November 4, 2018 GOD PREPARES A TABLE FOR US!

Nov. 4,18 Psalm 23:5

GOD PREPARES A TABLE FOR US

I’m sure some of you have attended banquets in your life. Maybe for golf, or bowling or an awards banquet of some kind.  How about a high school reunion? You know those big numbers like 25, 50 and so on. Or just those years when people gather together to see what happened since the last time they were together. It’s like our Annual Conference where we join together each June to renew our vows of faith. Many times the opening hymn asks, “Are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?  Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!” Another verse says, “What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fighting without, and fears within since we have assembled last.” 

 Years ago Carole and I traveled to Mass. to attend my 50th class reunion banquet years ago. What a shock it was for my classmates to see this quiet guy and former Catholic was now an United Methodist pastor as I stood to offer a prayer for those no longer with us, and then blessed the food. In that class I even had cousins who had no idea that I was  a pastor. What an interesting night that was. I even had one girl I knew from grade school who came to tell me she was Methodist, and she wished I was in the area, so she could attend the church I served. That banquet was fun seeing some of my buddies I played hockey with, and some of the other ones as well.  

As I thought about this Sunday being communion Sunday I thought about communion as being a feast, and as I thought about a feast I thought about a banquet.  Did you know Jesus told a parable about a king giving a banquet? He invited lots of people well in advance, but when the time came, and he sent word the banquet was ready no one came. They all had an excuse, mind you weak ones. Then the king told his men to go round up anyone they could to come to his feast and so they came. But that is not what this sermon is about, all though I could make a case for it.

 I thought about that night when Jesus and his disciples sat down to enjoy his final Passover banquet. Then a verse from the 23 Psalm came into my mind. Verse 5 to be exact. It seemed to say something to me, and I hope it will to you this morning. David said in that psalm: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

I want to connect these two events…. God preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies…and the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper, or may I call it a banquet, was better known as the “Passover Meal.” It was a celebration when the people of Jesus’ time remembered their ancestors who were in bondage in Egypt and God delivered them. After 400 years in that land, after years of being enslaved at the hands of a Pharaoh ‘who did not know Joseph’ they were hurting and thinking where is our God. The new Pharaoh only sees the Hebrew folks prospering and increasing while the Egyptians were working hard to survive. So he enslaved them. Finally, God’s people cried out to God to be delivered. God heard their cries and he anointed one man to be their deliverer. His name you know very well, was Moses.

But it would not be easy, for Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened and would not let God’s people go. But for now, this message is not about Pharaoh, it’s about that one night, the final night before the Hebrew people were set free. It was the night that would never be forgotten, and God told Moses to tell the people never, ever, ever forget this night, and each year they were to celebrate this night with a banquet of sorts. They called it the ‘Passover Meal.’ It was the night to remember that their ancestors were told to kill a new born lamb, smear its blood on the outside of their homes, prepare a quick meal and be ready to march when the signal was given. They were to stay inside that home dressed and ready to roll at a moment’s notice, and all who were in that home would be spared as the final plaque came calling, for it was the death angel who was taking the first born of everything, even the animals etc. The next morning, the call went out, and the people of God were no longer to be slaves in Egypt but were set free as they made their way to the Promised Land of milk and honey, to be God’s people forever and ever.

So, every year after that, on that particular day, that meal is celebrated in every Hebrew home and still is. They were free because of that night. Passover Meal was that celebration and it was celebrated in the midst of their enemies, remembering God’s goodness, his deliverance, and how the blood of the lamb brought about salvation to those who were covered with that blood in those home.  

So on that night for three years Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem. But this night it was going to be different because this was going to be his last supper with them on this earth. This would be his last time to break bread and drink the wine and share the Passover meal. The next time they had a banquet like this would be, well, in paradise where a grand reunion banquet would take place over and over again.

As I thought of all this I thought how David perhaps remembered this meal in that psalm. And when he thought of it, he applied it to his own life as a shepherd, as one who also wandered, and one who was anointed king, and one who fought his enemies. His thought was to remember the Shepherd who gave everything to him. But then this line: “You my God, have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Was he talking about all those animals that would like to get some of his sheep he was guarding? Through the dark of night could he see those bright eyes of a animal, or hear its howling just waiting to strike? Or those thieves waiting for one of his sheep to wander off or for him to leave and chase a lost one, so they could steal the flock? Or was he thinking of the times that he went before other enemies, like Goliath, or the Philistine armies, or even King Saul himself. In the presence of his enemies came a banquet, a celebration perhaps to let those enemies know his God was there with him. He had been anointed a long time before as a teen after King Saul had lost favor with God. So, David rejoices remembering that anointing, that in the midst of things his cup overflows with God’s love, mercy, his strength, even his presence, because God is with him always…. even in the presence of his enemies…even when his enemies surrounded him. In the presence of those enemies he can rest for God prepares a feast to give him strength, to revive his courage, to recharge his faith, to remind him he belongs to God, and God is always with him, even in the presence of his enemies. In the presence of those enemies his cup overflows with the goodness and grace of his God. PRAISE THE LORD!

Let’s turn now to the Last Supper. Can we not say that was what happened during that Last Supper? In the presence of Jesus’ enemies, they celebrated a banquet. While those who wanted to get rid of Jesus and his disciples, searched and prepared to destroy them, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating in the presence of their enemies, at a banquet remembering the Passover of their ancestors. Remembering the promises of their God. Remembering God’s deliverance, and how the blood of the lamb saved their ancestors.  Already having been anointed with oil and the tears of a woman, Jesus’ cup overflows with the blessings of the Father above as he prepares for the next few days.  Then Jesus gives this meal a new meaning. They don’t understand it yet, but one day they will. He is that Lamb to be slain. It is his blood that shall be shed to save all mankind. The bread they were about to eat was now his body broken for them. The cup of wine they were about to drink was his blood that would soon be spilled for the salvation for all those who believed in him. And then he told them this….as often as you do this, remember me. In other words, each time they broke bread, drank wine, they were to remember this night because they were to remember God’s tremendous love, and his wonderful grace, a grace that was redeeming, a grace that was forgiving, a grace that was offered for the world through the cross that was about to happen. In the presence of their enemies they were to remember the banquet that had been set before them that night. When they faced their enemies, the enemies of the cross they were to remember for it would be their strength, their courage, and their faith to hang on to, even in  the midst of persecution.

And so, we read in the Corinthians letter from Paul these words, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” 

You might ask what that has to do with today. Well, this church celebrates the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of every month. It is a time of remembering just like it was for the disciples. We remember what Jesus did for us. It is at this time that we are invited to the banquet table for a variety of reasons. We are invited to come just as we are. To come with our baggage, our joys, our concerns, even our sins. We are invited to join other sinners around a banquet table that is a foreshadowing of what will be one day in heaven. 

 But I also want you to think of it this way.  In the presence of your enemies God has prepared a feast for you. Those enemies can be many. It may be fear. It may be loneliness. It can be your doubts. It may be cancer, or some other illness, it may be loneliness, or something else. Sure, it can be your sins, your heartaches, your disappointments, your discouragements, your health issues, and so much more. We all have them, and they’re dressed in many forms. In your journey of faith, the enemy prowls around like a lion, according to Peter, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting Christian to devour him or her. He comes in all kinds of costumes much like those trick and treaters that came to your house last Wednesday night. They came for treats. The prowling lion comes to trick, to destroy one’s faith. And in the presence of our enemies, we stop on our journey to rest. But we notice something different this Sunday. As we rest and listen to God’s voice we look at the altar and we see the elements of grace. And we are reminded of God’s promise and his presence with us in those elements. We are reminded in the presence of our enemies God has prepared that feast to remind us that he is not only with us, but that he won’t let our enemies get us. We are reminded because of his presence we have his overflowing grace. We are reminded our strength, our courage, our faith comes from the Lord God.  Because God’s Son, our Savior and Lord was willing to die his blood was shed that we might experience the forgiveness of our sins, and the knowledge that we shall feast not only at this earthly banquet table provided for us, but in the heavenly banquet table of victory.  And we are reminded of his promise that he is always with us, even when we travel the valley of death.

You see, Psalm 23:6 continues, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” There’s that overflowing grace of God.

And that is what this banquet table is for this morning. It is a reconciliation. It is a reminder that God so loved the world that he gave us his Son.

 So, when you come to this banquet table this morning, come with joy in your heart and feast on God’s goodness and grace as you receive once again the One that has spread this table before you. Receive new strength to serve our God. New courage to face the enemy. New faith to believe what God says will be so.

Receive it today. For there is victory in Jesus our Savior forever for those who believe.

So, may it always be. 

Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor
About Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor

Reverend Richard Piscatelli, (Pastor Dick) has been serving this church since 2006 and has begun his 13th year at Williamsville. Dick is a graduate of Asbury College, 1980, now Asbury University, and Asbury Theological Seminary, 1983, in Wilmore, Kentucky. Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, he and his wife, Carole, have enjoyed living in the Midwest and have made many friends here. Dick’s first appointment was to Buffalo/Dawson UMCs, a two-point charge, which he served for almost 8 years when he was appointed to Paris Trinity UMC. He served at Paris for 6 years and was then appointed to First UMC at St. Elmo in southern Illinois. Dick’s final full-time appointment was to Roanoke/Secor UMCs, a two-point charge. These churches brought much satisfaction and lasting relationships in each. Williamsville UMC has been a joy to serve as he actually began his first church in “retirement,” and is very much involved in all areas of ministry, as the Lord leads. Pastor Dick has a special gift for doing Celebrations of Life and comforting the family. He prepares uplifting, inspiring sermons in a more casual and relaxed style, using humor when appropriate, yet ever-mindful of the importance of bringing the Gospel message for the salvation that Jesus Christ offers to all.