Sermon 3 Lent Yr C

3 Lent Yr C, 7/03/2010

Isa 55:1-9

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Feasting with God”

Do any of you remember the 1987 movie, Babbette’s Feast? I think that it still ranks as one of my all-time favourites. The movie is based on a short story by Karen Blixen, and set in nineteenth century Jutland, Denmark. Babbette, a French chef, is a Christ-figure in the movie. She comes to this stoic, pietistic, backwoods Lutheran community to work as a housekeeper for the two daughters of a now-deceased pastor. Babbette, out of the blue, is informed that she has won a generous lottery. Now you’d think that she would return back to Paris and live a sophisticated life of privilege there. Nope. Rather, she pulls out all of the stops so-to-speak and puts her whole body, mind, and spirit into preparing and serving a lovely chef’s banquet feast.

The movie is a heart-warming, humorous, yet serious tale full of biblical motifs. As the local village residents sit down together, surprisingly they stop their bickering and begin to enjoy each other’s company, along with the excellent quality and quantity of food and drink.

Now it has been several years since I’ve seen the movie, however what I remember of it is three significant theological and biblical themes. The most obvious theme for me was that of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The meal in the movie feeds the guests not only physically, but also in a sacramental-like way, uniting them as a faith community. In communing with each other, they are also communing with Christ vis-à-vis the Christ-like figure of Babbette who sacrificially prepares and serves this banquet feast.

Another theme that stood out for me was that of stewardship. As Christians we are called to be stewards/managers of what God has given us. Everything that we have, are and own is a gift from our generous Creator. God’s generosity is freely given to us as Christ gave his all, even sacrificing his life for the life of you and me and the whole world. Babbette does precisely the same thing by generously preparing and providing her feast of a lifetime. The generosity of Babbette is a stark contrast with the stoic and frugal Danish Lutheran community in which she finds herself. Life there was difficult and one had to take on stoic and frugal values in order to survive—so the community believed. Babbette offers them another option by her generous giving of herself, her time, her talents, and her material resources. She does so willingly and lovingly, like Christ.

Yet another theme I remember from the movie is that this generous banquet feast is a sign of God’s coming kingdom; where there shall be an abundant supply of food and drink as well as love and joy in all of its fullness. A chap in the movie epitomises this when, throughout the banquet and time of sharing each other’s company, he bursts out with joyful speech by shouting “Hallelujah!” Another sign of the coming kingdom is that the pietistic austerity is transformed into smiles and laughter as the banquet progresses. Everyone is discovering, almost as if it were for the first time, the joy of life together in God’s coming kingdom as the communion and community of sinner-saints. God’s kingdom coming as a sheer gift of grace.

In our first lesson today, the prophet also speaks of drinking and eating. The way it is described by the prophet, we learn that here, like in Babbette’s Feast, there is a generous supply of food and drink. A biblical scholar, commenting on today’s passage, has this to say: In the ancient world, when a new king would assume the throne he would often issue a mišarum edict, declaring a release from all debts. As part of this edict, the king would also call for a great banquet to be enjoyed by the people of that kingdom. Both events, the edict and the banquet, signaled a new day under a new king. The opening lines of chapter 55 remind the hearer of such a banquet and more importantly, the signaling of a new day.1

Yes, it is a prophecy of hope pointing in the direction of a future new day; however, I believe that the food provided in abundance describes God’s provision, not some new earthly king. The reason I believe that it is God here in the prophecy who takes the initiative is the strange irony of it all.

Listen again to the text: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” Notice here the all inclusive invitation of the LORD, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Now who doesn’t thirst, both physically and spiritually? Don’t you, I and every human being thirst? The promise of water in a hot land, on a scorching day quenches the physical thirst better than any other drink. Moreover, as human beings, we cannot survive without water. God provides us with water; water is a symbol of life; and God is our Life-Giver. Spiritually this is also true. As Christians, we believe that the sacrament of baptism is a symbol of life, spiritual, eternal life. In baptism we are given new life through the water and the word of God; promising us forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family as sons and daughters of God; and the promise of eternal life in the future. In baptism God comes down to us and takes the initiative to name us and claim us as his own precious children. He is also busy and active in baptism by killing the old Adam and Eve within us and placing within our bodies the gift of his ever-present Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the wisdom of his word and keep the channel of communication and communion with God open, healthy and lively throughout our journey in this life. So in the waters of baptism, God is working hard to quench our spiritual thirst.

Listening to our text further, we notice the ironic invitation of having no money, yet the LORD bids his people to “come, buy and eat!” Wow. Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the economy of this world, does it? We’re all familiar with the old adage: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yet, that’s precisely what God invites his people to here in this passage. In case anyone failed to hear this message, the prophet repeats this train of thought, quoting the LORD again in the form of invitation: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The invitation has the sound of sheer grace—a generous gift, freely given by God.

In verse two, the prophet changes from invitational statements to a pressing question from the LORD: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” Bread, of course, is a staple food. Again it can be physical and spiritual. Bread in the physical sense can be an inclusive symbol referring to all of our basic needs in life—food, clothing, shelter, and so on. Bread is also a spiritual symbol. For Jews, bread reminds them of God’s provision of daily manna in their wilderness wanderings; and unleavened bread reminds them of their exodus out of Egyptian slavery and the institution of their Passover Meal as a remembrance of God’s deliverance. For Christians, bread reminds us of Jesus himself who said: “I am the bread of life.” Bread also reminds us of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of Holy Communion; which is our spiritual food keeping us in the risen presence of Christ.

So the question comes as a challenge to people who fritter away their money on non-essentials and labour for/work for stuff that fails to satisfy the deepest needs—things like new monster houses in the suburbs, new SUVs, the latest fashion clothing, and then having no money left for food. The question challenges our materialistic, consumer-oriented society; you can gain the whole world but lose your soul because material possession shall never satisfy our deepest needs.

The prophet goes on to quote the LORD, now in the form of a command: “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Such a command fits in with the promises we receive in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We eat what is good, delighting in rich food—the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. The food, along with God’s words of promise, gives us: forgiveness of sins, communion with the risen Christ, and community-building with our sisters and brothers in the faith.

After the first exhortation, the prophet quotes the LORD in another form of command and invitation: “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.” God’s word is life-giving. From Genesis through to Revelation the life-giving power of God’s word moves through human history; you and me; all peoples to create, sustain, and redeem us. Listening to God’s word creates and deepens our faith and communication with our God. The act of listening gives life and is the work of God’s Spirit in us. Listening helps us to cling to the life-giving promises of God’s word.

In the final verse of our passage, we learn of the divine logic behind the whole passage: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” During Lent with our focus on the life-giving nature of Christ’s suffering and death; we remember that the foolishness of the cross is God’s wisdom and the weakness of the cross is God’s strength. So, along with the exiled ancient Israelites, those Danish Lutherans in Babbette’s Feast, and our brothers and sisters present here today, we eat and drink without buying at our LORD’s banquet feast—partaking of his grace-filled, generosity, which knows no boundaries, celebrating his presence in his coming kingdom among us here and now. Amen.

1 Cited from: Professor W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., Commentary on Lectionary for March 7, 2010 at the WorkingPreacher.org website: <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&gt;.  

 

 

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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