A Big Table and a Lot of Food: What God is Doing on Earth
Sep 12, 2021
For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”
My friend Kiran throws the best dinner parties. She’s a great cook, and a really engaging conversationalist, and knows how to help people have a good time. When you’re at her house in India for dinner, there’s endless amounts of delicious food. Extra people dropping by. Sometimes a dance party breaks out there too. She’s just an amazing host.
Two or three years ago, I gathered some people together to have a meal with Kiran to honor her really. But she realized that the dinner was also happening the week of my birthday, so she managed to turn it into a birthday party for me too. And my wife Grace asked the guests to go around and take turns saying something they appreciate about me. I still remember some things that were said. It was incredibly moving. And just like my friend Kiran, she’d managed to stage a birthday party for me out of a gathering I’d brought together for her.
There’s something about gathering around a table with a lot of food – eating together, lingering over conversation, that when we trust one another, when we feel warm and connected and safe, a lot of good things happen.
I know meals and gatherings aren’t always like this. Our church staff team was talking about memorable meals and memorable gatherings we’d been part of and about ⅔ of us immediately called to mind gatherings with so much connection, abundance, generosity, and joy that we’ll never forget those times. But then maybe ⅓ of us first thought of gatherings gone bad – times when trust or safety or love failed or never showed up at all. That too can happen around a table.
Gathering people together with a lot of food doesn’t guarantee that good and beautiful things will happen. But then again, it’s pretty hard for good and beautiful things to happen in communities and relationships if we never do that.
I’m pretty sure there’s no one I’m really close to that I haven’t eaten with, no one who really loves me or I really love that I haven’t eaten with either.
Jesus seemed to get this. Because in the stories about Jesus in the Bible, we see him showing up at tables and meals an awful lot, and talking about meals and tables and what happens there a lot too. Interesting, provocative things happen when Jesus gathers people, or shows up at other people’s gatherings. We’re going to talk about that this fall.
Our fall theme at Reservoir is The Table: How Jesus Gathers. And we’re starting this week and next with a text that’s really important to this church, so important I’m going to speak about it two weeks in a row. Let’s read it.
Luke 14:15-23 (Common English Bible)
15 When one of the dinner guests heard Jesus’ remarks, he said to Jesus, “Happy are those who will feast in God’s kingdom.”
16 Jesus replied, “A certain man hosted a large dinner and invited many people.
17 When it was time for the dinner to begin, he sent his servant to tell the invited guests, ‘Come! The dinner is now ready.’
18 One by one, they all began to make excuses. The first one told him, ‘I bought a farm and must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 Another said, ‘I bought five teams of oxen, and I’m going to check on them. Please excuse me.’
20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 When he returned, the servant reported these excuses to his master. The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go quickly to the city’s streets, the busy ones and the side streets, and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.’
22 The servant said, ‘Master, your instructions have been followed and there is still room.’
23 The master said to the servant, ‘Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled.
24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
There’s a lot going on in this little story Jesus tells.
Next week, we’ll talk more about the class dynamics here, and the guest list, and the people that end up sharing or not sharing a meal together. Lots to say about that.
But this week, I want to talk about how Jesus agrees with the guy who gave the toast. Jesus and this guest both think that a feast – a big gathering, with lots of people, and tons of food – is a great way to picture the Kingdom of God.
Now the Kingdom of God is really important to Jesus – it’s what he talks about most – and it’s really important to us at Reservoir. So a quick review: the kingdom of God is how Jesus talks about what happens where God is present and people are cooperating with God. The Kingdom of God is not just the future. It’s not mostly talking about life after we die. The Kingdom Jesus talks about is life here and now the way it should be. It’s when people are responding to God’s best inspiration for more loving, more just communities.
More and more, Reservoir is joining the great American civil rights leaders of the past in calling Jesus’ Kingdom vision the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is Jesus’ vision of belonging with God and one another. It’s Jesus’ vision of loving, just, inclusive, empowering relationships with God and others.
And Beloved Community is our vision of what Reservoir is in part, and what we more and more want to be.
This passage – this image of an inclusive table with a lot of food – a big feast, a great party God is throwing on earth – has been our church’s membership passage since our very first days in the late 1990s. Because while our church of course isn’t the only place God is growing Beloved Community, it is one of the places. And it’s here, one we’re part of.
We think what it means to belong at Reservoir is to participate in this good news, inclusive community of faith. To belong at Reservoir – is, like the guests who show up to the meal in Jesus’ story – to discover together the love of God, the gift of community, and the joy of living. Like my unexpected birthday party, it’s a place where God and friends can both accept us as we are and also see the best of who we are meant to be, and where we can become those people together.
To be a member at Reservoir is not to sign on to a church-approved list of belief statements, it’s just to say:
I’m not just a guest any more, I’m also a host. I’m going to be one of the people that makes this community happen, that helps throw the party, and keeps it being the loving, just, beautiful gathering that we long for it to be.
Now this fall, our church is at where a lot of our communities are at. We’ve been changed by the past year and a half, and we’re looking for our new normal together again. We’re all doing this, right? We’re trying to land whatever the new normal is in our lives as well as we can.
As Reservoir, we think our new normal Beloved Community is a life-giving mix of in-person worship and community groups and other gatherings, alongside a mix of online worship and community groups and other gatherings, and ways to be inspired and empowered to flourish, and to neighbor, and to do justice together too – both in person and online as well. And we’re looking to reenage our community as the church again – as a community of people who bring Reservoir to life through our participation, wherever we are.
Now we know that what we do to participate in Jesus’ Beloved Community goes well beyond the community life of this church. Life is not all about church. Some of you are literally saving the world in your jobs, for instance, and that’s Beloved Community, Kingdom of God work too.
But today, we’ve shortened the worship part of our service so that we can have some conversations about how we together can be the church. How we can be setting the table, putting out the food, and gathering around, throwing and showing up for the party, both in person and online.