This is the sermon from October 2, 2011, as preached at FPC in Cartersville.
(Image from PC(USA) )
Praise for Deliverance from Oppression
25O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
2 For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
4 For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
“A Feast of Rich Food”
How did you celebrate the last major milestone event in your life, or the life of a family member or friend? Chances are, as you remember the event, there was food of some kind. Good food – food you don’t usually eat, food that is bad for your diet and waistline. Food that drips and oozes or was crisply fried. Food and drink that stays in your mind as a part of the day. When we attend weddings, food is an integral part of the celebration – even the simplest of receptions usually have something to eat, and cake – really good cake! Birthday parties have cake and meals – often the meal at the birthday party is the choice of the Birthday Girl or Boy. Couples often celebrate anniversaries by going out to dinner. When we graduate, there are parties and celebrations with yummy eats. Milestone birthdays as we age often include a special meal; when we die, that event is also marked with food. Friends and neighbors bring meals to the house, there is often food after the service – -even simple snacks show the hospitality and care of a church family for the deceased. From the casseroles dropped off at the door when we are born, to the casseroles eaten by our families after we die, our lives and celebrations are marked by meals of rich food.
So often these meals are eaten in community. We mark the passages in our lives with our friends and loved ones. In these meals we make memories. In these meals we find comfort. We find familiarity. Often the best part of some of these meals is the anticipation – -the excitement, the planning, the desire for a time to see folks and dine together. The anticipation can be just as exciting as the event. In our reading from Isaiah, we hear about anticipation of such a meal. The 24th chapter of Isaiah, ending just before today’s passage picks up, does not end well. The last verses contain predictions of terror and trembling for the whole earth. The earth will be torn asunder and be violently shaken (24:20), and it will fall and not rise again. Isaiah and his people were experiencing chaos and turmoil that may feel similar to what we may feel in our lives today – with an “uncertain economy,” wars in other countries, and all the other events that can cause us to feel like we are trembling right along with the people of Judah. In fact, the 24th-27th chapters of Isaiah are called the “little apocalypse” because of their description of “a sense of crisis in the world giving rise to a belief that the present world is so evil that it must soon come to an end, to be replaced by a new and glorified cosmos where only the righteous will live.” The people were living in the fear of punishment for having broken God’s covenant. And in the midst of this fear, is a word of hope. In our lesson for today, Isaiah boldly proclaims that there is hope, and there will be comfort. Not only for those who heard Isaiah then, but also for us as we look to see God at work today.
The passage begins with an affirmation: “O Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” In the midst of the distress comes the affirmation that the Lord is our God. Isaiah makes the choice to claim God in the midst of despair, and to proclaim the faithfulness of God; to confess that God is real and worthy of praise – even in the sorrow and confusion the people experience. There is something to be said for that – for the first reaction in hard times to be “God is here, God is present, and God is my God,” rather than rejecting God. When we can affirm God in the midst of whatever life throws at us, we can begin to see our way out.
After we proclaim God, we remember God. How many of our meals and celebrations revolve around story-telling? How many times have you heard the story told by your aunt about the time that she and your father got lost at the fair, or got in trouble for not weeding the garden?
The story my mom and her siblings tell is about the milk delivery. My grandparents lived in Portland, Oregon with their three children – -my mom and her 2 brothers. When I asked her to fill in the details of the story for me for today, we had the best time laughing over it. It is one I have heard many times before. So this was back when milk was delivered to the house every day. The milk order was large and complicated in a house with three growing children, my oldest Uncle was a teenager and drank a lot of milk, the youngest uncle had to drink goats’ milk, because he was allergic to cow’s milk for much of his childhood, and so the daily order was often large and complicated. Every night, they would leave the empty bottles and the order out on the porch. In the early morning hours, the Alpenrose Dairy would deliver the various quarts of milk my Grandmother had ordered the night before – sometimes she would order chocolate as a special treat. Well, one night, my oldest uncle changed the order and got up early to bring in the milk without her knowing. It was not until hours later that my grandmother opened the refrigerator to make breakfast and discovered 5 quarts of chocolate milk – which was not what she had ordered at all!
We tell stories that make us laugh, and also tell stories where we remember the hard times, and what brought us through them. Seeing where God is today begins by remembering where God has been in the past. We remember the times God has been faithful, even when we did not see it, and draw on those experiences to move forward. In our communion prayer, at our common meal, we remember how God has always been faithful to God’s people, and we trust that God will be faithful still. In our Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, as it is called, we remember the work of God throughout time and in our world. We hear, and the Israelites heard then, that God has been acting- -God has provided shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. They remember this, as we remember it. They remember the promises God made through the book of Isaiah for lions to lie down with lambs, for God to do a new and different thing, for God to go with us through the waters, and we know that God will continue to keep God’s covenant with us.
No matter how scattered they might become, the people of God will know salvation. The consolation offered in our reading for today is for all the nations, past present and future, north, south, east and west. The banquet Isaiah describes is full of rich food that satisfies, and wine that quenches the thirst. This meal is made from the rich marrow of the bones that gives food a deep flavor and wine that has been strained of it’s impurities. Those at this feast eat the best food provided by God as a tangible reminder of God’s promises to us, as a way to taste and see that the Lord is good. This is a banquet for everyone, celebrating the eventual end of death, despair and pain when the Lord hosts the eternal feast for the people.
From memories of God’s action in the past, come thanksgiving for what God continues to do for us. We give thanks to God for the refuge and shelter given to the poor. We gave thanks to God for the ways God has ensured the poor will be cared for. We give thanks for the ways in which God cares for our community, as we recognize the call of God to us to continue to care for those in our community. We see God in the midst of chaos and tragedy and give thanks for that presence.
When 5 of us went to Tuscaloosa this summer, we had no idea what to expect. The town had been torn apart by the tornadoes of April 27th. Not the whole city, but swaths and paths of it. On one corner was a building that had been unscathed, and on the other was an empty lot that used to be a business. You may remember when the roof of our Hobby Lobby crashed in after severe flooding last year. The Hobby Lobby we drove by in Tuscaloosa was a shell. The sign lights were blown out, the front walls are gone. It looked ghostly almost, certainly abandoned. And this was a place where clean-up had begun – there were full dumpsters in the parking lot and debris in piles ready to be taken away. I had never seen such devastation first-hand, and it was overwhelming.
In the midst of this tragedy, God was present. A community agency that operated similarly to our Community Resource Office became the hub of distributing food and supplies. Volunteers run this center 6 days a week. Six weeks after the disaster, volunteers were still coming from near and far to help. Everyone had a story, and so many of the stories we heard praised God that they had been spared, or that it was not worse for them. We saw a church that had been completely demolished all that remained was the parking lot. On their now-empty lot, they had set up an RV/Food truck and were continuing to feed the people in their neighborhood. God was active in this community, providing refuge, providing help, offering solace, providing a banquet for those who needed to eat. We knew God was at work in lives of the people of this community, and in those who came from other places to serve stranger they had never even met before.
Seeing God at work in other places and offering thanks for what God has done helps each of us see God at work in other places in the world. On this World Communion Sunday, we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ the world over, who dine with us today. God is not American, God is the God of all people, all over the world. Do you remember all the excitement surrounding the new millennium when we changed the calendars from 1999 to 2000? News channels began showing places around the world as it was midnight in each place. I believe they started on a small island away from Australia, and then moved to the continent of Australia and followed cities and countries all the way to the International Dateline. Midnight in Sydney, midnight in Japan, China, Russia, Africa, Europe, South America – all the way around the world people celebrated the milestone with parties and celebrations. It allowed us to see how the world was doing the same thing together – watching time move forward, and waiting to see if this was the end of the world or a new beginning. There will not be news cameras in Christian churches today, our worship service will not be on the news tonight, but for me, this is a chance to imagine the body of Christ at one table, seeing God at work together. While we were finishing supper and putting little ones to bed last night, a congregation in Australia gathered around the table and took the bread and the cup. As we were sleeping, congregations in Vietnam heard the ancient words, “this is my body broken for you”. Around the time I woke up this morning, the drums and chants of those in central Africa were beginning. And as we are sitting down to Sunday Lunch, churches on the West Coast will begin to sing their hymns. As the sun makes its way around the globe, the body of Christ sits at table today – to share in a meal that is but a foretaste of the meal God has planned for us.
In reading the words of Isaiah, we find hope. In this meal, a heavenly banquet spread out in a sacred place, believers come to meet their God. And Christ comes to meet us at our table. At the table, we share a feast rich with memory, with history, with the knowledge that one day we will all be at the heavenly table. We yearn for the future feast when all will sit at the table of the Lord and eat rich, delectable food and drink together. God promises this to us.
God’s plans for us extend throughout time, around time, and in time. The feast when God comes will be grander than any feast we can imagine. It will have the best food, the best wine, and the best company – -all of God’s people through time and space and around the world. We will all dine together. Our meal on this World Communion Sunday is just a hint at what is to come – -the taste of the bread and the juice are reminders that God is at work in the world now and always. Christ is with us as we dine, even in the midst of chaos. The table is set with our china and linen, let us go to the banquet.
 New Interpreters Study Bible. 987-988. Isaiah 24 study notes.