The Great Equalizer
Middle Valley United Methodist Church
August 1, 2010
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus* was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘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. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
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. Jesus takes this opportunity in the house of a leader of the Pharisees to remind us that there is much more to the faithful life than strict adherence to rules and regulations, which is all that the Pharisees were worried about, and he uses the Table as an example. Jesus took his relationship to God very seriously, but he did not observe all the rules and regulations like the Pharisees. Jesus understood that the Jews had a special relationship to God. Just as the scripture taught, they were God’s chosen people. However, as he gathers with the leaders in the Pharisee’s house, Jesus expands on that to insist that God has a special relationship with all of creation. We are all in the same family – God’s family. We are all chosen people of God. Our identity, our “worthwhileness” comes from the fact that we are God’s children. We keep faith with the family membership, not by observing the law, but by loving one another. For Jesus to be faithful to God, he had to set a higher priority on healing, forgiving, and loving than he put on keeping the Sabbath or maintaining the dignified ethos of some dinner party. By doing so, he demonstrated his faithfulness to God.
From this, we can conclude that we are worthwhile simply because of who we are. Our value as people does not rely on having your name on the social register. We are the loved children of God; you cannot improve on that social standing! To be successful in life, you don’t have to sneak your nametag a little higher up the table toward the place of honor. Your worth comes from being a loved family member, not from having a better seat at the dinner party. You are a member of the family of God! And as members of the family of God, here is the amazing Good News; we have brothers and sisters everywhere! No matter where we may go, if there is a true and faithful Christian there, we will be welcomed! No matter what we may do, we are invited to Table fellowship with believers all around the world. No matter who may sit next to us, we still share a common bond; the saving love of Jesus Christ!
There is a little church near where I grew up in Oak Ridge. When the federal government began building a massive research facility in Oak Ridge during World War II, this country church faced an important decision. At the time, the church was led by the now nationally-renowned preacher, Fred Craddock, and Rev. Craddock urged the people of this little 112-year-old church to call on the newcomers in the area, to invite them to church. “They wouldn’t fit in here,” was the reply. Eventually, the conflict came to a head. Someone made a motion at a meeting that no one be admitted to membership in that church unless they owned property in the county. The motion passed overwhelmingly.
Years later, the Craddocks moved back to that area, and drove by the old church. They were surprised to see that the parking lot was filled to overflowing. Then they saw a large sign out front: “BARBECUE—ALL YOU CAN EAT!” The church was no longer a church. It had become a restaurant. The Craddocks went inside. Several of the old pews were over against a wall. Electric lights had been installed. The old organ had been pushed into a corner. And sitting around all the plastic and aluminum restaurant tables were all kinds of people. In Craddock’s words, they were “Parthians and Medes and Edomites and residents of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to my wife, Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this place is not still a church, otherwise all these people couldn’t be in here.’”
At the Table, all are welcome! And just like the tables at that barbecue joint, the Lord’s Table is open to all kinds of different people!
 Jo Ann Emerson, “Returning to our Family Dinner Table,” http://www.house.gov/list/hearing/mo08_emerson/col_030830.html (accessed July 27, 2010).