Scripture: Psalm 23
This week I was talking to one of my mentors and I asked him: “How does one become wise?”
He said to me: “By creating space for yourself and those around you. Space to reflect. And think. And be.”
It sounds so simple but I have been thinking about it all week. One becomes wise by creating space. Not by stifling ourselves. Not by forcing an idea. Not by strong-arming others. And not by being confined by expectations.
Wisdom requires an opening up. A letting go of the narrow blinders that have skewed our vision.
This opening up is something that we see time and time again in the stories of Jesus.
People were always trying to back him into a corner.
The Pharisees brought before him a woman who had committed adultery, quoting the Law of Moses, saying that it commanded them to punish her. “What should we do?” They asked him.
Instead of answering, Jesus bends down and starts writing mysteriously on the ground. It seems like there are two choices at hand: to punish the woman, or not.
And then Jesus stands up, choosing a third way, saying, “If any of you is without sin, let them cast the first stone.”
And suddenly Jesus opens us up, and invites in a new way of thinking. Not in terms of judgment and punishment, but in terms of honesty and humility.
When an expert in the law asks Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” It seems like he is looking for specific directions: How far does my neighborhood extend?
And then, instead of answer the person’s question, Jesus chooses a third way by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
By sharing this story, Jesus invites the man to think of loving his neighbor not in terms of geographical coordinates but in terms of inclusivity and love.
Time and time again, Jesus’ teachings crack us open. They invite us to let go of our binary, either-or thinking and empower us to create space and envision new ways forward.
I was thinking about the ways that Jesus’ teachings defy expectations this week when I read the 23rd Psalm.
Disappointment, fear and grief are palpable in this text. A hot, dry merciless wilderness surrounds the psalmist. Enemies press in.
Faced with these enemies, we might expect certain expectations or hopes about how God will respond. Perhaps, God will say: “I’ll smite those guys!” But rather than mentioning anything about smiting, God says in today’s text: “Let’s eat!” A rather surprising response, isn’t it?
Psalm 23 reads, “Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.”
Have you ever thought about what it means?
It seems a rather surprising line following a verse about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. After all, in such a place, wouldn’t we want to be as far away from our enemies as possible?
Just like Jesus’ teachings … where we expect one answer, and then we get another.
The modern day text reads: God makes a banquet for us in the presence of our enemies.
The Psalm doesn’t read, God will make, but rather, God makes. God makes a banquet … God prepares a table …
God prepares it right now — in the midst of the dark valleys that we walk through, in the midst of the evil we experience.
What we find is that God doesn’t meet us on the other side of difficulties but smack dab in the midst of them.
God meets us and says, “Let’s eat”
I don’t expect that response because naturally, in places of hard times, it’s normal to have the response of fight or flight … to want to attack and destroy … or to run and be by ourselves and hide under the sheets.
But God invites us to participate in a third way. “Let’s eat,” God says.
One article I read this week said that in the face of loss or tragedy, one of the most important things, religious traditions can do is to draw people together, to encourage people to be with one another. And that often happens in the form of dropping off casseroles and eating.
In the face of hard times, it seems like our inclination is to ponder again and again, “Why do bad things happen?” While an important philosophical and theological question, I don’t think that it is always a helpful one to focus on. I have found a better question to be: Where is God?
Where is God in this moment? Where is God in this Scripture?
God is in the eating.
One story of eating that I have found particularly powerful is one of Nadia Bolz-Weber, a well-known pastor of a church in Colorado. All pastors — Nadia — included are required to go through an internship as a student chaplain at a hospital. Nadia recalls her first experience as a student chaplain in the trauma room. She walked into the ER where she found a motionless man in his 50s on a table in a coma. “What do I do?” She thought.
One nurse was cutting his clothes off, and another was hooking up things while a Doctor was putting on gloves and Nadia leaned over to the nurse closest to her and said – everyone seems to know what their job is but what am I doing here? She looks at Nadia’s badge and says You’re job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room while we do our jobs.
Then later in the little white room with just enough space for four love seats and as many boxes of tissue Nadia would sit with people in their loss. Filled not with answers, but with love. She would bring them water, make calls, and pester the doctors to give them more information.
Nadia soon learned that, in moments of difficulty, all she had to offer was her presence, a glass of water and a cliff bar.
Where is God?
God is in the eating and in the drinking and in the love that Nadia shared as bore witness to fellow brother and sisters’ struggles.
God is in the eating. I wonder if God’s invitation to the table is one meant to help us create space. I wonder if God knew that we would be prone to anger and thinking cruel thoughts, if God knew that we would also be prone to hiding out and feeling helpless and so God invites to communal eating as a way to call us out of our isolation and alienation. That in our breaking of bread, we might remember the ways that we are connected to one another and connected to God.
Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.
We remember the night that Jesus gathered for a banquet in the presence of his enemies. The night that Jesus gathered for a meal with his friends, friends who included those who would betray and deny him.
Jesus gathered with friends who would soon be experiencing fear and grief and danger and uncertainty. With friends who lived in a time as violent and faithless as our own. With friends who would experience their own dark roads.
And on that night, as Jesus prepared to walk down the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus took the bread, and raised it up, giving thanks to you oh God, and broke it, saying this is the body of Christ, given for you. And on that same night, Jesus took the cup and raised it up, giving thanks to you O God, and blessed it, saying that this is the cup of salvation and that when we eat this bread and drink this fruit of the vine, we celebrate that Christ is present among us.
In our eating, in our gathering at the table, in our taking of Communion, we celebrate the redemptive power of Christ’s love. We remember how, even from the cross on which he hung, Jesus did not stop loving the enemy, even those who nailed him to it. And despite human violence and fear, death did not have the final word. And after three days, Christ defeated death. Appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ was made known in the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the wine, reminding us that it is here at the Communion Table where we are fed for the days and weeks ahead. Fed by Christ’s story and body, we are called to be a people who know that not even death can separate us from the love of God and thus we can fearlessly face this world’s valley of the shadow of death knowing that there is love stronger than the grave.
And so as we look around the world and ask ourselves, where is God?
God is not in the violence. Or the smiting. Or the cruelty.
God is in the eating. God is in the ways that, even in places of tragedy, we share cliff bars and casserole with stranger and friends alike. God is in the way that love conquers hate and death has no sting and forgiveness is more powerful than violence. God is in the stubborn and persist ways that even 2000 years after Jesus came to earth we continue to celebrate the simple meal of Communion because of its eternal truth: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is with us now. Amen.