This past week we were challenged to recognize that it is Christ who makes the guest list. We said that this could be a key struggle for most of us since we tend to want to have people around us that are like us. It also means that we must begin to deal with the log in our own eye as we gather, instead of focusing our attention on our dinner partners’ speck.
I said to you at the 11 am service that it was tempting to speak of the long list of people that the church has turned away from the table. I even said that it would take me a lot longer than 30 minutes to name all of those on the list. When I mentioned this I could sense the anxiety rising, this was a sign to me that I did not have to name it. In fact we know, we ourselves have our list of people that we rather God not invite. We have our own list of people that we deem as unworthy, sinners, in need of conversion before eating with us.
This is fascinating since the ministry of Jesus was centered on eating with the wrong people. Again and again the king invites the un worthy to come to the feast, the ones that society rather ignore. Table fellowship with sinners was a mark of God’s Kingdom as made known in Jesus.
“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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12b-14
In fact in Luke 14:15-24 those originally invited, the people of power and prestige, are too busy and instead it is those who are rejected that are invited, who respond, and who experience the hospitality and feasting of the kingdom.
If we are going to be a Eucharistic Community, a community that centers its hospitality around table, we must be a people who invite others to the feast. In fact I would say that we must be a people who create opportunities for meal fellowship around our city. Imagine the sign of the kingdom as we live out table fellowship in ways that express the abundant grace of God for all people.
In a meeting recently we were discussing the church as a doer of public theology. As a people that engage the Good News of Jesus in ways that transform our neighborhood and our cities. This means that we must bring people to the table that normally would not come together. It also means that in our hospitality we challenge the powerful, the leaders, the people with means to see our city in a new way. It also means that we gather those who are rejected, forgotten, abused, neglected, and marginalized to find empowerment, to find a voice, to find agency through the power of the Spirit.
This is indeed difficult work. It requires a willingness to examine our own hearts and lives, to confess and to repent. It also requires an acknowledgement of our own limits and our own brokenness. It also requires us to risk being liked, go along with the prejudices that we have become accustomed to, and making space for careful listening and courageous conversations.
Living into this difficulty (“work[ing] out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12b) makes present our commitment to the new covenant that we renew at table. It also models for the world Eucharistic hospitality, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Living in this way transforms us, our relationships, and it also transforms our communities.
My question today is our we ready for the challenge? Are we prepared for the difficult work of the kingdom? Are we willing to make spaces in our city for meal fellowship? Do we understand ourselves to be a Eucharistic Community, a community committed to the common good? A commitment to make salvation known in real ways to our city?
“When the crack-house opens it changes the face of the community, when the business closes it changes the face of the community . . . is the church’s presence of absence changing the face of our communities?” The Rev. Dr. Asa J. Lee