Sunday’s sermon: Table of Refuge, Table of Grace

Text used – Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

  • There’s a show on the Food Network called “Cutthroat Kitchen.”[1] Some of you may be familiar with it.
    • Hosted by Alton Brown
    • One of those reality competition shows for chefs
    • Basic format
      • 4 chefs compete in 3 rounds
      • Each round is themed (“pub food,” “fish and chips,” “red velvet cake,” etc.)
      • Chefs have 1 minute to gather all the ingredients that they need for their dish
      • Chefs get 30 mins. to prepare their dish
      • Chef with the least pleasing dish is eliminated after each round
    • Twist
      • At the beginning of the episode, each chef is given $25,000. Throughout that episode, the chefs are given the opportunity to use that $25,000 to buy items and restrictions to sabotage their competitors – things like …
        • Cooking with one hand taped into an oven mitt
        • Cooking with only children’s-sized pots and pans
        • Having to run through a maze of velvet ropes to get from their prep area to their cooking area
      • Sabotages are also auctioned off during the rounds, so not only are the chefs frantically trying to make the best dish they can as fast as they can, they’re also trying to calculate how much money they have left, who might have a better dish than they do and therefore need to be hindered, and worrying about whether their fellow competitors are going to stick them with a culinary disadvantage.
    • Winner keeps whatever they have left from the $25,000 they were given at the beginning of the episode
    • Now, many of you know that I love to watch cooking shows. I’ve watched Cutthroat Kitchen a few times, and to be honest, I have trouble with it because of the whole premise of the show: the sabotages. I know that’s why most people watch it. I mean, let’s face it: it’s funny to watch a professional chef trying to turn out a gourmet dish using nothing but plastic cutlery or canned versions of the beautiful, fresh ingredients that they originally selected. But the reason I love watching these cooking shows is because I like seeing what these incredible chefs come up with. I like to watch their creative process and see the beautiful, delicious-looking dishes that they produce. It’s inspiring! And when they’re so drastically hindered by such ridiculous restrictions, that takes some of the fun out for me. It ceases to be about the food and instead becomes about the strategy and the scheming. And Lord knows we witness enough strategy and scheming in our world today without scripting any more.
      • Reason why “Cutthroat Kitchen” struck me as the perfect contrast with today’s Scripture reading
        • Reality show: all about the intrigue and the sabotage à meal end up coming second
        • Scripture: all about the meal despite the intrigue and sabotage that was happening in the lives of the Israelites
  • Today’s Scripture reading = story of the 1st Passover meal
    • Backstory (because we’ve skipped quite a bit between Joseph’s story last week and today’s passage):
      • Moses = son of a Hebrew slave in Egypt → in order to save his life, his mother placed him in a basket and set the basket in the river → basket and baby were picked up downstream by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a son in Pharaoh’s house → ran away from Egypt as an adult after killing an Egyptian taskmaster for abusing a Hebrew slave → married into Midianite tribe and lived as a shepherd, watching his father-in-law’s flock → encountered God in the burning bush → God revealed Moses he is called to free the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt → Moses returned to Egypt and demanded that Pharaoh set God’s people free over and over again and got turned down by Pharaoh over and over again → God brought the plagues on the land of Egypt to try to convince Pharaoh to set the Hebrew people → Pharaoh continued to deny the people their freedom, even doubling down by making their working conditions harsher and demanding even more work from them[2]
    • Brings us to today – preparation for the final plague: the death of the firstborn – God in text: I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.[3] → Now, I will admit that this part of the Grand Story of our faith is a difficult one to wrestle with – a God who would sweep through the land and take the lives of all the firstborn. As people of faith, part of our jobs is to struggle with some of the stories that make up our collective history – to struggle with what they mean for us today, to struggle with how they speak to our faith, to struggle with what they tell us about God. And your spoiler alert for today, friends, is that I don’t have the answers to this one. There are definitely some darker, harsher, more uncomfortable threads in our Grand Story of faith, and this is certainly one of them. So if you feel uneasy about this particular facet of this story, that’s okay. I do, too.
      • God forewarns Moses and his brother (and right-hand man), Aaron that they need to make preparations
        • Much of the text for today is details about preparations for the meal itself – what the Israelites should eat, how they should prepare it, how they should eat it, even how they should be dressed when they eat it. – text (sample): Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry.[4]
        • Preparations to protect the Israelite households from what is to come – text: They should take some of the blood [of the lamb] and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. … The blood will be your sign on the house where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.[5]
        • Preparation for leaving because surely Pharaoh will free the Israelites after this final act and God will fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham – text: Moses said to the people, “Remember this day which is the day you came out of Egypt, out of the place you were slaves, because the Lord acted with power to bring you out of there. … Today, in the month of Abib, you are going to leave. The Lord will bring you to the land … that the Lord promised your ancestors to give to you, a land full of milk and honey.[6]
      • In all these preparations, God was directing the people to set a table – a table of resistance and freedom, a table of promise and hope, a table of refuge and safety in the face of real and impending danger. → God (through Moses) ensured that this critical element would be an established and essential part of the Grand Story of the Israelites faith – text: You should perform this ritual in this month. You must eat unleavened bread for seven days. The seventh day is a festival to the Lord. Only unleavened bread should be eaten for seven days. No leavened bread and no yeast should be seen among you in your whole country. You should explain to your child on that day, “It’s because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.”[7]
  • And of course, this is the same table that was set by Jesus and the disciples thousands of years later in that Upper Room just hours before Jesus’ arrest.
    • Matthew: On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”[8] → As faithful and observant Jews, Jesus and the disciples made the preparations and carried out the same holy meal that their ancestors had so many millennia before. They honored the sacrifice. They honored God’s promise to the people and the people’s faith in God. They honored that glimmer of hope in the darkest, most desperate of times.
    • But of course, Jesus knew dark and desperate times were just around the corner as well, so he added an element to nourish and sustain the disciples own faith: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven.”[9] → Jesus set for the disciples a table of sacrifice and redemption, a table of grace and steadfast love, a table of promise and hope.
  • And so today, we come to that same table. And on this special Sunday – the World Communion Sunday – we come with siblings in faith all around the world celebrating this same meal … this same grace … this same hope.
    • World Communion Sunday[10]
      • Established by Rev. Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr, pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA in 1933
      • Grew out of the congregation’s Division of Stewardship as an attempt to bring churches together for a service of Christian unity
      • Adopted as a denominational practice in 1936
      • Promoted by the Department of Evangelism of Federal Council of Church (precursor to the National Council of Churches) to extend the celebration of World Communion Sunday among other denominations and other countries in 1940
      • From the Presbyterian Mission Agency article about World Communion Sunday: “Today, World Communion Sunday is celebrated around the world, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.”
    • And so today, we come. We come to this table of refuge, this table of grace. We come with siblings all around the world seeking community and a place to belong … a place to be loved. We come with siblings who are weary and heart-sick, siblings who are desperate for a light in the darkness in which we live. We come hungry for hope. We come hungry for freedom. We come hungry for forgiveness. We come hungry for love that will never run out. Because that was God’s promise in bread and wine. That was God’s promise millennia ago with Moses and the Israelites. That was God’s promise millennia ago with Jesus and the disciples. That is God’s promise today and tomorrow and forever. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutthroat_Kitchen.

[2] Ex 2-11.

[3] Ex 12:12.

[4] Ex 12:9-11b.

[5] Ex 12:7, 13.

[6] Ex 13:3-5 (minor parts omitted).

[7] Ex 13:5b-8.

[8] Mt 26:17.

[9] Mt 26:26-28.

[10] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/special-days-and-emphases/world-communion-sunday/?fbclid=IwAR0VyNS7TaKvDDf-SBgI–ssLxPpOhV_sCSw1vx9_MauZL3jiKrMm2Za_84.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Table of Refuge, Table of Grace

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Prayer is Complicated | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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