was experiencing.
Dare we risk bringing the openness of Jesus to a meal?
Third question: Dare we risk being like Jesus as we bring His invitation to a meal?
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
In Eugene Peterson’s conversational rendering of the Scriptures in The Message, he calls Jesus’ words “the unforced rhythm of grace,” that when accepted has us realizing life is all about relationships: Isaac with Rebekah, the first Christians with Jesus; in the terms of a meal: hungering for Christ – the hunger that turns worship into nourishing our relationship with God Who becomes real and near to us in Jesus.
The “meal” we are being served right now.
Just when there is so much talk about empty pews and adults in their 30’s and younger finding no attraction to Jesus’ invitation, Debi Thomas writes in her blog JourneyWithJesus.net:
“I stay because…this is no ordinary hunger, and your manna alone will suffice…Because you suffered, and only a suffering God can help. Because you spoke of joy, and I need to learn how to laugh. Because I am wired to seek you, and I will not let you go. Because my ache for you is the heart of my aliveness. Because I am still your stubborn child, and I insist on resurrection.”
Her confession to be yoked to Christ.
The Greek word that defines it as “easy” refers to the tailor-made yoke which the carpenter cut and shaved and shaped to be well-fitting. Keith Wagner calls it the yoke “that does not rub nor cause us to develop sore spirits and is designed for two. And our yoke-partner is none other than Christ himself.” Keith Wagner, True Freedom
And so, the double dare:
Dare we risk bringing the invitation of Jesus to a meal where we dare to confess our inner hunger that waits to be fed in worship?- Jesus’ “wisdom …vindicated by her deeds” –
the deeds of daring to bring His habit of prayer, His openness, His invitation to a meal? –
any meal and ultimately the meal of worship!
Dare to take the risk a pastor turned into the song we will song. Amen.
(“Near to the heart of God”)