August 28, 2022
"Table Fellowship – aka Food for Thought”
Rev. Scott Landis
Jesus just seems to get himself into lots of trouble repeatedly on the sabbath. No matter what he did OR how noble his intentions, his actions on the sabbath seemed to get folks’ noses out of joint again and again. Whether it was a healing, an exorcism, or simply forgiving sins – everyone knew – the rules for how to conduct oneself on the sabbath were completely under the jurisdiction of the Pharisees and synagogue leaders. But Jesus simply could not help himself. He knew there was more than one way to view any given situation and how to respond. And his was the way of grace. [Pause]
Today’s sabbath story is a case in point. The setting was the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Jesus was invited into the home of this VIP and he jumped at the chance. As he entered, Luke tells us, “All the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move.” And then, Jesus simply did what he does – starting off with a bang, he healed a man who was in desperate need (we didn’t read those verses today). AND he gave his rationale for doing so – human need was much more important than stated rule.
Then he went on to tell them a story – about table fellowship and table manners. Quite simply, he gave them a whole lot of food for thought that was far more important than the food they were eating. He spoke to the guests AND the host – reminding them of just how important this very commonplace experience and practice was to each one who gathered there. His story – and lesson embedded in his words – were obviously to highlight the importance of what it means to be invited, included, and affirmed.
I ask you to keep that in mind as I invite you to a different table. Using your imagination, I’d like to take you to the table of my childhood home. Perhaps, at the same time, you might recall your own. Ours was a rather modest house in suburban Pennsylvania – ranch style with three bedrooms, one bath, and a nice sized living room – but the center of our home was the kitchen. My dad even added onto it because this was the room where we spent most of our time.
It was an eat-in kitchen, and the table took up most of the room. It was the place where we ate all our meals (no sitting in front of the television in my home), it was where we drank endless cups of coffee and ate lots of snacks – and it was also the place where we drank copious amounts of beer while chomping on pretzels and peanuts.
It was here that my mom and I would argue about – well, just about everything – debating ideas, thoughts, and dreams, politics and religion - anything. Mom and I rarely agreed on much - so it was here that she asked me one day, “When did you get to be so liberal.” A comment I knew she said lovingly yet worried about me all the same.
The kitchen table is where I would do my homework, where I learned to type, and where I sat to talk on the telephone since we only had one receiver in the kitchen – you remember the days of ”party lines” and those long cords that seemed to tangle for no reason.
But the table is where we came together as a family and – as we would say here to – “talk-story” about the upcoming day AND how it all went later that evening. It was at that table that I have some of my fondest memories of homecomings around birthdays, and holiday celebrations – as well as some of our most vociferous arguments – you know – family life.
Our table could open so that additional leaves would be added, allowing space for others to join my family for larger meals by pulling up extra awkward-sized chairs and the piano bench where you got to sit if you drew the short straw. The table was our gathering spot for friends, family, and folks we barely knew. No one was ever turned away.
It was at this table that told my parents I thought I was called to ministry. They were so proud. It was at this table that I told them I would be leaving the area where I spent my entire life (and where most of my extended family stilled lived) when I was called to serve a new church in Denver. They were happy for me but not the fact that their grandchildren would also be moving (the news broke their hearts). And eventually, it was at this table where I returned to tell them I was gay, and I broke their hearts once again.
But, regardless of arguments, or news shared, or food being served – no matter what transpired around that table – I knew I belonged there. I always had a seat there. I was reminded there of unconditional love, acceptance, AND affirmation. The table in my home was always a place of radical hospitality. I didn’t know it then, but our kitchen table was as sacred as any church altar, because it was there that I experienced the grace of God. [Pause]
I believe this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke to those gathered in the Pharisee’s home that day about the importance of table fellowship – and table manners.
Yes, he warned them about the trouble they could get themselves into if they took on an inflated view of themselves – “walking around all the time with their noses in the air.” And, yes, he chastised them against inviting only the folks they liked into their homes – those who could easily return the favor – while there were many others who would love such an invitation but were always overlooked.
But this was not a “Miss Manners” lesson Jesus was going for. He wanted them to realize the importance of table fellowship. For it is here – when we share a meal with one another that barriers just might break down as folks experience the possibility of acceptance for who they are, or what they believe – views and opinions or even lifestyles we may not share nor understand.
And while this is so important, I believe, Jesus had something even greater in mind. In emphasizing the importance of hospitality Jesus pointed toward another table. A table where very soon his disciples would recline as he washed their feet. A table where he would raise a loaf of bread – break it – and encourage them to recall long after he was gone, “This is my body that is broken for you – whenever you return to this table and eat – remember me.
In the same way with the wine – he would pour into a cup – raise it – and encourage them to recall long after he was gone, “This is the cup of salvation given to you – whenever you return to this table and drink – remember me. [Pause]
Today we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism. It is the sacrament of inclusion — of unconditional acceptance in the Christian church when we boldly proclaim as the child is blessed: “As of today, we know very little about you. We don’t know fully who you are or what you will become. We don’t know what the future hold for your – but we do know whose you are – you are God’s child – a child of blessing – a child of promise. We affirm that and seek to offer that same total acceptance as we welcome you into our spiritual ‘ohana.”
Next week we will celebrate the sacrament of holy communion. It reminds us of our baptism. It is the sacrament of nurture and helps us to recall the acceptance of a loving God who claimed us at our birth and continues to do so each day of our lives as we are rejuvenated with spiritual food offered at – the table of hospitality.
This is the table where no one is turned away. Anyone seeking the presence of Christ in their lives – all who are searching – even those who feel lost – or have given up on their faith. Everyone is welcome here.
I was fortunate enough to experience the message of the sacred table in my childhood home. We all have the opportunity to experience that same grace each time we break bread and share the cup right here — in our spiritual home. [Pause]
“When he walked into the room,” Luke tells us, “All the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move.” No wonder! For in him they witnessed complete acceptance – no judgment – nothing but unmerited grace. This is what the church is called to be today as we become the incarnation of that same love. Hale pule (a house of prayer) and hale aloha (a house of grace, love, compassion).
May all who enter here feel that love, experience that grace, and may we carry those gifts out into the community in which we live.