Setting the Table: The Plate

Two weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to plan worship for a gathering of clergy in Des Moines. A friend, Rev. Sean McRoberts planned the service with me and we had everything arranged and ready to go. I just had to make sure to arrive early enough in the morning that I could meet with the technical engineer to set up the microphones and other electronics we would need that morning.

Lately, I have not been a morning person – and this particular trip required that I leave my house by 6:30. Which meant waking up by 5:30 to get myself ready. Now, I know that many of you have internal clocks that work much differently than mine and 5:30 is sleeping in… but for me – this was a super super early morning.

The alarm went off. I turned it off. And promptly pulled the covers back over my head. Every fiber of my being wanted to go back to sleep. So I did.

Notice, I didn’t hit the snooze button. I turned the alarm off, and fell back to sleep.

Ten minutes later, something woke me up. Whether it was the rustle and squacks of the birds in the tree, or a cat pouncing on my legs in the bed or just some kind of internal switch – I woke up. And I remember very distinctly taking a deep breath and saying – thank God. And I didn’t mean it in an offhand, irreligious kind of way. I was grateful to God that I had woken up. I was grateful to God that although my body was not ready or willing, God was making sure I was going to be able to answer the call I had received. I was grateful to God, because even though I was weak – he is strong.

How many of you have heard of the word “providence”?

What exactly does “providence” mean?

The word originally comes from the Latin providentia – and has to do with foresight, prudence, the ability to see ahead. So when we talk about God’s providence – we think of God’s ability to provide for, to direct, to shape the future.

Martin Luther understood providence to be both the direct and indirect work of God in the world. Not only does God provide the good things we need for human life – but God also works through family, government, jobs, and other people. “We receive these blessings not from them, but, through them, from God.”

If you remember last week the story of the cellerar – the monk in charge of looking after the storage room at the monastery – even mundane and simple tasks can be a vehicle of God’s blessing to others. God can use even the lowliest of jobs for his glory.

And so, Providence is the way that God cares for the universe – upholds the universe – and also the special ways that God extraordinarily intervenes in the lives of God’s people.

That holy providence is the subject of our psalter this month. The Psalmist reminds us of the glorious deeds of the Lord – the wonders that he has done… wonders that we are supposed to pass on to generation after generation.

According to the Psalmist our ancestors were a stubborn and rebellious people. They witnessed miracles: they were released from bondage in Egypt, they passed through the Red Sea, they were led through the desert by cloud and light, they drank pure clear water from rocks in the midst of the wilderness… and yet they doubted. Yet they did not, could not, would not believe that God would continue to provide.

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” they grumbled. “Yeah, God made water come out of a rock – but can God provide bread and meat for us? Can he fill our bellies? Can he satisfy us?”
God’s anger was kindled… because the people had no faith in God – because they doubted God’s providence.
And yet…. And yet…. God opened the skies and manna rained down. Birds came and dwelt in their camps. Their bellies were full. He gave them what they craved.
This idea of God’s providence stays with me today… and not just because I was miraculously woken up in time to make it to a meeting. It stays with me because all around this room are folks who have witnessed the miraculous working of God in their lives.

Each of you has a story to tell about how God provided for you in some time of need.

Many of you have a story to tell about how God guided this church through a difficult time.

This building itself has a story to tell about how God has upheld and sustained the life of this congregation throughout the years.

In the middle of the sanctuary there are those large doors. I have yet to see them fully opened, but I’m told that in times of war – times of scarcity – when we sacrificed our use of energy so that factories could provide for our soldiers… those doors were closed to reduce our heating costs. The simple wonder that someone would create such doors is a reminder that through other people, and not from them, we receive the blessings of God.

All throughout this month, we will be telling the stories of this church. We will be reminding ourselves of God’s active presence in the history of this congregation.

Perhaps it was the Sunday School teacher that sustained your faith in one of those classrooms back there.

Maybe it was church dinner that took place at a time when your family had nothing left to put on the table.

Perhaps it was the words of a pastor who encouraged you during a dark moment.

Maybe you felt God’s blessings through a brother or sister in Christ who got down on their hands and knees and served you.

I hope that today as you came in, each of you were handed a note card. I want to encourage you to take out that note card and to write there on the card a memory of God’s action in your life.

For those of you who can do so – think of a specific moment or a person in the life of this church when God’s presence was know.

And for those of you who might be visiting with us, or are new to our church, or whose memory does not go back that far – share with us some other testimony of how God has worked to sustain you along your journey.

I want us to take a few minutes to fill out these cards, to remember together, how God has provided for us.

The Psalmist asks us to tell the coming generations the glorious deeds of God so that we might teach them to set their hope in God and not forget his works.

I want to urge you to place these note cards in the offering plates this morning. Hand them over go God as a thankful offering for the blessings you have received and in doing so – we will collect these memories and share them with one another at our Celebration of the Past on October 31st.

These memories… these reminders of God’s active presence in our past remind us that God does indeed provide. They remind us that not only does God call us to the table as his children… but that the table is not empty. God has and God will continue to set the table.
What I am asking you to do as a congregation is to join me in awaiting those promises of God.
To take all of these blessings that we have received and to remember them. To remember that God has worked in the past… and therefore – to have faith, to trust, that God will continue to work in the future.

The plate that we put on the table today is a reminder of this foundational promise.

No longer will we worry, “what will we eat?” or “what will we drink?” We know that God has provided in the past. We trust that God will continue to provide in the future.

We place it here today because we eagerly await the next action of God in our lives. We are prepared for the next blessings that will come. We are putting aside our worry, our stress, our doubt – We come to God and know that God will provide.

Amen and Amen.

1 Comment

  • Teri in Texas

    October 22, 2010 at 8:08 am Reply

    what a blessing this message has been for me! Once a year, as a sit down and review my husband's medical and dental plan for the upcoming year I take time to review our retirement plans – plans for our future. It is stressful and uncomfortable because I do not know how we will have enough money to retire when he wants to and yet as I read your message I was prompted to remind myself of all the times God has pulled back the curtain of grace on our 30 year marriage and I know He will be continue to bring water from the rock for us. Thank you Rev. Katie – for your message from God to me today.

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