Jesus’ Dinner Table

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 25:6-7

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

refugee dinner
THESSALONIKI, GREECE – 2016/06/15: A Kurdish family breaks the iftar dinner at Basilika Refugee camp. Basilika refugee camp is open for 4 days and is hosting the refugees from the EKO gas station informal refugee camp in Polycastro. (Photo by Omar Marques/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When you throw a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends or your relatives or your rich neighbors, just in case they might invite you in return and you can be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Invite folks who will not pay you back and you will find yourself smack-dab in the middle of God’s blessing.

Jesus’ image of hospitality is a difficult one for many people to accept. Inviting folks- strangers- to a dinner party seems very odd. Intentionally seeking out people who will probably not be able to contribute anything to the meal or pay you back, seems self-defeating. Maybe we can come to terms with it if we accept it as mere charity. If we can think of this meal invitation as a one-and-done type of affair it becomes easier to accept. But Jesus doesn’t let us off of the hook so easily. For him, this meal is about relationship. Jesus tells this story about the dinner invitation to contrast the idea of someone throwing a dinner party so she or he can rub shoulders with some high falootin’ people. The person who throws the party is hoping something good comes out of this dinner. This isn’t charity, but this is an investment. Maybe if you invite certain people it will land you a high paying job or more popular friends or more invitations to the best social events. You throw this kind of dinner with these kinds of people because you do not want this to be the last time you see them. You want to be buddy-buddy with the big wigs.

Jesus flips the whole “common sense” idea on its head in just a couple of sentences. He teaches us that how God works and how God desires to see us work, is that we throw dinner parties for the folks who don’t usually get invited to the parties because they don’t have anything “valuable” to offer the host. God desires that dinner parties be thrown with the intention of getting into the inner circle and rubbing shoulders with those who are at the margins, who are lost, and who are forsaken. God particularly wants the poor and forgotten to be a part of God’s banquet.

Throw a dinner party for the folks who can’t pay you back. Be in relationship with them.

There is a refugee camp built on the grounds of an old psychiatric hospital at the base of Mount Olympus in Greece. This camp is home to 1,300 Yazidi women and men. The Yazidi are a religious minority from Iraq who were being targeted by ISIL, but some escaped the genocide and ended up at this refugee camp in Greece. Money is scarce in the camps, so a handful of enterprising individuals  started their own business. One man, Ahmad, started his own shop selling mostly vegetables and cigarettes. The cigarettes are the most popular item and they sell at 2 euros and 50 cents per pack.

Twice per week Ahmad takes a bus into town to purchase the cigarettes he will resell at his shop. When you factor in his cost for bus fare, each pack costs him 2 euros and 35 cents. That means Ahmad only makes about 15 cents profit per pack of cigarettes he sells. That is almost nothing. Continue reading

The Cover Band of Christ

 

There are few cover songs that I like. When a musical artist plays their own rendition of another artist’s song, I often find that the result is flat. To me it often sounds like an artist is doing their best impression of the artist they are covering and they inevitably fall short every time. Did you know that the new wave band, Blondie, did a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire? I was not very impressed. I am also not in love with Tom Jones’ cover of Prince’s Kiss.

There is one recent band that has been doing some pretty interesting and enjoyable cover songs. Mexrissey is an all-Mexican band that covers the music of the former Smith’s frontman, Morrissey. Mexrissey takes the melodramatic music of this British rocker and infuses their uniquely Mexican flavor to it. This is not yet another cover band inadequately trying to imitate another musician. They have made the music their own while preserving the core of the songs. All of the songs they perform have been translated into Spanish and the traditional rock instrumentation of guitar, bass guitar, drums, and voice now include horns and are performed in a mariachi inspired style.

I really like Mexrissey because they were able to hold onto the core of the Morrissey songs including the familiar melodies, but managed to make them truly their own. They perform those old Morrissey songs in a fresh and contextual way.

The church is called into a similar relationship with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, we have been entrusted with an old and timeless message. God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus Christ so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16-17). At its core, that Gospel message never changes. Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus still is able and desires to save the world from the power of sin and death. The church has been called to proclaim that in Christ, all those powers that seek to separate us from each other and the love of God have been defeated on the cross. That message is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. Continue reading

Wayfaring Stranger

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 15:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

 

Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the faithful may not see God’s Kingdom or promised land fully and in this life. In his last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” he said this:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

-MLK Jr. Speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” 3 April 1968

Many prophets of old and of today have yearned to see the Promised Land. Many have worked hard to see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Many have looked forward to the city whose architect is God. And yet we still wait for what is unseen, sure in what we hope for.

Abraham received a call from God to travel to the land he had been promised. God promised Abraham the land of what would be Israel and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and grains of sand on the beach. After his many labors including war, encounters with angels, family drama, and more, Abraham found himself on his deathbed. At the end of his life he had not yet been given the entire land of Israel, but a small plot of land. At the end of his life, he had not yet had descendants as numerous as the stars, but only two sons, Ishmael, who was cast out from his own home, and Isaac who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age.

Moses, by God’s hand, delivered his people out of slavery in Egypt. He helped the Israelites escape the clutches of Pharaoh and wandered with his people in the wilderness for 40 long years. After laboring through war, internal bickering, food scarcity, family drama, and more, Moses neared the end of his life. God brought Moses to the top of Mount Nebo to see the land he had been journeying so long to find, but told him that he would not enter it. Moses died never actually stepping foot in the promised land.

The list could go on and on with folks who have been given the promise of God’s reign on earth, lived a life of faith in response to that promise, but did not ultimately see it come to pass in their lifetime.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many other prophets waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise that the Jewish people in exile would one day be brought back to Israel and establish a kingdom of justice and mercy that would last forever. But they ultimately died before that promise was realized.

Paul, Peter, Bartholomew, John, and many other apostles waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of the return of Jesus and his Kingdom of abundant life to be actualized here on earth. But they ultimately died before that promise was realized.

Martin Luther King Jr. waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of an end to racial segregation and all of God’s children, black, brown, and white, to truly live as sisters and brothers.

 

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, waited, worked, and hoped for God’s promise of an end to military violence against its own citizens and for swords to be beaten into plowshares.

 

The audience to which the author of Hebrews writes has endured many trials. On account of their faith in Jesus, they have been thrown in prison, plundered, abused, and publicly ridiculed (Hebrews 10:32-34). They are waiting for a time when they will be set free from these powers of the world and they are waiting on God’s promise to give them rest and true peace.

We too continue to wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Continue reading