An Open Table – Lectionary 09/01/2019

Hebrews 13:1-5

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Sermon Text

The seat of honor is not a common thing to us anymore. There are very few events that I have ever been to where a table is large enough for people to sit at the head or the foot of that and for that to have any real meaning as to who was important in a gathering. We do, of course, have those gatherings where there is – the table. That is where event organizers put the most important people. Up front where we can behold them. Set aside from us all, these are the people with money, those who contribute to the organizer, the keynote speaker for the event.

This is the average person’s brush with, “seats of honor.” There are still some cultures and households that keep to them, but as I have said they are not common in our general setting. Now, this opens up a temptation in our life to say that Jesus’ lesson, to keep the seats of honor open for people no longer really affects us. Likewise, how often do we have a large meal that we open up the public as individuals. In Jesus’ times feasts were a major part of life.

A feast was held during harvests not just because of the amount of food which was available, but as a means to feed the hungry in an area. The community came together and everyone contributed. Because the rich would be making sacrifices of animals, the community feast was one of the only times that the average farmer would get any significant amount of meat in a season. When everyone came together and shared what they had, the festivals and feasts, the luncheons and communal meals.

The early church developed this into a practice that we ostensibly practice today. The ancient church would gather for worship and would share a meal together. The breaking of bread and drinking of wine together was known as the ευχαριστιας – the thanksgiving. However, a second rite was begun, simply called the αγαπη – literally just the love. However, this would later be called, “The Love Feast.” At the love feast food was shared together, the poor were fed by the rich – the most mature Christians communed with the newest initiates.

At the table of Love the church met. They fed one another because some were starving. They taught one another because everyone had something to learn from someone else. They prayed together because someone was always in need. This sharing is termed in scripture as κοινωνια, and it has no true English equivalent. It essentially means, “to hold in common,” “To be in community,” “To share.” It is why, as the rite of love feasts was subsumed into the rite of Eucharist that we created a new name form the Lord’s Supper – “Holy Communion.” The sharing of God’s grace with one another in the sacrament.

The Church does not have seats of honor. We do not often have guests who we put on pedestals. We do, however, sit in constant communion with one another. We talk every week, we share our concerns and our joys, we talk throughout the week as well in fellowship. Even I, as a minister, am set apart only in my authority. In pursuing orders I am not made a different kind of Christian, not invested with any magical strength, instead I am lifted up not to be honored or given special treatment, but to be an example and a leader for the congregation. If we read on in Hebrews, the role of the Elders of the church is made clear – they are administrators, presiders, examples, but they are never above reproach because they must be the servants to servants. Even those of us still in the process carry great power, and we must everyday offer it back to Christ or else be held in judgment.

For every person in this church, a ministerial role exists. For every person in this church, a seat of honor has been prepared at the table of grace. The mission of each and everyone of us is to never take that seat for granted. We should not ever look at ourselves and think, “I am holy. I am better than the average person. I deserve what I have been given in life, unlike the rabble.”

We are all bought by the Blood of Jesus Christ. We owe all righteousness and honor to the work of the Spirit within us. We are told that in the Kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first. We must be prepared to take the final position in life. We must accept that we may be the poorest, the most forlorn, the most despised people. Then when in life we find abundance, we find comfort, we find the love of one another – we see what a blessing is because we do not presume it. It is a complicated business humility, but it is best encapsulated in this phrase, “It is not thinking less of yourself, but of yourself less.”

When we say in our Invitation, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” Then we are given time to think of what our Christian life is about. We are asked to think about how we love God – in keeping the ordinances of faith and also in helping the poor and needy who are Christ to us. We are given the chance to repent of our sin, which is why we confess them following the invitation, to make it clear to one another that we are far from finished being sanctified. We are asked to live in peace with one another. When we gather together as a body we should look to those in the congregation and see who we have wronged, we should seek to reconcile before we leave this building. We should likewise take this time to think of who we have wronged outside the church, so that we may go out and make ourselves whole in relationship with one another.

Then, and only then does our table become open. The grace of God opens up and all those who seek Christ are able to partake. The mission of the Church in the meantime is to be truly hospitable to all people. To, through love and forgiveness, work together as a body to love the world. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be at peace with one another. This requires us to check our privileges, our expectations, our entitlement at the door and to put others first. So now, put aside the place of honor you have chosen for yourself, and prepare for the one God has set for you.

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