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You Belong - At the Table - Sermon #02

You Belong - At the Table - Sermon #02

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • September 24, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor


We're so glad you are here with us this morning. We're grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space this morning. As we gather together as a church, we do so in the active presence of God through our worship, community, and engagement with scripture, which we hope will lead to transformational growth in our everyday life. As a congregation we want to experience belonging, cultivate tangible joy, activate hope, and know comfort as we learn to trust Jesus more and more, enabling us to reflect the welcome and peace of Jesus to those closest to us. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you've been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision.

We are in part 2 of our "You Belong" sermon series. If you missed last week's sermon, I would recommend that you download the audio or watch the video. Just like last week, we will open this morning's sermon with video testimony. If I failed to ask for the lights to be dimmed, Katrina, can you please dim the lights now.

You Belong Video

Glen Hillaker - 3 minutes 56 seconds

Introduction - Finding Space at the Table

For most of us the table serves as the center gathering space in our lives. We eat our meals at it. We pay our bills at it. We do our homework at it. We share the stories of our lives at it. Each table is unique, some are heirlooms–past down generation to generation. Some are new, larger than the previous ones, so we can get more people around them. Some are temporary. Some are handcrafted with love and care, while others are assembled using difficult tools with sweat pouring forth. And some are just small enough to hold a dinner plate and a drink.

When space is made for us at one of these tables, it can become transformative. When we find ourselves welcomed at the table, space made for us, we realize something powerful about ourselves. We may find ourselves loved, accepted–no longer alone. As we take our seats at these tables, we become known, which opens up space for us to share who we are, all of us: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Jesus Models Radical Table Fellowship

In the first meal of the New Testament, we see Jesus reclining at table with a traitor, a sinner. If you have a bible, the bible app on your mobile device, or if you have already committed the entire text to memory, we will start in Matthew chapter 9, verse 9, page xx in the house bibles.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:10-11)

This first meal was a dismantling of the old world order, a systematic table etiquette that governed social lives of the first-century Palestinian Jews. This was a signaling that the Kingdom of God, the age to come, was breaking into this present age with welcome, space, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This meal with a known sinner was a risk for Jesus it would mark him, ruin his reputation, it would cause those around him to question his standing before God. Is he righteous? Is he holy? Can we trust him?

It's that age-old idea of who you keep company with reveals who you really are. Jesus' meal with Matthew and his friends becomes an enactment of what Jesus was really up to in his kingdom proclamation.

He was enacting a new world order, and it would later be 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 together to celebrate his death and resurrection. This was a new table fellowship, a new disorderly inclusive table, which would become the marker of the people of God.

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 means beyond what anyone considered normal or expected. Jesus uses the table because it always says something about who's in and who's out.

In the Greco-Roman world in which the Jews inhabited, dinner or the Symposium had a traditional standard that everyone was expected to follow. Most of the moral teaching in the culture came through table fellowship. Jewish society at this point was group-oriented. You were either "in" or "out." These structures were deeply rooted and everyone knew their place. You had to be "in" to be allowed at the table, but you were expected to be instructed and learn at the table. So you weren't expected to be perfect, you just had to meet certain markers that made you part of the "in" crowd. With Jesus, he swept all these markers "off the table," if you will, and welcomed everyone to come and learn from him.

For us today, it can be hard to fully appreciate the social structures and the expectations that were placed on the individuals in this cultural context. But if you're a high school student, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Maybe, I'm describing the cafeteria at your high school; you know where you are supposed to sit, and with whom, the moment you walk in. There's an expectation for you to conform, not to buck the system, because the system works fine the way that it is!

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:10-11)

Just a moment on Matthew, he's a hated insider. He's a trader to his people because he is a tax collector of the occupying force. The tax collectors were colluding with the very power from which pious Jews sought God for liberation. This explains why the tax collectors were excluded from fellowship, why their charitable gifts were returned, and why they were often blocked or prevented for atoning for their sins in the temple. Not only does Jesus have dinner with Matthew, Jesus eventually calls Matthew to become his disciple.

Eating together is a sacred event. Sometimes we recognize that, sometimes we miss it. A shared meal can become a profound act of union. As we share space at the table and eat the same food, our lives are being constituted by the same substances. Ancient cultures acknowledged this mystery by practicing certain strict customs and rituals around meals. It was prohibited for those who were considered "righteous" to eat with those who were "unrighteous."

Remember our conversation last week about the tension of being accepted and called to transformation? This tension is playing out right here among Jesus and the Pharisees. On the one side the Pharisees are calling for only transformation. This makes sense if you read the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah – the basic idea was God will fix everything when the people shape up. This is why the Pharisees seem to have such a focus on sin sorting, they need to know who is "in" or "out."

Jesus resists this one-sided view of the problem, yes, we are all called to transformation, yet we are accepted at the same time. By having dinner with Matthew and his sinner-friends, Jesus was reminding the people of God, just who God is and who God has always been.

6The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 36:6-7)

No one in the culture in Israel or around Israel was acting the way that Jesus did. That is why the radical table fellowship that characterized Jesus' ministry was so scandalous.

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:12)

Jesus reversed the normal order of things – instead of having to first change what you believe, and how you behave, to belong. Jesus in his table fellowship with Matthew and other sinners was saying, "You belong, and this belonging will change what you believe about yourself and God, and impact how you behave."

In welcoming and accepting Matthew, Jesus extends welcome and acceptance to us too by declaring who God is and Jesus does so in a personal and direct way. "God is merciful," Jesus says. Jesus goes on to say that God isn't corrupted by us. God isn't stained by our brokenness or sin. Instead, Jesus says, God heals us, he restores us, he renews us. This is the God who rescues us. This is the God who accepts us and welcomes us to the table and invites us, his followers to the do the same.

The Freedom Meal

This is the theme that brings us to the Passover meal, the annual retelling of the exodus, the liberation of the people of God from bondage, captivity, slavery.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:14-16)

Jesus shares this last meal with his friends, and among them is one who will betray him with a kiss, turning him over in the hopes of forcing Jesus into action–the action of liberation, bringing an end to their exile.

Jesus eagerly desired to eat this Passover with his friends. He's aware of his vocation, understanding now just how God plans to reconcile the world back to himself. This shared sacred meal, this freedom meal, this liberation meal, what we have come to know as the Last Supper, is the ultimate meal of redemption.

You and I are welcomed at this table. This is the table of redemption. This is the table where Jesus' table fellowship is realized. We all as sinners, yet we are welcomed. We don't have to be in the "in" crowd. Everyone has a place at the table where where we can find forgiveness, healing, restoration, mercy, and grace. Come to the table, eat this bread, drink this cup.

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