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The Welcome Table

Proverbs 25:6-7; Luke 14:7-24; Hebrews 13:1-6

It was a full, busy, stressful, rich and wonderful weekend here in our church. A memorial service Saturday morning for Rubena Friesen. A community fun night here later that day. A benefit meal and entertainment Sunday night in Moundridge. And you know an integral piece of each of these gatherings? The opportunity to eat together.

The gospels communicate all these cosmic and transcendent truths – incarnation, resurrection, salvation. These are the understandings we stake our lives upon, the promises we claim in faith. But you know the vehicle used in the gospels to communicate these literally larger than life, intangible, eternal principles – the ordinary. It’s the ordinary in the gospels that captures our imagination, our sympathy, our connection with another time and another people. It’s the ordinary that Jesus uses over and over when he spins his parables.

Theologian Fred Craddock writes, “The everyday activity of home and marketplace, farm and fishing boat provided Jesus not only revelations of the true character of his listeners but also opportunities to reveal the way life is in the reign of God. Plutarch once observed that it is in the small, apparently trivial act that character is most accurately reflected. The observations of Jesus support that statement. And if the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that the frequent and familiar are not to be overlooked in defining life in the presence of God.”

And what is more frequent and familiar, what is more ordinary than eating together? And so in this passage from Luke, we have these three different and unrelated table fellowship illustrations gathered together by the editor to reveal Jesus teaching us at least three large and weighty truths set in the context of meal time.

Let’s look at the first story. (Luke 14:7-11) In this lesson Jesus seems to be pulling on another of our lectionary passages for today, Proverbs 25:6-7 – “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.” So the overarching message we get from this little vignette is the importance of being humble, cultivating humility. This is a challenge for most of us in some capacity or another. However, I’m also going to say that I know very few people who would intentionally take the best place at the table because they felt they were deserving of it. For the most part, if there is a choice to be made, people I know well would take the folding chair at the side, rather than the high-backed wood chair at the head.

I can think of at least two reasons to explain this. First of all, our context is rural America. We eat our share of humble every day. We work hard and much of our work connects us to the land – whether this be farming or a daily commute through the open fields and pastureland of central Kansas. This grounds us in a reality beyond ourselves. Somehow, I think it’s harder to maintain an elaborate pretense in a rural context and this for me is one of the greatest appeals of living in the country – as really all of us sitting here do whether our address is town or dirt road.

Second, we are Mennonite. As such, we strive to be humble almost to