Saturday, 31 August 2019

A Place at the Table

Sermon preached at Larbert West Church on Sunday 1st September at which service the congregaton votes for their new minister... 
Hebrews 13: 1-8; Luke 14:1, 7-14

A Place at the Table

I am sure we have all attended weddings and big family events, where there are many guests.
The good thing about those gatherings is looking around and seeing familiar faces, that you see rarely, and enjoying the pleasure of catching up.

Of course, if it is a gathering for a wedding, there will also be many faces that are not at all familiar: the family of your loved one’s new spouse; the friends they have invited who will be completely unfamiliar.

Now, normally at these occasions there is a table plan.
Place settings with your name, anchoring you in the right place. Next to people you know; or perhaps your host mixes it all up a little and puts folks together who do not know each other?

Have you ever been to a wedding where there is no seating plan? I have!
Just the once. And it was really tricky – there was a kind of free for all as everyone went in to the marquee; and it made me a little uncomfortable: where to sit?
Who to sit with?
What if there’s no room for both of us and we have to sit apart?
So many unknowns!

So this parable rings bells for me.
Where shall I sit?
How important am I? do I go close to the family?
Do I wait it out? If I sit here, will someone want me to move?
What if they run out of seats?!

Oh my goodness!

Now, wedding stories aside, there is a point to all of this.
Jesus was in the habit of quietly observing people; he was invited to dinner by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. This particular dinner was a big affair; and he knew he was under scrutiny.

As he watched, people vied with each other to get the place of honour; each trying to assume a greater status, a greater level of importance.
Each guest was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to the great new teacher.

Often in these times, as well as the invited guests, there would also have been any number of hangers on.
People who sat on the periphery, watching, listening, taking stock… for these were not private secluded venues, and many people followed Jesus.

So that, when Jesus gave the advice to his host, to choose the poor and the outsiders to be his guests, those very ones: the poor, the blind the lame, were very likely sitting at the side, watching, waiting, listening in.

What a message of hope that must have been!
They who sat on the sides, watching everyone else feast, they were the ones for whom the feast would be presented!

The instruction to the host to welcome strangers – that stands the test of time.
We too are called to be welcoming; to have open hearts and minds; to find space for those who have less that we do.
To put those who normally come last at the top of the list.
To be generous with whatever we have.
To give without any expectation of receiving the same in return.
To give without counting the cost.
For in doing so – as we heard in the first reading, we may entertain angels unawares.

Jesus’ stories and parables always had a deeper meaning too; a story for everyone, at every level…

The deeper meaning of the feast and the host – not that physical feast in the home of a Pharisee that Jesus was attending;
not even the parable feast he described;
instead the feast of heaven at the invitation of God;
the hope of eternity for those who are on the outside looking in;
for those who feel left out, alone, marginalised, outcast – those are the ones for whom Jesus came.

His message of hope did exactly that.
It brought hope; a hope that was steady and reliable.

As I told the children; as we heard in the reading from Hebrews: Jesus never changes.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow – Jesus stays the same.
And so do Jesus’ promises.
That invitation to the feast continues now.
We are all welcome at the host’s table.
We are all invited.
We will all have a seat at the table.

For in God’s house  
All are welcome!

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