A Welcoming Table

13 Sep

(1 Timothy 1:12-17 – Luke 15:1-10)
Jesus critics commented: ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”. A criticism that is indeed the highest compliment. Jesus offers hospitality to all, not just those who are deemed respectable by dint of following a set of rules. Jesus does not welcome sinners to be perverse and difficult but because they are the ones who recognise his grace for what it is – unconditional hospitality. Hospitality without limits. No in crowd, no outsiders – no dividing the world into those who are favoured and those who are not.

It is a subtle way of saying to his critics, you are welcome too. A tough call for all who think that they are special, perfect, without need for God’s love and mercy. Those who have material wealth, great talent, who see themselves as being perfect in morals and values are also welcome for those perceptions confirm that they too are sinners.

John Coutis who was born without legs comments that: ‘All people have a disability, it’s just that you can see mine.” He goes on to remind us that our greatest disability is how we think about ourselves, it gets in the way of us fulfilling our potential, or in this case, of accepting the hospitality Jesus offers us.

Jesus holds out his hands, not for our formal handshake but for an embrace. For many of us the intimacy of an embrace is too much and we stand off and extend our hand in a way that says I recognise you but am not quite ready to share my personal space with you. Jesus does more than that. He offers the all-embracing welcome into his life. He touches others even when it makes him ritually unclean.

Gaye tells the story of going to visit a shut-in lady who was almost blind in Glebe in Sydney back when Glebe wasn’t a yuppie suburb. The lady makes a cup of tea and puts out the best china. She pours the tea into the cups, which because of her disability were not very clean. As the tea rose, so did the dust and dirt, right to the top of the cup. What was she to do? Drink the tea despite what it contained or hurt the feelings of this lady who was so excited to have a visitor. Gaye drank the tea.

Hospitality always moves swiftly to sharing the table together, regardless of who is present or what the meal may be like. Jesus makes no exceptions and sits down to eat in the holy ordinariness of the everyday. His table is spread for all and he shares in the table others spread for him.

When we were in Glebe as trainee Salvation Army officers we used to share a meal with the congregation after the Sunday service. This was an odd collection of homeless, mentally ill and poor people. They were responsible for preparing the meal which usually consisted of corn beef, potatoes and cabbage. One day as they were straining the cabbage it fell onto the less than hygienically clean floor. They quickly scooped it up, put in the dish and put it on the table. Some of the trainees complained to the training officer who simply said, “Eat.” We did but not necessarily with gusto. We cannot put limits on who we share our table with. Jesus didn’t and doesn’t.

Paul in his letter to Timothy says, ‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.” Jesus is gracious because he is grace itself. He sees us and all he created as innocent and pure, as worthy of his presence, and he worthy of ours. We may feel we have a long way to go, but for Jesus we are already there.

Pau says that the grace he received was so that Jesus might show utmost patience with him as he remade into the example he was to be to others. Paul echoes’ a thought we shared at morning prayer this week, that each of us lives in this grace because we are not yet finished – God is creating us at this very movement. Chris suggested we wear T shirts with the slogan ‘Be patient with me – I am still under construction”!

I like the Idea that we are people on the move but always a people of the table, the two are unmistakeably linked. It is at table with each other and with the Triune God that we find the grace to become individually and as a community.

It has been suggested that for the Jewish people that the Sabbath meal is defines their faith. One Rabbi suggested that the Sabbath meal is their faith, they are a Sabbath people.

In the same way, as we move toward sharing the Eucharist, are we people of the table. Here we remember the welcome Christ gave us through the cross the ultimate example of hospitality. As we share the body and blood of Christ we are reminded of Christ’s embrace and challenged to show welcome and hospitality to the created world in all its forms.

Come, let’s eat.

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