“The Table is Set”

“The Table is Set”

August 3rd, 2014
Pastor Mark

Pentecost 8 (Proper 13)
August 3, 2014
The Table Is Set!

The table is set. You’re ready to sit down and eat and drink. Imagine your favorite meal. What would it be?

For me, for a long time, I would have answered prime rib, hash browns with just the right amount of grease, onion rings, and chocolate cake for dessert. But after our trip up north to get Rufus, I might say now beer batter fried walleye and potato pancakes from Timmer’s Bay Side Inn in Washington County, WI. It’s sooo good! And then to drink? A & W root beer, draft, out of the keg.

What is your favorite meal? What’s on your plate? In your glass?

Here is why I ask: Isaiah writes: “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (vv 2b–3a).

Isaiah is not talking about prime rib or a classic, Wisconsin Friday Night Fish Fry. The table he is inviting us to has the best food and drink. You see, the table we eat at has been set by God’s one-and-only Son. Jesus has prepared a meal for us beyond imagination.

And how did He prepare that meal? Well, just before this invitation to come and eat at this table, Isaiah had prophesied what God’s Servant would do. Listen to these sentences from Isaiah 53.

3He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Sound familiar? Of course. Jesus’ final few days on this earth. He is rejected and beaten. He is whipped and bloodied. You can picture how the Roman soldiers despised him. You’ve seen pictures of His wounds and that He was so crushed He could not even carry His cross to His execution. Stricken. Smitten. Afflicted.

Jesus does all this to set the table with the best foods. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions. He has all our sins on His shoulders. And by His wounds we are healed. On that cross, He prepares forgiveness for all sin. By His suffering, the table is covered with salvation. His death puts eternal life on our plates. Look at the table—each dish, every glass brings us to the very presence of God to eat and drink of His peace. Yes, His peace. One of the best foods on Jesus’ table is peace.

And not just any peace. The Bible’s peace is more than absence of war, a stop in fighting. When the Bible talks about peace it is not like a 2 hour cease fire between terrorists and Israel in Gaza. God’s peace is safety, health, wholeness, plenty. Food to eat. Wounds healed. Relationships strong. Bodies sound and fit.

Peace is health and wholeness of body and soul. Peace is freedom from worry. Peace is uninterrupted sleep. Peace is the bounce in your step and the quiet confidence of a day lived with purpose.
What an incredible spread of food on this table: forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, God’s love, and peace. It’s a meal that satisfies, blesses our relationships, gives wholeness of body and soul, provides purpose to life. And we are invited to this rich feast of blessings. We’re invited because Jesus didn’t stay crushed and beaten. He didn’t stay in the grave. He rose victoriously on Easter. This meal is a victory celebration, a time to rejoice. It’s the best “happy meal” you could ever eat because Jesus is there, alive and inviting us to join Him.

Yes, He’s inviting us. Now that, too, is incredible. Normally, who gets invited to the best meals in town? For example, what would you rate the most exclusive place to eat? I would say the White House. Have you ever thought about a dinner at the White House with various heads of state present? In Washington DC, there is a protocol officer. His job is to make sure people sit in the right places when a major event occurs. You have two presidents from two different countries. Who gets to sit by the president of the United States? Which congressmen get invited? What other big wigs? Where do they sit?

And it’s not just with state dinners. If you’ve got the money to be served the fanciest meals, you eat them. If you have a big bank account you can buy $500 bottles of wine to drink. Are you famous? Then you get invited to the clubs and parties. Celebrities get in; others wait in line outside. Are you good-looking and wear just the right brand-name clothes? Someone will pull up a chair for you to sit on.

But notice what happens with those meals. People are excluded because they don’t have enough money. No political power? Go home. Not young and beautiful? Not welcome. Don’t have a big Twitter following? Don’t expect anyone to make room for you.

But that’s not the case with Jesus. Listen again: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v 1).
What an amazing invitation! Everyone is invited. No one is excluded from this invitation. You could be old, weak, tired, handicapped, a nerd, a geek, out of shape, wearing secondhand clothes bought at a thrift shop, unemployed, underemployed, unnoticed. Anyone is invited. Status, power, money, fame, looks, dress don’t count at Jesus’ table. In fact, you can’t buy your way to this table. You can only be invited by Jesus. He set the table. The chairs are ready for you and me to sit in. And only the best foods are there for us to nourish bodies and souls.

But chairs are empty. Some haven’t arrived at the meal yet because they still need to be invited. And who does the inviting? We do. We are the co-hosts to the people who aren’t yet at the table. I mean, if one hundred extra people suddenly showed up for church, we’d make room for them. But they’d need to be invited for that to happen.

Now I know whenever I get on this topic you get nervous because EVANGELISM is scary and some of you think that is my job and not your job. Well, Jesus gave this job to all of us, and here are three practical ways for you to help with that invitation.

First, just because you can’t buy a way to Jesus’ table doesn’t mean money isn’t important in the church. Lights need to be on. Air conditioners need to run. Bread needs to be baked and wine needs to be bought for the Lord’s Supper. Salaries need to be paid. The building needs to be kept up so that people feel welcome and safe here. Our church needs to be an inviting place to come, and your contributions make that happen. When you put money in the collection plate, it’s not to buy your way in, but to help invite others to come and eat at Jesus’ table.

Second, actually invite someone to come to worship. Ask someone you know to accompany you to a service or Bible class. Show that person around. Sit with them and help them follow the service. Most people who don’t go to church end up coming because someone invited them. Be the one who speaks an invitation.

Third, live an inviting life. Live a life that shows anyone is welcome to feast on Jesus’ forgiveness, life, salvation, and peace. When we live the way Jesus wants us to live, we stand out. Think of how we can be a light to those we hang out with if we live a life of respect for others, a caring heart, helping hands, a joyful spirit.

Be a generous person. Invite freely. Be a living invitation.

Because look what happens when we come to Jesus’ table. On the altar is His body given on a cross, His blood shed for us. Picture yourself coming up to the Communion rail. You kneel. Then imagine the walls of the church aren’t there. Instead, the communion rail extends around the world, filled with all those who eat and drink of Jesus’ forgiveness and peace. We are kneeling with everyone who has come to this wonderful meal: male and female, rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, every nationality, disfigured and beautiful, handicapped and star athlete, presidents and everyday citizens, well dressed and homeless. And who else is with us? Jesus is. Our risen Lord has set the table. He invited us. What a meal this is now and for all eternity, including for those who still need to be invited. Help us, so that we need to put up a few more tables and put down some extra plates.