Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 19, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 24:11
A reading from the "Lamentations of the Father," chapter one, beginning with the first verse. "Of the beasts of the field and of the fishes of the sea, and of all the foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals broiled or ground into burgers you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown providence you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy cups, you may drink, but not in the living room. Neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.
"But if you are sick and are lying down and watching something, then you may eat in the living room. And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair as such a greater person might use, keep your legs and your feet below you, as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination and worthy of rebuke. Drink your milk as it is given you. Neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon for that is not what they are for. If you dip your blocks in the milk and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table and do not bite it upon its edge, and by your teeth hold it up to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck, for you will be sent away."
As you might have guessed, that's not from the Bible. Rather it's from a piece written by an author named Ian Frazier. The full title is "Laws Concerning Food and Drink, Household Principles, Lamentations of the Father," and I share it with you because I want to acknowledge up front how difficult it is to eat with small children, and to teach them, and to model for them good table manners. It's a trying task that calls for much long-suffering, but it may be the most important task the Almighty God has given to the human race. And whatever stage of life you are in, raising up children who can raise children, who will also raise children to pass on good table manners for the generations to come is a task that concerns you. It concerns you and me because in our time, the dinner table's in trouble. Writer Cody Delistraty in an article titled "The Importance of Eating Together," gathered data, research, indicating just how much trouble the family dinner table is in.
For example, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car. One in four Americans eats at least one fast-food meal every single day, and the majority of American families eat a meal together less than a few times a week, if at all. And when we do eat together, it's often under the spell of screens that surround the table. Part of the reason why the dinner table is in trouble is that eating together is difficult. Sociologists from North Carolina State University argued that the stress that cooking at home puts on people, especially mothers, is often unbearable. This North Carolina research team conducted in-depth interviews with 150 Black, White, and Latina mothers from all walks of life. They devoted over 250 hours of in-home observations with 12 different households, and during all that time in all those meals they rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn't complain about the food they were being served.
Cooking for multiple people, juggling multiple preferences, planning ahead, having the right ingredients on hand, remembering to defrost the meat in time, or soak the beans overnight, all while managing a budget that often requires at least two full-time incomes to support it, that's stressful enough. But you top that off with bad manners and belly aching about what is served, it's no wonder so many are giving up on the family dinner. Family dinners are difficult; there's no disputing it. But so are a lot of things: learning to read, losing weight, holding down a job, sticking by your friends—all that is difficult, but also beneficial. And the benefits of eating together are indisputable. Author Leonard Sweet, in his book titled From Tablet to Table summarized some of these benefits. For example, do you know what the number one factor for parents raising kids who are drug free, healthy, and kind human beings? Frequent family dinners. And the number one predictor for future academic success for elementary-aged children? Frequent family dinners. And the variable most associated with lower incidences of depressive and suicidal thoughts among 11- to 18-year-olds? Frequent family dinners.
The research is compelling. If you want kids with fewer behavioral problems, greater emotional wellbeing, and more helpful behaviors toward others than you need more frequent family dinners. And we cannot leave this burden to mothers alone—fathers, neighbors, single friends, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, grandparents, extended families, church families, and especially fathers. Did I mention fathers already? Well, fathers especially need to model eating together with good table manners so that the table can be what it ought to be. As Leonard Sweet wrote, "The dinner table is where food and stories are passed from one person to another, from one generation to another, where each of us learns who we are, where we come from, what we can be, to whom we belong, and to what we are called." "Lamentations of the Father," chapter two: "On Screaming."
"Do not scream, for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand. But I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise, if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat. Neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now, I have made the fish as it should be. Behold I eat of it myself, yet do not die."
Ian Frazier, the author of these "Lamentations of the Father," said that he wrote them because he'd been trying to understand his family, his family tree, which in generations past had produced many Protestant ministers. So he had been reading a lot of old letters and documents, and excerpts from the King James Version of the Bible. Frazier's children were small at the time, and he found himself saying the kinds of things that you say to small children, but in a rather biblical tone, even though at the time he said he considered himself more a man of doubts than of faith. In Frazier's book titled, Family, he talks about cleaning out his recently deceased parents' apartment, looking through their old family artifacts, and realizing that his family members in earlier centuries had been devoutly religious. And so why was it that when he thought of a noun that went best with the adjective "religious" the word "fanatic" was the first to come to mind? Frazier pondered retrospectively that it may have had something to do with the fact that when he was a child before their family dinners, his parents didn't say grace. They didn't give thanks to God as the host of every meal, and the Giver of every gift, instead, his parents toasted each other with glasses of wine.
It was the ancient Jewish Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth who said that all of this life is preparation and practice for God's table. Jesus compared the coming kingdom of God to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And even after those initially invited refused to come, the king would not stop inviting until his table was filled with guests. See Matthew 22. But for those who, like Ian Frazier, didn't grow up saying grace, it can be difficult to hear the voice of God, inviting us to His table. But you can still hear echoes of His voice. You and I hear the echoes in this sense that we have that human beings were made to live together, to sit down at the table and share stories and food and life together. At the same time, being together with grace and goodwill and gratitude with good table manners, it's more difficult than it should be.
Half of all romantic dinners followed by engagement proposals end in divorce, and for those who stay together even their family dinners are too often a sideshow for bad manners. And even the most well-behaved, emotionally healthy families, 100 percent of them in the end are split up by death. These facts of life are like an echo of an inviting voice, like a sign from a long-suffering father who laments for his children as they storm from the table in a childish tantrum. There's a story of a famous doctor who was invited to a fancy dinner. During the course of the meal, it became clear to everyone at the table that the doctor thought very highly of himself and of his opinions. But at some point in the after-dinner conversation, the discussion went against him. Flustered, he left the table in a huff and stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him. In the silence that followed, someone wishing to relieve the embarrassment of the hostess, said, "Well, he's gone." But the hostess lamented, "No, he isn't. That's a closet."
This week, followers of Jesus all over the world commemorate an event remembered as the Transfiguration. It happened when Jesus took three of His first followers, Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, His clothing became white as light, and Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. And a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the clouds said, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him." And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces terrified. But Jesus came and touched them saying, "Rise. Do not be afraid." They were afraid because this Man with whom they had reclined at the dinner table, this Man who eats with outcasts and sinners, this Man Jesus, He is the voice behind that echo we all hear. The voice of God become human, calling us out into His family, back to the table.
But the life and death and resurrection and words of Jesus reveal that we have done much worse than slamming ourselves into a closet. Our situation is more like those 11 1930's construction workers, the ones pictured in that famous photograph titled "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper." You've probably seen it. Can you picture it? They're all there, all 11 of them sitting in a row on a lunch break, on a steel girder as their table, precariously perched 850 feet above the city streets below. They can be there and not die because they have the proper fear, respect for the manner of their situation. They know how to step safely, and that a misstep means certain death. We are in a similar situation in the presence of God. The problem is we thought that we could deal with God like an equal, that we could storm off from the table, transgress the boundaries without consequence.
But even when we misstep and plummet into the abyss, Jesus reaches out for us. Jesus reached out and touched His three frightened followers that day on the mountain. He knew that they knew that our Creator is a consuming fire, and they had seen His face shining with that fire that gives light to the sun. They knew that a presumptuous step could spell certain death, eternal death. But Jesus says do not fear because they had been graced with the proper fear, a healthy fear of God, and Jesus would show them through His sacrificial death and His resurrection how this all-consuming fire of a God is a loving, long-suffering Father. And in spite of our foolish childish tantrums, He still wants to eat with us.
Centuries earlier, God had called Moses and 70 of the elders of Israel up to the mountain to meet God, to eat and drink at God's table. See Exodus 24. Before they went, Moses built an altar at the base of the mountain, a table to represent God's presence for the people. Then Moses set up 12 pillars to represent the 12 tribes of Israel gathered around God's table, and then they slaughtered some oxen. It was like a meal that was more than just a meal because Moses took half the blood from the sacrifice and he threw it on God's table. Then after he read aloud the words of God's covenant with them, His spiritual marriage to them, His binding family promise for them, Moses threw the rest of the sacrificial blood on the people to mark them. To show them that they were marked with the same blood that marked God's table, God's presence.
And Moses said to them, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you by all these words." Jesus would say similar words to His followers the night before He was crucified. During the Passover dinner, at the table, He took the bread, blessed it and broke it and said, "Take eat. This is My body." Then He took a cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, "Drink of it, all of you, because this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins." It was a meal that was more than just a meal. It is the meal that gives meaning to every other meal that we share: the ongoing meal that for 20 centuries has been at the center of Jesus' followers, even still today. It's the meal in which God promises to be our Father. The meal in which God's Son gives Himself to forgive us. It's the meal by which He marks us, and binds us with His own blood and body to be His covenant family.
In this meal, through faith the Holy Spirit gives us life—life that not even death can split up. Then and only then does every other meal become what God intends it to be. See, we don't just need more frequent family dinners; we need tables in every household graced by Jesus. Where every person can come, even with their doubts, and at least hear an echo of the invitation to God's table. And we, His children, learn to model His long-suffering manner.
"Lamentations of the Father," chapter three. "Cast your countenance upward to the light and lift up your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off, for the stains are upon you, my dear child. Even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon, and in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still. Hold still, I say. What I do is as it must be, and you shall not go hence until I have done it." In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Reflections for February 19, 2023
Title: Table Manners
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And we're back with Dr. Mike Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Hey, Mark!
Mark Eischer: You talked about Moses sacrificing the oxen and sprinkling the people with its blood. Many nowadays would find this idea of blood sacrifice to be revolting and primitive, but doesn't the Bible say without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins?
Mike Zeigler: Well, first I want to say that I agree with you. It is a revolting image, and I as a modern person am also offended by this. And so it's a case where I need to take my understanding captive to the Word of God, go back to the Word of God and see what I can learn there. So you mentioned this passage, "There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood." That comes from Hebrews 9:22. The full verse says under the Law almost everything was purified by blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The author of the Hebrews there, he's not only referencing our reading today from Exodus 24 with Moses throwing the blood on the people, he's also alluding to another passage Leviticus 17:14, which says that the life of every creature is its blood. Its blood is its life, says Leviticus.
So you could say that the point or the significance of the blood sacrifice is that the price is life. To pay the price, to put things right is the life of the person who broke the covenant with God, the covenant relationship. The cost is the life of that person.
Mark Eischer: Are we supposed to see God then as bloodthirsty, demanding the death of a creature in order to pay for sin?
Mike Zeigler: No, good question though. It looks like that and again it is a shocking picture of God that offends my modern sensibilities.
Mark Eischer: Okay, yeah.
Mike Zeigler: So once again, I've got to take myself captive to the Word of God. When I go back to the Bible and I learn there that God is love—that what's motivating God's plan is love. He wants to save us. But there's a real cost for sin. We really did mess the universe up, and if it's not fixed it's going to end in hell for us. That's a real thing. So God in His love is going to enter into this picture and save us. But the cost is life. In other words, the people—you and I—who broke faith with God and trust in God, we have to die, that has to go away. Now the blood of goats and bulls can't do that. Hebrews also says that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. So there's this foreshadowing, this pointing forward to a greater Sacrifice that is going to take this old age, this old, evil age and all of us and die with it, to take it away. So the sacrifices in the Old Testament are like models.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Mike Zeigler: They're like signs pointing forward to what Jesus is going to do on the cross.
Mark Eischer: And how do we become connected to that?
Mike Zeigler: So in the letter to the Romans, chapter 6, Paul explains that—that when we were baptized into Christ, when we came to faith in Him by the Holy Spirit, we actually died. We were buried with Christ. That old self, those old inclinations, the whole old world died with Jesus. That was judgment day. And then a new person can arise by faith on the other side. And the covenant relationship with God can be restored through faith in Jesus. So the blood sacrifice points to this moment in history when God put things right. It cost Him the life of His Son. And we die with Him so that we can rise with Him. And now with this new life in Jesus, we share His body and blood. And that's the significance of the Lord's Supper that when we share the bread, which is the body of the Lord, we're incorporated into His body. So we no longer have life, independent on our own; our life is in Him. When we share the cup, we have His life blood flowing through us. We no longer have life on our own. Our life is in Him. And that life flows out to everyone.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"I Come, O Savior, to Your Table" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.