You know that the early brethren decided to follow Jesus by doing what he did. They looked to the patterns found in the NT to pattern their own lives. It’s no wonder that we have so many dinners and fellowships with food because Jesus was ALWAYS eating!
In our story, Jesus is at a banquet and tells a “parable” about the meal setting at a wedding banquet, which is followed up by another story about another banquet. He can’t get enough of what happens at meals.1
Certainly food is a central part of family reunions. I want you to think about any kind of reunion you’ve attended, or any gathering with food. (often these are funeral or memorial services).
Tell me what these gatherings are like:
Great to see family, especially those who don’t live nearby or are only seen at reunions. . But what about those family members you could easily ‘skip’ seeing?
What do you do/how do you act with your more unpleasant relatives?
Key question: How would Jesus fit in at your family reunion table?
We know from previous stories that Jesus can say the ‘wrong’ thing and be very politically ‘UN-correct’.
He is a good rabbi who knows his scripture. He uses the heart of a Proverb here; Don’t exalt yourself in the presence of the king, or stand in the place of important people, 7 because it is better that he say to you, “ Come up here, ” than to be demoted before a ruler.
Status meant EVERYTHING in Jesus’ day so this was good advice, a reminder to those he was with. Maybe it wasn’t even out of place in a gathering as important as a wedding. I read that a Palestinian wedding feast would have had the groom on a center couch in the place of honor, (they reclined to eat) surrounded by those of wealth, power, connection, or office-holders.
If a dignitary arrived late and there wasn’t a place at the center couches, someone already seated would be asked to leave. How embassing to have your ‘lower’ status pointed out!
Emilie Townes says Jesus “is highlighting the ways in which the realm of God establishes its own social and spiritual order; trying to presume a place in that order is unwise and perhaps even unfaithful.”2
But Jesus’ didn’t stop with advice about presuming our place in the social order or spiritual order of God’s realm. He next says, likely to host, that ‘one shouldn’t invite only those who can invite back, but should invite those who need food and who can’t likely pay you back with an invite.
Obviously this is more than advice against ‘pay-back invitations’. What do you hear in Jesus’ 2nd warning?
STORY about welcome: A homeless man who wanted to go to church. He was late, because he didn’t know what time the service started, and didn’t own a watch. He talked loudly to the people on the door, who met him with worried faces as he came in. He was fairly deaf, and had no idea of the volume of his own voice. They shushed him curtly, as he was disturbing the orderly worship within. His clothes were dirty and torn, and he hadn’t had a bath or a shower since.. Well he couldn’t remember when.
He was hustled back out the door very quickly, much to the relief of the twitchy nosed congregants and the anxious preacher, who had almost lost her place in the kerfuffle.
The man sat heavily and wearily on the steps outside the church. Being familiar with rejection, didnt make it easier, and he hadn’t expected it here. A barefoot stranger sat down beside The strange, rejected fellow. He had wounds in his feet. “Don’t worry, Dave,” he said gently, calling him by name. ” Laying a nail pierced hand into Dave’s weathered palm, he whispered. ” they haven’t let me in there for years”
I hear Jesus suggesting that we have a problem with invites, perhaps ‘welcoming’ is a better term. There’s a difference though...
We (ACoB) welcome whomever shows up at our door.
Would we invite the person who has such an obvious need for help to our Sunday reunions? (whether emotional needs or physical needs?)
. . . Brief pause
Have you ever worried that you would be commiting people here to helping? That you’d be ‘inflicting’ someone’s problems on everyone else?
. . .
I do, I’ll admit it. At time I think it is not my place to commit the congregation to helping someone or someplace without the consent of the board. Perhaps I’m right, but when it stops me from even asking you...then I’m not inviting those who need us. I’m not even inviting us to consider those who need us.
Comments: what are you thinking? This is a casual time where our conversations are an important part of discerning the message of today’s scripture.
I think our youth have a more critical problem with this and a bigger opportunity. Think about the tables at school? How important is it to sit with your friends at lunch and who gets invited to join your table?
. . . Do any of them want to share what it is like?
I sometimes think that we are a perfect community to work with OAR; the Offender Aid and Restoration Movement in Arlington. It began in 1968 when a group of concerned citizens responded to a prison riot in Charlottesville. OAR began in Arlington in 1974 y a local group of women from Arlington, Virginia, who volunteered in the jails and saw a need for ongoing support of prisoners and ex-offenders who remained largely ignored and forgotten by society.3
I read this short story; Bruce came to OAR after serving 27 months in prison. He participated in OAR's Reentry Services Program, including workshops, employment classes, and coaching sessions.
Bruce spoke at length about how prison changed him and that he now knows "taking shortcuts doesn't pay off." In addition to employment, Bruce was focused on opening up communication with his 11-year-old son. Recently, Bruce was able to reconnect with his son. "All I wanted coming out was to get back in touch with my son," he said. "That's happening. I'm so grateful."
Would we be able to welcome a recent offender who was trying to make his or her way back into society after incarceration?
We have been invited to list our congregation on a web-site as an inclusive, welcoming and affirming congregation to the LGBT community. Might this be a place of true welcome to people who so often get church doors closed in front of them?
Who else might God be calling us to invite to join THIS family that gathers together (at least) weekly - to worship, to sit at table together, and to serve?
Is not this the place where we bring together our social lives and our spiritual lives?
As family; this grouping of the ‘Family of God’ - Aren’t we the people we are comfortable sharing with in life’s hard discussions about -What IS a LIVING FAITH,
How DO we walk the talk,
What does it mean to live the JESUS’ WAY?
I ask you to pray about where God is leading us - - / will lead us next - to extend our welcome.
1 Emerson Powery www.workingpreacher.org
2 Emilie M. Townes, theological Feasting on the Word Bartlett, Taylor eds, (Louisville:WJK,2010)22