based on Jeremiah 2:4-13; Luke 14:1, 7-14
Anyone go to the grocery store this week? Can you recall what you put in your cart or bag? E.g. instant, pre-packaged pudding, Zoodles, potatoes – you know, the old fashioned kind with the skins still on them? I find grocery stores have an amazing assortment of things – fresh fruits and veggies yes, but also rows of instant, boxed cereals, instant potatoes, minute rice, instant coffee (my personal weakness) green ketchup, and a large selection of things to drink – few of them actually containing any real fruit or vegetable juice. What do we nourish ourselves with?
The rows of pop cans and energy drinks make me think of Jeremiah speaking of God as the water of life, and the people choosing to forgo that life-giving water in favour of the stagnant and seeping water found in cracked cisterns.
In this fall season we are reintroduced to the prophet Jeremiah, driven, perhaps more than called, to prophetic ministry over 600 years before the birth of Jesus, in the tumultuous years before Judah was trampled and Jerusalem starved out by the Babylonians. Jeremiah didn’t want the job. He protests his lack of qualifications. But God says, `Jeremiah, someone has to speak the truth to these people, and that someone is you. I called you before you were even born.’ Jeremiah carried out this difficult but essential ministry for 40 years!
He speaks as from the heart of God. “Why are my people going after gods that are not gods? Be appalled, O heavens, the people have forsaken me – the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns – cracked ones at that, that hold no water/no life.’
Jeremiah says that God is dismayed as the nation tries to make its place in the world with political alliances, cult religions, survival of the fittest, and to heck with the rest. `Why are the people going for this stuff? Jeremiah wonders aloud.
I think, because dear Jeremiah, the packaging is more exciting. Why worship a God whom you can’t see, when your neighbours have a perfectly good `god’ or a series of gods – for every occasion? It’s like how people would rather pay for water in a plastic bottle than get it from the tap, or better yet, a flowing mountain stream.
Living a lifetime of faith and trusting in God’s ultimate goodness is like slow cooking in a crock-pot, instead of zapping something in the microwave oven. We may long for a lovely home-cooked meal, but it may be easier to just phone up pizza delivery, especially if you are the one who would have to make the lovely home-cooked family meal that takes hours to prepare…after you get off work at 5 or 6 o’clock.
How does it fit with our lives spiritually? Well how easy is it to make spiritual practice a part of our daily lives? How much do we draw on our faith, or seek God’s will when we make decisions? Sometimes the quick fix answers are more tempting
We could avoid spirituality, at least the formality of worship altogether. Many seem to have done so. We could see only the negative side of it – church is too hypocritical, too many meetings. We could (and some do) drop in on occasion – like Christmas or Easter.
But we are here. And I assume that we would welcome others to join us, yes? And if they came, what would be the reason? What are people searching for in church? What are you searching for? What feeds you here? Is this a place of living water and food that sustains your spirit? Or do we suffer from spiritual- malnourishment. What is it about our relationship with God that we can’t live without?
A community of faith isn’t just formed by reading the scriptures, by listening to the sermon, by singing together, although these things definitely enhance community. A community of faith is formed when it knows its reason for being is bigger than itself. As a community of faith you have searched your hearts these past few years, and affirmed your mission statement, “To be a faith family sharing God’s love in the world.” You have identified your mission to the community through the Thrift store and you are doing it with commitment and grace. To be strengthened for this ministry, you need to be spiritually well-fed. May our work and worship together be grounded in the living water of God’s love; and may all we do be sweetened by `honey from the Rock.’ (Psalm 81:16)
Staying with the food theme – let’s move to the gospel. Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a religious scholar. He uses the opportunity to talk about a new way of being with one another. In the honour-shame system of the near east, there were very clear expectations about rank; who should sit where. For Jesus to suggest that you take a lower place at the table than what your station in life demanded, was scandalous. It’s like what Jesus did when he washed his disciples’ feet.
But the second part of what Jesus says is even more of a challenge. When you give a meal – don’t invite your friends or family who can pay you back, with a fine meal. Invite the lost and the least, those whom no one is ever going to make a fuss over; show them now that they are welcome and honoured guests, simply for being alive in the world.
Does that sound easy or difficult? I’m not very good at even inviting my friends and family! I get as far as thinking – I’ll have to clean up the house and clean off the kitchen table!
But there is a glimpse of heaven in the act of hospitality, and I had the good fortune of being led by example at my parents’ kitchen table. Six years ago they celebrated their 50th anniversary in Ft. Nelson. My children couldn’t be there for the event, but they both sent letters, from opposite ends of the country. They didn’t consult each other on what to write, but both wrote of the amazing hospitality of Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen table. You never knew who would be there, family, neighbours, summer students, someone stranded in town; it was always a surprise, and everyone was welcomed and included without reserve.
I know that as a congregation you help with Meals on Wheels, the Good Food Box program and have hosted some `Soup on Saturday’ gatherings. I think that’s a fabulous ministry. I would love to see that continue on a more regular basis – perhaps in conjunction with the end of the month `two dollar per bag days’ at the Thrift store. Jim and I have been imagining Soup and Singing on Saturdays! We have a Board meeting scheduled for next Thursday, and on Sept. 22rd everyone is invited to a congregational conversation after worship where we can dream and scheme together about ways that will bring spiritual and possibly physical nourishment to the community.
True community and trust takes time to build, spiritual practice takes time to build, but it’s worth it – it’s worth opening our hearts to God, the source of deep and constant love, like an ever-flowing stream, like a meal shared with generosity and joy. Later this morning we will be invited to Christ’s table. There, may we be fed – body and soul, strengthened for the ministry that is ours together. Amen.