This week Graham continued the preaching series on the book Surprise the World by Michael Frost. The presentation is attached after the sermon notes. You can listen again to the sermon here:
Eat (the E of B.E.L.L.S.)
Last week we noted that the writer of the book we have been looking at suggested that we could aim to bless three people a week. The next step is the suggestion that we can invite three people to eat with us per week.
Let me say at the outset that I am not suggesting that we are introducing ourselves to a new set of rules to live by. I am bringing these suggestions to you to promote thinking and a way of reflection on how we live our lives and whether we would like to develop new habits and choose what they may be.
In our home, before we had children, Penny and I made the decision that we would eat together at a table. Our influence was not our background, or upbringing, my family did not eat around a table, we were influenced by scripture and the references there to eating together and to tables. My parents thought it unusual and commented on it when they visited. My father found it rather uncomfortable to have to face people and be involved in communicating.
By the time children came along that was how we lived, and that was the lifestyle they were introduced to. Eating around the table became the place where all sorts of things were discussed. Questions were faced, faith was explored and there was lots of laughter!
The table, a place of encounter
One of the great, and often quoted, invitations to fellowship, and a relationship with God, is an invitation to a fellowship meal.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
See Revelation 19:1-10
Verse 9: Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’
So a meal is a place of fellowship. It has something to do with our future reward. It can also be a place of repentance. See the incident of Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus.
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Question: At what point in the whole proceedings did Zacchaeus stand up and make his announcement? In what way do you imagine the meal may have shaped events?
Meals in Jewish tradition
The Jewish Day of Rest, is what we call the sabbath. Sabbath comes from the word Shabbat in Hebrew. For Jews Shabbat begins on Friday evening at sundown and ends on Saturday evening as daylight ends. Shabbat begins with a Friday night dinner and is the period when Jewish families transition from their everyday routines to a more spiritual focus and frame of mind. In our time, tables are set with the fine cutlery and crockery upon white tablecloths. Sabbath religious rituals will take place at the table, as part of the meal, involving candles, wine, and special bread loaves, so these are placed in readiness on the table too.
Meals in the time of Jesus
In his day they may not have used the sort of table we use, they may have reclined at a low table, but the principle of gathering at table was just the same. Of course the table as an item of furniture is not the vital component of what we are talking about, is is that act eating together, facing each other that makes the meal.
If we look back beyond the time of Jesus we see in Exodus 12 the awful moment that judgement was to come upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Moses was about to lead them out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Before leaving they were to eat a special fellowship meal which they were to repeat down the years that were to follow. Jews still eat that Passover meal to this day.
Jewish tradition includes many meals intended as fellowship and worship. Fellowship meals were a feature of the early church from the beginning.
Meals and the early Christians
They had the example of Jewish culture (remember, the first converts were Jews) and of the lifestyle of Jesus himself who ate with both within his community of faith and those outside of it. They also adopted some features of the Last Supper in what is called Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist.
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The Emperor Julian had been in a huff about the christians and their community meals. He claimed their hospitality was “perverting” the empire! He seemed to be unsure about what the meals were for or what the different types were. The point for us to note is that these fellowship and hospitality meals were impacting the life of the empire and had come to the notice of the Emperor himself.
Breaking bread as in eucharist.
Weekly Agape meals.
We still have the writings of Pliny the Younger (AD 112) who was a Roman governor in what we now know as Turkey. Pliny wrote to the Emperor Julian (yes the same one) asking for advice about what he should do with Christians. He gives us some details about what those Christians did. He said they met on a fixed day (resurrection day – first day of the week) in the early morning (because of the early morning discovery of the resurrection?) “to sing to Christ as a God”. Later that same day they would “assemble again to partake of food – but ordinary and innocent food”.
The One Voice prayer meeting began in the September of 1999 and is still going in 2018. The strap-line I came up with is “What can God do with a city where the leaders will pray together?” One feature we have only just changed, and has been very down the years valuable, is that it was not only praying together, it included a weekly meal together, a breakfast.