From the Farm to the Table - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Monday, April 23, 2018

From the Farm to the Table

Over the last decade, a movement has taken much of the niche restaurant industry by storm.  The whole farm to table concept.  Let’s be honest – it’s more of an urban thing – because around these parts, it’s not uncommon to have fresh eggs from the chickens in your back yard, venison from the pasture next door, and homegrown vegetables from the side garden.  For those in the city who want to replicate this down-home experience, they have turned away from mass produced chain restaurants to small locally owned shops who buy directly from a local farmer.  The Farm to Table Concept – where something is taken directly from the farm and placed at the table.

Our passage today is the original Farm to Table concept.  But there’s a different spin on it.  It’s a story of how a person gets from the farm to the table.  The journey, the pitfalls, the fears, the wonders, the travels.  The knowledge that the journey has been safely traveled in the past and can be navigated once again in full trust.

It is the story of the ancient Israelite Exodus from Egypt told in poetic form, appropriated for centuries by countless cultures and movements seeking salvation from slavery, oppression, and even death. Please stand with me as we read aloud together, a very familiar psalm – Psalm 23.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This psalm is so prevalent in our culture that we often gloss over the whole story here.  It’s used in movies, serves as inspiration for song lyrics, widely quoted in hospitals, deathbeds, and funerals.  The way it is used today often brings comfort to those who hear its familiar refrains.
Yet there is, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.  There is more room to plumb the depths of the meanings of this Psalm.  It is not just about the Good Shepherd, though it is.  It is not just about moving from one life to another, though it is, it is not just a promise of comfort, though it is.  It is so much more.  A pattern to follow, a guide map. A purchase order.   It is all of these things. But most importantly it’s an invitation.  The reason this psalm serves as solace to so many and is one of the most utilized is because at it’s core it calls to our very inmost being and asks each one of us to step out from where we were and join the journey.  Out of darkness and into light.  Out of bondage and into freedom.  Out of oppression and into hope.  Out of the wilderness and into the land of plenty.  Out of the farm and to the table.  Come to the Table.

I get invitations all the time.  Invitations to attend a birthday party, a school play, a fundraising dinner, a night with other dads, a committee meeting.  My email box is overflowing with invitations.  I usually accept the ones for the people I care deeply about.  So why should I accept this invitation?  What makes this invitation stand out?

I think I know, because it gives four reasons.  Four distinct reasons why I should accept this invitation.  Three of them aren’t too bad.  One of them has the potential of turning me off.  Let’s explore these four reasons.

First, Guests at God’s table have every need taken care of.

OK.  You got my attention.  Because If you are like me, we have needs.  Housing, Clothing, Transportation, Protection. Employment.  Do any of these things sound familiar?  How much rust can hold up a transmission that doesn’t shift into 4th gear?  Where is there affordable housing in a decent neighborhood?  What BOGO is being offered at the retailers today?  Will my boss give me a raise?

Do you know what’s on my table at home?  While I would love to say it’s, some chef inspired creation of seafood and salad that a millennial foodie would take a selfie with – my kitchen table is covered with a stack of bills and bank statements.  So, God’s invitation here sounds pretty inviting.  It doesn’t mention bills at all!

When the people of ancient Israel mobilized out towards the Red Sea, they left the bills behind.  They were promised – and God delivered – that their every need would be met.  They were given just enough provision for their journey.  The quail came at the right time, the manna showed up faithfully every morning, even the rocks disgorged enough water to quench the thirst of the multitudes.  And this was just the traveling foods – because the land they would head too was overflowing with milk and honey. 

Yes, their journey had its fair share of adventures, just like our lives.  But there was always the green pastures and calm waters that God led them towards.  Tranquility.  Peace.  All is well.

It’s hard for us to stay in the spot.  We wonder off like sheep.  We grow restless with the blessing given to us.  Even when we have been given much, we often complain it’s not enough.  So, the Shepherd does what shepherds do. He takes care of us. 

Ancient shepherds had two primary tools of the trade.  The rod and the staff.  Those sound very poetically comforting, don’t they?  Let’s call them what they really are in modern language:  a baseball bat and a leash.  The shepherd used the rod to club off wild animals – it’s an offensive weapon – and the crook or leash to pull the sheep back to safety – a defensive tool.  Then you get the creative shepherds like David, the author of this Psalm – he had grown rather fond of the good ol’e slingshot.  The shepherd protects us.  He feeds us, clothes us, gives us purpose and meaning.  As long as we stay close to him, as long as the people of the Exodus stayed close to God, they would never have any want.  The record of the ceremony celebrating the end to the exodus and their settling into a new land joyfully recalls, according to Deuteronomy 2:7: The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

My gut reaction?  Sign me up.  I want to join this party!

What’s the second reason to attend listed in this invitation? Guests at God’s Table are not alone in dark times.

There have been a few times when I have been truly scared.  I remember driving down the narrow winding mountain road one dark Saturday night.  The damp dark fog at that late hour hung so thick that windshield wipers were required to keep the moisture from condensing on the windshield.  Visibility was zero – even with the low beams on, only a few feet of white line could be seen on the edge of the highway.  The upside of this darkness was that the normally visible deep canyons and rugged gorges were hidden.  The downside – I couldn’t tell if I was headed towards them or not.  What would have been a typical 20-minute descent to the valley floor took closer to 90 minutes of white-knuckled driving.  I was exhausted.

The ancient Israelites felt this exhaustion.  The consequences of choices resulted in a wandering through the dark shadows of wilderness for 40 years.  Although the promised provision always came through, the hope of emerging from this circle dwindled.  When hope disappears, despair creeps in.

You may know what despair is.  You may know what it feels like to walk alone.  You may claw at the darkness, scrambling to escape the situations, the oppressive doors seemingly closing in on you like the garbage chute scene in the original Star Wars.  Will it ever stop in time?  In that movie a simple droid overrode a command.  What had been unceremoniously dumped into the garbage was pulled out and rescued.  Our rescuer knows what dark times are.  Our rescuer actually dumpster dived himself to join us, so we would not be alone.  This is one of the most powerful messages of the Easter story.  That Jesus Christ chose to endure the garbage of this world alone, so that we would never be alone.

My gut reaction?  Sign me up.  I want to join this party!

As you read this Psalm, there is a noticeable shift.  These first few verses have related to the Lord as our Shepherd.  The last few connect to the Lord as our Host.  The first few verse retell the journey of the past and invite us to share in its heritage.  This is a psalm of trust, of confidence.  It reassures us that the road leads to success.  The climax of the Exodus was the fruit of the promised land.  And so, this imagery continues.

This is where the table is set.  This is where the exploits of the conquests were retold.  This is like the Royal Buffett down the street – the food never runs out.  The land of plenty.  This was the party that we signed up for.
And then God throws in the plot twist that we didn’t see coming.  We should have seen, because it was foreshadowed long enough – but sense our eyes were on ourselves in our own issues we missed it.

Guests at God’s table have their comfort zone challenged (vs 5)

I used to sub on a regular rotating basis through 6 different elementary schools.  Every other Wednesday, I knew I was assigned to one particular school.  The first day I went in, I quickly became embarrassed – as I had actually reported at the wrong location.  But over the years, I eventually learned the layout, discovered peoples’ names, and felt more like one of the crew.  I quickly learned that the regulars had a routine – especially at lunch time.  While there was no assigned seating in a teacher lunchroom, everyone had their particular spot.  There was a smaller table off to the side, where I often sat.  It took about a year to get invited to scooch up my chair to the big table.

And then, my mischievous streak broke in.  I decided to create a little havoc.  I intentionally sat in the seat of one of the most vocal teachers.  That first week, she walked in, glanced at me, and quietly sat in a different spot – not saying a word.  That forced everyone else to shift their routine.   The next week I did it again.  It soon became a competition to who could get their first.  One week, I sat somewhere else – but moved her chair.
Now to be honest, this was all in good fun and games.  But it illustrated a point.  We all get used to having some things certain ways.  They are comfortable.  They are peaceful, tranquil, still waters.  But there are times when God wants us to get out of our comfort zone and to have our eyes opened.  For those of us who have been in church all our lives or for many years, we have forgotten what it means to be uncomfortable before God.  Where we have questions of, “where do I sit, am I even worthy enough to be in God’s house” – and the answer is yes, right here, by the way.
When we accept God’s invitation to his party – he might seat us not only in the presence of our enemies – but right next to one too.  Can you saw AWKWARD?  Evidently God didn’t read the Guide to Dinner Party Etiquette book – because in formal dinner parties you are supposed to keep those people separate from each other.

That’s not how the playbook of Jesus reads.  He takes everyone off the farm and puts them at the table.  He doesn’t care what farm they came from, how dirty that farmer is, how much money that farmer has.  He just puts them at the table.

How can I stand to look at my enemy and be forced to make table talk with them?  Jesus brought people who didn’t get along to every party he went to.  He forced them to sit next to each other.  He made them see each other’s humanity – flaws and strengths.  He created tension at the dinner party – another thing etiquette says you shouldn’t do – because he discussed religion and politics!

But Jesus knew something that we often forget.  That each of us have come from our own wilderness experience and each of us needs to know that we are welcome at his table to receive restoration.  Our enemy is only our enemy when we are focused on our desires instead of God’s love.  This is where forgiveness breaks in.  This is why Paul teaches that if anyone have a conflict with someone else in the church body, that prior to coming to sit down at the Lords’ Table and participate in communion, that they should actively forgive the other person.  The table is a place of trust.
And it is in this atmosphere of forgiveness at the table that we are let do the next point.

Guests at God’s Table Discover their true place.

When I used to work at the port of Los Angeles, I would frequent this little covered wagon dinette right off the highway.  When I walked in, the host automatically seated me at my favorite table, set down a cool glass of iced Dr. Pepper and put in my regular order.  I had a place just for me.

That’s sort of the way it works at God’s table – but not really.  Because my place is not a regular seat.  It’s not getting the same meal every day.  My place is not actually at the table but serving the table.  The table is for guests.  For parched people coming in from an exhausting day.  For weary travelers in this game of life.  I don’t need a special place at the table anymore, because this is now my permanent home.

If I invited you over for dinner, I would talk to you, take your coats, ask to get you a drink – pay close attention to your needs. I don’t necessarily do that with my own kids.  They live there.  They know where things are.  It is there permanent home forever.

And this is what the invitation of Psalm 23 is really inviting us too.  A permanent home, a place where there is no more worry or concern because God will take care of it all for you.

God picks the seating arrangements around the table
for a reason; have you found yours?

I believe that the reason God seats us with the people that we encounter is because he is teaching us all who we can be.  Through our interactions with others, that we might not normally associate with, we learn more about ourselves.

For years, universities would pair up dorm roommates with the intention of exposing young adults to people different than them.  I was paired up with a basketball player from the west and a hipster from the east.  With the advent of social media, incoming freshman started picking their own roommates before arriving to the dorms – which resulted in a lot more segregation and misunderstanding.  One university this week announced they would not let freshman pick their roommates anymore – because students were not discovering their true potential by avoiding challenging issues.

So, while you are in the middle of trying to get out of a challenging situation, stop for a minute and ask God what plan and purpose he has for you.  You may just find out that he is asking you to extend an invitation from the Farm to the Table.

Jesus welcomes the unwanted

Psalm 23 is an invitation – to all those who are ostracized, unwanted, despise and rejected, to join Jesus at the table.  It parallels the story of the great banquet found in Luke 14 – where all of upper society spurned the invitation of the landlord.  So, he opened up the banquet to everyone that lived on the streets – the poor, the orphan, the blind, and the lame.

Jesus wants you.  He will bring you in from the field and to the table.
Come to the table.