When we invite someone we don’t know very well over to our homes for dinner for the first time, we expect that their behavior will be fairly formal or proper, don’t we? Imagine having your child’s fiancé’s parents over, for example, as the first time you ever meet. If they had been quarreling in the car on the way over, we wouldn’t expect them to continue the argument in front of us relative strangers over dinner. If they were worried about something we wouldn’t expect them to cry in front of us. If they felt high-spirited and mischievous, we wouldn’t expect them to start playfully tossing dinner rolls at each other – not with new acquaintances, not at a first meeting. There’s a certain standard of restrained, proper behavior.
When we’re having dinner with someone a few times later, though, maybe our fifth or sixth time together, things have loosened up a little more, haven’t they? Perhaps they’d tell a slightly risqué joke they wouldn’t have the first time, or offer their opinion on a delicate political matter – laugh a little louder. Not quite so restrained as the first time.
And if we’re with family members who drop by often, or friends we see all the time – people we’ve been through lots of experiences with, lots of ups and downs – then many types of comments or expression of feelings are okay.
If our daughter was treated unfairly at work that day, she can feel free to express her anger to us over dinner. If our best friend has just lost her puppy, she can cry with us. When we’re comfortable together, as frequent diners together, we can share whatever’s going on inside us that day.
How many times have you been to God’s house for this meal? Fifteen? Dozens? Hundreds? Most of us fall into that third category I described, of frequent dining here, don’t we? Many times at the Lord’s table. Yet when it comes to dining with the Lord, how many of us still act reserved, act oh-so-proper, don’t share with God what’s going on inside us that day? How many of us act like strangers? How often do you hold back, hold out on God, and don’t bring what you’re feeling to this table, to this meal?
It’s a Christian tradition of sorts, isn’t it: we only say certain things to God. We rarely show our anger, our sadness, our doubts, our fears; we rarely bring them to God’s table, no matter how many times we’ve been here.
There is one book of the Bible in particular that shows us we don’t have to hold back that way, The psalms, more than any other book in the Bible, show us we don’t have to leave certain feelings behind as we come talk to God –that we can say whatever’s on our hearts, express whatever’s going on inside.
In fact, the psalm-writers know, God wants us to share who we are with God – all of who we are. Not leave something out. Not try to hide, like Adam and Eve in the garden. The writers of the psalms know: it’s OK to come to God with whatever we’re feeling. In fact it’s good. The psalms are full of emotion, and emotions of all kinds. In case we have any doubt, the psalms give us permission, by example, to bring all of who we are to God, and to the Lord’s table.
We’re allowed to bring our joy. That one comes as no surprise; we frequently speak of joy in church: “Joy to the World”, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” Our first Scripture reading today, Psalm 100, is just one of many psalms of joy we find in our Bibles.
But do we know we can also bring our sorrow? Listen again to these verses from Psalm 88: “O Lord, God of my salvation, when at night I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to its end. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like the forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?” It is all right to express our sorrow too.
The people of Israel had witnessed many miracles of God on their behalf, and often felt things would turn out fine for them. They expressed their confidence, as in these verses from Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and foes – they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.”
But they weren’t always people of confidence, and when they felt afraid they shared that with God too, as in Psalm 6: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord . . . how long? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.” “My soul is struck with terror. O God, how long?”
The people of Israel also often felt good about themselves, confident in their goodness, in their righteousness. This is from Psalm 26: “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you. I wash my hands in innocence, O Lord. I walk in my integrity.” Almost cocky, wouldn’t you say? But they could also admit when they had done wrong, as in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” The psalmists also brought their shame.
And the people spoke boldly of their faith in God, as in Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” But they also allowed themselves to express their doubts. This is from Psalm 10: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor. Those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. Their ways prosper at all times! Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression! Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” We are people of faith, but we can bring our doubts too to God – even our anger, when things seem unfair.
How many times have you come to God’s house for this meal? Shouldn’t we be comfortable here by now? Shouldn’t we know it’s okay to open up, to express, in our prayers and to each other, whatever we’re feeling today?
Come to the table, and bring your joys and your sorrows. Come to the table, and bring your confidence and your fears. Come to the table, feeling righteous or repentant. Come to the table, full of faith or full of doubts. Bring whatever you’re feeling today to God’s table . . . come.
Let’s pray: God, thank you for your invitation to come to this table, to remember again all that Jesus has done for us. And thank you for your invitation to bring whatever thoughts and feelings we are experiencing today, and any day, to you. Amen.