Sermon Oct 3, 2010: Coming to the table, turning the tables

Theme:  What banquet or table of consequences have you sat down to in your life? 

TITLE:  Coming to the table, turning the tables
THEME:  Believing Together: Worship, Communion, and the Global Community
TEXTS:   Luke 14: 15-24  Jesus’ parable of the great banquet

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and 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.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

A banquet of consequences

Author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Sooner or later everybody sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (James E. Brenneman, “Turning the Tables: War, Peace and the Last Supper,” forthcoming book. Much of this homily is based on this article and personal conversation and correspondence with the author growing out of our common interest in the Eucharist and peace and Luke’s gospel.)

What banquet or table of consequences have you sat down to in your life?

Banquets are special feasts with special guests invited to come to the table. Only last Thursday evening ten of us enjoyed the Annual Dinner for the Church Council of Greater Seattle. At that banquet table SMC was presented with the Gertrude Apel Pioneering Spirit Award. We will share more about that at the end of worship. It was a gratifying and humbling table of consequences. 

Who gets invited to what table for what purpose has consequences. It speaks volumes and communicates values. Table fellowship – how we eat together –is a window into the rules and roles of any group. Victory banquets have been a table of consequences throughout history.

After Germany surrendered to the Allied armies to end World War II, in the very room where the official surrender took place one day earlier, a great victory banquet was held to honor the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was a fabulous feast of bread and wine served to victorious American, British, French, and Russian officers. 

Victory banquets like this are common throughout history marking the celebration of the victorious at the expense of the victims. It has been said that “war and banquets go hand in hand” (Brenneman, 3). 

“To the victors belong the spoils,” is another well-known word of justification for victory banquets across time and around the world.

Jesus turns the tables at the table

Then along comes Jesus and overturns the world’s victory banquet. Jesus invites himself to unworthy tables and invites the unworthy to the table. Jesus invites us, “Come to the table” and in so doing turns the tables of victory banquet cultures upside down. Jesus establishes a new banquet of consequences.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus regularly eats with the wrong people. Jesus knew the pattern of a table of consequences and turned the tables upside with a new invitation. 

This is our fourth and final Sunday worshipping with Mennonite World Conference shared convictions – this one worship and the Lord’s Supper. This is also World Communion Sunday. For both reasons we could turn to Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples to set the foundation for the church’s celebration of communion.

Nevertheless, we are going to set Jesus’ Last Supper aside remembering that he broke bread shared it with all his gathered disciples and shared the cup with all of them too. Yet before the night had ended he was arrested by the powers who are threatened and terrified by a new table of consequences. And before the night had ended he had been betrayed or abandoned by all disciples who had eaten this transforming ritual meal with him.

Instead we turn briefly to the heart of Luke’s gospel and table stories in chapter 14. Luke makes clear that Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures – the Old Testament. Jesus especially follows the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah envisioned a time when God would spread out a great victory feast for “all peoples.”

“On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” (25:6; cf. 55:1ff).

Jesus knows and implements Isaiah’s prophetic vision as we see in chapter 14 of Luke with three consecutive meals stories. First Jesus stirs up a scandal by healing a man with leprosy on the Sabbath while eating at the home of a Pharisee (14:1-4). Jesus then confronted their way of claiming a seat of honor at the table. He concludes that parable with strong words: “When you throw a banquet, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, the blind” (14:13). Then Jesus tells the parable of the great banquet that we heard Sara Albertson read a few minutes ago in worship.

All the right dinner guests are invited and they all make excuses and refuse the invitation. Jesus goes on to say that the host invited people in from the highways and byways to come and eat at this banqueting table. 

This “banquet of consequences” is a foretaste of the future feast of rich foods and well-aged wines for all peoples of God’s fulfilled reign. At the table of this parable Jesus invites people to the table and turns the tables in two particular ways: Jesus turns the tables on the usual etiquette of inviting privileged or victorious guests of honor while ignoring the people at the bottom of the social scale. Jesus also turns the tables of the “built-in, intrinsic violence associated with victory banquets” (Brenneman, 8) that live by “to the victors belong the spoils” and leave victims suffering, dead, or ignored.

“Jesus has not invited his would be followers to war, but to an upside down Victory Banquet, a Table of Grace, around which everyone could gather, especially the poor, thirsty, weak, [disabled], unclean, and sinful. The banquet was open to anyone and everyone who responds to the grace full invitation…….. [Jesus], ‘turns the tables,’ using holy war principles to argue for ‘peaceable kingdom inclusiveness.’” (Brenneman, 10, cites Ford, 22).     

 Biblical scholar Josephine Ford speaks of this in a book whose title, My Enemy is My Guest, reveals a new table of consequences Jesus invites us to join. She shows that a primary goal of Luke is to persuade hearers of the gospel to reject violence and join the new table of peacemaking consequences with Jesus (Brenneman, 7; cites Ford, 22).  

Story of Thanksgiving 2004…Phil…SDR  

Come to Me, Come to Us

On this World Communion Sunday and the fourth and final Sunday of our worship series drawn from Mennonite World Conference shared convictions on “Believing Together” we proclaim God’s Word and confess our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We come to the Lord’s Table to be fed the life-giving bread of Jesus Christ. Jesus invites us to this table of consequences to be nourished and nurtured to turn the table of consequences forever. 

We sing this invitation and our response in the next song:

Come to me, come to us, you who are burdened.
Come to the word, and come to the meal.
Come without question or pressure or price;
Come, be embraced by the body of Christ.

Please turn to #60 in Sing the Story.