Do you know what the most important piece of furniture in our homes might be? No, it is not the TV stand or the recliner. The most important piece of furniture in our homes signifies more than what we often recognize it is capable of doing. I am thinking of the table extender.
This great and important piece of furniture is often hidden away in some closet. Why do I feel like it is the most important piece of furniture that we own? Why would I say something that seems outlandish? It is hidden away and, sometimes in our home, it is the thing that allows Abbi to extend her desk, since she works from home and at the dining room table. Yet it is a piece of furniture that allows us to be hospitable and invite people into our homes and lives.
When the table extender comes out, it often means we are preparing to host a large feast and need the extra space. Perhaps some of you will need it tomorrow for your Labor Day celebrations. We like to host people in our homes and celebrate with food and good conversations. The table extender comes out when the family comes in for the holidays, when friends have come over for a special meal, or some other moment when we are hosting people. The table extender is a physical representation of how we have made room in our lives for people to join us in fellowship and relationship.
I wonder what it would look like if the kingdom of God had a table extender. Have you ever wondered about that? I’ll be honest, it is something that has been on my mind as we reflect upon our passage from Luke 14:7-14. If the table extenders from our dining room tables are a metaphor for how we like to entertain and welcome people into our homes, what would a table extender look like in the kingdom of God? Perhaps it’s more important that we should ask, who would God welcome to dine with him at his table?
This is a question worth wrestling with as we join Jesus during another Sabbath encounter. If you remember from last week, Sabbath moments with Jesus are often times when things get interesting. It is when he has challenged the status quo and the social norms of the time, while providing moments of healing and grace for people. We pick up with the story as Jesus prepares to dine at the home of a Pharisee.
In the culture of Jesus’ time, and even still today, sharing a meal with someone was an intimate interaction of deep connection and relationship. For one, it brings people together to share in the common need of providing subsistence to our bodies. At the same time, it lowers our guard and gives us freedom to relax and engage in deeper conversations than we would around a business table or desk.
Jesus has already caused a stir before the dinner began. He had healed someone who was sick as he entered the house. Again, this is on the Sabbath, and it gives the Pharisees more of a reason to examine Jesus as they dine together.
They think they are the ones in charge of the conversation, but as we see throughout Scripture, Jesus uses real life situations to bring forth the deeper realities of what it means to follow God’s desires. He does so here as he talks about who is welcome in a culture where being invited and honored as important was everything. The Greco-Roman culture was centered on class status, where you wanted to be honored as being important, valued, and respected. Much like today where we want others to believe that we are “middle class,” even when we are swimming in debt and will purchase new homes, cars, clothes, phones, and anything else to give the appearance of status and acceptance.
It went even further than that in Jesus’ time. Where you sat at a meal was everything. If you were invited to a dinner and were asked to sit first, you were the most important guest. Everyone wanted that honor, because it meant that you were important and valued.
Jesus notices how everyone is vying for this top choice and begins to tell a story. It is a story about a wedding feast, but it isn’t really. The wedding feast is an analogy for something more important – the kingdom of God. When we are talking about the kingdom of God, we mean the dominion and reign of God which we are citizens of through our faith in Christ. As he is a participating in this meal and watching what is taking place around him, Jesus uses the opportunity to share what it means to welcome people into fellowship around the table as a kingdom value.
He starts by looking at the guests. They are the ones who have been invited to the fellowship. They are not to see themselves as the ones who are the guest of honor. As well, they should not try to fight for the top position either by seeking it out or through some mock humility where we are really putting ourselves first. If we do, we’ll end up being humiliated when the host comes and invites us to move to a lower place.
The host in the kingdom of God is Christ. He is the one who makes the invitation possible by calling people to come and be part of something greater than ourselves. We who have gathered here this morning have heard the invitation to love God and love our neighbor and have come to experience what it is all about.
When we see this story as a kingdom narrative, it calls to our attention how we respond to that invitation. Are we here because we want to be honored in society for coming to church? Are we here because we want others to value us as important? Are we here because we want status, power, influence, to be seen as we do it all? If that is our motivation, Christ’s words are a reminder to us that the invitation is not given as a badge of honor. It is given as a life to identify with the very welcome and activities of Christ.
This is a life that we see lived out in the next part of the story. He turns to the host at this point and says that the feast should not be limited to just friends and family. Jesus says these are people who would be expected to return the favor. Instead, Jesus says when you invite someone to a celebration you should invite people who cannot give you anything in return: the poor, the lame, and the blind.
The kingdom of God invites to the table of fellowship and connection those people society not only forgets about, but rejects. Jesus himself identified with the people society scorned throughout his earthly ministry. He sat with women. He fellowshipped with sinners. He gave hope to the poor and forgotten. He broke the barriers of society to welcome those whom were told that they had no status or influence.
What Jesus is doing in this moment is calling us to a life where we are modeling the activity of the host within the life of the church. Jesus is the one who offers the invitation to the connection of fellowship. We are merely the ones sharing the invitation with others. Once again, he is turning the status quo on its head by saying that the fellowship of God is welcome to all people.
As people who have received the invitation and are called to live in the footsteps of Christ’s actions, we are called to make room in our lives, our fellowship, and in the connection of the church for people society often does not want. We are called to share Christ’s invitation of love, grace, hope, and peace to the people within our community who are rejected for not being good enough, for not being rich enough, for not being anything enough. We are to be messengers that the table is wide and open for everyone to come, taste, and see that the Lord is Good.
This is put into practice by being willing to invite to worship the very people we struggle with in our lives. That is the radical nature of God’s love. It’s not just for us and the people we like, but it is extended with those with whom we struggle and disagree. When we are willing to share that invitation, we recognize the magnificent nature of God’s love and are able to give of that love more freely. Christ’s good news and welcome is not just for us. It is for all people.
In a few moments, we will gather around the table to celebrate communion. We will remember and practice this invitation into fellowship that Christ shares with us. We will come to dine at the table as guests of Christ, who calls us to share in this meal so that we remember whose we are and who we are. As well, we leave as those who have experienced the invitation and are called to deliver Christ’s invitation with all people, especially with those society rejects and, even, that we reject.
So when you come forward to share in communion, imagine that this table extender is there to extend the table wide enough for the people we struggle with to have a place at the table. Who would be there? More than that, what would it look like if we at Beverly Hills didn’t just say the table is open to all who love Christ, but truly lived out Christ’s welcome to all people through our words, our actions, and our desire to share God’s love and welcome throughout our community.
The table is open. The welcome has been extended. Today, don’t just come and taste and see that the Lord is Good. Experience it and then share the welcome with all so that they may know all are welcomed at the table of grace.