With All Your Heart Worship Series: REPENTING
Third Sunday in Lent — March 24, 2019
We humans hunger for comfort and security, the assurance that everything is going to be OK when life threatens to overwhelm us. That may be one reason many of our faith communities specialize in plentiful potluck dinners. Gathering around tables and sharing our lives as well as food is part of who we are. I’ve been to countless potlucks in my life, and I can’t remember ever going and not finding calorie-laden goodness spread like a crazy quilt of love and hope. Traditional comfort foods of our childhood both fill our bellies and hug our hearts. There is always just enough, like manna from heaven – never too little, never too much.
As faithful folk, we know how to fuel the body and how to make love the central ingredient in almost any dish. When we lack words, we bring food. When we wish to dispense comfort and care, it often comes in the form of casseroles and hot dishes, all seasoned with the spirit of love and garnished with a sprig of hope. Comfort food and tables of plenty are not, however, usually associated with the season of Lent.
Tradition compels us to think of Lent as a time of self-denial and intense introspection and contemplation. This season sets itself apart as a time of fasting from the luxurious and indulgent. A boisterous feast at God’s table is the last thing that we would expect to see embodied in the words of our lectionary Scripture for this week. Yet here we are all the same, duty-bound to come to God’s table, no matter the state of our wallets or the state of our hearts. As preachers, we have led our people through two weeks of Lent. They have found themselves grounded in offering the first fruits of the harvest and uplifted by the promises suspended like stars in the night sky. This week, we will ask our congregations to leave their chosen pathways, repent, and turn back to a God who always has “plenty good room” at the Table for us.
Before we can hear the words of Isaiah 55 in any kind of meaningful way, we need to consider the context in which these words were written. The people of Israel find themselves at the end of a very long exile in Babylon. Even the recollection of what the Promised Land was and how to inhabit that land had faded from the collective memory. If these exiles had heard of the promises of the everlasting covenant made to David at all, it was only in hushed whispers and half-remembered tales that must have sounded more like a dream than any sort of possible reality.
It appears the people of Israel were feasting and fasting. They were feasting on the economy of scarcity that empire always places upon its people – the belief that they will never have enough, never be enough. While they were feasting on the logic of empire, they were also fasting. They fasted from the abundant promises of God and from the assurance that God would one day lead them back home. This fast left them starved of hope and starved of heart. In this vastly malnourished state, the call to come to a table of plenty must have sounded too good to be true. The invitation of Isaiah 55 was also a call to repent (literally to turn around) and accept God’s gracious, irresistible invitation to come, buy, eat, listen, delight—break the chains of their long fast!
As we look out at our world this Lent, we see a similar type of feasting on scarcity, fear, and distrust. It seems to be the hallmark of our “well-fed” society. Perhaps, we need to repent of our feasting on the things that do not satisfy. When we turn our hearts and lives around and incline our ears to God’s invitation to Wisdom’s table, the sound is strange to our ears. “Nothing is free,” we say. Nothing is without cost. We have stuffed ourselves for so long with greed, cynicism, and inadequacy that we have forgotten what real nourishment looks like.
There is nothing to fear from the invitation to the table of plenty. “Let them return to the Lord,” Isaiah proclaims, “that he may have mercy on them.” Solid helpings of repentance and forgiveness are served at the table. The grace of God is far more filling than anything else in which we have mistakenly put our trust. God reminds Isaiah’s listeners that the ways of God are not our ways (thank God for that!). The way of God leads us to a table where all are welcomed and fed and are claimed beloved.
This table might begin to sound familiar to us as Christ’s table where Christ invites “all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.”  This is the feast we should choose this Lent. And as for fasting, well, Isaiah tells us of a fast that is fruitful. Isaiah 58:6-11 claims:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.”
We still have a way to go in this Lenten season. The journey is about seeking a way that is not our own way but following the pathway to God’s heart. May your feasting and fasting bring justice, comfort, and living water to your road-weary travelers. May your heart find contentment and sustenance for the journey of homecoming.
 United Methodist Hymnal, Invitation to the Table
Rev. Todd Pick is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, serving in the Central Texas Conference. He is a pastor, poet, and painter. He has contributed many articles on worship, creativity, and beauty to Worship Arts Magazine. In addition, his art and poetry were featured in the December 2018 issue of Magnet Magazine, a Christian publication in the UK. Todd is an accomplished artist who has created stage visuals for many United Methodist conferences, including the 2012 and 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is a featured worship expert on Dr. Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio. Holding a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School, he was artist-in-residence there from 2007 to 2009 and was twice awarded the Hoyt L. Hickman Award for Liturgical Studies. Todd and his wife, Jennifer, enjoy a partnership in life and ministry. Together, they enjoy writing, planning worship and leading workshops and retreats across the country on multi-sensory worship.
Rev. Jennifer Pick is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving in the Central Texas Conference. She is a pastor, worship planner, biblical scholar, and writer. She has a Master of Literature in Biblical Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She has studied biblical archeology in Greece and Turkey through Cambridge University. Rev. Pick graduated with a Master of Divinity from Drew Theological School with an emphasis in Early Christianities. She is a recipient of the Lawrence E. Toombs Prize for Old Testament History, the George R. Crooks Prize for excellence in Homiletics and the Warren Memorial Prize for excellence in Greek New Testament Studies. Rev. Pick was a Ministry Fellow through the Fund for Theological Education, where she studied holy space and Christian pilgrimage throughout Europe. With a particular passion for incarnational preaching and worship, Rev. Pick has found creative ways to engage facets of emergent worship within large and small congregational settings. She draws upon all the senses in liturgical movement and ritual to create worship experiences that involve whole-bodied devotion.