Saying Yes to a Bigger Table
Sep 19, 2021
For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”
This week, I was talking with a member of our community about a really complicated experience of welcoming a stranger into your home. A while back, this person heard about someone with a lot of needs who needed a place to stay. And they thought: Wow, right now, where I live, we have so much extra room. We should let this person stay with us.
And they did – they welcomed a stranger to live in their household – first for a month, and then for a second month, and then, when it was still needed, for a third month.
Incredible hospitality, right? Reservoir Church, you are a really generous, hospitable community. So many of you open your homes and your hearts and your finances to people who need friendship, connection, a helping hand, whatever. This person I was talking with is really hospitable too, and it’s no coincidence that they were raised by parents who have had dozens of people stay with them in their home. That legacy of big hearts and a big table is living on in the next generation.
Here’s the thing, though: in this situation, it got harder every month. This guest had all kinds of needs with their health, their finances, their housing, and lots of other things. And every week, it was like there was a window into how much bigger the problems really were. I saw it first hand, because I was one of the people trying to coordinate a variety of agencies and professional help for them.
Eventually, it was just too much, and it was time for this person to go. And because their trauma and their needs and their crisis were all so large, they didn’t leave saying “thank you” but basically cursing out their host on the way out the door. They did the same with me, repeatedly.
So I was talking with my friend in this community this week to ask – now that it’s been a while, what was that experience like for you? And my friend said: one, it was really sad. It was really sad to get to know someone with such enormous, complex trauma, and through them, to learn about just how broken some of the support systems and structures in our world are. Really sad. And it was really sad to give everything you know how to give to someone and to not only have it not be enough, but to have them angry with you that you didn’t have yet more to give. Really sad.
But the other thing they said was: I would do this again. I would do a few things differently, for sure. But I would do it again. Because as sad as it was, it’s the right thing to open up space in your life for people, and it’s the way of Jesus, and it’s good for me and it’s good for the world. I’m sad this time, but I would do it again.
This fall our theme is “The Table: How Jesus Gathers.” We’re looking at stories from the gospels, especially the gospel of Luke, at what happens when Jesus gathers people around tables, or shows up at different kinds of tables. Because after a year and a half of greater isolation, we think it’s a good time to look at what happens as Jesus gets people together.
Whether we’re mostly gathering with others these days online or in person, or some of both, we hope this theme draws us all into greater connection with God and one another, and into some invitations from God to continue to follow Jesus into abundant life.
Today’s talk is “Saying Yes to a Bigger Table” – what it means to show up to life in some of the ways Jesus invites us to, and to make room for others in any of the ways and spaces we have more than enough in life.
I’m going to read today’s passage, the same one I read last week, and share a few words. It’s from Luke, Chapter 14, and it goes like this.
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.’”
Reading this story this year, I want to tell you there is a lot that I don’t like.
I don’t like that this party host is called a master and that they have servants and that all their first invitations seem to go to other important people with more than enough in their lives. I don’t come from the kind of background where people pay other people to be their cleaners or landscapers or party planners and stuff. And I get why some people can afford that and do that, but it’s not where I come from, and I’m still not used to it. I also know that most of us invite people to spend time with us that are basically in the same status circles that we are – it’s more comfortable that way – but is Jesus implying that God is like this, or that Jesus is like this. I hope not.
Also I don’t like the way Jesus talks about these people’s excuses. I mean they seem pretty reasonable to me. You’ve just made a huge purchase or investment or life change, and you’re kind of busy. So what, Jesus? Why get in such a huff?
And I don’t like how Jesus talks about the second round of people that get invited to the party. Crippled, blind, lame? This is not how we talk about people with disabilities. And the whole thing seems kind of patronizing, just grabbing people that aren’t on the guest list to fill up the room.
There’s more I don’t like, but I’ll leave it at this for now. Beyond what I don’t like, there’s also the fact that this story is hard to hear, because it seems like Jesus wants something from me that I don’t know how to give. Who throws parties like this? Whose table is this large? Who is this hospitable and generous? Not me. And even the super-generous super host I told you about at the beginning, they’re not always like that and when they were time, it’s not clear that it worked.
What do I make of all this?
Well, the language stuff is the easy part. Jesus, like all teachers, taught with the language and culture of his era, so they talked about people the way they did at the time. I also think some of my wonderings about little things, like whether God is exactly like the host in this story are off too. Parables are not allegories, where every little thing stands for something else. We can take these stories way too literally. I don’t think God first reaches out to high status people first and then others as leftovers. Not. at. All.
But bigger than the little things I don’t like in this story Jesus tells, I’m also not sure that I’m supposed to entirely like it. I’m reminded again that Jesus is provocative. He’s not always trying to ease our feelings. He tells the truth. He disrupts things that aren’t the way they should be. And Jesus is always kind, but he is not always nice.
I think Jesus is trying to get us to wonder about what God’s life is like and what our lives could be like too. Jesus is asking us: what do we want to be at the center of our lives? If what Jesus wants for us isn’t on our list, he’s not going to make it so; it’ll just be our loss.
But Jesus is interested in us saying yes to bigger tables. In a couple ways – yes to God’s bigger table, and yes to ours.
See, I think this story first gives us a window into what God’s life is like. God is always setting a bigger table, setting out more seats. God inspires and empowers the whole universe and this whole earth to pulse and grow with new wonders and new life. Always, unstoppingly. And God is always longing for all creatures to experience love, and joy, and belonging- to be seen, to be fed, to be home.
It must be heartbreaking to be this kind of host. My friend and I are so sad when one guest can’t welcome the best we have to give. What’s it like to know the sadness of God when so much of creation, and our human species most of all, is so often rejecting the best ideas God has – trashing our planet, hurting each other, unable to see ourselves or one another as God does, struggling to love ourselves, getting stuck in the habits of the past instead of embracing new possibilities and new joys and new life. God’s life is in part a life of sadness and heartbreak. I think Jesus wants us to know God loves that much and cares that much.
From God’s perspective too, we get a window into a particular aspect of God’s delights, of God’s character or personality, you might say. Because we see here, and in many other places in Jesus’ teaching, that if you’re the kind of person that tends to be at the top of other people’s guest lists – you’re wealthy, or you’re really well-liked, or you have loads of friends or status or dashing good looks or an easy, winsome way with everyone you meet – well, then God loves you tremendously. God really does. But if that’s you, and that is in part many of us, then you’re not at the center of God’s world. You’re loved, there’s a great place at God’s table, but unlike at most tables, you’re not at the head, you’re not at the center.
But if you’re not at the top of guest lists – if you’re not at the world’s top of status or popularity, or even some part of the world – like you’re not the kind of person universities most want to accept, or you’re not the kind of person churches most approve of – then God has particular honor and love for you. God is interested in centering you more. Because God loves justice, and God loves levelling the field, evening the table. God honors the humbled.
So the very disability, or the very personality trait, or the very lack of privilege that gives you less, or the very sexual orientation that made some churches reject you, that’s like a mark of your honor and belovedness with God. God doesn’t see us all the way we do. So often, what we despise or discriminate against or rank downward, God prizes and ranks upward.
Where you’ve been unloved friends, know the immense and particular love of God for you.
Where you’ve been disrespected, know the esteem of God’s high regard for you.
Where you have been shamed, know God’s honor. Where you have been excluded, know God ushering you to the front of the line and the head of the table.
Lastly, we can join my friend I told you about at the top in saying yes, bit by bit, to our own bigger table. Following Jesus isn’t meant to be doing the impossible tomorrow, every day. No one can sustain this. But it is meant to be dynamic, changing, ever full of growth and discovery.
Jesus hopes that bit by bit, we can say yes more to our place at God’s table. And Jesus is trying to inspire and provoke us to say yes, bit by bit, to a bigger table for us too. To a little more room in our hearts, a little more hospitality in our homes, a little more space in our schedules, and a little lighter grip on our resources for the people and needs we encounter. Not because it’s hard, but because it’s where more life is and more joy is too.
We talked last week about how this passage is at the center of our membership model, about how this church’s practice of the Kingdom of God and this church’s vision for Jesus’ Beloved Community is about saying yes to Jesus and saying yes to a more abundant life, for ourselves and others.
And one little way we say yes to Jesus in this way is saying yes to engagement in our church, which is the theme last week and this week.
Life is much more than church. Some of you are literally saving the world in the work you do elsewhere, which God loves, and I as your pastor respect and am grateful for. But this church is also part of God’s Beloved Community presence, and so we encourage you as we find our new normal, to take your place both as a guest and a host here.
Join the church as a member this fall, if you haven’t yet. It just takes filling out the little form we have online at resevoirchurch.org or if you’d like to first, talking with one of your pastors about that. We’ve got time for you!
And please do attend one of the six workshops we’re hosting for the rest of our time today, and consider pitching in once a month or so in helping make this community happen.
Let me pray for us, and then send us out to that.