Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rewriting the Guest List

Luke 14:1, 7-14

I took her to lunch a few months ago.

If you have worked in a church setting for any amount of time you may have come to know someone much like her.

I first met her when she called the church office late one afternoon a year or so ago. She was out of gas and stranded. Could I possibly spare a little cash so she could get to the small town she calls home some 20 miles southwest of here?

I jumped in my car and went to find her. When I did, I handed her $20 and asked her to let me know how she was. She took me at my word. And now she stops in frequently. And yes, she is always in need of something for her car breaks down. Or she develops an allergic reaction to her generic prescription and has to pay out of pocket for the non-generic kind. Or she has to make an unexpected trip to see family. It seems it's always something.

Part of what makes her stand out from others in similar circumstances is that she documents her needs so well. More than once she has come in with a pile of receipts showing where her meager disability income has gone and why she's coming up short. And yes, more than once I have helped out --- sometimes with the church's discretionary fund --- just as often when the needs are small out of my own pocket. Other times I have had to say 'no.'

Over the course of the last year I have learned some of her story. She is a college graduate. She is a person of faith. She is a recovering addict:clean for a number of years now. She is on disability from a high school basketball injury to her knee which caught up to her a few years back. No older than me, her gait is unsteady. She is supported by a cane. And this. She is also a poet. Several visits ago she recited to me a beautiful poem about fear and hope restored which she had penned herself.

In many ways we come from vastly different places and our daily challenges don't compare. I wasn't sure if we would find anything to talk about the day I offered to take her to lunch. Indeed, we met at a small diner a few blocks away from the church where too late I realized she might feel a little out of place for her dark skin stood out among the rest of the crowd that noon.  Still, in this place where the server knows what I will order even before I open the menu as I have been there so often, she was treated with kindness.

She ordered more than she could eat --- packaging up the leftovers for dinner later that day. I often take mine home in the same way after lunch out, but more often than not mine spoil in the refrigerator before I think to enjoy them. I'm quite certain this was not the case with her.

We meandered in our conversation some with her trying to get to know as much about me as I had learned about her over the past several months. For my part, I was working on a blog post and took the chance that she might have new insight into the text I was mulling that day. She did, in fact.

It went fine. And yet, there was an awkwardness in our sharing which I had not discerned in our previous conversations. Yes, this was still my 'turf,' if you will. And I was clearly 'in charge' for I was picking up the tab. And yet something happens when we sit across the table from one another. In this case, the 'playing field' was leveled some and she felt freer to ask questions then, if nothing else.

And there is this. Ever since she has been trying to find a time to invite me to her home to fix a meal for me. Unlike those described in Jesus' teaching in Luke, she sees herself as one who could, who 'should' repay me in some way.

Indeed, Jesus uses the common experience of shared meals to bring his teaching home today. In his first offering he speaks of the centrality of 'humility' to those who would follow him. In his second, he turns all conventions upside down and rewrites the guest list --- promising that in the end,we will be blessed in other than the usual ways.

Now, I don't know about you, but 99% of the time I eat with people I know --- those I have a lot in common with --- co-workers, colleagues, family, friends. These are people who, for the most part, who can and will pick up the tab the next time, if they did not, in fact, do so this time. Part of the surprise in Jesus' words now lies in this: that even more than sitting across the table from someone at the local diner, Jesus says we ought to be inviting "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to something much grander when he speaks of a banquet. Perhaps we still sit with them. Perhaps we don't. Either way? These are to be treated as honored guests. And Jesus promises that in the end, we will be "repaid."

Oh yes, today Jesus makes his point using an experience which people across time and space and culture continue to know well. And I, for one, find myself sitting up and taking notice. Along with you who also listen in on Jesus now, I am wondering what this looks like and what this means for you and me. Is it like a shared lunch with the person who frequently drops by the church office asking for help?  Is that small, small step the direction Jesus would have us move today or is he speaking of something much, much more?

Whatever else is so, when we sit down to a meal together, neither one of us is the same. At least I know I'm not. And beyond simply being the "right thing," in keeping with Jesus' direction now and shy of the 'resurrection of the righteous,' when such as these will be paid in full? Maybe that kind of 'changing' from the inside out is exactly what Jesus intends for us all when we take even the smallest step towards doing and being what he calls us to today. Maybe he intends that in a shared meal we might just see in one another our common humanity. Maybe he yearns for us to offer a prayer of thanksgiving together. Maybe Jesus yearns for a shared meal to be the first step to a more equitable world. Maybe...

  • What do you think is Jesus' intent behind his urging us to 'rewrite' our guest list? What is the difference between lunch at a local diner and the sort of banquet he describes today?
  • With whom do you normally share a meal? When have you sat down to eat with someone from a different social class? 
  • Think of the last meal you shared with another. Does sharing a meal change you, your relationship, your experience of the world? How have you known this to be so?