The Word This Weekend – September 1, 2019
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
[Jesus] also to the person who had invited him [to dinner], “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
This Sunday’s Gospel text is all about manners, and particularly manners at the table.
We’ve been learning a lot about table manners in the Hurst household for the past few years. You see, since her birth in 2015, we’ve had a new person at Sunday dinner around here – my granddaughter, Charlotte. As fortunate as we had been to gather weekly for a family meal with three generations of family members, now we have the added blessing of the newest member of the bi-coastal Hurst tribe. And Charlie’s place at dinnertime has been giving us all a fresh appreciation for our traditions of hospitality, sharing, and good table manners.
Maybe your family is like ours when it comes to dinnertime. There are a ton of unspoken signs and symbols, borne of our German heritage and generational experience. We dutifully pass our bowls of veggies and platters of fleisch in orderly fashion. We respectfully ask if there’s more gravy in the kitchen before ladling out the last of the precious stuff onto our mashed taters. And of course no one wants to be the “Old Maid,” lifting the last of the roast, green beans or biscuits onto our plate as if to be thereby consigned to lifelong loneliness or isolation.
But before any of this cultural conditioning can begin in earnest, Grace must be said. Especially now that our newest and youngest dinner guest is with us for the meal, everyone clasps hands in reverent silence, while we look around the table for who will start the mantra:
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest,
and may your gifts to us be blessed.
And then we wait, all eyes trained on the little one. We hold our collective breath, till the little one chimes in, “Ahhh-MEN!” And now we can begin the familial feeding frenzy, the swapping of well-worn stories, the review of the week’s events, and the plethora of “remember when’s” that always accompanies the delicious repast at table. Because, with her little “Amen,” we can know that our newest family member is on her way to “Hurst family values.” Because manners matter -- starting with Grace.
According to our text, manners apparently matter to Jesus as well. He warns against taking the best seats at table, advising that diners wait to be “called up higher,” rather than arrogantly covet the best for themselves. Even more, he advises his dinner host to reserve seats at his table not for those who can return his hospitality, or offer reciprocal benefit or hospitality. No, he suggests, but rather offer honor and hospitality to those who can offer no benefit in return. Welcome the poor, disabled and disenfranchised, he insists. For in those who can offer no reciprocal benefit, such gracious hosts open the way for divine blessing, a reciprocity far beyond what earthly hospitality can afford.
We call it “Grace,” don’t we, that ritual of prayer before the feast? Of course the word probably owes more to the Latin gratia (or in Spanish, “Grácias”) than it does to the deeper meaning of the word – blessing that comes without deserving, Godly honor that cannot be purchased, leveraged or reciprocated in any way any of us could ever devise. Yet, both in who bows the head and bends the will, or in who gets invited to our table fellowships, there truly is no better word for the manner in which we invite or include than this: GRACE.
What is the manner of our welcome, at our family tables, or at that family gathering we call Eucharist – the Thanksgiving Table of Christ’s own grace? How young is too young? Whose disability, identity, relationships, or standing is too onerous to include? Really, how grace-ful is our grace?
It better be as grace-ful as Christ’s, my friends. Because the Table we set on the Lord’s Day, and the community that gathers round, is nothing less that His Table, His Dinner, and His family. Long before any of us might dare in our arrogance to string the velvet rope of exclusion around the household of Bread and Cup – whether that rope be comprised of lifestyle judgments, theological bit-twiddling, inherited snobbery or garden-variety arrogance – Christ himself has shaped the guest list by his own reckoning and manners. And we would do well not to un-invite those who the Master has already included, those for whom he died and all he would welcome into his deathless life.
As surely as we Hurst’s wait each week with bated breath for Charlie to join the chorus of “Amen,” and teach her the manners of our family table, I invite you to discern ever more deeply the breadth and width of Christ’s own spirit of welcome, and the manner of his “table manners.” And if this definition of “Grace” seems all too open -- either too threatening to our traditions , too dangerous to our protected pieties, or too radical to our deeply received and reinforced ideas of “them and us” – then I urge you to take another look at what “Grace” really means to you and me, in principle and in practice.
May our Eucharistic hospitality -- and with it the broader communal manners of welcome and affirmation, inclusion and embrace, friends and family – grow ever wider, deeper and truly unconditional. And perhaps, just perhaps, may the invitation we say over the dinner table form the welcome we voice over the Table that transcends them all:
Come, Lord Jesus, call us Guests
And may your gifts to us -- all of us,
With You in God’s Good Work,