“God’s Table for All People” (Ecc. 3:1-8; Luke 14: 12-23)
Sermon for Berkeley Interfaith Thanksgiving Service 2012
This week is a very special time of the year.
- Thursday is American Thanksgiving Day—an opportunity to feast with family and friends, to be grateful for many blessings, and to share that for which we are grateful. If you don’t think too much about the ensuing injustice, it may be worth noting that the original sharing of food commemorated in our national image of the first Thanksgiving Day was an interfaith experience between Christian pilgrims and Native peoples.
- Friday is the most important day of the week for prayers for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Thank you, Ameena Janali, for your spiritual reflection on gratitude. As-salamu alaykum.
- Saturday is the Sabbath Day of Rest for the Jewish community, commemorating the 7th day of God’s good creation. Thank you, Rabbi Weisel, for reading the Hebrew Scripture. Shabbat Shalom!
- Sunday, in my tradition, on our Christian liturgical calendar, is the last Sunday of the Church Year–the Feast of Christ the King. On this feast day, Jesus is imagined not hanging on cross but wearing a royal crown and seated at the head of the Table of the Great Banquet at the End of the Age—a Feast for All People! Thank you Fr. Hamilton for reading the Christian scripture.
Jesus referred to this eschatological event at his Last Supper on earth when he said: “I shall not eat this like this again until its all been fulfilled in my Father’s Kingdom.” That future banquet also is here and now, yes, even in this present moment. The event has been referred to in scripture as “The Feast of the Kingdom”, the “Wedding Feast”, “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” or simply “God’s Banquet for All People.” What Jesus said this about the Temple in Jerusalem (“My Fathers House should be a house of prayer for all people”) can also be said about God’s Banquet (“God’s A Table should be a place to eat for all people.”)
A few comments about the Parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14:12-23):
- God’s kingdom of peace and plenty is envisioned as a great banquet or Feast. In ancient Near Eastern cultures, wedding celebrations might last for days. Big, lavish affairs, with the richest of foods and the finest of wines freely flowing. What a joyous image of God’s kingdom!
- Ancient custom of reciprocity is still practiced today (14: 12). If you invite me over to your house for dinner, I owe you something, and I will invite you to my house. If I give you a dollar, you may feel obligated to give me something in return.
- Jesus had a different practice of hospitality. In his vision of the Kingdom of God, the last shall be first and the first last. The greatest shall be the least and those considered least are to be treated as the greatest. In this “Upside-down Kingdom”, God seems to have favorites–about 12 or so special interest groups of people: The poor, the lame, the maimed, the blind, widows and orphans in their distress, the refugee or sojourner, the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, sick, and homeless. God’s Banquet is intended for these our brothers and sisters.[i]
- Some folks refused the invitation. They had rather lame excuses…One bought a plot of land and had to go see it? (What kind of foolish person buys a piece a land without seeing it first?). Another bot two oxen and had to go inspect them. (What kind of famer buys oxen without checking to see if they are healthy?) Another just got married and said he couldn’t come (Well okay, that’s not a lame excuse.) The point is that everyone is invited so ”that my house may be filled.” And that there is still room at the Table.”
Story of Thanksgiving Day at the Lamb’s Table in Times Square
I remember the first time I took this parable and teaching seriously, if not literally. In a previous pastorate at the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in Times Square, back in the day before the neighborhood was “Disneyfied”, we ran a regular soup kitchen out the church 4 days a week. One year, as Thanksgiving Day approach, someone on staff had a great idea. Lets demonstrate the Parable of the Feast from Luke 14. So we did.
Instead of just opening our usual soup kitchen, we organized a First Class Banquet on the Second Floor of our Times Square Building, our beautiful, elegant and historic Supper Club. We found a fine chef to prepare a great 5-course dinner. Used our best china, silverware and candle ware. Got out the crystal goblets and best tablecloths. Our maître de wore a tux, treated folks as honored guests, and seated them around beautifully set tables.
We had room for about 300 people. We invited different social service agencies and shelters in Times Square to invite and bring their clients. People with different disabilities accepted our invitation, as did many homeless clients. We still had room on Thanksgiving Day. We rented a fancy black limousine and sent a host with the driver through the streets of Times Square and invited street folks to get in the car and come to the Lamb’s for a first class Thanksgiving Feast. And our house was filled.
We had prepared a wonderful program with professional musicians and singers, and actors offered their gifts. Great entertainment, lasted all afternoon. Toward the end of the celebration, I stood up as one of the pastors and said:
“Thank you for accepting the invitation to come and dine at the Lamb’s Table at the Church of the Nazarene today. We are so glad you’re here. I hope you enjoyed the food and entertainment. There’s no cost for the dinner; it has been paid for in full. And you have been guests of honor… I also want you to know that the honor of your presence is requested at the Banquet of God. Our Thanksgiving Feast today points to an even greater banquet for all God’s people. It too is free of charge, paid in full by another. You just have to accept the invitation. Just as you’ve accepted the invitation to today’s feast, I hope you will RSVP by faith to God’s great feast, which starts here and now….”
We continued this kind of parable as a demonstration act for many years in NYC.
What I said to those gathered in Times Square, I say to you today:
You’ve been invited to a great banquet.
“Come, for all things are now ready!”
Don’t blow off the invitation! Don’t make excuses.
It’s the best banquet party you’ll ever experience.
Faith is your R.S.V.P. to God’s invitation.
Faith is saying in response to God saying, “Come.”
- Each time you hear the Word of God, in whatever religious tradition, you are receiving an invitation.
- Each time you respond to a Call to Prayer or Call to compassionate action in the world, you are saying Yes to God’s invitation.
- Each time you break bread or share a cup of cold water with another human being, you are participating in God’s great banquet.
All religious traditions have unique ways to communicate and issue the invitation to God’s Banquet for all people. The most important thing is to respond and Come.
At Epworth Church, we begin our worship services with the children up front singing and leading us in a Call and Response ritual of inclusion and embrace. It is also an appropriate way to close this reflection on God’s Table of Faith.
Come let us worship God (2x)
To the Love of God…
Rest for the weary…
Food for the hungry…
Hope for the children…
To the love of God…
To the love of God…
“Come, for everything is now ready.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
Human history is a long struggle between those who have what they need and those who have not, between those scripture calls the “rich and the poor”, the “strong and the weak”, or the “oppressors and oppressed” (See Exo. 3). God looks down on the arena of human struggle, and takes sides. And the side God takes is the side of the socially disinherited and marginalized who cry out for justice. What God wants is equity and shalom—an social-economic and spiritual reality where, metaphorically speaking, “every valley shall be exalted, every mountain brought low; crooked streets are made straight, and rough places made smooth…”[i]