a sermon on Isaiah 25:6-10a and Mark 8:1-10
preached on October 4, 2015, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens was not the first to show off how perspectives of the world could change radically based on where you started looking, for even the prophet Isaiah knew how to paint a picture of radically different worlds. Our beautiful reading today, for example, with its exalted and joyful view of the future comes only a chapter after Isaiah proclaimed judgment upon the people of Israel:
Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
This image of the worst of times is quickly replaced, though, with a vision of something new, a very clear word of hope for something different ahead.
On this mountain,
the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
The wonder and power of God will transform the desolation of destruction and exile into the wonder of new life. This feast on this mountain will be only the beginning of the transformation happening there, for this is the place where God will destroy “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations,” and “swallow up death forever.” Mourning and sorrow and crying will find no home on this mountain, for “then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces and take away the disgrace of all people.” This mountain, then, will be the place where rejoicing begins, where the wonder of God’s justice will become real, where the promise of God’s peace takes hold. After many years of waiting, the people will rejoice, for God’s salvation will have come, and “the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
Isaiah’s words are filled with such incredible promise and hope for a world that needs to change, but these words of hope are rightfully tempered by the broader context of the prophet’s message—and the deep pain and sorrow that keeps emerging in our world. Even when we want to call forth rejoicing, we do not have to look far to see how violence and bloodshed tear our world apart. World powers step in to longstanding conflicts claiming that they are bringing peace, only to find that they have come to target places where they can drive people even further apart. Women, men, and children are displaced from their homes and lives in so many places by violence, forced to live in difficult and challenging conditions for months and years as they await a new home. Week after week, we hear reports of more and more mass shootings, as people who want to do others harm find easy ways to access guns and weapons and open fire on students, teachers, and others, and the rest of us wonder if our school, our workplace, our home may be next even as we become numb to the practices of our culture that allow these nightmares to continue to become reality. We can barely even begin to imagine for tomorrow a mountain like what Isaiah describes where peace and hope reign supreme, where a feast of rich food will overshadow the darkness of death, where tears and mourning will be a thing of the past, where God can and will make all things new.
But this is only the tale of one feast—a promised feast, a grand meal that still lies ahead, a dream of something more that has not yet been realized. Our reading from Mark this morning tells us of another incredible feast, a feast where the promises of something new became very real, a feast that has already made our world a different place.
By this point in his ministry, Jesus had become known for making things different for the people here and now. He offered words of power in his preaching and teaching, suggesting that a different way of life was taking hold in the here and now. He touched people with healing and hope, transforming lives that had been lived in shadows and uncertainty through the simple touch of his love for everyone. And he brought together fishermen, tax collectors, and others who would have never imagined that they would matter, telling them that they could be a part of all the things that God was doing to make the world a different and better place. At every step of the way, Jesus made it clear that making things different was not a matter for another day and age—he was the kind of person who made things change now.
When he looked out over the crowd who had followed him for three days, listening and learning from his words and actions, he realized that needed something to eat. He could have left himself only to worry about their spiritual well-being, but their physical needs were pretty important to him, too. He was faced with a no-win situation: if he had sent them home to eat, they would have just fainted along the way; and if he had suggested that they just stick around a little longer, they would have kept on being “hungry,” that strange and difficult combination of hunger and anger that is so very difficult to break! To top it all off, the options for feeding this crowd were limited: they had nothing to eat, there was no store nearby, and they couldn’t even call in a food truck or catering service to make a meal for everyone!
Still, Jesus insisted that he and the disciples could feed this crowd of four thousand people. He gathered the seven loaves of bread that the disciples had, instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, gave thanks for the meal, and distributed the seven loaves to everyone there. As they shared the meal, they discovered a few small fish and distributed these to the crowd, too. By the miraculous power of God, this meal was enough to satisfy everyone. The four thousand people who shared this simple feast found themselves on a mountain much like Isaiah had promised, with a meal perhaps lacking in well-aged wines and marrow but filled with the wonder of an impromptu banquet. The cleanup from this feast was even of note—while they had started with practically nothing, the disciples picked up seven baskets full of leftovers! When it was all over, Jesus sent the crowd on its way as he and the disciples set out for another region, but they left this incredible feast forever changed by what they had shared.
The tales of these two feasts told on this World Communion Sunday can give us insight into how we approach the work of living in faithfulness and peace around our world. When we are tempted to live our lives of faith focused on transforming the present, Isaiah opens our eyes to a holy mountain yet to come with a feast of rich food and the full wonder of new life. And when we fall into the trap of focusing only on the new life that is yet to come, Jesus reminds us that we can and should and must do something about the hungers of this world, too. This tale of two feasts is the story of our lives of faith, lives lived in-between little glimpses of new life today and the fullness of the new creation to come, words and actions that bear the wonder of how God has already transformed our world in Jesus Christ even as that transformation is not yet complete.
So today as we gather at this table, remembering more than usual the millions, even billions, who gather at similar tables all around the world on days like today, we remember especially these two feasts even as we think of so many others: the meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night of his arrest, a gathering at table on the evening of the resurrection where the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, ordinary weeknight meals shared with friends and family where we have been surprised by the presence of God in our midst, incredible dinners with luscious spreads of grand fare that leave us giving thanks to God for the wonderful creation of food and the people who prepare it, even simple, uncomplicated meals that manage to give us more sustenance than we could ever imagine.
As we share this feast today, may we remember all these feasts so that we might join in God’s work of bringing hope and food and new life to our world today, tomorrow, and every day as we wait, watch, and work for the new creation to be made real among us until we join that feast of new life on God’s holy mountain. Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.