‘Called to be a Repairer of the Breach and a Restorer of the Streets’
The Rev. Martha M. Shiverick
I remember a professor in seminary asking us what a communion table should really be if it was theologically accurate. Think about it for a moment… Not what realistically or actually could be in this space given the limitations of it being a seated sanctuary, but what would a theologically correct communion table be? In my seminary class, those who had already taken their course on John Calvin’s Institutes were eager to impress us with their knowledge of Reformed theology, so they explained why we have a table and not an altar. Altars are where things are sacrificed, whereas we are invited to share a meal with Jesus when we have communion to nourish our faith. Calvin felt very strongly that we have a table and not an altar. But the professor pushed the question…. what should this table look like?
We all thought of the tables in the sanctuaries in which we had grown up… Some confessed that the communion table in their home church looked more like an altar, with a definite front side that was a solid piece of wood…. others proudly said theirs were more like the one we have here at Riviera…. A beautiful table that resembles the ones found in our dining room. Others talked about the elements, the bread and the grape juice or wine, and how they were served. Cut up little pieces of bread and glass thimbles filled with a few drops of grape juice that are passed to you in your pew. Others talked about coming forward and receiving the meal as we do here and still others said that they experienced communion as small groups took turns surrounding the table and the elements were passed family style one person to another.
But what would the table look like? That is a great question …. We will come back to it again.
The scripture lesson for this morning finds us moving from the Gospel of Mark to the Hebrew Bible again where the prophet Isaiah is talking about true and false worship. (The assigned Gospel text from Mark for today was the one where Jesus talks about divorce, and although I’d love to wrestle with the text at some point and how it speaks to us today, this suggested text from the Presbyterian Office on Special Offerings, made more sense.) Listen now for God’s message to us found in the Book of the prophet Isaiah 58:6-12.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;[b]
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.)
What exactly is the fast that is acceptable to the Lord?
I mean… what impresses God? How is the best way to worship and live out our lives as believers?
What is it that makes us disciples of our God?
These are the questions this passage from Isaiah poses and answers in this morning’s text.
The Prophet answers that although we might delight in the Lord in our worship. We might sing praises and get warm fuzzies at beautiful sunsets and mountain top experiences… God’s central concern is that our worship and faith leads us to exercise justice and practice compassion. Worship is not just theological study… worship is not just religious sacred rites and sacraments… Those are indeed a part of it but worship is purified by our acts of loving kindness. True worship cannot be separated from our caring for others.
The prophet does not see religion as only a private act. Our branch of religion, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic branch, grew out of a story of liberation. Our religion grew out of a story of a people being liberated from slavery, of those people being fed when they were hungry in the desert, and then finally being housed when they were in search of their promised land. Our religion is a worship of a God who empowers the powerless and is concerned for those who are suffering, those who are homeless, naked, and those who have been marginalized and turned away by others. We worship a God whose love has no favoritism and whose religion draws our attention from ourselves to the needs of our neighbor. No wonder in today’s world of the ‘rich getting richer’ and ‘the winner takes all’ ethics, our mainline western religions of caring for the marginalized are not gaining in membership.
The prophet does not discount that the purpose of the religious community, the church, is to worship God, but that we worship God to think about, have compassion for, and serve beyond the walls of our sanctuaries, state lines, and national borders. We need to individually and as a community be passionate about others and root our ministries in peacemaking and justice.
The FBI Kavanaugh probe was being completed on Friday. It was given to our senate and the vote on whether he becomes our newest Supreme Court Justice was taken late yesterday afternoon. And when that vote was taken and one side won, some of us were be happy and another portion was greatly saddened. One side feels justified and another side feels that power is continuing to seep away from them. As a woman who has suffered sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, I will always emotionally be on the side of the Dr. Fords of the world, who have to struggle in a white male dominated culture. Men need to realize that this is a very real issue for women. We don’t feel the same safety that the world in which you live allows you. We listened to Dr. Ford and we heard our own stories. To feel any different is impossible.
Our God, the God of the Hebrew and Greek Bible, is one who calls us all to work for empowering the powerless, to speak for those who feel they have no voice. Some call this radical, but the reality is that it’s Biblical. Isaiah says that God asks the faithful to loose the bonds of injustice, to take of the yokes of oppression and God will be with us and satisfy our needs. And we speak these words of truth in the same world that Isaiah did and Jesus did where the powerful and the oppressor often have the power. As faithful people; as people who take the Bible seriously as an ethical standards from which we live, we always will stand with the oppressed and the voiceless. We are called to it.
AND……Faith is not easy. Particularly when God calls us to a table. God calls us to share a meal together knowing that all are invited. Faith isn’t supposed to be comfortable. You see at our Lord’s Table Dr. Ford is invited and so is Judge Kavanaugh. I am invited and so are you. And today we recognize our differences and that in spite of them, we are one family. We come from North, South, East and West, from positions of power and those of powerlessness, we are the oppressor and the oppressed. We are of different races and sexual identities and orientations. Some of us have bread and others are hungry, some are poor and others have abundant resources. Some of us are burdened by yokes and others place yokes on us. But we are invited to gather here for communion.
And as hard as that is…. it is meant to be celebrated. All are loved by God. The beautiful and the ugly of us all… the hateful and the loved…. All are invited into fellowship. And hopefully all will come to know our Lord and come to love and appreciate one another and understand the call to service and discipleship to which God calls.
So…. to answer the question: What should a Communion table look like?
Should is look like ours? The answer is that theologically we still don’t have it right. A true communion table should not be rectangular where there is a head place where one person is in authority and power and the rest are not. Our Christian table should be round. You see, not one of us is to sit at the head of our communion table. As much as we want one or the other to sit there… neither Judge Kavanaugh nor Dr. Ford are to sit there. We are all one, we are all equal and equally not worthy when we approach our Lord’s table. But it is still with confidence that we are all invited, because at our Lord’s Table, all are unconditionally loved and welcomed. The good and the bad…. and it is something that is both hard to accept and also something so beautiful to celebrate. Amen.