No sermon recording this week, apologies. (office manager needs IT help!)
On one occasion Jesus went to the house of the leader of the Pharisees for a meal, on the sabbath, and they were watching … right away we know there is something going on. And then this parable of the wedding banquet.
Threads of this sermon come from a preacher Rev Powery who said of this parable and more generally that table is not only the place where one may well say grace and give thanks; it is also a space where one extends grace.
Table grace and hospitality. The open table! We know that table meals in the ancient world were places where philosophers and teachers could impart their wisdom; they were places where a community’s identity could be marked – there is a proverb that says: ‘I saw them eating and I knew who they were’. Meaning that one’s eating company says something about you and your company. And here Jesus sat with a Pharisee! … imagine how that would have jarred with church readers post the cross and resurrection.
For the writer of Luke meals were of profound theological significance. One commentator has said that ‘nothing is more serious than a dining table for Luke’ (Craddock) The Eucharist and the revelations of the risen Christ occur there (Lk 24). Jesus promises the Spirit while eating around the table (Acts 1). The table is so important that Jesus gets into trouble because of the people he ate with – he became known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners because he ate with them.
In fact breaking bread at the table was so important, that it was the measure of inclusion of people into the community; meaning that, the real test of whether the church included people who were different was not at the point of baptizing them but of eating with them (Acts 11). Inviting others to the table was a sign of status depending on who the host was, but it was also a sign of acceptance and service; everyone was equal at the table in the breaking of the bread. Table fellowship meant full acceptance of one another … and this is precisely something of the context of the thread at the start of the chapter ‘and they were watching him’. In Acts, something similar was inferred as the people questioned Peter when he went to the Gentile Cornelius’ house: ‘Why did he go to an uncircumcised man and eat with them’. Table fellowship doesn’t lie … going to someone’s house was bad enough but to eat with them at the same table? Dangerous.
So who’s at the table here in this parable? It’s a wedding and that conveys something profound about the church as the bride of Christ. This is the most obvious part of the parable. We are all at the table. But the critical part of the parable is where one sits. Don’t go to the sitting place where you are in the place of honour … go and sit at the lowest place. And right away we see that here around the table we are getting a lesson about humility. And the notion of humility is extended later that it is not just about where one sits but also who we invite.
When you give a lunch or a dinner don’t just invite your friends or your family or your rich neighbours perhaps to impress them … invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, those from whom we cannot get anything in return for our hospitality. Hospitality is the core of this, hospitality that emits from a sense of deep Kingdom values. In the Kingdom of Jesus, in his vision of the new community to be etched here in our homes and in our church and in our community, those who have nothing … no social or economic status, those on the margins, those who are broken and in need, those are the ones where we are to concern ourselves around our tables … and not just our tables in our homes, but in the central place of our hearts. This radical embrace of compassion is translated into a radical notion of hospitality – that the table and our hearts are to be for all but particularly those in desperate need. And those in desperate need, those on the margins, are to be welcomed and embraced and to be seated at the table front and centre, they are to take the better seats. It is all inverted. It is an inversion of hospitality –grounded in humility and compassion – those on the periphery, those who on the outside of our culture groups, THOSE WHO MAKE US FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE, those who are isolated, those deemed unworthy and unfit – here the call is that they are to be invited to the table of equality to eat …
And what does the final word say … did you hear it … you will be blessed. In this inversion of invitation in this inversion of power, in this inversion of hospitality all will be blessed … and we too. Welcoming the stranger brings blessing.
This notion of hospitality is what one theologian has called the ‘drama of embrace’ … an embrace where we commit ourselves to the values of Jesus and in so doing we commit ourselves to the other and welcome them, an embrace where we readjust our identities to make space for them … an embrace where there is a judgment call, a judgment that is about accepting all people as valuable creations of God, a judgment call that says all people carry within them the seed of God and that we are called to nurture it … to embrace it.
But let me stop here for a bit and let us just ponder the significance of it: from this parable, from this vision and call and invitation of welcome from Jesus, how do you think we do as church? How good are we at welcoming the stranger? Belinda in her sermon some months ago acknowledged that This church has a long legacy of offering hospitality, of demonstrating care and compassion and of challenging and changing attitudes particularly when it comes to refugees.
And there was a recognition that we are a broad church – not everyone expresses the same views and the same solutions or expresses them in the same way – but even so the challenge is for us to keep pressing into what it means to show hospitality – not just to those we know but also to strangers; and what it means to demonstrate radical care and compassion; what it means to live outside our own self-interest.
I have read that etymologically the word hostility is built into the word hospitality, such that we can understand the very nature of hospitality is risk. Hospitality comes from the Latin hospes, which is built upon two words: ‘hostis’ which originally meant stranger, even an enemy, and ‘pets’ which means to have power. Therefore, hospitality, the welcome extended to a person is the function of the host to remain master of the place. The host receives strangers yet remains in control and there is a sense that the strangeness of the guest and the power of the host sits in tension with each other – hence the risk. And it is this risk of hospitality that fundamentally led Jesus to the cross because in his picture of hospitality he says ‘let the other come’ whoever, whatever. Come on the sabbath, come when it is culturally and legally and religiously frowned upon. Come because people matter not the rules. Come because love matters not form. Come even if the other is unlike us, even if they threaten us with harm or might even do violence to us. Hospitality brings risk.
We have talked a little about using Taize style prayers in worship and in some meditation groups in October that we are planning … and this sense of hospitality is fundamentally what Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community in France exemplified – the Taize community founded post war was an intentional community of reconciliation that welcomed all to prayer and to peace and to community. In fact Brother Roger was stabbed I understand from someone who was living with poor mental health, but Brother Roger knew the risk, and he embraced it, welcomed it as a sign of the fundamental nature of hospitality of the community. Brother Roger’s hospitality welcomed the risk of hostility …
There is something here that beckons us as we go about doing the business of church and as we embrace others in our Centre – yes it is risky, yes we have people who are homeless who visit, yes they create interruptions to our sense of decorum and to our rhythms of the day, but the call of faith is to invite them and welcome them and embrace them … to accept the risk, to be prudent and wise and to know too that there is something of a blessing in what we offer. We offer love! And an experience of humility and grace from God who continually welcomes us and invites to the table of love.