If it weren’t for Isaiah, I’m not sure what I would do with this week’s texts. The readings from 1 Corinthians and Luke are challenging and problematic. In the northern US February is an unpleasant month. It’s cold, gray and carries with it a heaviness that makes it feel longer than any other month. Add in the fact that we are in the midst of Lent and preaching on the epistle or gospel texts seem unfair.
If we’ve committed to the Lenten journey, then we are examining our lives and the lives of our churches with an eye toward repentance. As the days add up, we can feel the burdens of our sins weigh us down along with the dreary gray days of February. We don’t necessarily need to hear Paul’s view of the consequences of straying too far or testing God’s love too much. Nor do we need to feel pressure to produce good and pleasing fruit lest we be cut down. However, the words of the Psalmist ring true:
O God, you are my God,
I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
This is where Isaiah comes in with the wonderful invitation to the fullness of life.
Personally, I take this banquet image very seriously. I have celiac disease which prevents me from eating any grains including corn and rice as well as anything containing casein which is the protein in dairy. So when Isaiah bids us come and eat and be satisfied, I’m ready. More than ready, actually. I imagine sitting at the Lord’s table where all my dietary restrictions fall away and take with them any concerns I have for calories and cholesterol. This is a table of true freedom where that deep thirst for God is satisfied and the gnawing hunger is satiated with God’s steadfast love.
Isaiah speaks of a table without limits and a God filled with mercy and pardon for all who come seeking. This is the perfect antidote to the February doldrums. And what is most needed for the arduous journey to Jerusalem. In a world that teaches us to labor for that which is not bread and eat what does not satisfy, these words are a welcome balm.
Perhaps the connection to the other readings is just that. When we are lost in our wilderness wanderings, pushing the limits of our faith, God’s response might not be as Paul suggests. God’s response may be an open invitation to a feast beyond our imagining. Or when we are caught up in a drive to be fruitful and productive to the point that we achieve only a kind of wheel spinning, God does not threaten to cut us down so much as to nourish our souls.
I don’t know about you, but I want to linger at this table for a bit. I need to drink deeply of the waters of grace and feed on the bread of life. The wilderness of human habitation can be trying and exhausting when we forget that we do not go it alone. This week I am grateful for the reminder of God’s unfailing mercies and the invitation to a table that is always set with holy abundance and has my name on a place holder.
Wherever you are on this Lenten journey and whatever you may be hearing in these texts, please join in the conversation so we can share grace and peace with one another.
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17 thoughts on “RCL: Come and Eat!”
I love the idea of a banquet feast that doesn’t count calories, fat grams or have allergy warnings.
I am going with the gospel reading and talking a bit about ‘why bad things happen to good people’ and a bit about second chances to grow – but chances for growth being time limited…we can’t get time off from bearing fruit for years and years without consequence. All leaf and no fruit is a lie and not a church in praise of God….just ‘ticking over’ isn’t church it is a social club.
I might even talk about the manure that has been spread – when times were hard in the past 10 years and when it felt like we were getting poo from above and being dug up and unrooted all around. Maybe, just maybe that was Christ at work, preparing the ground for amazing things to come.
Maggie, you are a braver woman than I! I really like your take on the Gospel lesson. May it reach ears and hearts that need to hear it!
I’m pointing out that it wasn’t about the fig tree just being given one last chance – quite the reverse, the gardener was going to do his possible to ensure the fig tree had all it needed to help it grow. Perhaps he (the gardener) had neglected it…. also talking about repentance as not just about looking back at what went wrong, but looking forward to new, right things. I have an old (9 years ago) sermon that I’m going to rework. But I like the banquet idea, too; maybe I can work that in….. we’ll see.
Sounds like you are onto something for sure. I think you’re right about the fig tree, too. I bet there will be nice, fat juicy figs on the banquet table 🙂
My thought process followed yours, Rachael: Thank goodness for Isaiah! I didn’t quite know what to make of those opening verses of the gospel reading (prior to the fig tree part). Neither do I have time to sit and ponder about them much this week.
So, Isaiah it is. I’m not sure where I’m going with that yet, either, but I love the imagery. I have an old sermon focusing on the “my thoughts are not your thoughts” piece, but it’s not one I want to revisit, I don’t think.
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I know there’s good news in the Gospel reading and I’m grateful for those who hear it there and have the courage to preach it. And, Monica, you’re right that it would take some time to sit still and ponder what that would be for the churches we serve. Or maybe it’s just that the invitation to the banquet is something that folks need to hear move of before they can hear the joy that is in repentance.
i have 2 previous sermons on these readings, both reusable. one focuses on Isaiah and the psalm -hungering for God, the other on the gospel – repent an bear fruit.
Are you going to use one of them or create something new?
I’ve also written a prayer of confession for this week’s text if you have need: https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/a-litany-for-the-penitent/
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A wonderful quote from Mildred Taylor’s, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry–
“You see that fig tree over yonder, Cassie? Them other trees all around…that oak and walnut, they’re a lot bigger and they take up more room and give so much shade they almost overshadow that little ole fig. But that fig’s got roots that run deep, and it belongs in that yard as much as that oak and walnut…It don’t give up. It give up, it’ll die. There’s a lesson to be learned from that little tree, Cassie girl, ’cause we’re like it We keep doing what we gotta, and we don’t give up. We can’t.”
We are doing Gifts from the Dark Wood so I am slightly off lectionary, combining a passage from Job with a poem by Lonnie Hicks called “Quiet Thunder” that I found which is very much worth the read. But this little quote about the fig tree is relevant to our lectionary passage and if you know anything about the story, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,” the quote is relevant to injustice and racism, etc.
Lonnie Hicks’ poem would be relevant to most of the readings too.
I thought someone might like to see these resources…I think that they are so good and speak to the heart.. and keeping on when you feel like giving up.
Dee, thanks for sharing these. We’re also using Gifts of the Dark Wood and we’re on “Getting Lost” and I’m using the Isaiah passage as a way of talking about what we experience when we finally admit we are lost.
Yes, I am a bit “behind” schedule, as we had our Annual Meeting last Sunday, after being postponed due to blizzard. So this week is the Gift of Being Thunderstruck…but I think that I might focus on intuition and hearing God’s voice…hence the “Quiet Thunder” poem. But I like the fig tree symbolism and the extra time given for growth (and care-filled tending) and “nutrients…” so that may appear in the sermon at some point. MMMMM….
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I suspect that being Thunderstruck, hearing God’s voice, has a lot to do with tending the fig tree, letting the roots grow deep, and adding in a ton of fertilizer. Also, someone was telling me that fig trees only bear fruit every 3 years or so… I didn’t check this fact, but if it’s true, there’s something here about “waiting for the Lord” and not expecting thunderstorms with great frequency.
I’m going with the Gospel. Looking at repentance framed as reflection and looking what you have done. A time to discover and draw close to God … linking it to the caring for the fig tree … That God desires our growth … Repentance is about rebooting and seriously looking inwardly and rediscovering what God intends for our lives and our communities.
I’m a new kid in the pulpit … so … trusting the Spirit to bring it together
If you’ve got the trust in the Spirit, then new or not, all shall be well!
without the Spirit … I’m pretty lost!
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