Taste & See - Shared Tables
This week our sacred story comes from Luke 14:12-24, where Jesus teaches a parable about a banquet (spoiler: the invited guests send their regrets, so the host fills the banquet hall with the poor, sick, and outcast…and there’s room to spare).
I wonder…What was your table like growing up? Was there a little table in the kitchen? Just some stools pulled up to the counter? Was there a whole extra table in a formal room that was hardly used? Was your table a folding tv tray pulled up to the couch? Was your table decorated with a cute tablecloth and centerpiece? Was it buried under art projects or laundry? Who was at the table? And who wasn’t there? Family? Friends? Co-workers? Neighbors? Were you the house that seemed to always have extra people in it? Was your table a kind of sanctuary? A protected inner sanctum where you could get away from outside people and pressures? How did you feel when at that table? Was it a safe place where you felt at ease in your own skin? Cared for and deeply connected to others or isolated, even with company around you? Was it one more place where you had to put on a show or play peacekeeper or carefully manage tricky relationships?
We’ve seen the many ways in which God shows us that the table is a particularly powerful place – relationally, physically, spiritually. There was Elisha and the Widow, who in a time of drought and death, came together and found that there was always enough to create a new loaf of bread to share. The prodigal father and son are reconciled with a feast. Jesus eats with Nicodemus - a tax collector, someone who nobody liked and was viewed as a sell out at the expense of his community. Jesus eats with the rule-following Pharisees, and continues teaching about God's love even when the meal is disrupted by “a woman in the city, who was a sinner”(luke 7:36-37), even when it freaked people out and put them on edge and earned him the worst reputation and led to people reading him for filth. Jesus shares fish and bread with crowds of hungry folks with nowhere else to go and then gathers up all the crumbs and scraps. Jesus didn’t always keep dinner conversation light or safe, but talked about the vulnerable and the controversial. Jesus ran into folks like Zacheus in the street, someone who often felt unseen, and was like “let’s get together...like soon...like now.” Jesus also went over to the well known homes of his friends like LazarusMartha and Mary where he could kick back a little and refresh himself, and stil...there was a piece of God being revealed there.
The table is a location and an experience where God and God’s promises are particularly evident. Particularly shared tables…
Shared tables are different than adjacent tables. It is different than relationship that is acknowledged but still kept afar, "separate but equal." Jesus removes the safe manageable distances we keep from one another. There’s a difference between being close and being connected. That’s what makes shared tables so hard.
That's the real real. Even in this parable we know that extending invitations to a shared table, putting yourself out there can sometimes lead to rejection. Shared tables can be hard, and we, like the first invitees to the parable banquet, make excuses. I am 100% among you. Sometimes it feels like we are so crunched for time, the thought of spending time on something that doesn't seem as obviously productive, or convenient, or self-beneficial, or even necessary...not only seems uncompelling but actively self-destructive. And, to be fair, these concerns are valid and human.
It CAN be uncomfortable. We can’t completely control what happens. We can worry. What do I say? What do they even care? What if say something that reveals too much truth about myself - what will happen then? Shared tables are scary because the walls come down.
Jesus shared even with those who would betray him. Conversations in real time mean that sometimes someone will say something that hurts us, intentionally or not, but then we have the opportunity to not always let it pass by but to speak up and say something, to be a witness to God's image in us and put a beloved face and a sacred story to a stereotype, slur, or wound. Conversations around the table in real time means that sometimes we can put our foot in our mouth, but also that we can learn to say we're sorry and learn to rebuild relationship. That's a spiritual skill that our world deeply needs.
Tables are messy and crumby, places of bumbling and brokeness. But through God, all of that can be true and at the same time the shared table can also be a blessing. Last week I quickly set up a time to get coffee with a friend because I just couldn’t go it alone anymore and I was desperate for a place I could let my facades go and just be a mess. With biscuit crumbs stuck to the side of my face, I shared the weight I’ve been carrying with another. And after letting me pour myself out, without any hint of heroism or condescension or pity, they said...If we only have one pair of eyes on things, it’s a problem. But when we share it with a community, it becomes a dilemma, and communities can do dilemmas.
What does this parable show us about the sacred power of tables? When so much of our society reflects the idols of ego and extraction, the table holds revolutionary power to subvert that system of tit for tat, of establishing a person’s value based on their status, their economic power or their similarity to ourselves. Jesus changes the dynamic around the table from one that is transactional, one that is adjacent, to one that is integral. Tables turn theory into practice, into experience. The theologian N.T. Wright points out that “when Jesus himself wanted to explain to the disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gives them a meal.” Our tables reflect our theology. They are a witness to God’s kingdom and how we relate within it. They are a foretaste of the feast to come. Our tables are places where love is revealed, God’s love is tasted and seen. And that love changes us. James Baldwin wrote that “love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and how we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
A table is at the center of our worship for a reason. We all eat from this shared altar table, God’s table, where ALL are welcome, and we don’t have to worry about bringing just the shiny happy parts of ourselves to this table or putting on a show. Children, skeptics, sinners, and saints - ALL are welcome at God’s table. When I look around the room as I proclaim these words of welcome each time we gather for holy communion, I can tell by the look on your faces, what those words and that practices means deep down in your soul.
How does that shape our shared tables beyond this moment and experience? How does it impact the way you view of each table you sit down to? In a home, or an office break room, or at family reunions, or the park bench, school cafeterias…
The master of the banquet sends messengers “out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and (they) bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” There is still room. There is always room.
This morning as I woke up to the news of domestic terrorist attacks in Dayton Ohio - 9 dead, 27 wounded...not 12 hours after the one in El Paso - 20 dead and at least 2 dozen injured with some uncounted that are too afraid to go to the hospital because of their immigration status, when there have been 251 mass shootings in 216 days in this country...so far.….as I was feeling numb, and hopeless, and terrified and bitter against the demon of white supremacy and our golden idol of violence and power...I just wanted to lay down and watch tv with a bowl of sugary cereal and my daughter curled up in my arms. We finally got to catch up on a new TV DIsney movie where the line dividing people into heroes and villains is challenged. Near the end, one of the main characters says, “to make the world a better place, we’ll have to do it face to face.” It may sound like Disney cheese, but it also tracks with what Jesus is doing all throughout his life, even unto his death, and resurrection. Jesus sees those who might otherwise go unseen or unacknowledged, Jesus sees the image of God reflected in us even and especially through our brokenness, and invites us to share in the feast just as we are - together, nourishes us through a simple meal, and fortifies us for the road ahead.
God invites us to taste and see - the Goodness of the Lord. And so I have an invitation for you. I want to invite you , to find one person, maybe someone you haven’t spent much time with before, maybe someone who has been at one of your adjacent tables, someone that you can share a table with this week. It might feel awkward or contrived, but it may just mean that we’re out of practice. Ask the the same questions we talk about here: where did you find joy this week? What has been hard? What are you celebrating? What keeps you up at night? You don’t have to have an agenda just find time to gather together and I promise the Holy Spirit will be there. Amen.