Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Banquet Table

Pastor Brad, fresh from his Colorado trip, began the service by having us all stand for a moment of silence to honor Dale Fish, who passed from us this week, the funeral being yesterday.

After sharing with us that the pastor's conference was a rejuvenating experience, he also shared a few words about his snowmobile misadventures, which resulted in 22 stitches "on his cheek." Several announcements followed including:
1. The Sweetheart Banquet is next Saturday night, the 13th. If you forgot to sign up, contact Leonard or the church office and get listed.
2. If you failed experience The Truth Project at the Cresman's home, they will be hosting the series again through the spring beginning Sunday the 21st.
3. A spokesperson from Mentor Duluth will be here next Sunday to share briefly about this program designed to meet the needs of youth.

Upon completion of announcements, Darlene began the introit. The choir assembled at the front of the sanctuary and sang Come Thou Fount.

Ellie led us in worship. After the offering and a Scripture reading Brad took the pulpit to deliver his message.

The Banquet Table

Brad began by asking, "What, more than anything, got Jesus in trouble with the Pharisees?" Answer: hanging out with the wrong kinds of people.

Teaching, in Jesus' day, was not something one did only with words. The Lord, like the Old Testament prophets, also taught with pictures and symbols. A primary Old Testament symbol for the kingdom of God was a banquet table.

For example, this verse from Isaiah: "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines." Isaiah 25:6

The banquet is a symbol of God's abundance. But the Pharisees wanted to limit who could be part of this feast. Mark 2 records what happened on one occasion when Jesus was having dinner with some "undesirables."

15While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

17On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Who does God want at His table? How exclusive or inclusive is God's kingdom? North Park scholar Scott McKnight said there was a Hebrew word that described the uncouth rabble whom Jesus was often found in association with. The word means tacky, common, riffraff... and perhaps today we'd call them by other names, perhaps dweebs.

The Pharisees had their lists of people who don't count, and if you are serious about your righteousness, you were not to hang around with them or dine with them. To dine with a person is a to make a statement. They were part of your community.

To be "in" with the Pharisees required a process. First, you had to repent. Then you had to become holy through ritual cleansing, etc. Then you could be part of the community of faith. Jesus reversed the order here. You can join us even if you don't have it together, if you are an outcast or undesirable.

Jesus was a prophet. He didn't just teach with words. His life was a statement. And while dining at Levi's house, the message was clear: "These are My kind of people."

There's Room At God's Table For You
The Pharisees kept a list of who was in and who was out. But don't we do the same? Don't we also keep lists? Who are you tempted to give up on? People with specific sins are on that list. Or it may be that we look down on people who are not bright... or not attractive. It may be ethnic or cultural groups who we don't associate with.

Then Brad asked, "Who are you inviting to the Table?" and he began a discourse on Luke 14 where Jesus went to eat at the house of a prominent Pharisee. Jesus speaks clearly to this matter.

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."

The Pharisees saw these dining occasions as much more than for just eating. It was an opportunity to show off, to be recognized in the seats of honor, to be important. And the dweebs, the crippled, the undesirable, the blemished were to be excluded. They were not welcome.

How differently Jesus portrays God's heart then as this passage sets up the famous Parable of the Great Banquet...

15When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
16Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
18"But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
19"Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
20"Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'
21"The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
22" 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
23"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

Jesus is saying, "Your table is to be inclusive, not exclusive."

In the parable we see how the important guests snub the invitation. The party, however, is going to go on. The Pharisees might suppose that without them the party will be a bust. How can it be special without "the right people." But Jesus says all are invited. Bring the riffraff, the dweebs, the losers, the common... everyone is welcome.

The message Brad sought to bring us included an evangelistic note. As we celebrate the Lord's Table (Communion followed) "let's think of who is not here, and who should be here." God's grace is for all.

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