The homecoming

DelmerChilton
07/23/2012

The homecoming

Lectionary blog for July 29, 2012 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Texts: 2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-18, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

I was recently invited to preach for a "Homecoming" at a former parish, Friedens Lutheran Church in Gibsonville, N.C. I have to confess that I said yes partly out of ego and partly out of a desire for some good North Carolina home cooking at the after service "covered dish dinner" (what Midwestern Lutherans call a "hot dish"). When it comes to congregational dinners, rural and small-town Lutherans in North and South Carolina are much more southern than they are Lutheran.

We're talking about fried chicken and country ham biscuits and pork barbecue and fresh boiled corn and creamed potatoes and field peas and cornbread and greens and squash and thick tomatoes the color of blood and sliced as thick as a hockey puck. And cakes and pies and fruit cobblers and ...oh my; my cholesterol just went up a few points writing that Faulknerian sentence. (Oh yeah, the iced tea -- thick and brown and cold and sweet enough to rot your teeth.)

There is something about a good church dinner that reminds us of what the kingdom of God is supposed to be like. Everybody's there, even the ones who aren't there very often, or who don't like the pastor, or who are at odds with others in the congregation about this, that or the other thing that is of vital importance right at this moment, but which will be forgotten in a year or two.

In the face of the "Fellowship Meal" in the "Fellowship Hall," all of that seems to fade away and there we are together, sampling each other's food and admiring each other's children and asking after each other's health and listening to each other's stories and enjoying each other's company.

In the southern evangelical churches of my youth, we didn't really have Feasts or Festivals in the liturgical calendar sense, just Christmas and Easter really. But we had "Feast Days" anyway. We found many opportunities to celebrate with a feast. Homecoming with "dinner on the grounds;" numerous family reunions, held at the church after service and everyone invited (and would have come anyway, since we were all related by marriage or something); the first Sunday night of a revival, the last night of vacation Bible school, etc., etc.

We knew instinctively that eating together in that way was something the congregation was supposed to do. And we knew that it was about more than food, it was about more than good fellowship and camaraderie and community spirit. Deep in an unarticulated part of our souls, we knew it was about God, and about growing in God's grace and about growing as the body of Christ, and about remembering that we were more than just some folk who liked to get together to sing hymns and listen to sermons; we were God’s children gathered around God’s table. We are a people of the feast.

This connection between God and community and feasting is reflected in several of our Scripture lessons for today. In Second Kings we read a story about Elisha and the feeding of a hundred men with a limited amount of food. It is a parallel story to the feeding of the 5,000, even down to there being a collection of leftovers.

Psalm 145:15-16 reminds us that, "The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing."

There are many things going on in the Gospel lesson, but one of the important ones is a reminder that God is a god of abundance and blessing, a god who calls upon God’s people to be a community of abundance and blessing as well.

For a few years I traveled the country as a church consultant, working with congregations from Seattle to Savannah, from Northern New England to Southern California. They were also across the board denominationally, from high-church Episcopalians to low-church Quakers. There was one thing all those congregations had in common; they liked to eat together. The real differences between them were not matters of geography or liturgy or theology. Their differences had to do with who was invited to eat with them. The congregations who vigorously pursued opening the feast to everyone, especially those who took the feast outside the walls into the community, were healthy congregations. The congregations who were mostly interested in eating with each other, and who only grudgingly allowed others a seat at the table, were dying a slow death.

Our calling today is to open our hearts, open our doors, open our tables. Invite one and all to join the feast of God’s goodness. And when we are afraid that what we have is too little, we must remember the little boy and offer up what we have, trusting God’s abundance and blessing to make it enough.

Amen and amen.

Talkback:

• What is your "after service" tradition?
• How can you extend the offer to feast together?

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Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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