What differentiates us from the beasts of the field? I would say one distinguishing feature is table manners. There is a certain etiquette at the table that we as baptized humans are expected to have that animals are not. Even our little ones are expected to develop their table manners. Our little ones move from a high chair to a table chair when they are able to eat without smearing tomato sauce in their hair. Learning table manners is part of learning the language of the body.
This table– though open to all baptized adults and infants– is not a buffet where you can grab and eat whatever you want whenever you want; this table is a civilized table. It is a table with manners. Here we eat and drink with other image-bearers. This means we are patient, gentle, kind, and loving toward our neighbor. The wine that spills from the shaky hands of our little ones is a sign that God is growing our congregation and teaching us table manners. This is our Lord’s table and Jesus loves to see little ones learning to eat and drink. We must be reminded this morning that in so many ways we are like them. Though our outward manners reveal stable hands when we grab our forks, inside we can at times be clumsy; overly confident; self-assured; pursuing selfish ambitions.
If you come to the table too certain of your table manners, then you might be the type of people that Paul constantly criticizes. But if you come to this table too certain of the Christ who died for you, then you come as those found worthy to eat with the Master of the house. And what is the basis of good table manners: Christ. Is Christ gain for you in life or in death, as it was for Paul? If he is, then prepare your lips to taste bread and wine, and prepare to share a meal with fellow brothers and sisters who are learning day by day what good table manners look like.
I often sit at my desk on Monday morning after a tiring and refreshing Sunday, and say to myself “Here I go again!” I just finished preaching and leading a liturgical service the day before, fellowshiped in the afternoon, and on Monday morning I am ready to begin that process all over again. I hear many pastors take Mondays off, but on Mondays I am on. I am motivated to find the best resources, the best applications to feed my congregation the following Sunday.
Preaching through Luke this Lenten Season has been part of this motivation. Luke has become dear to me. His attention to details, his emphasis on the Word-authority of Jesus, and his unique description in chapter 15 make Luke unique among the Gospel writers. What is in chapter 15? Chapter 15 describes–among many other things–the lostness of the son, and the found-ness of the Father. The Father finds what He lost; the Son lost what He had, and the elder brother belittled the feast of the found one.
Preaching through this section is filled with remarkable challenges. What to emphasize? What is central to this text? Father or sons? Or both? How is Jesus connecting the lostness of Israel to this text? What is the significance of the feast imageries in the reception of the prodigal son? What does repentance look like? In what way is the Father’s profound forgiveness like our heavenly Father’s forgiveness? How is the elder brother’s reaction much like ours? How is his reaction much like the Jews of the first century? Suffice to say, these are only initial questions to pose in this ocean of beauty and grace.
Once again I am confronted with the glorious task of savoring this text as much as it is possible before I can give my parishioners a sample of it as well. May this sermon do justice to this remarkable and rich passage of Holy Scriptures.
The topic of food is one that comes up quite often in this season of Lent. Providence Church believes fasting is biblical, but we have not issued a fast for the Church. So we have not approved any any practice over another. Individual practices or the lack thereof are left to the discretion of the individual family during the week. Rather, as a Church, we focus on the worship observance of Lent in preaching, singing, and colors. We don’t want any Lenten food factions; no eating of a particular brand or a particular type of food will give you any greater special grace in God’s sight. Similarly, no giving up of a particular food or habit will get you closer to God unless it is grounded in the act of repentance and good works towards God and man.
In this Lenten Season I want you to remember that “Christians have only one food law: Take, eat; this is my body. Only one food unites us, the bread and wine of the Lord’s table.”
We can have all the diversity on our nutritional choices, but at this table there should be no division or doubt that this is God’s food for us.
In these few verses in St. Luke, the writer plays on the animal vocabulary to describe two opposing groups. In the process it also echoes the exodus motif.
In this text, Herod is described as a fox. A fox is known for its cunning and deceitful ways. Herod wants Jesus out of his way. As N.T. Wright observes, “Herod is a predator.” The Pharisees come along and ask Jesus to flee the fox and exodus from the town. On the other hand, Jesus describes his purpose in gathering Israel to a hen protecting her own.
Herod wants to kick Jesus out and Jesus wants to kick demons out (exorcism). Jesus wants to gather his brood, but they will not listen. They do not want Jesus’ hen-like protection, and so they will suffer destruction. Their home will be left desolate. The glory will exodus from Israel’s temple. Jesus will journey out of the region, so that He may depart to Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus will work on day one and two, but on the third day He will depart and cry It is finished.
Robert Capon once wrote that “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.” Babette’s Feast is Robert Capon on screen. It is a delicious blend of humor and smells; sights and music. It is virtually impossible to contemplate the movie without considering its vastly religious and sacramental implications.
The 1987 movie is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. The characters–two elderly maiden sisters–Martine and Philippa, continue the work of their deceased father, who was a prophet/pastor figure of a small Christian sect. After the death of their father, the two sisters immerse themselves in a life of charity while carrying their father’s work to a decreasing and dying number of followers. The two beautiful young women never married. Their father’s vision kept them from pursuing “worldly concerns.”
First, Lorenz Lowenhielm, a dissolute young cadet, in summer exile at his aunt’s Jutland home as a result of parental punishment for unbecoming behavior, is captivated by Martine’s beauty, has an idealistic vision of a higher, purer life and wins an introduction to the pious circle where he hopes to make her acquaintance. But he soon finds himself at a loss in the rarified atmosphere and leaves, claiming that some things are impossible. The “world,” he announces, will be his heritage and he vows to achieve all worldly success, a feat which he duly accomplishes. Next, Achille Papin, a famous opera singer, finds himself on the remote coastland in search of rest. The solitude plunges him into a bleak mood which is relieved only upon hearing Philippa’s voice raised in angelic hymnody. Believing that her voice is destined to thrill the heart of Europe, Papin offers himself as vocal tutor and educates his pupil in the operatic repertoire. The frank sensuality of the musical lyrics soon convinces his pupil that she must terminate the lessons and Papin returns to the continent without her.
Years later, during the French Civil War, Papin sends them Babette. Babette has lost both husband and son and is now seeking refuge from war in the small island.
Babette’s work ethic and great culinary gifts bring a certain happiness and economic stability to the sisters. Babette’s role in the small community–especially among the few devout–is that of a peace-bringer. The remaining disciples cease to seek peace and the quarrels increase. Babette brings shalom to the community as she embraces a spirit-figure restoring and putting broken pieces together.
In order to reconcile and restore peace to the saints, the two sisters decide to offer a meal in celebration of her father’s one-hundredth birthday ( had he been alive). As the date draws near, Babette receives news that she has won 10,000 francs in the French lottery. The sisters are certain that Babette will now return to France and live off her new prize. Instead, Babette decides to use her lottery wins to prepare a feast of a lifetime for the hundredth birthday celebration.
Babette, the culinary artist, goes to France and returns with all the ingredients (living and dead). Unaware of the strange ingredients to the feast–turtles, live quail, and wine–the sisters and the disciples decide to make a vow that they will lose their sense of taste and smell during the feast.
As the guests pour in and as each course is served and each glass filled, the vow becomes harder and harder to fulfill. Each bite and each sip bring them new life and vitality, which begins to undo the bitterness and restore the small community. The quarrels are turned into joy and the memories are turned into frameable moments in their history.
The movie ends with a heavenly picture of the saints singing around a well. The well, the very biblical image of wars and wedding bells, become the symbol of joy and restoration, sins forgiven and relationships healed.
Babette’s Feast provides an image of the holy. The holy is not other-worldly, it is the entrance of the heavenly into the world. The feast becomes a celebration of life. Bread and wine are not merely earthly nourishment, but the relentless call of grace to those who are afar off. Come and taste the feast.