|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM|
Luke 14:1, 7-14
This Tuesday, we officially begin our new adventure called “The Table”- a joint Lutheran-Episcopal ministry at Towson. And the name “The Table” came out of our life together as a ministry- sitting around a table together to eat and discuss. And it came from reading about what Jesus did at tables in the gospel of Luke. And this morning’s gospel lesson was one of the central texts we discussed. So it seems pretty fitting that God has worked out to have us read this lesson this morning.
Jesus sits down to dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, one of the area’s most important religious leaders. And rather than make small talk, Jesus tells his host, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
He sits down to a nice dinner that he’s been invited to and tells the host that everyone around the table shouldn’t be there. Instead, when you invite people over to dinner, don’t invite your friends or your family or the people you want to impress or the people that can help you get a job or the people you admire. Instead, invite those with little money, those who are hungry, those who have physical challenges. Go find those people who don’t usually get invited to dinner and bring them over to your house. Welcome those people who you try not to notice, all those people that are different enough from you that they make you uncomfortable. Invite all the people that can’t do anything for you. And then you will be blessed.
We’re used to hearing stuff like this from Jesus. Hard stuff. He tells us to give up what we own. To be prepared to cause division in our families and suffer physically for following him. And then we get to today’s text, where Jesus just tells us to change who we invite for dinner. And I’ve got to tell you, for some reason these words seem almost as hard to live out as all that big stuff.
Because who we eat with is a pretty personal thing. We eat with people we like and who make us comfortable. Who make us feel like we belong. And when we stretch beyond just eating with those folks we like, it’s usually for a good reason- like having lunch with your boss or a client at work to get ahead. Or hosting a party to impress some folks or to introduce people to each other. Most of us don’t do a whole lot of eating with random strangers if we can avoid it.
So why is Jesus messing with that? Why is he being so insistent about who we should invite to dinner? I mean, we all know that he wants the poor to be fed, but can’t we just give them their own meal? We know he wants those who face physical challenges to be helped, but can’t we do that some other way? Would all these folks really want to come into our homes, anyway? Wouldn’t that be just as strange for them as it would be for us? Why does Jesus care who we eat dinner with, as long as we care about others and make sure they have what they need?
That’s what I say in my mind when I read this passage, but in my heart I think I know the reason already. I think that Jesus is so insistent about who we invite to our meals precisely because they are so personal. And they are so ordinary and central to our lives. Gathering around tables together is how we get to know each other. Sharing a meal with someone is a way show that we value them. And a way we show the world who we are willing to be seen with and connected to. And often they are also about social standing- who we are equal to, who we are better than. They’re often ways that we show where we stand and who we are willing to stand with. They are central to understanding who we are in the world.
But Jesus comes to show us a new way that doesn’t look like the rest of the world. That has different values and different ways of life. It is one where peace is more powerful than violence, love is more powerful than death and where justice is more important than power or wealth or status. It simply doesn’t look like the rest of the world. And one of the ways that we’re going to learn about and live out that kingdom is in one of the most ordinary and personal ways we can imagine- changing who is around our dinner tables.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and us that meals in the kingdom aren’t about status or the people you like- they are about a crazy community that would only be called together by me- a community whose only connection is that they are people that I am absolutely crazy about. And at these kingdom meals, all the folks who don’t get much love out in the rest of the world get an extra special seat at my table. And they get that seat simply because they need it. So when you set the table for a feast, Jesus says, remember these folks that I shower my love on- the ones who need to feel that love the most. And make sure they have a place at all your celebrations.
Because, he told the Pharisees, all those good law-abiding folk who loved God, you already know you are God’s children. You know that God thinks you are an utter delight. But there are some folks who don’t get that. And the truth is, you’re going to be the person through which they learn. So your meals are meant to be about the ones who never get an invitation. And if you’re ever in that category- if you are someone who is struggling and in pain, someone who gets left out, someone who can’t understand my love, then I’m going to bug your brothers and sisters to invite you because I adore you. And I want you to know that. And perhaps, when they invite you in to their party- invite you by name and out of love- you might learn what it means to be loved by me.
So go invite your brothers and sisters in here at my meal. Make my welcome of them real- in flesh and blood. And then take your place among them. Get to know the ones I love. Get to see what I love about them- even if you have to look hard. And see how I love them even when it’s difficult. And then maybe you’ll get how I love you, too. Even when you make it plenty hard for me.
Make your meals a reflection of the kingdom I’ve been preaching about and maybe you’ll start to learn how amazing that kingdom is. That place where the only status you have is “child of God” and that is all the status you need. Where you don’t need to figure out who is more important and who is less important or worry about what group you fit in. You fit in simply because you are loved by God and you invite others in because God loves them, too. Start living that way in your meals and maybe you’ll start understanding that this how things already are in God’s kingdom. And maybe you’ll start to fall in love with the kingdom and with me again.
Jesus is saying that to love the kingdom, we have to start living it. That’s what his followers do.
Jesus keeps telling us that to be his follower is to be known and defined by the strange things we do in order to live out the message of Jesus. It is to be so in love with the kingdom that Jesus is bringing that we risk living it out on earth. And perhaps that starts with one of the most personal and ordinary things we do- inviting everyone into our meals. Inviting all those who get left out and might make you a little uncomfortable. All those who need an invitation more than anyone else. Inviting them simply to eat with us and be a part of our lives for awhile.
This is what I know Jesus calls us to- as individuals and most especially as a Christian community. Because this is what he lives out- eating with public sinners, tax collectors, important people and those of no account. And I know that Jesus wants our communities to actively embrace everyone. To go out into the streets and invite folks into our homes and our communities. To invite them in for dinner. But I’ve got to admit- I don’t do this most of the time. This is not how I live and not how most Christians live. Inviting everyone- especially those who have more challenges and more needs than most- is hard. It’s inconvenient. It takes up a lot of time and energy. We don’t have the resources to do it. And worse than that, I have to admit that I don’t really want to do this most days. I don’t want to make my meals like Jesus says.
But just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t keep inviting us to this work.. So perhaps we need to admit how hard Jesus’ words are. To admit that they are not always easy or a whole lot of fun. And as a community of people who are trying to follow Jesus, continue to challenge each other to live out Jesus’ words. To try it out as a community together so we might have the strength to do it. Perhaps once a year, then a few times and then once a month. To try inviting folks to a meal- at this congregation or at a restaurant or in someone’s home. Not to convert them. Not to get them to join the church. Not to do anything but simply share life with them. Hear their stories. Learn who they are. And for an hour or two, simply to be willing to share our lives with those that Jesus desperately loves.
It’s not going to change our lives overnight. It’ll still be strange and awkward. But Jesus calls us to this so that we might learn what the kingdom is like. So that we might learn what the love of God is like. How wide and abundant and overwhelming it is. How it embraces us no matter how challenging we are, and whether others like us or we like ourselves. We’re invited to invite others in so that we might learn how God keeps inviting us to the table because he adores us. And then, we get the privilege of inviting others to the table so that we might get to show someone else how much they are loved by our God.