Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, 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. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’
A Feast Like No Other: Ephesians 9:1-6
I have manage to have a lot of good meals in my life, at least a few of them here, in this very church. Today, I wanted to tell you about one feast in particular. It was probably the most ornate meal that I have ever been to. I ate this meal... or, really, experienced this meal last year when Tasha and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Casablanca in Morocco. We knew that this meal was going to be an experience just as soon as we got off the bus at the venue. We heard music before we even got into the building. The building itself looked like a castle, which it kind of was. It was mostly square and took up nearly the whole block. It was two stories high and there were several different courtyards within it's walls. Inside, dark wood contrasted beautifully with gleaming white plaster and stone. The walls were full of calligraphy that I couldn't read and images of intertwining vines and flowers. The arches all had lovely scalloped edges. The windows were full of stars. And, the music, which we had first heard across the street, reverberated off the walls as we entered through 20 foot tall, fortified wooden door.
Inside were two dozen young men who raucously played drums and sang to welcome us to our meal. They were wearing what we learned was traditional dress for different cultural and regional groups in Morocco. You could tell who was Berber, or at least representing one of the Berber cultures because they wore bright yellow shoes and white fezzes. Once we arrived in the main courtyard, we saw beautifully set tables and a lovely fountain in the middle. Women were stationed on giant couches and piles of pillows throughout the space. If you wanted, they would draw intricate designs in henna on your hands and sometimes all the way up your arm. After seeing some friends, we sat down to our tables, and looked over our menu. We recognized some of the food names. They make these great stews called tagines in Morocco. We would have one that night. And, lamb was on the menu. That is also very common. But, there were cheeses that we had that I had never heard of, and fruit juices, too. They were also going to serve some kind of pastry. I sat at table with a bunch of other Americans. So much had already happened. None of us had any idea what else to expect for the rest of evening. e sat down to our tables, and looked over our menu. We recognized some of the food names. They make these great stews called tagines in Morocco. We would have one that night. And, lamb was on the menu. That is also very common. But, there were cheeses that we had that I had never heard of, and fruit juices, too. They were also going to serve some kind of pastry. I sat at table with a bunch of other Americans. So much had already happened. None of us had any idea what else to expect for the rest of evening.
As it turns out, the main thing that we didn't expect is that this dinner would go on to last five to six hours. Our menu said dinner would begin at 6 PM. Well, as it turns out, the dinner festivities began at 6 PM. It would be probably another hour and half or two hours before the first small course was served and yet another hour and a half after that before we actually got a decent amount of food. The tagine that was knew was coming didn't arrive until 9 PM. The food took a very long time to get to us, but when it arrived, there were massive piles of it, far more than the eight of us at our table could eat. When they brought the lamb course, they brought out an entire lamb to our table, plus more piles of roasted vegetables. I can not even tell you what our dessert was. I was filled to the gills by that point. There was also many cups of mint tea throughout the night. I was so hopped up on caffeine that night that I barely slept.
Why, you may ask, did it take so long to get food? What was going on? Perhaps it would be helpful to know a little context here. The conference we were attending moves around every year. One year, it will be in either the US or Canada and the next is will be abroad. While there are often Moroccan scientists in attendance, this was the first time that a university in Morocco was able to host the event. They knew that this was likely the first time that many people had ever been to Morocco and it would maybe be the only time that some of us would have the opportunity to go. So, they wanted to go all out. They wanted to show us the best they had to offer. That meant good food and plenty of it. That also meant that they wanted to make sure that we learned something about Moroccan history and culture.There should also be something fun, so there should be singing and dancing. This feast was to include all those things. The trouble was, those of us who weren't Moroccan or hadn't traveled there before, had no idea what was going on and had not planned correctly to make this an enjoyable evening.
This feast, that our hosts hoped would be so much fun, turned out to being a confusing and frustrating night for many people. Most of us had not eaten anything since lunch. Most of us assumed that if the menu said we'd start at 6 PM, we'd at least get a first course pretty soon there after. Most of us assumed that we'd be done eating by 9 PM, not finally having our first real plate of food. This long meal broken up by dancing and singing exhibitions was not at all what we expected. It didn't help that the people who knew to expect this kind of experience, who knew that special celebrations would be marked by dancing, food, and drink long into the night and over several hours, they didn't seem to realize that this would be a surprise to the foreigners. So, they didn't know that many people would have appreciated a description of the night's events that would have allowed them have a snack before they came and to be prepared for a long evening.
Here is what ended up happening. Some people got so frustrated and hungry that they left before dinner arrived. One couple at my table ran across the street to a McDonald's to get something to eat while they waited. Still others chose to stay and complain heartily.Many of them took the first bus that they could back to the hotel, even though it had arrived only about a half-hour after the final course of the food. I would say that only about a third of the people who had attended the dinner actually enjoyed themselves as the hosts had intended. To this day, for many of the people I know, one of the most disappointing parts of that whole conference was this very elaborate, very drawn out dinner. To me, this is one of the strongest examples I have ever seen of cultural miscommunication, where some people are trying to be good hosts and the guests don't understand and the hosts don't even realize it in time to explain and the guests finally just get mad. I don't think that it ended up being the feast that any of us, guest or host, expected.
I thought of this feast that I experienced in Morocco when I read about Wisdom's feast in our Scripture for today. There are some ways that these two feasts are very similar. Both are in large, beautiful buildings. They both involved lavish table settings and tables filled with meat, a type of food that is not often available to the poor people of the Bible or in poor parts of Morocco. There were servants who called us to the feast in both cases. I will say, though, much to many people's chagrin, there was no wine in Morocco. Wisdom's feast was much more complete in that department. Most importantly, the hosts of both parties offered the best they could to their guests. Now, I told you how well the feast went for the hosts in Morocco. I can't tell you how Wisdom's feast turned out. Her feast is still on-going and I'm not sure how her guests are going to respond. I think we're probably barely through the first course right now and there's probably a lot more singing and dancing to come. The hanger has definitely set in for some and they may not be willing to stick around for Wisdom's full course. It would sure be a shame if they left. I really think there's some good stuff yet to come.
And, what might Wisdom's next few courses be? Honestly, I'm not sure. Wisdom is a gracious and accomplished host. She probably has dishes in mind that I can't even imagine. This is how she describes all the stuff she does in Proverbs: In chapter 8, she says, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago." She goes on to speak of creation, piece by piece, saying that as God stretched out the heavens and filled the seas, "I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing his inhabited world and delighting in the human race." Wisdom loves humanity and really wants us to come to her party. And, she invited all people, not just the wealthy and learned, to her feast. Her gifts are open to everyone, if you're just willing to show up and stick around for all the courses. We can be pretty sure that the food was good. So, we're probably better off trying not to figure out the courses and, instead, spending our time figuring out how to be good guests at this feast.
I wonder if, in order to be able to make it through Wisdom's long feast, we have to be willing to do some of the stuff she did. We have to be willing to do some creating with God. We have to love our work and do it with joy. We have to delight in the people and the critters and the plants and rocks that surround us. And, we have to be willing to accept an invitation to a party where we might not know exactly what's going on but we have to trust that our hosts wouldn't have invited us if it wasn't worth coming to. We have to be willing to be surprised when the meal doesn't go as we planned, but trust that another good course will come very soon. And, we have to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. Maybe, just maybe, if we can do those things, if we can be like Wisdom, walk in her ways, and bring all our neighbors along, maybe we can get a better sense of what the Divine is truly like. And, maybe we can get some of the insight she promises will come. But, first, we have to be willing to stick through it, long dances, strange songs, and all. The bread's good. And so is the wine. Let's try to stick around a little bit longer.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
Scott Shauf's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2601
Will Gafney's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1360
Sara Koenig's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=370
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.