Luke 14:12-24 The faces around your table are an illustration of your community. Think about your table when you have hosted a meal for more than just your nuclear family—maybe a holiday, maybe a birthday, maybe a meal “for no reason”, as my sister in law says when it is just time to get together. Who is there? How well do you know the dinner guests? What is the atmosphere like? What makes you the most anxious–Whether the roast is overdone or not? Whether there will be enough food? Or whether the conversation will turn to politics? Or whether the guests will appreciate your clean house? Or whether one person will get offended by someone else? Do you pay attention to who sits next to who? Who is at the head of the table? And what is the role of the person sitting at the head of the table?
The faces around our table tell a lot about us. Who is there and
who is not there can indicate who belongs to our community and who does not. Sometimes we invite those we want to belong to our community. Guest lists can be tricky. If you invite so and so, then you have to invite Sally. But then you can’t invite Joe. Navigating the social network was just as complicated in first century Palestine. In days before cars and movies and March Madness, a key social event was the banquet, the gathering of people like you, the chance to impress certain guests, or the chance to honor a particular guest for a favor. Those invited to a banquet at your house would reciprocate, and I can just imagine the careful records that must have been kept by somebody to make sure you didn’t forget to invite a person, or to be sure too much time had not elapsed before you hosted a banquet so you could invite the people who had hosted you. There were always two invitations. The first was to let people know the banquet was coming. Kind of like a “save the date”. And then, on the day of the event, when the food is ready and the table is set, the second invitation goes out to those who have already agreed to come.
Luke tells the story of Jesus at one of those banquets, at the invitation of a leader of the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were not priests, but well respected authorities on Jewish life and faith. The faces around the table belonged to people like the Pharisee—his community. There would have been other religious leaders, well respected people in the community, people economically well off. I never can figure out why Jesus keeps getting invited to these social gatherings. He continues to crash barriers and changes the playing field. His picture of community is nothing like the community around the table. He has the gall to tell the host that he ought to invite people who will never be able to pay him back with an invitation to a future banquet. The people without the social, economic or physical means to repay him. It is God who will repay him in the future. Then he tells another story, this one also about a banquet.
A man had issued the first invitation to his banquet and now was ready for his guests. They had rsvp’d. One by one, they excuse themselves, now saying that something has come up and they can not attend. The excuses are flimsy. Anyone knows that buying a piece of property is not a last minute affair. The legal transaction takes months, and even if the last viewing of the land (maybe like the final walk though on settlement day) did get scheduled on the banquet date, it could have been done in the morning, as banquets were always at the end of the work day. The checking on the new teams of oxen also could be done at another time so as to avoid breaking the promise to attend. When have you heard of a wedding that came up as a surprise to the couple? Neither would it have been in first century Palestine. The guest would have known about his own wedding when the first invitation came. Weddings are planned for, planned around, planned out. These are faces which should have been around the table, but chose not to show up. It is an affront to the host just as it would be to you or me.
Why is Jesus telling this story at the table? He seems to be talking about God’s banquet, God’s community. Surely there were people around the table that night who would have taken this very personally, going home and re-evaluating their own response to Jesus and his teachings. Were they snubbing God? Even more important is the guest list. God’s guest list includes the unexpected. Not those who will reciprocate. Those who live all over the city—the poor, the disabled, the blind. It would be the beggars at the intersections of MLK Blvd. It would be the guys who hang out on the street corners selling cigarettes and more. It would be the amputee and the residents of the shelters and the patients at the HIV clinic. It would be more—it would be those who live outside the city, the foreigners, the lepers, the gentiles. Those who were outside the community, living in the cold (and I don’t mean the temperature). Maybe they are Syrian refugees or grew up in Iraq. Maybe they are immigrants from Myanmar or Dominican Republic or Ghana or Korea or Cameroon or Kenya or Haiti. The faces at God’s table say a lot about who God is. God has room at the table. And at God’s table we find a taste of true, inclusive community.
One way to get a taste of community is when we come together to taste the body Christ at the meal we will share a little later this morning. This morning I want to encourage you to come forward and gather in a small group around the communion table. There will be room for everyone. It will be a chance to see one another’s faces in a way you can not when you are seated in pews. You will be able to look one another in the eyes, to pray together and to share community as we break bread and drink the cup. Tasting community is tasting the heavenly banquet. Passing the bread to young and old, visitor and long time member, black and white and brown and everything in between, English speaker or not. Tasting God for me is tasting community, true community which does not exclude. We won’t have time today to share stories and listen to one another, but we share one story, for we are drawn to the table by God’s love for us and for the person next to us. There is no head of the table. There is no preferred or assigned seating. There is room for us all. And there is still room. Tasting the bread and the cup illustrate for us tasting God’s community—a community of respect, a community of welcome, a community of love. Bring your face to the table! Taste and see that God is very good. Amen.