“Kathy Fletcher and David Simpson have a son named Santi, who went to Washington, D.C., public schools,” David Brooks began his column in the New York Times Tuesday before last. “Santi had a friend who sometimes went to school hungry. So Santi invited him to occasionally eat and sleep at his house. That friend had a friend and that friend had a friend, and now when you go to dinner at Kathy and David’s house on Thursday night there might be 15 to 20 teenagers crammed around the table, and later there will be groups of them crashing in the basement or in the few small bedrooms upstairs. The kids who show up at Kathy and David’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand – to a sibling, friend or parent.” Few have a regular bed at home.
Brooks takes extraordinary time – and I’ll link to the column when this sermon is posted tomorrow – to describe the people he meets, from Edd to Kesari to Madeline to Jamel. Kids from around the city come to dinner, for food but also for community, for home, for a place they can be themselves, can be known by and truly know others. Brooks describes what drew him there: “I started going to dinner there about two years ago, hungry for something beyond food. Each meal we go around the table, and everybody has to say something nobody else knows about them. Each meal we demonstrate our commitment to care for one another. I took my daughter once and on the way out she said, ‘That’s the warmest place I can ever imagine.’ During this election season of viciousness, vulgarity and depravity,” Brooks writes, “Thursdays at Kathy and David’s has been a weekly uplift, and their home a place to be reminded of what is beautiful about our country and what we can do to bring out its loveliness.”1
There’s a reason so many biblical visions come around tables. We must eat to live. But, deep down, we also yearn for something much more than food. While there were surely magnificent dishes that we recall from our grandparent’s table, the memories only begin with the food, and move to her deep hospitality, or to his laughter. To the places in our lives that are only sometimes at actual tables with serving bowls being passed, but are really about home. Chapters 24-27 of the book of the prophet Isaiah is distinct material in this big book. Most of the rest of the book is commonly split into first, second, and third Isaiah, and can be rooted more specifically to historical realities of 8th century Israel, of their wrestling with the Assyrians and Babylonians, of the pain of exile. But these four chapters, often called Isaiah’s little apocalypse, date from perhaps three centuries later.2 In the midst of the strife and warfare that surrounded them on all sides, the prophet calls on them to both hear God’s judgment upon the nations, as well as lift their eyes on the future GOD IS CREATING.
And it’s amazing. The prophet begins in praise, extolling God’s deeds of power, wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. The powerful, the rich, those who have taken advantage with their military might and economic prowess, their beautiful cities become a HEAP, the fortified city a ruin, the palace is no more, gone forever. Those who thought themselves mighty and strong, who reigned OVER others, who thought they could do all of it on their own, they learn that even at their best THEY are not the height of power. They are not the ones in charge. God is.
As we lean in, we learn more about this God. This God is a refuge to the poor, a safe place for the needy in their distress. God doesn’t look to the powerful, but to those below, the left out and left behind, not the shiny people on television, but those we see in the shelter line, in the corner of our child’s classroom, against the wall outside the clinic in Haiti. THAT is where God lives, and shows us what the life of faithfulness looks like. It is THERE God shows us something of God’s power and might, like the heat and the driving rain.
Then we get the vision. On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food filled with marrow, well-aged wines strained clear. And, this is super language – God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all people, the sheet that is spread over the nations, the shadow of violence and division and suffering and racism and blame and anger. God WILL swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces – this feast is about so much more than food – and the disgrace of his people he will take away from the earth, for the Lord has spoken. “This is the Lord for whom we have waited,” the people cry out, “let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Brooks, reflecting on his season around Kathy and David’s table, quotes Bill Milliken, a veteran youth activist, [who] is often asked which programs turn around kids’ lives. “I still haven’t seen one program change one kid’s life,” he says. “What changes people is relationships. Somebody willing to walk through the shadow of the valley of adolescence with them.” Souls are not saved in bundles, Brooks writes. “Love is the necessary force. The problems facing this country are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It’s a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation and intimacy. Throughout this ugly year, [this table] has been my visit to a better future, more powerful than any political tract about what we need next.”
It is the link between the table on top of Isaiah’s mountain, and the table in a neighborhood in D.C, that draws us here, to this table, the communion table, Christ’s table. It is this feast to which we are invited, over space and time, with those we see every day, folks we see on Sundays or a few times a month, as well as those saints – Beth, Brian, Dave, Sue, Connie – those we love and miss so much. You’ve got some names to add to that list I’m sure.
It is this table, Christ’s table, which calls us to be a beacon of reconciliation and hope in these exhausting and brutal days. We are on the edge of an important election. But, no matter what happens Tuesday, we’ll still be here next Sunday. And we’ll come and worship and pray. And, more importantly, regardless of whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president-elect at this time next week, or if neither one of them is yet and we’ve got another whole set of problems before us, Christ will STILL be Lord of all, thanks be to God. That is good news. Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president-elect this time next week, we – you and I, and the church – have a crucial role to play in the healing that must occur in our common life. We must be better. We must listen harder. We must reach out more as we, fed at this table, go out to tend to each other. As we grieve the saints we love that we miss so much. As we WORK to love each other. Not like each other. Not notice each other. Not deal with, but LOVE one another, as Christ has loved and welcomed us.
And he invites us all to the feast. Here in a few moments, might we come, with as much humility as we can muster. Bringing all of our anxiety and fear about this election. Bringing all of our deepest hopes for the people we love and for our world. Might we bring it all, that Christ might feed us with so much more than food, that we might participate in the feeding of the world.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. “The Power of a Dinner Table,” David Brooks. The New York Times. With thanks to my brother-in-law Robert Edgecombe for sending this to me.
2. From the helpful introductory material in The Discipleship Study Bible, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008), p 931.