This will be my last Sunday here with you for awhile. Tomorrow night, I leave on a plane for Boston, MA where I will begin seminary studies.
As I was reading this passage and preparing to preach this morning, I was thinking of the fact that, a little over a year ago, I walked into these doors and found myself welcomed to your feast.
I love this passage. It is full of irony and new vision. Jesus in this passage is sitting with a religious leader for yet another feast. He feels that he is not welcome. He knows he is eyed with suspicion. The religious leaders there are just waiting for him to mess up. Jesus, though, just seems to be laughing as he watches all the people come in and politely fight over the best seats. One man sits close to the head of the table, then another more educated leader comes in and asks him to move down.
I can see Jesus smiling, watching all these petty power plays. We’ve all seen it. Some people want to be noticed and want to be recognized. We’ve all gone to parties or events where the people in the tuxedos and expensive suits get treated better than those who are wearing jeans.
Then Jesus steps in and he talks about his vision for a good feast. And he has a totally different idea than the religious leaders that are listening to him. He looks around as tells his host—you have invited all the wrong people. You’ve invited all the people you think are important, your relatives, your rich friends, people you think are powerful. But you’ve got it wrong. God’s order is different—it’s reversed. The most important people are the ones that you have left out—the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. All the beggars and poor villagers that you don’t even look at on the streets—those are the important people. Those are the ones that should be here at your feast. Walter Bruggaman says this about Jesus; “He uses a social occasion to show that what the world honors is not what is valued in the new order of God—an order engaged on behalf of the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, those whom the world devalues.”
We here in Montesano know a bit about being powerless. We are not part of the big political power plays and most people in the cities don’t even know our town exists. And yet God invited us to his feast and here we are. This little church in this tiny town doesn’t have a lot of power and influence, not a lot of money or resources-- but that is what God uses to change the world. This is the new order of God.
And in turn, we are commissioned to invite all the forgotten and powerless and marginalized to our feast. When I walked into this church a little over a year ago, I found such a wonderful welcome. Most of you did not know me and yet you welcomed me with open arms and made me a part of your community. It has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a church.
The author of the book of Hebrews, whom we read in our second reading, is writing to an unknown church likely near Jerusalem. And he reminds the people there; “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” This writer is repeated what Jesus said. Welcome the people you don’t know and the people you don’t think count, because they are the ones that in God’s eyes really do count.
Hospitality is bigger than having your friends over for dinner, it is far more radical than that. Every Sunday, you host a banquet, a feast here, God’s feast. I have been honored to be a part of this feast during my time here and I will be back to share it again with you. As you face the challenges of the future, remember Jesus called us to radical hospitality. Sure, invite your friends and relatives to church and to your home. But don’t forget the forgotten in our community, especially in this time of economic hardship. Don’t forget the people in jail and their kids. Don’t forget the homeless, whose numbers are increasing dramatically on our streets here in Grays Harbor. Don’t forget the immigrants who are facing increased discrimination. Don’t forget the increasing numbers of unemployed.
What would it look like in our community if we invited the unwanted to our feast?
There was a story about a church in a more wealthy district of Phoenix in the news awhile back. This church decided to take Jesus’ call to radical hospitality seriously. They invited the homeless to breakfast and had church on the lawn. The church took buses down to the not-so-nice sections of town and invited people to come for a meal and for a feast. People from downtown Phoenix who had nowhere to live came into this upscale neighborhood lined with fancy houses, welcome at last to the feast of God. This church literally went out to the streets and invited the unwanted. They went a step further to actually interact with the poor—to hear their stories and share their lives with each other. This is radical hospitality.
I recently read a story about a church in rural South Carolina and their experience a few years ago. It was a small mainline church in one of the most racial divided areas of the state. Black and white people did not associate with each other and did not attend each other’s churches. This changed with a local store owner who was well connected in both communities was killed. The whole community came together to hold a vigil—white and black, rich and poor. From that this little mainline church decided to purchase a small plot of land to start a community garden to help feed the poorest in the community. There was tension at first, but the whole community came together once again to plant a garden, year after year, bringing people together and breaking down barriers. This is the kind of feast Jesus is talking about.
What might that look like in Montesano? I challenge you to think about it. Perhaps first it would be a rejoicing that we, the people of Montesano, are called to God’s feast, that we matter big time to God. Maybe first we would stop thinking in the same ways we have in the past and stop worrying about how small we are. In Jesus’ economy, the small and forgotten people are the ones who matter most. St Marks might not have a lot of money or lots of members, but we are rich. We are rich in love, in community, in faith. We have a great feast. Maybe we need to ask how we can continue to share it with the community, not inside this church building but outside it as well.
The author of Hebrews tells his beloved church—“continue to show hospitality” and that is what I want to leave you with today. I have experienced the rich hospitality and love of this community. All I can say is—keep giving it. Continue. And God be with each of you. Amen.