This is the second sermon in a short series on hospitality. The first was about our ‘Hospitable God’ and how hospitality in the bible is more than just something that we’re told to ‘do’ - it is at the very heart of who God is. God never tells us to behave in a way that he does not himself behave; he never says ‘do as I say, but not as I do’ - he only ever says ‘do as I say because it’s who I am.’ And who He is, is hospitable.
And I talked about the beautiful mystery that the bible gives us of a God who wants us to dwell in Him - to be at home in Him - so that he can be at home in us. And you can read or listen to that sermon here.
Today I want to do two things. First to talk about what divine hospitality looks like when it comes among us in Jesus. And secondly, to talk very practically about the place of hospitality - and specifically eating together - in our life as a church community.
So, Jesus first of all. If it’s true that God is, in his very being, ‘hospitable’, we would expect to see that being lived out in Jesus during his time on earth. Here’s what one writer has noticed. There are three points in the Gospels when the phrase, ‘The Son of Man came…..’ is used.
In Mark 10, ‘The Son of man came …not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’
In Luke 19, ‘The Son of man came…. to seek and save the lost’
And then in Luke 7, ‘the Son of man came….. eating and drinking’
The first two tell us why Jesus came. He came to seek and save the lost and, by giving his life, to set us free from our brokenness and distance from God. The third one though, that tells us how he did it. How did Jesus seek, save and serve? He did it by eating and drinking. He did it at the meal table.
Another writer has pointed out that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is almost always ‘either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal’. He eats with tax collectors and sinners at Levi’s house; he is anointed at the house of Simon the Pharisee, during a meal; he feeds the 5,000; he eats with Martha and Mary; he criticises the Pharisees, over a meal; he tells stories about inviting the lost and the least to a great meal - and he does so while eating a meal; he invites himself to a meal at Zaccheus’ house; he shares a final meal with his friends on the night before he dies; he reveals who he is - the risen one - over an impromptu meal at Emmaus; he shares some cooked fish with his friends in Jerusalem. And when he isn’t actually eating, Jesus tells stories about meals and feasts and banquets, and about food and wine. In fact so much of his time is spent eating and drinking that when people criticise him, they say he is a ‘glutton and a drunkard’.
It turns out that when the God who wants us to dwell in Him, so that He can dwell in us, comes to earth, he comes eating and drinking.
The meal table for Jesus is the place where his mission takes place. It’s where he teaches. It’s where he reveals who he is. It’s where people get to meet God - face to face.
And that’s one reason why, at the very heart of our time together today, we will share a meal together. Bread and wine, broken and shared out.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking. And we are invited to the table.
The trigger for these sermons on hospitality was a conversation with Ana Draper. Responding to the letter I wrote to the church at the start of term, Ana wrote this - "I started to reflect on the different church communities I have belonged to and pivotal moments in my relationship with others and with God. In doing so I realised that more often than not, it was when sharing a meal and making the time to be together at the table that new connections were made in my relationship with God.”
There is something powerful that happens at a meal table. It’s where we come together with family and friends. It’s where food, cooked with love, is served and shared. It’s where friendships are made and deepened. It’s where stories are told, arguments and tensions played out. It’s where values are enacted and where celebrations take place. Whether it’s a 5 course meal, served with candles on the table, or a takeaway pizza out of cardboard boxes; whether there are two or three, or twenty two or twenty three; whether it’s a quick pause in a busy day, or a long, slow Sunday lunch, meals are where we really meet. Meals are where we get to go deep.
We’ve talked a lot about ‘going deeper’ recently - about the desire to get beyond God being just for an hour on Sunday. That clearly means going deeper in prayer and worship, in our sense of who we are as disciples every day - at work, in the playground, at home And it must also mean going deeper into friendship and fellowship with each other.
But it’s hard to get to know each other. There are lots of us, and we all come from different backgrounds, and some of us know lots of people already, and some hardly anyone. And although there are some people who are really good at going up to those they don’t know and saying ‘hello’ - that’s not easy for all of us (most of us perhaps). And I know how easy it is to feel as if everyone else has got friends and people they know, while you stand there feeling a bit on your own - and perhaps a bit left out.
But that person sitting in the next pew isn’t just someone else who ‘comes to church’ - they are your brother or sister, whether you know them well, once said hi (but can’t remember their name any more) or have never seen them before in your life.
Because a church community isn’t like any other organisation or group we might belong to.
We don’t gather together because of a shared interest or activity; there are no membership fees; we aren’t a group united by our background. We are a mixed, disparate community who share just one thing in common - our faith in Jesus Christ. And because we are all invited to dwell in him, and because he in turn comes to dwell in us, we are brothers and sisters in a family, in a new community. And that community is called church. And being church means we are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. We are invited to go deep in care for one another, in love for one another.
And everything we read in the gospel suggests the best way to do that is to eat together.
So, we’re going to start something new. We’re calling it Open Table. The idea is that on a regular basis someone, somewhere in the church community, offers a space at their table to others from church. It might be an invite to Sunday lunch, afternoon tea or an evening meal; it might be that someone says ‘I’m going to be in the playground after school on Tuesday come and join me. I’ll bring the cake’ or ‘I’ll be in the bakery on Saturday at 10:00 - anyone fancy coming along?’
It doesn’t matter what it looks like - but I want to encourage us to eat together more often.
To get that going, here are two invitations. On Christmas Day, three families are offering a place at their tables for Christmas dinner. In total, there are 10 places available - they could be for someone who’ll otherwise be on their own or a family who can’t be with loved ones this year and fancy joining some others. And if you’d like to take up the invite, or if you know someone who might like an invite, please speak to me afterwards.
And then on 6 January, the first Sunday of the New Year, Stephen and Lesley Hardy are offering Open Table to 4 people at their house after church. They’re not here today, but again, talk to me afterwards if you’d like to take them up on their offer.
And after that, I hope that, at least once a month, in the weekly sheet, there will be another ‘Open Table’ invitation from someone. Sometimes those will be for people living in a geographical area - so there will be a Hawkhurst invite soon, and sometimes it will be for anyone. And I want to be clear, this isn’t meant just for the people who love entertaining and who can produce a beautiful meal at a beautiful table. It’s for everyone. A piece of bread and cheese, because that’s all you’ve got when you get back from church, is just as good and just as godly, as a three course meal.
And I hope that, as well, there will be lots of invitations being made to each other to come and eat. Not just between those who already know each other well, but between people who don’t know each other much.
And my prayer is that, as invites flow, and food is shared and conversation takes place, God will be very present, and as we grow deeper in friendship, we discover that Jesus, who came eating and drinking, is there with us.