Sunday, December 2, 2007

There's Room At The Table

A large volume of snow blanketed the Northland this weekend, providing challenging driving conditions this morning. The heartiness of our church family was revealed as the pews were suitably filled for this first Sunday in Advent.

Advent is an ancient church tradition that speaks of that period of anticipation, a period of longing. Just as the Jews awaited the coming of the Messiah in those centuries leading up to our Lord's birth, so too Advent is a celebration of the Lord's incarnation in the Christmas child. Each weak, as the Advent candles are lit, we are reminded of the increasing light that is coming into the world through the coming of Jesus. This morning the first Advent candle was lit.
Scripture readings: Psalm 122 and Matthew 24:36-44
Pastor Brad continued talking about the kingdom of God. Jesus, when He broke onto the scene, said, "My kingdom has come."

But what got Jesus into the most trouble was His tendency to hang around with the wrong people.

In Mark 2:13-17 we read the account of the calling of Levi. Tax collectors were not popular in Israel. And the very first thing we see is Jesus going to a dinner at Levi's house.

Banquets serve as a symbol or picture of the kingdom. The feast is a picture of God's abundance. And here we see Jesus enjoying the company of tax collectors and "sinners."
The Pharisees were the ones who knew the law, who knew right and wrong, and it was wrong for Jesus to claim to be righteous, yet hang out with the wrong people.

How big is God's table? How inclusive? And what are you and I going to do about it?

The common and the riff-raff were all part of Jesus' entourage. The religious leaders looked down their noses, had contempt for this mob. If you were righteous you did not eat with these people.

Here we see Jesus breaking the rules. All are invited to the table.

Jesus was deliberately provocative, claiming that the kingdom has arrived and all are invited, just the way they are. The Pharisees would welcome some if they cleaned up their act first. They had a list of things that were and were not acceptable. All too often, like the pharisees, we have our lists, too. Maybe its ethnic or cultural... or maybe we just don't like them.

At the house of a prominent Pharisee in Luke 14 there was a man with dropsy present. It was a setup, and the pharisees were keenly watching to see what Jesus would do. Jesus asked these experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" knowing that in their view it was wrong to do any work on the Sabbath. Jesus healed the man. But he did not stop there in his challenging of their rigid belief systems.

7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
12Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Jesus tells a parable, the parable of the Great Banquet, which begins, "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests." Everyone who was invited made excuses of one kind or another. The servant was ultimately sent out to streets and alleys of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

When we understand the times, what Jesus was suggesting was simply too radical. The Essenes had lists of who is "in" and who is not, who can be here and who can't. But Jesus was saying the banquet, His banquet, is open to all. And when there was still room, he sent servants to the highways and byways, still inviting more.

His invitation is to all. "There's room at My table for you."

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