Sunday, July 15, 2012

Following Jesus: We Eat

(A Communion Meditation based on Luke 5:27-39 for Sunday, July 15, 2012. Fourth in a series...)

Jesus called Levi the tax collector to follow him and Levi did. One of the first things that Levi did after he started following Jesus was to throw a big dinner party at his house for Jesus.

That makes sense, because following Jesus is cause for celebration.
Sure, following Jesus involves repentance which is a turning away from another way of living life and toward the way of living life in a free and full relationship with God, but that is no cause for mourning. It is reason for celebrating! Following Jesus is more about the life you are entering than it is about the one you are leaving; it is about the much that you are gaining rather than the little that you are losing!

Levi’s guest list was made up of what Luke described as “a large crowd of tax collectors and others” and of what the religious folks described as “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors are tax collectors and pretty much everybody in Jesus’ day regarded them as sinners, including the tax collectors themselves, I imagine; I guess whether someone is “other” or “sinner” depends on your perspective.

It is the case, though, that for many religious folks the “other” equals the “sinner.” It is the case for way too many of us the “other” and the “different”—you know, “they”—are the problem to be dealt with rather than the people to be accepted, loved, and embraced. “We” are fine; “we” are welcome. “They” are not.

And so the religious people asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners to repentance.” In other words, those who thought they were fine wouldn’t open themselves up to God’s grace in Jesus and those who knew they weren’t fine would.

Still, we know from other places in the Gospels that Jesus would eat with anybody, even the uptight upright (have you ever noticed how similar those words are?) religious folks, if they wanted him to do so.

The bottom line is this: kingdom of God time is party time! When you encounter the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus it’s something to celebrate; it’s something to which you want to invite your friends and family. To hear and to answer the call of Jesus is a big deal and it merits a big celebration.

This morning we are partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Let’s think of the Communion table as a banquet table. Let’s think of the Supper as a fellowship meal; let’s think of it as a precursor and a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that will take place when Jesus come; let’s think of it as a reminder that we are “feasting on the riches of his grace; let’s think of it as part of our larger fellowship of sinners who have met and are meeting Jesus.

I guess that one thing we tend to seek in our Lord’s Supper observance is reverence and there is good reason for that; after all, we are remembering the death of our Savior. I suppose that since Jesus did say “the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” we rightly see the death of Jesus as something to mourn.

Still, there is more here to celebrate than there is to mourn. Jesus’ death fulfilled the purposes of God. Jesus’ death was an act of perfect obedience, submission, love, mercy, and grace. Jesus’ death achieved our deliverance from sin.

And Christ the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.

I want you to remember that what we celebrate here is not disconnected from real life. If we are not careful we will treat the Lord’s Supper as some kind of super sacred or super spiritual event that we come aside from the world to share in and that we go back out into the world to forget. The Supper is a real-life event that remembers a real-life Savior who died and rose that we might have full and meaningful real life in the real world. It is a sacred moment but it is not an other-worldly moment; it is a moment that reminds us that the kingdom of God is among us and within us.

That is why I sometimes think that the Church has made a mistake in divorcing the Lord’s Supper from its original setting as part of a community meal. The early church would have the Supper as part of a fellowship meal. Nora Gallagher has written beautifully of a Maundy Thursday meal in her church, in which, right after soup, the people shared in Communion right there around the tables, then returned to their meal and their conversation.

She then said, “It must have been something like this, in those early churches. You had the blessed meal and the meal meal. You were dependent on each other not only for worship but for food. You had sacred life and ordinary life, folded together like a sandwich” [Nora Gallagher, The Sacred Meal (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), p. 105).

We eat our meals and we eat the Lord’s Supper and it all belongs together, somehow.
Granted, there are times to feast and there are times to fast. There are times to receive and there are times to give. There are times to bust loose and there are times to hold back.

Our member Jackie Harden told me about times when her family would gather for big meals with many guests from outside the family. The family had a code; as the main dish was being served from the platter, when they came to family member they would whisper either “FHB” or “PIK” in the person’s ear. “FHB” meant “Family Hold Back” and “PIK” meant “Plenty in the Kitchen.” They wanted to make sure that everybody got served, that everyone had enough.

For the sake of the hungry and the hurting and the marginalized and the outcast, there are times when we should hold back. Today is not one of those days; this is not one of those times. When it comes to God’s grace, there is always plenty in the kitchen. The extravagant grace that we receive is then meant, I hope we’ll remember, to be passed on.

So today, let’s think of the Lord’s Supper as a feast. Let’s think of it as a reminder that we are all gathered around one big table sharing in the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let’s think of it as a table to which only sinners come.

The righteous don’t need it.

You see, Levi gave a feast for Jesus and all the sinners came.

We’re having a feast today; let all the sinners come to eat, because sitting around the table laughing and eating and drinking with the Lord and with each other is what us sinners do…

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