Note from CM: I love it when I hear or read a sermon that stops me in my tracks and wakes me up to the radical love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. Like a bucket of cold water in the face, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermon from Good Shepherd Sunday (after a very disturbing week of violence and fear in the U.S.) did that for me. I encourage you to read the entire sermon, but here is its climactic ending, which leads us to the Lord’s Table, desperate for mercy and divine protection.
* * *
…in the 23rd Psalm God does a counterintuitive thing when it comes to our very real fear of enemies. God doesn’t say “Let’s go smite them” and God doesn’t say “Let’s analyze the data ” God says “let’s eat!”
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
I don’t know what to tell you this week. And I’m too scared to be anyone’s shepherd. I can’t lead you anywhere, But I can gather with you around this table – a table God has set in the presence of everything that attempts to snatch away our peace. A table set in the presence of enemies and fear and evil. I have nothing to say. There is no clever theology or social commentary that can take away the sting of this last week. But I can gather with you around this table and I can tell you the story. I have no stories of my own…, but around this table I can again tell you the story of how God has come to dwell with us, to make us people of God.
I can tell you of how the God of Israel protected his people and walked among them. I can tell you how this same God took on flesh and was born in a time as violent and faithless and terrifying as our own and this Jesus of Nazareth was so full of grace and truth and love for his enemies that he was killed by those he came to save. And I can tell you how on the night before he died he gathered around another table with some real screw-ups and held up bread and said it was his body given for forgiveness and how he held up a cup and said it was for salvation and that when we eat this bread and drink this cup we do so in remembrance of him.
And I can tell you that even from the cross on which he was hung he did not stop loving the enemy – even those who nailed him to it and I can tell you that despite human fear and violence, death did not have the final word and that after three days Jesus defeated death itself and then he again gathered his friends around a table from which he fed them breakfast and then he said for them to feed his sheep. And as his sheep, it is at this table where he desires we be fed. Fed by his story and his body so that we can be the people of God who know that not even death can separate us from the love of God, and thus we can fearlessly face this world’s valleys of the shadow of death knowing that there is a love stronger than the grave.
Knowing that Love conquers hate and that death has no sting and Forgiveness is more powerful than violence and that despite it all it is always always worth it to love God and love people and to continue to gather around the tables God has set – so that we can behold who we really are and become what we receive in a world that like us, so desperately needs to be loved – and not feared. AMEN.