31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, 31 October 2010)

This was my first Sunday back from annual leave, and we had a guest preacher. Rev Michelle Cook is a very good friend of mine and of this congregation, a deacon in placement at St Luke’s Weipa (a cooperative placement with the Anglican Church of Australia) and patrol minister in Cape York for Frontier Services.

Michelle preached a fine sermon, taking Luke 19.1-10 as her text:

When I come down to Brisbane I usually spend a lot of time eating meals with family and old friends. I used to spend a lot of time rushing around trying to visit everyone I used to know but now someone organises one event where lots of people come – so then I can actually have a holiday rather than a series of meetings one after the other.

These get togethers are surrounded imbued and facilitated by food. Sometimes we eat out at a restaurant – old favourites and new ones on the scene.

More often now we meet at someone’s home – most restaurants don’t like being inundated with children under 10. I felt especially sorry for a restaurant we went to last week where Zaney decided the chopsticks were, alternatively, drumsticks, wings for a plane (that happened to be in his sandals) or stirring sticks for drinks.

So we eat a meal together and talk about new things that are happening, things that used to happen – and what things we would like to happen.

Hospitality abounds – food, wine, conversation. Sometimes it is a foretaste of that welcome and hospitality that I know heaven will look like – a foretaste of what the reign of God will be. Conviviality, love, laughter – joy –a meal that goes on forever without indigestion.

Meals are important. They are an overlap between a public and private space – sharing meals can be an intimate expression of care and love for those at the table.

But it gets me thinking about who I actually eat with. Who do I share this care and love with? How do I express hospitality to those around me?

And when I think about who I share our family table with this story of Zacchaeus and the other meal stories in the gospel of Luke challenge my understanding of private and public space. About who I allow in to the private space of my life and who I acknowledge publicly – but don’t necessarily share the rest of my life with.

For example, as a minister, as a Christian – we know we are to sit with the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, point to the liberation that comes in Christ – Luke 4:19-20 – but do we show this solidarity only in public spaces – ie in protests, in Christmas child giving, etc ?

Do we let this infiltrate our private space – our meal tables, our friendship groups – or are they supposed to be exempt from this Christian calling?

The story of Zacchaeus is familiar to most of us – the almost comical story of the short man who climbs a sycamore tree – a tree whose pods were used to feed the pigs – who, when called upon by Jesus, pays back money and gives it to the poor – and then gets an uninvited guest for dinner.

But we can easily lose sight of what it meant for Jesus to publicly and privately associate with such a man.

When we look around the story of Zacchaeus in Luke we see tat it takes place in the middle of stories about widows, children, tax collectors and the blind.

What do all these types of people have in common –

Well, they were either counted as worthless and reviled by their compatriots;

or they were easily ignored and avoided.

The widow and the children were not important;

the tax collector was a legitimate gangster – in cahoots with the roman oppressors.

The blind and the lame – their infirmities singled them out as cursed by God and they couldn’t earn a living except through begging.

They were the ones no-one listened to.

They were the ones that people avoided.

And they were the ones that got what Jesus was one about

The religious authorities didn’t get the message of Jesus – they thought they understood what God wanted of them.

It was the lowly and despised that understood the love, grace and humility that comes from a right relationship with God.

Zacchaeus of course is a tax collector – the legitimate gangster of the day – he was someone that everyone wanted to get on well with – because he was in charge of who got taxed and how much. But they didn’t like him – in fact he was viewed as a traitor.

But who did Jesus call out of the tree – who did Jesus call out of the crowd – the one who was feared and despised.

In response to this call – to this self-invitation to dinner – Zacchaues said to Jesus look I will give all I have to the poor and pay back anyone I have cheated – and Jesus said salvation has come to your house today.

Now apart from Zaccheus perhaps being surprised at having an uninvited guest – I bet he wasn’t the only surprised one in the crowd that day.

The scripture says that all who saw it began to grumble and said Jesus has gone to be a guest of one who is a sinner.

Everyone who saw it grumbled –this grumbling usually happened when Jesus was seen as being too gracious toward sinners. And the grumbling was done by those in the crowd –those who wanted to see Jesus – who were interested and even following his progress.

This anticipated meal – this inviting of Jesus to be the guest of one who is a sinner – really challenges our understanding of who should respond to Jesus – who is worthy to be at the table eating with the Son of God.

It asks us questions about our expectations of our lives as Christian disciples together – our lives as church. Who am I sharing my life with? Who are we sharing our lives with?

So while I was thinking about this sermon I came up with questions – and I realised I was taking the part of the grumbler – ie the one who is already part of the community of faith questioning the wildness and unpredictability of the one I am following. So these questions are the questions I think Jesus continually throws at us older children.. the ones that call us to the radical life that Jesus has in mind for the community of faith.

These are questions that I came up with:

Who do we expect to respond to God’s calling? Who do we want to respond to God’s calling?

This is a useful question when we are thinking about how to share our faith with others.

When we plan mission, when we think about expanding the church through sharing our faith – what types of people do we invite to come to this table?

This place which is both public and private – where we share many things in common and where we are called to admit to our vulnerability and brokenness and our wish for transformation of ourselves and of our society.

Who do we invite? Who do we want to respond to God’s call?

Is it the vulnerable? Is it the feared and despised?

I think too often we want people to respond who are just like us – people who won’t force us to change; people who don’t necessarily challenge our own way of thinking or believing or being disciples. We want to grow community clones.

What we see in the gospels, however, is that the people who responded – the people who became the church in Acts – were from many different places and backgrounds.

They were rich, they were poor, they were Gentiles and Jews, they were male and female –slave and free – but they were drawn together by Christ through the eruption of the Holy Spirit. They had conflict but they sought to address it; they tried to exclude certain people from the table but were called back to the message of Jesus –

The other questions I got from this passage were

Who do we understand as being worthy of God’s call?

Ourselves – others

This points us to two different aspects of the good news:

First that God sees me as worthy of God’s love and call;

Second, that God sees everyone else as worthy of God’s love and call as well.

This challenges us on so many levels – but primarily it says to us:

that everyone of us falls short of God;

that everyone of us is loved by God;

that everyone of us is able to be transformed by God – to be turned around and led into God’s ways.

SO what has that go to do with meals?

I realised last year that I was resenting our house being a drop in centre for all the young people in town. All these kids coming and taking over the television, the food, the house, the music.

But then I was confronted by the need of these kids – who want someone to listen to them – a place to hang out and not be bothered, A place where they can ask questions about God; where they can admit mistakes.

And then with many promptings from my husband – I realised that the people I have invited to dinner –those I have asked to share our table with us have been the usual people – people who are like me – people who I don’t have to work hard to have a conversation with.

And interestingly that means not many black faces –which is weird given that James works for Congress.

Not many people who are too different to me.

Why? Because my meal table is my personal space – I don’t want to have to pretend to like people there.

And that is where this falls over –that is where I am confronted with the questions:

Who do I expect or want to respond to God’s call?

Who do I think is worthy of God’s call?

If I can’t even invite to dinner those I know God loves – then how is my life demonstrating God’s love and welcome to all people?

And significantly – How am I letting God transform me – How am I allowing God to get into the places in my life that I want to keep the same – and actually open me up to the life lived in God’s hospitality – that welcomes even me into God’s world and ways.

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