Presiding Bishop's Sermon

When was the last time you heard a line like this?  “Drive on over here and get a feast for free!  Free food and drink, right here!  Nothing but the best for you!  The banquet’s right here!”  Most of us would probably scream “infomercial” and change the channel.  And most of us would probably opt to pay for a meal we could choose.

The reality in Haiti right now is that there is little food at any price.  Little food is being imported, and little produce is making its way from the countryside into Port-au-Prince.  High energy biscuits and MREs are arriving in relief shipments, but there aren’t enough to feed everyone, and they’re not getting out into all the communities that are hungry.  There was one powerful story in the New York Times a couple of days ago, about a child with a big plate of food who was taking it back to share with his brothers and sisters.  When he got the plate filled, he ate just one bean before setting out.  The truly amazing thing about Haiti right now is the fact that human beings are doing whatever they can to care for each other – sharing what little food, water and shelter they have.

Isaiah is repeating the ancient cry of Wisdom to turn in and eat at her table.  Wisdom’s feast is set with bread and wine and oil and milk and honey and the word that satisfies.  This table will feed the hungry in body and in soul.  When more partake of the feast she sets, fewer will go in hungry in places like Haiti and New Orleans and even Richmond.  When I went looking for some information on hunger here, the first thing that popped up on Google was www.richmondgoodlife.com  That site includes a wide range of ministries that feed and house and support people who are hungry for the truly good life, including St. Paul’s Micah Ministry, right here.  Micah invites adults into coaching children on their reading – children not just hungry to learn, but hungry for the love and regard of other adults.

When Jesus charges his disciples to go and make more like them, by baptizing and teaching, he is talking about this feast, the banquet table that wisdom sets.  The Gospels call Jesus the prophet of Wisdom and the child of Wisdom, and much of his ministry is about inviting anyone who is hungry to come and share the feast.  He reminds the Samaritan woman that he’s got living water that will slake her thirst long after the bucket she just filled is empty.  He tells his followers about bread that sustains and satisfies, for the long haul.  He says, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”

What’s most essential about the fare on this table?  What would you serve up to a hungry visitor?  What’s on the menu?  Ephesians says it’s about how we come to the table, living together in one body, with humility and patience, remembering that we are all children of the same God.  When we live that way, we do indeed experience a feast.  We discover that there is plenty to satisfy the body, that God has given what we need.  And when we really know that, there’s a lot less resistance to distributing that abundance to each one according to his or her need.

Jesus offers this shorthand menu:  “Love God with all you are and have, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  When we live into that, when we eat that meal, we do indeed begin to discover a feast.  God’s word does accomplish what is intended, and prospers in that for which God sends it.  Turn in here, and eat – no, feast!

What meal is being served up for the Diocese of Virginia right now?  What are you expecting of this feast?  The very fact that www.richmondgoodlife.com has as many entries as it does says that a whole lot of people need an invitation to this banquet.  And not just people we might call homeless, because we’re all homeless and hungry until we find our home and sustenance and life in God.

Some of us are more conscious of that homelessness, or restlessness as Augustine calls it, than others.  We’re all restless, or should be, particularly when we notice the gap between the banquet table and the hungry and homeless around us.  This diocese has a remarkable opportunity right now to look at that gap in new ways.  That’s one of the great gifts of a new leader.  Shannon’s job is to hold up before you the restlessness and homelessness around here, and challenge this whole community to get the word out, to pass out invitations, to pull chairs up to the banquet table.  The gap or chasm between the world and the table is supposed to unsettle us.  Once we notice it, it should.

I met a remarkable man recently, who talked about restlessness in his own life.  I broke a tooth and went looking for a new dentist.  The referral sent me to somebody who immediately reminded me of the bishop of Jerusalem, both because of his accent and his evident and deeply peaceful joy.  In one of the brief opportunities when my mouth was empty in the next hour, I asked him if his birth language was Arabic.  “No,” he said, “Farsi, I was born in a Jewish ghetto in Tehran.  I never saw electricity until I was 6.  There was no running water.  The sanitation system was an open sewer down the middle of the street, that got flushed out once a month.”

His task as a child was to haul a bucket of water every morning, up 23 steps so his mother could heat it and his brothers and sisters could wash their faces and hands.  Once a week they went to a public bath.  His father had received a scholarship to go to school here in the U.S. when he was 11, but the death of his own father a week before he was to go meant he had to stay home to take care of his mother and sister – at the age of 11. 

This father grew up and sent his son to a French Roman Catholic school for his first six years, and then for the second six years, through high school, to an Islamic school.  When he graduated he asked his son what he had learned.  The dentist reported, “There is some good and some bad in each of the three religious traditions.”  His father then said to him, “You were born poor, and Jewish, and male, and with a certain color skin.  You had no choice about any of those things.  What you can choose is how you will be in this world.”

Choose how you will be in this world – that’s another take on Wisdom’s invitation, “turn in here and eat.  Don’t spend your money for that which doesn’t satisfy.”

What will you choose, here in the Diocese of Virginia?  What will be on your menu?  There will be changes as you’re invited to try new things and new ways.  There will be hope and dreams and stunning new possibilities.  There will be challenges, as priorities shift and the communities around you change.  What will you choose from the banquet table? 

My new dentist said one more remarkable thing, “I have great stress management.  Whenever I get anxious, I close my eyes and remember that ghetto, with the open sewer and hauling the bucket up 23 steps.  Nothing else compares with that, and I calm right down.”  What will you choose – the bread of life or the bread of anxiety?

The world needs this feast.  Inviting people to the table needs the gifts of all the people of this diocese, and all the partners you can find, and it needs humility and gentleness and patience.  It’s not worth buying the bread of anxiety when you can choose this bread for free.  This bread can feed you, and it can feed the people of Haiti and Richmond.  Will you turn in here and eat?  The maitre d’ is ready and waiting:  “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”