Summary: At the Table of our Lord we find invitation, welcome, acceptance, renewal, and above all love! At the Table, we remember that Christ loves us and that we are "worthwhile"!
I have been generously blessed in my thirty years of life. Like so many of you, I can point to different things along the way that were particularly important to me, and perhaps still are, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. One such blessing in my life was the regular evening meals in the Travis household. Early on, I remember not much enjoying those meals because my parents always had the news on, and I thought the news was boring. Sometimes I would get annoyed when I would have to recount moment by moment my day at school. As my sister and I got older, our schedules got busier, and those shared dinners were not as frequent, but they still happened. And this much I know, if I had not had the opportunity day in and day out to sit around the table with my family, there would have been an emptiness; a void in my life. Now, I suppose had those family dinners not happened, I wouldn’t have known any differently, wouldn’t have guessed that I was missing out on something important. But because they did happen, I grew to a greater appreciation of the bond my family shared and of the importance of the Table.
Now, I’m a statistically-minded person, so let me share with you some statistics that reveal exactly how important the Table is. One of the single greatest preventions of juvenile delinquency is a family that shares dinner together at least five times a week; a child who eats together regularly with his or her family is significantly less likely to get in trouble with the law as he or she grows older. Here’s another reason the Table is important: nutritionists now suggest that one way to battle obesity is to eat at least one meal each day with friends or family. “Sociologists have long agreed that the simple act of eating food in groups lends itself to close relationships. As a social construct, [shared] meals promote conversation, the sharing of ideas, and a sense of belonging.” Important things happen when people gather for dinner. The Table is the place where we are all acknowledged and accepted, where we are loved and valued. And since this is what Jesus’ ministry is all about, it is no wonder then that Christ so often shares meals with others, or talks about meals together, as in this passage today.
Jesus here reminds us that it is a table at which the lonely find company, the hungry savor rich food, and the strangers receive a welcome. Jesus takes this opportunity in the house of a leader of the Pharisees to remind us that there is much more to the faithful life than strict adherence to rules and regulations, which is all that the Pharisees were worried about, and he uses the Table as an example. Jesus took his relationship to God very seriously, but he did not observe all the rules and regulations like the Pharisees. Jesus understood that the Jews had a special relationship to God. Just as the scripture taught, they were God’s chosen people. However, as he gathers with the leaders in the Pharisee’s house, Jesus expands on this traditional Jewish belief and insists that God has a special relationship with all of creation. We are all in the same family – God’s family. We are all chosen people of God. Our identity, our “worthwhileness” comes from the fact that we are God’s children. We keep faith with one another, the family membership, not by observing the law, but by loving one another. For Jesus to be faithful to God, he had to set a higher priority on healing, forgiving, and loving than he put on keeping specific regulations or maintaining the dignified ethos of some dinner party. By doing so, he demonstrated his faithfulness to God. From this, we can conclude that we are worthwhile simply because of who we are!
My mother tells the story of a friend in high school. The two young ladies went to church together regularly. Mom remembers that on Communion Sundays, her friend would never go forward to receive Communion. Finally, curiosity got the best of my Mother, and she asked her friend, “Why do you never go forward to receive communion?”
My Mom still remembers her friend’s response, “I don’t go because I don’t feel that I am worthy.”
Friends, the great blessing of the Lord’s Table, is that this is precisely the place where we are worthy; more than any other place in all our lives. This Table is exactly the place where we are invited, welcomed, and accepted no matter who we are or what we have done. Our value as people does not rely on having our names on the “VIP list.” We are the loved children of God; you cannot improve on that social standing! To be successful in life, you don’t have to sneak your nametag a little higher up the table toward the place of honor. Your worth comes from being a loved family member, not from having a better seat at the dinner party. You are a member of the family of God! And as members of the family of God, here is the amazing Good News; we have brothers and sisters everywhere! No matter where we may go, if there is a true and faithful Christian there, we will be welcomed! No matter what we may do, we are invited to Table fellowship with believers all around the world. No matter who may sit next to us, we still share a common bond; the saving love of Jesus Christ, who joins together with believers in Table fellowship!