Listen to the audio of this sermon at https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21455216
If you have been around the United Methodist Church for All People for more than 15 minutes you know that we are a people who love to eat.
Every Friday afternoon this room is filled with hundreds of people sharing “Soup for the Soul”.
In the not-to-distant future we will host 4-500 people for a Thanksgiving feast.
And next week will be the return of Coffee House. Gary Wittie will prepare a home-cooked meal and then we will dance it off.
If you are ever looking for an opportunity to get people together here at the Church for All People all you have to do is ‘just add food’ and people will show up.
But while we are a people who love to eat, we are not alone.
I was raised Lutheran and Lutherans love to eat.
I have been to Presbyterian churches and Baptist churches and Disciples of Christ churches and while we all have different practices and theologies, the one thing we share in common is that we all love to eat.
And perhaps it is for good reason that we as followers of Jesus Christ love to eat, because Jesus loved to eat too.
If you read the gospel of Luke, Jesus practically eats his way through the gospel. There are 10 different stories of Jesus eating at the house of Levi and Simon and Mary and Martha, feeding the 5,000, inviting himself to Zacchaeus home, and even the resurrected Christ ate with the disciples. Nearly 1/5th of the verses in Luke happen around a table where people are eating.
It is around tables that Jesus calls people in to ministry and sends them out in to service. Around dinner tables Jesus brings reconciliation, strengthens people in discipleship, and challenges notions of who is welcome at the table.
And yet, while Jesus spends a lot of time around tables with everyone from sinners and tax collectors to church leaders and disciples, I don’t think he would be the easiest dinner guest to invite in to your home.
In our scripture today Jesus is invited to the Sabbath meal of one of the top religious leaders of his day.
Imagine if you were invited to go to the home of our bishop, Bishop Gregory Palmer, after church today. How would you act? You might put on your best clothes, be on your best behavior, ask what you can bring, and when you get there you would be polite and ask “where should I sit”?
Jesus does none of those things.
In fact, even before he gets in the door he breaks the rules. He heals a man who is sick on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders who took their faith very seriously. Many times we tend to disparage the Pharisees, but the truth is they were a people who took their faith seriously. They followed the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures as closely as possible in sacred obedience to God. And here comes Jesus, flaunting his disobedience, doing exactly opposite of what they had understood that it meant to follow God.
And that’s before he even gets in the door.
Once Jesus is at the dining room table he gets even more aggressive. He looks in the eyes of the people gathered around the table and comments on how they jockeyed for position around the table. He says that it is a better thing to take a seat in the back and be invited up front, then to elbow each other for position at the head of the table,
So Jesus is invited to the house of a religious leader, since he was a travelling itinerant preacher he probably showed up empty handed, and then he breaks the rules before he gets in the door and confronts the people gathered around the table.
If we were to invite Jesus to our table, what message might Jesus have to say to us?
Here at the United Methodist Church for All People one of our founding principles is radical hospitality. Last week I spoke of the four different types of love, one of them being philia, the love we find in friendship. But as Pastor John Edgar has taught us, Jesus calls us to move from Philadelphia (brotherly love) to Philoxenia, the love of the stranger.
This is embodied in our second core value, “All people are welcome”.
As Jesus is at the home of the Pharisee he challenges them to be welcoming, not only to friends and family and neighbors, but to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
We are called to welcome all people in to the circle of God’s love, just as we have been welcomed.
In Genesis, Chapter 18, Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tents when he sees strangers walk by. He invites them in, gives the best he has, and offers them a feast, and in that act of welcome and hospitality he receives a blessing that he and Sarah will have a child.
It is from this core story in Genesis that inspired the author of Hebrews to write, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
But what does it mean to really welcome someone?
Imagine that Jennifer and I invite Camisha to our home for dinner. Come Camisha and take a seat at the table.
If we invite Camisha to dinner and offer her a meal, we have welcomed her to a point. But there isn’t necessarily a lot of mutuality and relationship in that. We have told her where to sit, what to eat, we are in control of what we offer her.
But what if we invite Camisha in to the kitchen and make space for her to cook with us. To spice the food as she would flavor it, to bring all of who she is in to our home. When you allow someone to open your refrigerator and take something out without them having to ask, that is real hospitality.
Camisha, when have you shown hospitality to someone?
The power of welcome and hospitality not only comes when we offer that to others but when we receive it ourselves.
Jesus does an interesting thing. He not only teachers others to offer hospitality, but puts his followers in a position to receive hospitality.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus sends the disciples out without money or extra clothes or food. He sends them out in a way that they are dependent on the hospitality of others.
And Jesus describes himself as one who does not have a place to lay his head. He invites himself to dinner at Zacchaeus house. In the ten meals that provide the gathering place for Jesus’ ministry in Luke, none of them are in Jesus’ kitchen. They are all in other people’s houses.
When it is time for Jesus and his friends to celebrate the Passover, Jesus sends Peter and John to make preparations. When they ask where is this going to happen Jesus gives them this strange instruction: when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house. The last supper takes place in the attic of strange man carrying a water jar.
In sending the disciples out in a way that depends on the hospitality of others, in Jesus himself traveling in a way that required the help of others, Jesus lifts up the importance of being able to receive welcome.
As an adopted child the story of my life began with me as a helpless baby receiving the welcome of my parents who raised me. I was brought in to a family not biologically my own and given the gift of faith that is the foundation of who I am today.
Camisha, when is a time when you have allowed someone to welcome you?
When I look at us as a church, we are a doing church. If we needed to get a meal together for an event, people like Barb and Kim and Marnetta and Shirley could make that happen in minutes.
But as a people who are willing to do for others are we also willing to receive from others? Do we allow others to welcome us? In order for us to have relationships of true vulnerability and mutuality we need to be able to receive hospitality as well as to give welcome.
We are a church that does an above average job of welcoming people in among our differences. You can look around this room and see people of different ages, races, economic backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities, physical abilities, and political parties.
But to really welcome someone is not only to say you are allowed to come and take a seat, and you are safe in doing so, but you are invited to bring all of who you are and this is a better place when you fully express your gifts.
This time last year we were asking the question given to us by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
To be a welcoming church is to give space for people to be all who God created them to be, to become fully alive.
Just about every church would tell you that all people are welcome, but there are a whole lot of people who could tell you they have been hurt because churches have not been as welcoming as advertised.
Let us be a church who lives in to our second core value that “All people are welcome”. Not only welcome in diversity and unity to come in the door and have a seat at the other side of the table, but welcome and safe and cherished and nurtured to be all who God has made them. Let us not only ask who is not here so we can include them among us, but let us make ourselves vulnerable enough to invite others in to the kitchen so that we might learn from them and in doing so we will be repaid by living in to the vision given to us by Luke of living in to the resurrection of the righteous.