A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on June 10, 2012.
O God, our Father, we have already confessed our sins but we see the table of your son set before us and we pause, once again, to ask for forgiveness. We would rid our hearts of every encumbrance, every hurt, every sorrow, every bitterness, and every disappointment, to receive your forgiveness and to be at peace with you. We acknowledge our moral lapses, our premeditated sins, and our simple failures of the past week. May the righteousness of Christ substitute for the sin that rests within us. May his goodness alone make us worthy to receive both bread and cup. We pray today in the hope of this table. We pray that your son will, indeed, be real to us. By your spirit, open our lives to him completely. If we have resisted, break down that resistance. Allow us to yield in all things. If we are confused may his presence clarify what we ought to do. If we are fearful, may his presence give us the resolve to do what is already clear. If sorrow, may his presence bring comfort. If disappointed, may his presence lift our hearts. If separated from those that we love most, may his presence at this table be the bridge to repair what has been broken. O God, is anything to hard for you? We know it is not. We pray in the shadow of this table that, on this day, the presence of Christ shall be real and your will be done in our lives. In his name we pray. Amen.
Come, not because you are strong, but because you are weak.
Come, not because any goodness of your own gives you a right
to come, but because you need mercy and help.
Come, because you love the Lord a little and would like to love him more.
Come, because he loved you and gave himself for you.
O taste and see that God is good.
Let’s begin with fill in the blank. You are what you ________________. You are what you drive. That’s what all the car and truck commercials tell us. The hybrid commercials are designed to remind all of us that if we drive a hybrid, we are definitely frugal, smart people who care about the planet. If you want to buy a four-wheel-drive pick-up, you are rugged. That is what all the commercials say. If you drive a German-engineered car, you are sophisticated. A lot of people would have us believe that if we drive a Ford, we are patriotic. Ford was the only major auto company not to take money from the government.
You are what you read, which is why sometimes we don’t like people to see what we are reading. Somebody told me the great thing about Kindle is that you don’t have to hide the covers of your books. You can buy all that trashy beach stuff and nobody has to see what it is.
You are what you wear. It is dated now, but there used to be the statement that clothes make the man. I guess now it would be that clothes make the person or individual.
Something that was told to me recently is you are what you post, as in a blog on the internet. Anything that you put on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever is as close to something in your life that is going to be eternal on this side of the grave as there is. You are what you post because the accumulated internet stuff that you have put out there will be with you forever.
One of the most common ones we think of is you are what you eat. Meat and potatoes is not simply a description of a menu but it is a description of a personality. If someone is a meat and potatoes kind of person, we know they are very basic. They are just straightforward. Sophia Loren once said, “Everything I am, I owe to spaghetti” which will become funnier the longer you think about it. Much like we hide certain books, we often hide what we eat. We don’t want people to see us in the drive thru of the place where the 2,000 calorie hamburger is.
It is not just that we are what we eat, but we are who we eat with. I think one of the most socially stratified places in society is the school lunchroom. It does not take long to figure out that that is their table and not mine. That’s the jocks’ table. That’s the cheerleaders’ table. It is amazing how instinctively kids who are new in school figure out that they are not invited to a particular table and they seek each other out. That becomes the new kids’ table until they might be able to move to another one somewhere else. You are who you eat with.
In the go-go 80’s, we had the advent of the term power lunch. People would eat and make great decisions. In the segregation of the South, probably there was no greater image of how segregated we were as a society than by who we would or would not eat with. Isn’t that how so many of the visible demonstrations started at public lunch counters where people were invited to eat or refused to eat.
In the book Cold Sassy Tree, one of the characters says, “The last place that I invite somebody I don’t know is to my bedroom or to my kitchen.” The book The Help—maybe you have seen the movie—shows the attitude about using kitchen, silverware, plates, saucers, and cups. The attitude about that was as powerful as it was backwards. Who we eat with says a lot about us.
This is the point of the passage from Mark 2:15-17. This is the point of Jesus sitting down with the tax collectors and sinners (publicans in other translations). It is always good to remind ourselves just exactly how well thought of the tax collectors were in that era. Most of us do not particularly care for the concept of the IRS and paying taxes but few of us actually know someone who collects taxes for the IRS. It is all done electronically. We mail a check or it is taken out of our paycheck. Whatever it is that we may do, we never see someone face to face who is taking our taxes. Imagine that we lived in a world where all the taxes were taken face to face. The people who took the taxes were our next-door neighbors and they were on commission, but they get to decide their commission. Whatever it is that they might take from us, they are deciding how much they are going to take for themselves every time they did that.
In the age of the Tea Party, we would probably not be very civil to one another if we came in contact with people who were literally deciding what their cut would be and there was absolutely nothing you or I could do about it. These people represent a whole class of sinners in a time in which Jesus is performing his public ministry in the First Century. The religious folks thought it was marginally OK to teach these people somewhere. It was marginally OK to walk with them in the way, but it was not fine at all, not acceptable, and contrary to everything that they thought was appropriate and proper, for Jesus to sit down at a table and eat with them. You are who you eat with. It said very negative things to them about the character of Jesus. He was sitting at the same table. He was passing the same serving dish. He was taking was he was going to eat out of the same serving dish. If it was a crowded table, there was no way he could avoid contacting and touching the people. He was actually coming into contact with these people. It was absolutely unthinkable.
In just a few moments, we will gather around this table and we will celebrate what we often call the Lord’s Supper. Many times, we call it communion. It is a good time to get to the point. A good point for the sermon would be that Christ did not exclude anyone. Why would we? If we are still in school, why would we exclude someone from our table and let them feel less of themselves and less loved? Even on Wednesday night as a church family, it is very easy to get busy and distracted and not notice someone is new and not invite them to the table. A lot of times we think about saving the world, and a good place to start might simply be opening up our table to anyone. That would be a good point for this sermon.
If you have multiple generations in your home, there is a good chance that you eat in shifts. I know when our girls were at home, we did that often. It is just the nature of the beast. In a world where we live by take out, drive thru, and eating in shifts, it is very easy to forget how important and how close we are when we sit down together, share in conversation, share in prayer to begin the meal, and simply share and care for each other by passing food, handing salt to one, and receiving bread from another. We have forgotten how important this table fellowship is. The thing we need to remember is Jesus invited us. Yes, it is important that we think about following his example and invite others. When we take communion, we need to remember that Jesus has invited us to the Gospel Feast and we know who we are. We know we are the ones who have failed, once again, at the same old sin. We are the ones who are afraid that other people will find out our secret and reveal us for who we are. We are the ones that cannot control our tongues and find ourselves saying the same thing about the same people over and over again. Then, we realize it is not our tongues we cannot control but it is our hearts. All the tongue reveals is what is inside. Here we are again.
We are the ones who have an illness and we wonder if it is the result of a sin and is God punishing us. We are the ones who have turned our back or even cursed people who are a part of our lives and our family. We have loved things and used people. We are the ones that when Jesus asks, “Who is in need of a physician?” he looks at us and recognizes the sickness. He looks at us and recognizes the hunger of our souls and he says, “I invite you and every person to come and sit at the Gospel Feast and to receive what you need from God.” We play sometimes at the idea that we, too, are sinners. Sometimes we say, “I am a sinner, too,” but sometimes it is good to stop, take note, and recognize that is not playing. It really, indeed, is who we are. We are each sinners, saved by grace, and the only reason we have a place at the table is because the righteousness of Christ makes it available to us and his righteousness covers our sins. It is his invitation, not our worthiness, but it is him opening up to us and saying, “Come. You who have a growling soul, come to the table, eat, and be satisfied. You who have sin in your life and a sense of unworthiness and are afraid to approach the throne of grace, come and eat, taste and see that the Lord is good.”
The words of William Barclay that are the meditation text for today serve as the invitation that Christ would extend to each of us. That is the invitation for each of us this morning. We prepare our hearts now to receive the bread of life and the symbol of Christ’s love poured out for us and the forgiveness of our sins.