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August 20, 2006 (Sunday 20 • Time after Pentecost)

Intern Pastor Joshua Graber

Proverbs 9:16; John 6:51–58

(Webmaster’s Note: This was Intern Pastor Josh’s last Sunday. See pictures from the farewell celebration on this page.)

We sang “This is the Feast” this morning as part of our liturgy. Did you notice that? Were we paying attention to the words?

What is this feast we’re talking about?

The last five Sundays we’ve been hearing about how Jesus feeds us. In today’s lesson this imagery comes to a head. What is Jesus feeding us when it comes down to it. What’s on the entrée menu? Well Jesus is. Ewww...Gross...

What is this all about? How do we explain to the world that we as Christians are not cannibals?

If we are to emulate Wisdom in our text from proverbs, inviting people in off the street to share the wisdom we have to offer, then what is it we are offering? The text says, she “calls from the highest places in the town, ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.’” How can we do so when we are talking about eating our leader? It’s strange, but it’s all right there. What kind of feast are we inviting people into?

It is a foolish feast. The feast we offer—the wisdom we offer as Christians—is not a wisdom this world will ever understand. It is a wisdom we couldn’t have come up with on our own. It is borrowed from the Holy Spirit who invites us into this community, even if according to the world it doesn’t make all that much sense. We are not invited into a feast where we have to pass a test or prove our worth or wisdom in order to be invited. We are invited into “A feast of fools.” But that’s a good thing because, when it comes to understanding the mind of God, who truly can be wise.

Paul explains this understanding of Christian wisdom in First Corinthians: “ My message and my preaching were not wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on the Spirit’s power.“ (I Cor. 2: 4–5)

One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes a bit earlier in First Corinthians ( I forced the Young Adult Bible Study to listen to me talk about in our first meeting). “Where is the wise man? Where is the philosopher for the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Gentiles look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the Jews and a foolishness to the Gentiles. But to those who God has called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God, and the weakness of God, is greater than man’s strength.” (I Cor. 20–25)

I had probably heard that scripture many times in my life, but the first time it started to have significant impact on my life was at a time of great spiritual hunger in my life. Last Tuesday in our Council meeting Francisco asked us to share a time of spiritual hunger in our lives and this was one of the times I thought of.

When I was 21 and a junior at Saint Olaf College, my academic program had been cut the previous year in sweeping changes by the administration. These changes broke the college by-laws and were connected to several, in my mind, unethical actions. I fought these changes but grew tired of both the fight and the community I was fighting for. I was feeling like I did not want to stay at Saint Olaf and was seriously thinking about leaving—leaving behind many friends, a family tradition of attending this school, a grant to start my own business, and most significantly all the dreams and fantasies I had had about being student body president and giving the senior speech at graduation, etc., etc. I thought leaving Saint Olaf might mean giving up my fantasy of being “the wise man” who has their life go according to plan. I think at that time and maybe today too, I wanted to become “the philosopher of the age.”

I didn’t quite know what to do in my predicament, but I decided I would go to Holden Village for my interim class and decide what to do from there. Holden Village is a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. I had been born when my parent’s worked at Holden, shortly after my grandfather left as village director. We left shortly thereafter and moved to Wisconsin.

Four things happened on this trip that changed my life. Even as I was in the midst of a period of intense spiritual hunger, I was getting fed the whole time.

On the train out to Holden I talked to a stone mason from Mercer Island Washington who volunteered at a homeless empowerment project called Real Change. I got the sense that God was talking to me through him. The idea of being a part of this place in the future was strong enough that I ended up volunteering there for the next two years, and the experience changed my life.

While I was at Holden, I read a magazine that explained the upcoming effects of global warming in detail. I’d never seen them laid out in such a matter-of-fact tone and realized how important this issue was. I started making plans for how I could use my gifts and energy to address this issue.

While I was at Holden, I also had conversations with a carpenter doing work in the bathroom of our dorm building. He was also going through a transition in life and wondering where to go next. Again it felt like God was working through our conversation to help each other in our paths. That carpenter, who’s name was Christoph Schmidt, went on to become a volunteer and then director of a cooperative youth ministry in Seattle. When I wrote him an e-mail about how we were trying to start a cooperative youth ministry program on Oahu, even though we hadn’t talked in seven years, he remembered those conversations, and if the cooperative youth program on Oahu continues to do ministry here, it can be traced back to those conversations between two people that were spiritually hungry trying to figure what to do next in life. It’s neat how God works in our lives isn’t it?

Finally, I was asked to participate in my first worship service. I was asked to read that text from 1 Corinthians. I was reluctant to do it, but Susan Briehl the Director at Holden at the time, pulled me aside and told me the text had been one of my grandfather’s favorites. I agreed. So I read this text as part of a worship service held in the room where I had been baptized 21 one years earlier.

The earth did not shake. Lightning did not strike. I didn’t make any vows. But I was one huge step closer to understanding my call to ministry. Because I was no longer an observer of ministry but recognized I was a minister. Even in the midst of a place of spiritual hunger, I was getting fed, whether I knew it at the time or not.

This scripture connecting me with my grandfather and this theme of God’s foolishness is a significant one. I don’t think I’ve mentioned my grandparents lives of ministry or the effect it has had on me, but this being my last sermon, I think I will, especially since I don’t know better examples of people that understood both the reality of spiritual hunger and the reality of the feast that is to come.

You see my grandparents had a chance to spend a year in Honolulu too, back in the fall of 1940. They wanted to be missionaries in China. They felt called to go from Minnesota all the way to China. Where does that come from? My grandfather got obsessed with Chinese art—that was probably a big part of it—but maybe God was in work in that too!

My grandparents were approved to be missionaries to China, but they had to learn Chinese before they could enter the nation of China. So they were given the choice between spending a year learning the language in Hawaii or spending the year in Phillipines. They chose to go to the Phillipines because they wanted to be closer to their destination. So they studied there for three months, their first child, and my aunt Maren was born in Baguio the week before Pearl Harbor and the Japanese armies advanced into the Phillipines. They hid in the caves with the miners as long as they could before they were taken into captivity for the next three years of their young married lives.

In the prison camp they were given very little food. While with the other Americans and Europeans gathered up into prisons, they sat together over their bowls of rice and would talk about remembered meals and distant tables. They shrank away a bit more each year. My grandmother battled dysentery and my grandfather a tall man of about 6' 2" found himself at 117 pounds by the time they were liberated in February of 1945.

When they returned to the mainland, family members and friends told them how they had remembered them by fasting or not enjoying the food they had, thinking of their loved ones not having enough. My grandparents always got upset when they heard such things, saying that it was the thought of their family and friends back home enjoying each others company, enjoying the richness of their meals and homes, that kept them going through their time of hunger.

But my memory of my grandparents was not of them starving in a far away land. My memory of my grandparents will always be connected to their understanding of grace lived out through food! I can see my grandfather standing over giant servings of chocolate malts he had prepared for each of the grandkids. I remember my grandmother as the Lord of giant feasts. One of my grandparent’s favorite books and films was always Babette’s Feast where a French woman who is a cook in a conservative Danish house wins the lottery and decides to spend all her money on the most spectacular feast for the villagers, who think it is a sin to enjoy a meal. The villagers are reluctant and suspicious of the feast being prepared for them by this outsider. They make a vow to eat everything that is served but not to show any pleasure. It is with great joy that the audience watches this vow breakdown one person at a time as each new course is brought forward and enjoyed!

When my grandfather died in 1992, I was fourteen years old. My grandparents had just moved next door to us in Stockholm two years earlier. I was not ready for his death. I wanted to learn more from him about life and about faith, but unfortunately at fourteen I did not know that yet. But his death provided me with spiritual wisdom even at that time of sorrow. As the days before his funeral brought more and more visitors to our small town in Wisconsin, people that his ministry had somehow touched over the years I saw what ministry could be.

Obituaries taught me the amazing things my grandparents had accomplished. They were on their honeymoon in Norway when the Nazis took over. They helped lead a group of evacuees through Nazi Germany and down to Florence to get a boat out of Europe. Then the “fools” decided to go the other direction toward China, which seemed to be a good place to start a family. When they returned home after prison camp, nothing was going to stop them from living their lives to the fullest for God. My grandfather turned crazy ideas into ministry, starting the first youth gatherings for the Lutheran Church, the first formalized mission trips for young adults to rebuild churches in Europe after the war, and his conversations with Hubert H. Humphrey even helped lead to the development of the Peace Corps. It was only after my grandmother died that most of us found out she had been named one of the 50 most significant female theologians of the last century. We didn’t know any of these things. I only knew my grandparents as the people that fed us with food and with joy. They were fools for Christ. In fact I remember that phrase “Fool for Christ” being used quite a bit at the funeral and memorial services that followed.

One image I remember more clearly than others from that funeral service was my grandfather’s best friend from Saint Olaf. He had gone the path of philosophy while my grandfather had chosen ministry. My grandfather’s friend had translated all the known works of Søren Kierkegaard and received awards from various universities and heads of state for his efforts. I had always known him as a dignified man who showed very little emotion. But at my grandfather’s funeral I saw him breaking down uncontrollably. I had this image in my head for the rest of my life of the philosopher crying to hear the preacher’s voice.

Along with that image, the gospel of First Corinthians has become more and more clear. “God has made foolish the wisdom of this world.” We all strive for more; we all want to be wise. And that’s good. But when it comes down to it, the most important thing in this world is the foolishness of the gospel.

There are many opportunities to be fed along the way, and God is always feeding us, even when we think we are alone, when we are about to give up hope.

Somehow we are invited to a feast that is to come. Somehow—even though we may be spiritually famished—we come together to this table, here and now, to be strengthened for our journeys on this earth. We come to be fed by Christ himself—of himself, as foolish as that may sound to the world. We come to be strengthened in the foolishness that tells us Christ loves us, Christ died for us; and this is grace to share in a new life that death cannot hold. We are strengthened to love our neighbor and our enemies, even when they don’t love us back.

We need that strength that nourishment to live out our lives of faith in this world—lives dedicated to nourishing this broken world with joy and the promise of an eternal feast—a feast of the saints. I’m glad I got a chance to introduce you to my grandparents. Their memory and faith has been with me this year, and I’ve been rude not to introduce them.

But I believe that through baptism you will be able to introduce yourselves to them someday and then will sit down with our host and have a feast where we are fed not only with the richest food we’ve ever tasted, but the true meal of an even richer and more everlasting joy and grace in the presence of a loving God. All sorts of fools for Christ will be there. And if after I leave Hawaii on Tuesday, I don’t see some of you again in this life, I look forward to seeing you there. That is the promise we share.

Amen.


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