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Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, I Corinthians 10:1-3, Luke 13:1-9

Images of eating and drinking to describe our relationship with God appear more than once in scripture.  The language used in John’s Gospel was apparently common enough that some accused the early Christians of cannibalism.  “ . . . the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh . . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you . . . for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  (John 6:51-55)

Although those in our tradition do not take these words literally, Communion services still symbolize feasting on the spiritual resources found in Jesus’ life and teachings.  The theme of such feasting is in most of the lectionary readings for the coming week.  Ironically, the verses from the Gospel According to John, used above, are not in the list.  I think they should be, but maybe there’s a tangential connection in this week’s Gospel lesson from Luke.

We talk about things that feed and nurture our souls.  It also occurred to me that we sometimes refer to feasting our eyes on something.  What are the things that we take in and/or receive that stir our spirits?  The implication of some of the biblical images is that we take God into our very bodies.  In my childhood tradition we thought of Jesus as living in our hearts.  Somehow we knew that the reality with which we were dealing was not just external ritual; it was some kind of inner connection.  I couldn’t explain it then, and still can’t.  I’m suspicious of anyone who thinks he or she can.

All the talk about feasting on God seems to be a call to pay attention to what is life-giving and what is not.  A well-set table can be a wonderful thing.  I love the smells and tastes and beauty of food set before me (or cooked by me) in all its infinite variety, but scripture tells us that if we simply sate ourselves on such sumptuous fare we are missing food and drink that is far more important.

The reading from Isaiah begins with the familiar words, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat!  Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”  (Isaiah 55:1-2)  There’s a puzzle in there:  Why speak of buying when it is free?  No matter how one answers that question, the truth here is that what God has to feed us is free.  All we have to do is breathe in and breathe out and open our souls.  God has put us in a universe that exudes soul food.  Oh, there’s much trouble out there that doesn’t do much to uplift the soul, trouble that we need to pay attention to, but there’s enough nurturing divine presence for every soul to thrive if we focus and if we love and respect one another.  This reading says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.”  (vs. 6)  My theology proclaims that God is always near, even when we have difficulty getting beyond out limited perspectives and experience.  The Lord, in the reading from Isaiah, says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (vss. 8-9)

When choosing a restaurant our choice may be influenced by the atmosphere it offers.  If we want to feast on God, perhaps we need to choose a place with the right atmosphere, one where we might even be tempted to say, “Isn’t this heavenly?”

Psalm 63 includes verses that take us down similar paths.  Without additional interpretation I quote verse one and five:  “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 not water . . . My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast . . .”

The reading from I Corinthians recalls the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt and the sustenance they received in the wilderness.  “ . . . all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.”  (I Corinthians 10:3-4)  Paul, as he often does, mixes metaphors and leaves us with a startled “Huh?” on our lips.  “For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  (vs. 4)  “Christ”?  I thought we were dealing with a story from the Old Testament.  Let’s not try to figure it all out.  For Paul, and for most Christians, whatever the name given to that guiding and nurturing spirit, it symbolizes the loving presence of God that we see in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Feasting on God means, for us, paying attention to Jesus, letting his spirit enter our very being.

I can’t skip lightly over the troubling verses which follow, speaking of God’s displeasure.  I simply don’t experience God as a vengeful God.  On the other hand, some of us in the “progressive” tradition may try so hard to avoid any semblance of judgmentalism that we fail to acknowledge the ways in which human beings resist drinking deeply from the wells of God’s Spirit.  Paul is referring to what happened in the wilderness, but resistance to the ways of Christ continue to this day.  Even here in this reading from I Corinthians, we find reference again to eating and drinking without receiving true nourishment.  (See vs. 7)

There’s also the troubling and often misused verse that ends the Epistle reading:  “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure.”  (vs. 13)  It’s not meant to be a saccharine comfort that belittles the suffering someone may be experiencing.  To me, it says at least two things.  We all go through times of trouble.  In those times, we need to keep on feasting on God so that our spiritual strength is not totally destroyed.  It doesn’t mean that the trouble we experience will be any less or even that the testing was sent by God.  Some people, when going through hard times, literally quit eating.  Whether the troubles are physical or spiritual, this is not a time to quit gathering at the table, preferably with other people, to join in the feast.

Then we have the Gospel lesson which has two sections.  The first is, pure and simple, a call to repentance.  It is, at the same time, a warning about those who see themselves as better than others, as opposed to those whose troubles come upon them because of their sin.  (See Luke 13:1-4)  It moves on to a parable about a fig tree, which may be another call to repentance and/or another warning against judgmentalism.  It tells of a fig tree which is bearing no fruit.  (vs. 6)  The owner of the vineyard wants to cut it down. (vss. 6-7) The gardener argues for one more year, “until I dig around it and put manure on it.”  (vs. 8)

Although the owner is often taken to be God, some see the gardener as God, arguing for patience.  If that is the case, God is a nurturing God wanting to breathe new life into the fig tree. Someone at our breakfast discussion this morning suggested that maybe Jesus is the manure.  You can decide that.  It’s clear that, even here, we see an emphasis upon the importance of nurture in the life of the soul.

More importantly, perhaps, we see that we don’t feast just to satisfy our hunger, even our  spiritual hunger.  We feast in order to bear spiritual fruit, so that we can feed and nurture the spirits of others around us.  The hope for the fig tree is that, properly nourished with that manure, it will bear “fruit next year.”  (vss. 8-9)

Come to God’s table and eat your fill.  Receive nourishment and bear fruit that nourishes others.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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