Who's At the Table? [Taste & See]
Taste & See - Sermon #2 - Who’s At the Table?
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • May 15, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you. We are grateful for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Introduction - Do I Belong?
I struggled and stumbled around for a few months trying to find my way in Ann Arbor when I first moved here 19 years old to work for IBM. All of that changed when I found the Vineyard Church in Milan. I remember that first service very well because I walked in very afraid. While I was socially successful in college, I wasn’t sure what adulting would be like. Would I fall nicely into a new group of friends? Would it be easy to meet and maybe date someone? Would I be accepted for who I was? Would I find my people? As I look back and reflect, I think we continue to wrestle with some of these same questions throughout our lives, don’t we?
The main memory I have from that first celebration was of me crying. I had an overwhelming experience of the Father’s love for me. I had always assumed that God may indeed love me, I wasn’t sure he liked me very much. While I had a great time in college, it was also a difficult period for me as I found myself struggling with my faith, my ability to hear from God, to see him at work in my life, much less experience his loving presence. But there was something about the community I found at the Vineyard. Space was made for me. Space for me to have a encounter with the living Jesus, it was almost like meeting Jesus again for the first time. He was revealing a loving Father to me. It was exactly what I needed. I needed space at the table being made for me. A place of welcome, inclusion, and forgiveness. And I found that in the Vineyard.
Whether we admit it or not, I think we all have this overwhelming desire to belong and when space is made for us at the table, it can become transformative.
The table is not only the place where we say grace, it’s also the place that we extend grace. In the ancient world philosophers and teachers pontificated and shared their wisdom at table. And the identity of the community was easily observed at table; as the Near Eastern proverb declares, “I saw them eating and I knew who they were.” It’s that age-old idea of who you keep company with reveals who you really are.
Jesus Models Radical Table Fellowship
All of this brings me back to the first meal we observe in the New Testament, it’s a dinner party.
9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:9–11
Jesus’ meal with Matthew and his friends becomes an enactment of what Jesus was really up to in his kingdom proclamation: you are no longer excluded, instead you are invited to the table. It may cost you everything to accept your invitation, but there is always space at the table for you.
Jesus was enacting a new world order, this welcome would be later codified in his death and resurrection, and the community that emerged in his name would continue to enact his new world order every time they gathered at table to celebrate his death and resurrection sharing in the celebration of the communion meal.
As Frederick Craddock notes, “nothing [is] more serious than a dining table.”
“The table is taken so seriously that Jesus gets into trouble because of his eating buddies. Jesus was known as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” because he ate so often with them. Inviting others to a table could be a sign of affluence or status, but it could also be a sign of service or a sign of acceptance, as equals, creating fellowship through the breaking of bread. Table fellowship meant full acceptance of one another and the inclusiveness of Jesus at table revealed by the company he kept, especially of the socially ostracized was radical.” Let me push in on radical for a moment, radical in this instance should not connote the unreasonable, undisciplined action that we often associate with the term. Instead, radical amplifies the welcome, the broadening, and deepening and the inclusion. This is about a deep, fierce, urgent commitment to follow Jesus’s table fellowship. Because the table says something about who’s in and who’s out.”
A New World Order - A New Community
So, you can imagine Paul’s outrage when he discovers that members of community of believers in Corinth are excluding the poor from the Lord’s Supper.
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:17-18)
No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! (1 Corinthian 11:19-22)
Paul is outraged that the church in Corinth has reinstated the table fellowship rules that Jesus eradicated with his radical inclusion and welcome–like his table fellowship with Matthew and other sinners–law breakers. Here’s the scene in Corinth, Paul has discovered that the rich Christians are separating themselves from the poor Christians. It appears as if the rich Christians physically separated themselves from the poorer Christians. And it wasn’t just that they were separating themselves, it was a bit deeper than that. They were effectively eating the meals in their own exclusive club and society. And to ensure that they didn’t have to interact with the poor Christians, they started their meal earlier.
QUICK STORY: I remember when Maria and I were invited to a friend’s birthday party. We got there, we celebrated, and as we left we thought the party was over, only to discovering that a new group were arriving as we left, people we knew. Apparently, there was an “after” party that we weren’t invited to. Ouch! I thought we were friends!? I guess not.
It’s the same thing here in Corinth. And unlike me, Paul isn’t having it.
“Don’t you realize that you are a new people,” Paul says. “You are a new community, gathered around a resurrected savior, who stood in opposition to those who would say that the kingdom is only for… Don’t you realize that as the church, the body of Christ, God’s representatives on the earth, that you follow a new order, a new way…”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Sometimes we focus on ourselves to the exclusion of others… it’s a trap, it’s a tool of the Empire. “Focus on yourself,” the Empire says. “You created all of this. You earned all of this. It’s yours.” But that’s a lie. The Empire’s goal is to get us to trust ourselves, not God. God invites us to see the world as it is, his. (Psalm 24:1) And everything within the world belongs to him. We separate ourselves from others because we fear that what we have, is all we have. We believe the lie of the Empire and fail to trust God when we believe that if I share what I have, then there won’t be enough for me. There is something powerful about living with our hands open instead of closed around all we think we have. The more we trust, the more we surrender, the better we are, the better our lives are.
In one sense, we can come towards the rich Christian as we consider that they might be like, “What do we have in common with the poor? What we will talk about at table? Our lives are so different, let’s just eat a little earlier to avoid the embarrassment on either side.”
Jesus doesn’t guilt us into meeting the needs of the poor, crippled or lame, but he does challenge us to invite them to the table.
12Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1,7-14)
“Just have them as part of your community of friends,” Jesus says. There is a pay off too, you’ll be blessed because they cannot repay you! Think about that! You’ll be blessed just because they’re around the table with you. And there’s another benefit too, your “fear of the other,” who ever your other might be, ceases when you discover that “the other” isn’t really too different from you.
In the Luke 14 passage, Jesus speaks to everyone: guests and hosts, the privileged and the underprivileged, about the table, about hospitality, because “hospitality, is the practice by which the church stands or falls.” It is that important.
Paul is angry with the Christians in Corinth because he realizes that the church has to be the enactment of Christ’s work on the cross tearing down the barriers and the dividing walls in our communities.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed… (Romans 12:2a)
When we fail to recognize the body and all the members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27), when we celebrate the communion meal while excluding others, Paul tells us that we bring shame on those who are excluded. The point of this meal is to celebrate the body, to tear down the dividing wall, to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. If we break through the dividing walls at church, but leave them up the rest of the week, I’m not sure we are accomplishing much. There’s the rub, the place where the rubber meets the road in our transformation as we follow Jesus into life through the narrow gate. As we come to communion to celebrate that we are now reconciled to God through Christ, are we also reconciling ourselves to our neighbors, those at the margins in our life, the outcasts? Or at we behaving in much the same way that the rich Christians in Corinth did towards the poor Christians?
Paul retells the story of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Paul isn’t retelling the story just to remind the Corinthians of the significance of the meal. Instead, Paul is invoking the story to remind the Corinthians who was at table when Jesus interrupted the Passover meal and made these proclamations. Around the table was every one of us: sinners, the poor, the young, those who were traitors, those who would break relationship, the self-centered, the prideful, the broken, and those who needed healing. We were all present at the table during that first Supper. And we are invited to the table today.
So, Paul gives us and the Corinthians a warning:
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthian 11:27-30)
I’ve wrestled with Paul’s meaning here almost my entire Christian journey. Early on my path, I thought this meant that I couldn’t take communion because I had sins in my life that weren’t dealt with… I think I wondered if I was really accepted and loved. I remember early in my marriage Maria wondering what on earth was going on with me that I wouldn’t take communion. After a couple instances of me not taking communion I remember she leaned over and asked, “why aren’t you taking communion.” All of the shame of my sin, floated to the surface, all of fear of condemnation surfaced and reared it’s ugly face and I had explained that I didn’t want to take communion in an unworthy manner, but Paul is saying to all of us when we come to this table and exclude others, we invite, we welcome even, the judgment, the death, the evil that Jesus defeated on the cross.
The real people of God aren’t the ones who have the right beliefs regarding the meal, but those who demonstrate the point of the meal. It’s not just for those who have something to offer, it’s also for those who have needs.
Let’s be the people of the way, becoming known by the company we keep.
1). Take an “One Human Family” (1humanfamily.org) yard sign as a declaration that there is space for all of us at the table. This yard sign is a simple act of welcome and hospitality. We have 15 of them in the lobby, grab one on your way out.
2). One of things that will prevent us from following Jesus through the narrow gate into life is our sins. In Luke 11:4, Jesus instructs us to ask God to forgive us our sins. It’s a way for us to have solidarity with those who only have need and nothing to give. As sinners we are all in need of forgiveness. Use the spiritual discipline of confession to become mindful of our own neediness because of our sins.