Text: Isaiah 25:6-9††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††† W 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
††††††††††† In the name of him who bids us come to his feast, dear friends in Christ: Itís said that the way to a manís heart is through his stomach.† It sounds like something a mother or grandmother would tell a young woman while passing down her best heirloom family recipes Ė the idea being that if she learns to cook well enough, sheíll be able to snag the man of her dreams.† Now, I would be the last to deny that thereís an element of truth to it; but quite frankly, I think itís a rather sexist statement.† It sells men way too short.† Itís as if the only thing men ever think about is eating. Thatís nonsense, of course.† Men are far more complex and sophisticated than that. †I mean, itís a well established fact that eating is usually the second thing that preoccupies most menís minds.
††††††††††† Beyond that, it isnít just men who enjoy sitting down to a fine meal.† Itís part of being human.† Or, say it another way, itís the way the Lord designed us.† And so itís no coincidence that he filled the world with all kinds of good things for us to eat:† a dazzling variety of fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, tubers and mushrooms, cheeses and nuts, and all kinds of meat, seafood, and poultry Ė along with a wide array of herbs and spices that can be combined in infinite variation to tickle the taste buds and raise a merely good dish to the level of the sublime. Nor is it a coincidence that all five senses the Lord gave us are at no time so fully engaged as they are when weíre eating. †Think about it:† well before you actually enjoy the taste of something, youíre able to drink deeply of its aroma.† Thereís nothing quite like the smell of a good pot roast filling the house or the heady scent of freshly baked bread. Then thereís the visual effect.† Again, even before youíve eaten anything, a well prepared meal has been a feast for the eyes.† And then when finally you get around to taking a bite, in addition to the taste of something thereís the way it feels in your mouth, its relative firmness, texture, and temperature; and then even the sound of crunching, munching, slurping Ö and yes, burping.† My point is that the Lord intended eating to be an immensely pleasurable activity that involves the whole of what we are.
††††††††††† As also he intended it to be an occasion for fellowship.† You know, itís only been in the last couple of decades that the dinner table stopped being the center of family life for so many of us. For all the rest of human history mealtime was the one thing guaranteed to bring everyone together. †It was the principal communal activity.† It was the time for conversation, sharing stories, teaching children family values and history, for spiritual devotions, and for building relationships as family and friends gathered around the table to enjoy each otherís company as much as they did the meal.† And we were saying something by doing that.† We were saying just as we need food to survive so also we need each other.† But these days, what with fast food and conflicting schedules and microwavable individual prepackaged portions and everything else that undermines it, weíve really lost something. †I suppose we have it now and then on special occasions; but itís something we would do well to recapture in our daily lives, because in Godís great wisdom there really is a connection between the stomach and the heart.
††††††††††† We see it in todayís Old Testament reading in which the prophet Isaiah gives us a brief glimpse of the joys that await us in heaven.† And how does he describe it?† As a lavish feast consisting of the richest, well trimmed meats and the finest aged wines.† And in a culture like theirs that knew first hand what it meant to go hungry and be constantly threatened by starvation due to famine or drought or plagues of insects or marauding invaders who stole the harvest just as they finished the work of bringing it in, the prospect of having an endless feast forever available would seem like heaven indeed.† The feast described in the text speaks of never suffering want and enjoying eternal fellowship and peace.† Itís perfect fullness for both the stomach and the heart Ė for both the body and the soul. ††
And as I considered our home in heaven being described as a feast, it occurred to me how often eating plays a key role in the biblical story line.† We see it already at the beginning, when manís first home is a garden designed by God that is chockablock full of dozens of varieties of fruit trees.† All the delicious food our first parents could ever want was just hanging there for the taking.† The only effort required was to reach out their hands and pluck it off.† And there were no worms, bugs, bruises, or thorns to ruin any of it.
††††††††††† But it didnít last.† And as you know, it was through the act of eating that the fall into sin came about. It happened when Satan tempted our first parents to have an appetite for the one thing the Lord had forbidden. Being complete as humans and full of everything they needed was not enough.† Now they hungered to be gods in their own right.† And by trying to satisfy that craving they lost their place in creation, and creation itself was lost.† For Adamís sake the ground was cursed.† And the gift of eating that the Lord had meant for our joy and fulfillment became a necessary burden to bear.† Hunger, frustration, wearisome toil, and futility became manís lot in life. ďBy the sweat of your brow you shall eat your breadĒ, the Lord told Adam, ďuntil you return to the dust from which you were taken.Ē† The Lord was saying, ďYouíll work till you drop and in the end youíll still be empty.Ē And itís an illustration, you see? The Lord was matching the physical plight of man to the spiritual hunger of his soul.† In his attempt to eat his way to godhood he began to starve to death. And so it is with all of us:† sin will never satisfy our true hungers.† Oh, it might in the short term, and we keep telling ourselves that it will; but the end of it is always the same: hunger, starvation, and death Ė the ultimate emptiness:† when the body loses the soul.
††††††††††† This theme of eating, for better or for worse, comes to the forefront again several times later in the book of Genesis.† In particular we see it in the Jacob and Esau narratives.† Remember it was Esau who, weakened by his hunger, made a very bad trade: his extremely valuable birthright as the firstborn son for a lowly bowl of red lentil stew. †On one hand we see in this story an echo of the fall, when man traded the great birthright that the Lord had given him as the master of a perfect creation in exchange for a bite of fruit. †Interestingly enough though, it is at the same time a picture of the bad trade that Jesus would make for us.† On account of his extreme hunger to have us restored to our original place, he agrees to taste the penalty of pain and death our sins deserve, and in exchange we get the birthright and inheritance that belongs to the beloved firstborn Son of God.† Itís later in the same story that Jacob steals the blessing that belongs to his brother Ė again, over a meal.† While Esau is out hunting down the feast of venison his father has requested, Jacob, disguised as his brother and wearing his clothes sneaks in with a substitute meal of roasted goat, bread, and wine.† After eating his fill, his blind old father Isaac makes his last will and testament, giving the blessing to the son he believes to be his beloved firstborn. Once again itís a picture of how we approach God the Father clothed in the righteousness of Christ given to us in Baptism, and how over a meal that consists of a substitute sacrifice, bread, and wine, we receive the blessing of God that properly belongs to Jesus.† In Godís great design we who fell through eating the wrong thing are restored to grace through eating the Lordís substitute sacrifice.
††††††††††† The book of Genesis comes to its climax in the stories of Joseph.† He too is a profoundly Christ-like character. Heís the one who is hated by his brothers, sold for silver, descends to the depths, and is counted by his father as dead.† But then, to his brothersí later astonishment, he rises in glory at the right hand of a king and becomes their savior (along with most of the ancient world) through, of all things, providing food for people to eat during a severe famine. Joseph is the one who provided the bread of life to a world that would otherwise have died of starvation Ė and letís not forget that he freely forgave his brothers for all the evil they did to him.
††††††††††† Exodus takes up where Genesis leaves
off Ė only itís four hundred years later, and Godís people who came to
††††††††††† So also is the newly redeemed nation
††††††††††† But these prophets were merely pictures of the one who really was the Word of God embodied:† Jesus Christ. And in him the biblical food and eating theme continues.† His first miracle was to create fine well aged wine for a wedding feast Ė and he made a lot of it.† His most widely witnessed miracle was to feed five thousand men with a little boyís lunch. Much of his teaching took place at a dinner table.† And several of his parables, like the one we heard today, are about a feast of one kind or another.
††††††††††† And of course the most important part of his earthly ministry, his passion and death, begins with Ė you guessed it Ė a feast.† In this case a celebration of the Old Testament Passover.† But now Jesus reveals the full reality of what that ancient ritual meal had only foreshadowed.† People are delivered from their bondage to sin and death through the death of Godís firstborn.† And he is at the same time the Lamb of God whose blood protects his people from death, and upon whose flesh they feed.† Itís the Lordís ultimate plan to get right to his peopleís hearts by way of their stomachs.
And Jesus too is described as eating and
drinking during his passion.† He prayed
Which brings me back to the feast that Isaiah describes for us.† And to do this right you have to picture it:† a table sagging under the weight of all the perfectly prepared and presented delicacies that are piled up high on it.† Imagine the best of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners all combined and then some.† And all of it is the work of the Master Chef of the universe.† The smell of each dish is absolutely intoxicating. †And the dessert table Ė you can feel your arteries clogging just looking at it; but itís a good feeling.† Go ahead: try to picture it.† Now, whoís getting hungry?† I hope you are because Jesus said, ďBlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.Ē† The full feast will come at the end; but for the time being this Ė our gathering together as a family around Godís Word and Sacraments Ė this is the feast of victory of our God.† And it is a foretaste of the feast to come.
I started this message with an old saying about getting to the heart through the stomach. And weíve seen that the Lord does exactly that.† Iíd like to conclude with a different saying; itís the one that says ďYou are what you eatĒ. In a physical sense itís true: the food you eat contains the proteins and other elements your body is made of, and it contains the carbohydrates that power it.† Itís also true in a spiritual sense:† your soul becomes more and more like whatever it is you feed it and itís powered by the same.† The question is: †whatís on your menu?† How much of it is the sweet tasting poison of sinís brief pleasures or of mankindís nutritionless philosophies?† How much of it is the trivial tripe on TV, the vanity of fashion and popular personality magazines, or the worst of what the internet has to offer?† How much of it could be described as theological junk food?
Let me suggest that we would all do well to work on refining our palate and taste for the really good eats that God has to offer.† How?† By tasting, of course.† Itís the only way.† By hearing more of Godís Word, by listening to sermons, by attending Bible studies, by doing more devotional reading, and of course by attending worship, confessing your sins, and receiving Holy Communion.† Taste and see that the Lord is good.† Eat as much as you like, you wonít gain a pound; but you will be changed to be more like him.† And in so doing the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!