The Very Rev. Tom Callard – September 1, 2019
One thing I remember about my time in Honduras – on Sunday after Church, the clergy would often go to someone’s house for lunch, usually a parishioner. And it was spontaneous- we would just show up unannounced, pre-cell phones, without any warning. And I always felt a little awkward about that, but people assured me that it was part of the culture of hospitality. That the Hondurans were happy to have clergy, as these people of honor, sitting and eating in their home.
The food was plentiful and we ate with the family, but I often would notice that not everyone would have a seat at the table. Especially in these large families there were people who were waiting to eat, and I assumed they would eat after we were finished. And one day we were having lunch at someone’s home and I kept seeing this little boy who was probably four coming into the room and then disappearing, and then he came back and left again. It happened about four times. And finally he came into the middle of the room and he put his hands on his hips and he said in a loud voice: “Hurry up and finish so I can eat.”
And you’ve got to love the honesty of little kids when it comes to things like this. Because he didn’t care about our status as important guests or the fact that we are honored clergy. Because if you’re waiting and hungry and someone is in your spot at the table, they’d better hurry up so you can sit down and eat.
In the eyes of Jesus, in the Gospel according to Luke, it doesn’t matter if you have status or are powerful or important in the world, for being at the table is not about that. In fact, as we see today, the higher your worldly status, probably the lower you should sit toward the table’s end. Because at the table, as Jesus sees it, you are not there to make deals. You are not there to work out matters of state or business transactions, or show yourself as an important or honored guest. For the work of the table of Jesus is not that..
The work of the Table of Jesus is this: to get others to the table. To share in the bounty that God has provided. To know ourselves as beloved and cared for and sit as children of God at a place where all are welcome.
Deacon Linda and those from our community who go out in our blue van to visit people on the streets is out there inviting people to the table. At the monthly recovery services we celebrate with women from the Chicopee correctional facility, we are honored to have them with us at the table. As we gather together every Sunday, we come here from wildly different backgrounds and contexts, and find ourselves alive at this table.
You can’t see it, so sometimes it can be hard to imagine, but if you stretch your mind and you picture here, starting at this altar and then extending outward as far as Connecticut over the river, passing under the bridges where some of our brothers and sisters sleep, over to the edge of the Diocese and places where we have parishioners, there is the table.
And it goes all the way over to Syria, whichever direction Syria is in, to the school we have supported whose children have given us those pictures in the foyer, and then all the way over to South Africa and the students we have supported there, and parts of Northern Africa, and then all the way down to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico where we have done ministry. And you picture this as your table, and you start to get a glimpse and image of the breadth and scope of that banquet to which Jesus has invited us to sit together every single week, and every single day of ur life.
And you get a sense of who’s here. And of course, you ask yourself – well who’s not here? Who’s not at the table? And why not? And you start to feel like if someone is not at the table, then we should invite them, which is at the heart of what Jesus is talking about today.
This man, this leader of the Pharisees who invited Jesus, was content with his table. He’s invited Jesus over to dinner at his home. And I imagine he was excited to have Jesus say yes, because it’s Jesus, and Jesus is great. So the man gets home and he calls to his wife and says: Hey honey, guess who I invited to have dinner with us on the Sabbath. It’s Jesus, the carpenter, the one who everyone is talking about, with the following and the crowds. And his spouse says, that’s great, I’m sure it will be a wonderful time.
And so here is Jesus in his home, which is pretty amazing. And on the one hand you’ve got Jesus in your home, which is amazing. But then on the other, once you’ve sat down to eat, you realize that you’ve got Jesus. And Jesus has a lot to say. And he’s pretty insightful about things, and he has lots to say about your life. And he can be challenging. So lesson one, be careful whenever you invite Jesus, because once you invite him, he will challenge you.
And so there at the meal, Jesus is watching where everyone sits. And just when it seems like things are going well, he launches into a criticism of the guests for their seating choices, for they all want the seats of honor. When that little four year old boy came in and asked when we would be finished eating in his home, I suddenly felt not so important to be at the place of honor, because I was taking the place of someone else and he actually belonged there.
And not only that, Jesus finishes the dinner conversation criticizing the host for the people he has invited and those he has not. And he tells him: these are the people you should have at your table, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and so on, instead of these your friends and family who are part of your life all the time.
The work the Pharisee had chosen not to do is populating his table with those outside his realm, those outside of his small and safe group. He’s not gone beyond himself. He’s not done what Jesus keeps talking about again and again throughout the Gospels, which is to get us out there seeking the lost and embracing the least in our efforts to bring the love of God to the world in need.
Studies show that in social settings like church, most people, when given the opportunity, will go to find those they know, just because that’s what we do. And we all know that church is a wonderful time to see your friends. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m so glad during the peace to watch these quick twenty or thirty second conversations where everyone gets caught up on their week and their life. And you know one Sunday I’m tempted just to let the peace go on, let you finish the peace yourselves, just to see how long it would last.
But I hope you’re also looking for people you don’t know. I hope you’re also talking to the people who are visiting for the first time or those who are new whose names you probably once learned but have since forgotten so you have to introduce yourselves to them again. I hope you are also looking to see how to make people know there’s space for them at the table. For we do not want to be overly content with what we have.
And I hope you think about those who aren’t at this table at all, like all those people out there. Is it possible to invite someone else to join you at church one Sunday in this fairly non-threatening community of faith? Is it possibly to invite, as Jesus suggests, those deserving to be here, the homeless or the blind or crippled and those on the edge? For the work of the table is to make sure all are here. And it’s so good to check and make sure we are not overly content and just resting on what we know. For Jesus invites us to do more.
And think about probably the most amazing thing of all, which is that that Jesus has also invited you. And has invited me. That within our life, considering our faults, whatever they may be, and our shortcomings, and our imperfections and the way we can be annoying and selfish, impatient and even cruel, that Jesus has still seen fit to make sure that at his table there is a place for us. And not only that, it’s an important place, wherever it might be.
One time I did a huge wedding at a banquet hall, and after the service we went in to get our meal, and there were something like 29 tables in the dining area, each with a number on the table. And when I finally found my name, my wife and I were at table 29, the last table, like they just barely remembered to have a seat for the priest and his wife
And I was upset, especially knowing that the food would be served first at table one, and then down through table 29. If they even had anything left over we would be served last. But in the end it was great and so important for me, for I was reminded of my place, and shown that so often I need just to be pushed down to the table’s end. And to realize that ultimately it is an honor to be invited.
This week, my friends, let’s thank God that we have been invited to the feast. And let’s remember not to be too content here but to stretch ourselves to see who else we can invite and welcome, remembering that we are not the guests of honor or the most important people here, but we, like all, are simply blessed to be included.