Based on the Scripture reading:
2013 October 6
This is a story about an image that leads to an argument that leads to an action. It ends with a song. It begins with a prayer.
(Prayer for insight and wisdom here)
Two weeks ago, Time magazine ran a series of pictures of what people around the world eat during one week. Each household assembled a week's food, set it all out, and smiled at the camera. You can see this on Time.com, but please not during worship.
The first picture is from Germany, and we learn that this family spent $325 on their meals and that their favorites are shrimp, buttered vegetables, and sweet rice with cinnamon.
The second picture, from Norway, is a family that spent $370 for seven loaves of fresh bread, pancakes, and yogurt among many other dairy products.
Japan spent $317 on sashimi and potato chips as favorites, and the family from Sicily spent $260 on pasta, hot dogs, and frozen fish sticks even though Sicily is surrounded by water. In Chad they spent $1.23 to have rice and beans for the week and a pot of soup made with lamb. Kuwait spent $221, Egypt $68, Bhutan $5, and the photo from Australia includes two boxes of Wheatabix cereal and another flat of frozen fish sticks.
I was drawn in by the sweet rice with cinnamon, the sashimi, and the ubiquitous fish sticks.
I note that there are no photographs of empty cupboards. There are no pictures of food stamps. The folks in Bhutan with their five dollar budget are smiling like the sun never sets, but then I wonder if they know what's going on in Norway and Japan.
We do. We know that all of the word's tables are not equal, and while equality may not be possible, adequacy and access and sufficiency and opportunity are. And World Communion Sunday is the sacred time not only to ponder this but to act upon it because of who we are and whose we are and to be honest because of what we have including time, money, prayer, and community for all of these are elements in communion, and let me explain.
Today's celebration was born in 1936 at a time when Christians were very concerned about the tables of the world. Few of us remember 1936, but it was the year that the Nazis occupied the Rhineland, Italy annexed Ethiopia, and a militarist became Prime Minister in Japan. It was the year that Munich swept its streets by jailing the Romani and removing signs that said "Jews not wanted" for the Olympics. It was the year of Stalin's Soviet purge and 5 million hunger deaths in China. It was a horrible, pessimistic, fearsome year.
So the Presbyterian Church started something quixotic, hopeful, and mysterious. It invited Christians to focus on our one table like in that litany -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; it invited us to one table where we can imagine how the meal is going in Italy and India and Korea and more. And we don't need too much imagination to know that it's going differently there, yet we know that it's going toward and coming from the same God we love. And in less than four years, almost all global Protestants were sharing this meal and remembering all God's tables everywhere. And whenever we repeat it, it does what a sacrament is supposed to do: it draws us beyond the present elements to the presence of the elemental, essential, eternal One and to life itself and to God's entire embrace.
A theologian named Tex Sample says that this table doesn't cause us all to be exactly the same or to believe or act in precisely the same way. Sample says that we don't all become identical in church, in community, or at table -- we don't all develop standard understandings of everything, but we discover that we are all "engaged in the same argument." He says that our community, table, and mission are the places where our faith and values are "thrashed out."
So what we're doing today is engaging an argument with God, with each other, for our world. Not a quarrel. Not even a negotiation. An argument that draws on our best and opens us to God's best, too.
And some of God's best is in our Hebrew Scripture today.
We don't read Habakkuk very often, but he offers a powerful promise. He's set just after Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum. And he delivers one of the most famous lines in all scripture and Church history right here: the righteous shall live by their faithfulness. In his very first lines, Habakkuk asks an essential, modern, totally timely question grounded in a dramatic exchange. It's like a legal exchange -- a lawyer's issue. Most scholars call it a complaint. We heard the complaint on Habakkuk's lips: why dost thou make me see wrongs -- destruction and violence and justice denied? How dost the wicked and perverted trump thy justice? Or, how can the suffering of good people be reconciled with a just God? What's up with that?
And God says, I will answer your complaint. And God offers a visual, symbolic, and spiritual image, which is the invitation to lift up an idea so large that a runner can see it running by. And the runner's image is two-fold: it's literal -- make something as plain as a billboard for people moving fast -- and it is metaphoric: give people something sufficient to endure a marathon. And God's message is this: I will deal with the wicked, says God. I will settle with them. Trust that. And you, the righteous, shall live by your faithful action. You have work now. It's a theology on a billboard for a runner. Where our call is to life made life in thriving communities of creative argument facing a world of injustice.
On this World Communion Sunday, in this parish we have what is necessary for us to understand the images of various tables around the world and to face the images we see. We know that tens of millions of people in the United States alone are insecure about whether they have enough food to set out for themselves, much less for Time Magazine. We know that the canned goods we deliver, the bread we deliver, is needed as soon as it arrives. We know that even with a fifteen thousand dollar deficit in our own church budget, our top priority today is to ask for you to give to Neighbors in Need that goes to hungers beyond our own walls. In a few minutes in this room we'll sing a song from Jamaica, hear voices in Spanish, French, Tagalog, Japanese, Hindi, and Hebrew that span the globe of our origins and touch our global community. We've got what we need in this room to apprehend the issues and to hear and accept the essential message of Habakkuk and Timothy: don't let the size of a challenge slow us or stop us from doing many deeds because God gives us a spirit not of timidity but of power and love and organization for life. Go to work.
We've got that here. And we've got work to do, some about to be described after worship.
So I conclude with a folk song from 1922, a decade before today's celebration was born, which summarizes almost everything I've said today. It's actually a song grounded in the third chapter of Revelation, right after the saying about God's Open Door that we know here. The song is about God's welcome table.
The song goes on to say
And then comes one final verse filled with promise and justice and hope and just a hint of danger: "I'm gonna tell God how you treat me. I'm gonna tell God how you treat me, one of these days -- halleluiah. I'm gonna tell God how you treat me. Gonna tell God how you treat me one of these days, one of these days."
I don't want to reduce two scriptures and a theology education to four stanzas from one song, but it's not far off. And it's a good place to stop. A good song to remember. To remember not only the table of the Lord but the word of the Lord.