Summary: Our experience at shared meals and Christ's stories of common suppers remind us of our call to radical hospitality; our call to invite and welcome all at the Lord's Table!
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. Perhaps you all remember the advice of the writer of Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” At the Table, we are the unworthy recipients of Christ’s generous hospitality and from the Table we are sent out to extend that same hospitality to others; to offer a place of welcome for the stranger, to offer food to the hungry, to offer a place of honor to the poor and outcast. In referring to his native Dutch language, pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen explains that hospitality literally means, “freedom for the guest.” He goes on to say, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.”
As Christians and as the church, we are called to a kind of radical hospitality; the radical hospitality that Jesus suggests here in this passage from Luke. We should be so hospitable that we humble ourselves even to the position of servant. We should be so hospitable that we should seek out the most unlikely person to receive an invitation to the Lord’s Banquet, and that is who we should invite; “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” As a church, we should be so radically hospitable that any person from any station in life would feel like a guest of honor the very moment they step foot on Grace’s campus! This is no less than what Christ asks of us everyday, and it is never more important for Grace than now! And here’s why:
Last Sunday, what might be called our sister church, Middle Valley United Methodist, made the difficult decision to close their doors. Their final worship service will be on August 22. Though their memberships will be moved to Grace, as you can imagine, the congregation at Middle Valley feels as if they have lost their home, as if their family is being ripped apart. This is an extremely sad time. What the members of Middle Valley need now more than anything is hospitality; they need a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. They need a generous invitation and a warm welcome. They need freedom; freedom to speak their language and sing their songs, and freedom to discover themselves as a part of the Body of Christ in a new way.