The scripture text for this sermon is Luke 24:13-35.
The 1987 French Film called Babbette’s Feast is set in a village in the 1800’s on the dark, rocky and forbidding Danish shoreline. The entire village is part of a Protestant settlement, similar to the strict Puritans that made their home in New England. The village was founded by the father of two unmarried sisters. The father is dead now, but he is remembered for his strong faith, pure life, and demanding nature that fit well with the difficult landscape that he had chose to live.
The sisters had suitors and opportunities to move from this forbidding and harsh village. They chose not to, out of loyalty to their father. The movie revolves around a visitor to this village, Babbette. Babbette is young, beautiful, boisterous, extravagant, French and Catholic. None of these traits endear her to the village or the sisters. She is fleeing France because of her anti government activity which also makes her suspicious. The sisters, even though they do not approve of Babbette or her ways, take her in because it is the good Christian thing to do.
Babbette manages not only to offend the sisters but nearly every one of the unsmiling, gray clad villagers. She is oblivious to the disapproval that follows her every move and only wishes to repay the villagers for their kindness. She gets her chance when she is left money in France. She decides to spend the entire winnings on a big preparing a huge feast for everyone. We find out that she was a famous chef in Paris.
She orders extravagant animals like sea turtles, quails, fish eggs and young calves for her meal. The sister’s home begins to look like a zoo. She grows excited for what she is planning as each new herb and delicacy arrives. The women look on with disapproval at the waste. They gather the other villagers together in a meeting without Babbette. They tell them that although they disapprove of the meal, it would not be Christian if they did not attend. They make a pledge with the others that they will eat the food but they promise to swallow quickly and not taste or enjoy it.
The day of the feast comes and everyone sits in their gray, black and white clothes looking more ready for a funeral rather than a celebration. The courses are served with Babbette theatrically and grandly fussing over the details. The villagers hold to their promise and chew quickly and swallow without comment or word. Babbette seems not to notice. The great delicacies mount, soon small morsels of taste cannot help but be noticed by the villagers. They start whispering to each other what they have enjoyed. The expensive wine loosens even further the rigid posture of the villagers at the feast. By the end of the meal, they are laughing, singing, toasting and anxiously awaiting the next treat. Babbette’s feast transformed these dour, sour, sad people into a raucous, singing thankful people. For once they looked like the joyful people their Sunday hymns consistently declared they were.
The village is made up of religious sort of people. Religious sort of people understand bad news and low expectations; they don’t seem to understand Good News and abundance. Religious sort of people understand and are weary of evil; they don’t seem to understand God’s goodness and are consistently surprised by it. I like to think of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem towards Emmaus in our Gospel today as typical religious people. They were sure that evil had triumphed yet again. Their lot was to endure, just as the lot of the villager’s in Babbette’s Feast was to endure.
The two disciples knew Jesus. They told the stranger that came upon them completely, accurately the story of Jesus. He was a prophet. He did great things. He was arrested, tortured and killed. They believed he would be the one sent to save them. They had been wrong. They knew this because now he was dead. They had all the head stuff down.
These two disciples knew Jesus, but didn’t trust Jesus. Knowing is head stuff. Trusting is heart stuff. The stranger, who it turns out is the risen Jesus, says that they are slow of heart. Slow of heart seems better than hard of heart. Hard of heart would mean they didn’t get any of it. They were walking away from Jerusalem. They are simply going in the wrong direction. They are escaping with their slow hearts, to Emmaus, to lick their wounds and wait for the next tragic disappointment from God.
Like the villagers in Babbette’s Feast, because they know what the right thing to do is, they invite the stranger in for a meal. It is in this act of kindness, inviting Jesus to eat with them, that allows their slow hearts begin to burn hot. Their disappointment turns to joy. Their faith, what they knew up here, took on flesh and it becomes who they are here. They know and trust Jesus.
As religious people we often reside near God but not in God. Our faith is full of knowledge but there is no flesh on it. We have hearts for God, but those hearts never burn. We eat at the table, but don’t taste or enjoy. We mouth the words to joyful hymns, but we never shout the Alleluia’s! when given the chance. We know Jesus, but we have stopped trusting Jesus.
I don’t want to be the dour gray clad Christians in Babbette’s Feast or the disappointed disciples in our story from Luke. Join me in being surprised that God’s love for us is deeper than God’s disappointment in us. Together we can encourage each other to trust that the goodness in life survives even when the thicket of evil seems to choke it out. As community, we can celebrate the gifts we have been given, share them generously, and love extravagantly. As church, we can sing great joyful hymns as thankful, saved children of God. I want to know and trust Jesus, with you.
Today, move the head stuff of faith into the heart stuff of actions. Do the right thing, even if you don’t think it will make a difference. You know what is right. You know Jesus, now trust him, too. Be open to the possibility of God’s love in the most unlikely people, the crazy Babette, the bothersome strangers. Though this world is still broken, God is fixing it and you are part of the joyful repair. Though evil is all around God’s goodness is greater and you are part of that goodness. Smile! God’s love is great. Sing! God’s gifts are abundant. Love! God’s promises are real. Taste! God’s table is fantastic. Alleluia! Amen