Sermon: “God's at the Table”

02 May 2010

The Rev. Bryn Smallwood-Garcia
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2010

“God's at the Table”

Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

These readings are so beautiful, aren’t they?  The text from John’s Gospel we heard just before Easter, on Maundy Thursday.  It comes right after Jesus washes the feet of the disciples the last night of his life and gives them his “new commandment,” that we “love one another.”  And John’s vision in his book of Revelation is often read at funerals, because it’s so comforting – this image of God making a home here on earth with us and wiping every tear from our eyes.  Some of us I know dread reading the Bible –and yes, there are some ugly parts – but at its heart it’s a love story, a love story about the longing of heaven for earth, and vice versa.  It is a love song between God and us, mortal flesh.  Listen to this imagery:  “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God … as a bride adorned for her husband.”  How could it be anything but Good News, to have our loving Lord and Master right here with us at the table, giving water to the thirsty “as a gift from the spring of the water of life”?  How could it be anything but Good News, to hear Jesus – in his kind and soft voice – tell us to “love one another”?

First of all, on Easter as on Christmas, it always sounds great to have God with us, Christ risen and alive among us, right here at the table, until you really stop to think about it.  If God’s at the table, we better be on our best behavior.  If God’s at the table, we can’t get away with anything!  If God’s at the table – oooh, what a drag.  There goes all the fun, right?  Time to put away the booze and get out the Bibles.

I mean, we preachers and theologians can wax poetic about God immanere, or immanent in all Creation, but let’s stop to think about it for a minute.  God with us in the world – inside us and all around us – can be beautiful, and comforting, but it’s also stressful, right?  Sure, we appreciate the comfort of God’s presence, when we need it, but who wants God watching over us all the time?  It’s like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984.  If we went to church as kids, and our parents got that Christian moral compass well-installed in there, then most of us get to feel guilt whenever we do anything wrong.  With God looking over one shoulder, always with us, how can we ever relax?  How is that comforting – except maybe to our parents? It’s more like the old Santa Claus threat – “he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake”!  Oh NO!  Who can be good and loving 24/7?  It’s no wonder that, by the time we are teenagers, most of us would just as soon that Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – just like mom and dad, and baby sister – stay the heck out of our room!  Many of us are as eager to free ourselves from the chains of religion as we are eager to free ourselves from the boundaries our parents set.

And yet, God with us, God in us, God all around us is a huge theme of John’s writing, and is a central truth of the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus – the word made flesh and living among us here on earth, right now, and not just in some distant, heavenly hereafter.  But it’s also the shocking blasphemy that got Jesus killed – as we remember the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion of Jesus that came so soon after the Last Supper.  The religious leaders of Jerusalem believed that God did not and should not go gallivanting all over the countryside like Jesus.  God clearly had no business out on the streets healing the unwashed masses – women, children, foreigners, the disabled, and other outcasts of the time.  The Lord God of all Heaven and Hearth, they knew had the good taste and good manners and respect for tradition to stay put right there in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, where He had been content to reside for generations.  They believed that God rightfully belonged to the righteous, and direct access to him (and to his power and wisdom) should rightfully be severely limited, as it would be for any Lord or King.  No one just walks right into the White House – I guess, or if you do you end up on TV!

But according to John’s Gospel, the whole point of the incarnation was Jesus coming to us as our Savior, coming into this broken, messed up world to find us and to claim us as His own. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”  Or as Revelation has us: We are Christ’s precious bride and called to live happily ever after with him.  So if the church is the bride of Christ, we are living a Cinderella story, right?  Life under the drudgery of the law and the weight of guilt is Cinderella’s life under the evil stepmother, who rules us as a tyrant, like Caesar.  “Do this, don’t do that.  You’re worthless and unlovable.”  But we are saved from that fate, because the God of Jesus Christ comes to us like Prince Charming and says, “I love you just as you are.  You are precious in my sight and I love you.  No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”  Believing in the Good News of God’s love, shown to us in Jesus, saves us.  It means being swept away by Christ’s unconditional love.  This is what entering into a covenant of Grace means.  We are invited to let our “happily ever after” of new life with our loving Savior begin today.  We don’t have to wait to feast at the banquet table of life in the Lord’s Kingdom.  Our joy can be both present and future.

Because God’s at the table, it makes all our human brokenness OK – because we sit at the side of Jesus, as he joins us right here with us at the table.  This Jesus, this God incarnate is different – he eats, he sleeps, he breathes, he bleeds.  He laughs and cries with us.  Our Christian Lord is God made flesh (carne being the Latin word for flesh).  And God incarnate knows what it is to be human. God incarnate is the humble Jesus born in a manger and dying on the cross; God incarnate is the compassionate working Jesus healing lepers by the side of the dusty road, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes.

The moment you get the meaning of how DIFFERENT this version of God is from any other version of God before or since, you get what it means to be born again, and to be a new creation in Jesus Christ.  Jesus frees us from the chains of guilt and conventional religious morality.  It feels so refreshing – it is like a deep drink of pure, clear spring water on a hot dry day.  As Paul will tell us, grace frees us NOT to wild and crazy, hedonistic living but to say a joyful “I DO!” to the invitation to live as not as a servant, but as a beloved spouse in God’s household – doing our part to share God’s mercy and unconditional love with others.  When we truly know God’s love for us we want to share.

In communion, we are invited into the sacramental mystery of table fellowship with the One who made heaven and earth – and us.  Made in God’s own image, we are also called back into relationship with the one who first loved us.  When we acknowledge the presence of Christ with us, when we acknowledge that God’s at the table – loving us, healing us, guiding us – everything changes.  We argue; we forgive.  We laugh.  And laughter is like the sparkling of sunlight on that refreshing spring of grace that is the water of new life.

Thanks be to God for this Good News.  Amen.

Revelation 21:1-6

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

John 13:31-35
31When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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