We all play this game in one form or another. We count up the points. We keep track. Because we must not get behind in the game. We must always stay ahead in the game. This is the game: You bought me lunch last time, I must buy lunch this time. You invited us over for dinner last time, it’s our turn to invite you over for dinner this time. You gave me a birthday gift so I MUST give you a birthday gift of equal or greater value. I can’t look cheap. You took me to see a show. So I must take you to an even better show sometime soon.
It’s all about transactions. We’ve reduced human relationships to value laden transactions. This mind set comes from the idea that we live in a world of scarcity. There may not be enough to go around, so I must not be beholden to anyone.
But what if we believed there was enough? Then we could treat one another with a sense of abundance.
Jesus lived with a sense of abundance. He came along and turned our thinking on its head. He said that when you give a dinner, you should not invite people who might invite you in return so you will be repaid. Don’t invite your friends and relatives. Invite people who can’t repay you. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed. You will be blessed because they cannot repay you. You will know the feeling of abundance. You have so much to give that you can give without any thought of what you will get in return. “You will eventually be blessed in the resurrection,” Jesus said.
The idea is to stop counting and start blessing. To stop counting and start blessing. What kind of freedom would there be if we could just bless others, rather than thinking about what we might get in return?
School has started this past couple of weeks. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be if children could offer friendship to one another without worrying about what they will get in return? No worries about status or the pecking order. They could just see someone who looks lonely and offer to sit with them in the lunch room. Children would look around on the playground for the child who has no one to play with and they would include that child for games. When it’s time to form teams for projects, no one would be left out. People would just naturally include everyone. This is what it means to bless one another in the way Jesus calls us to bless one another.
When I was a child, my dad worked a lot of nights. Mom and I would sometimes go out to eat. I would always notice older people sitting in the restaurant eating alone. They looked so lonely; it made me sad. What would have happened if mom and I would have decided to share our table with one of those lonely people? Just think of the conversations we could have had, hearing about their lives and what they had experienced. But we missed out, because the social convention does not allow for strangers to offer to sit together in restaurants. It would be weird. We stayed in our world of scarcity, thinking we did not have enough time to share. But what if we had imagined our lives of abundance, with plenty of time to share with those older people. What a blessing it might have been if we had broken social convention and offered to sit with one of those lonely, older people.
At Pride yesterday, we people of The Village did our best to offer hospitality to people attending Pride. We probably spoke to a couple hundred people. I am sure of one thing. I am sure there were people who attended Pride who avoided the “church booths.” They avoided us because they are skeptical about churches for good reason. Churches have not, as a whole, been hospitable toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Churches have not shown an abundance of blessing toward LGBTQ people. So I imagine there were some hurt feelings yesterday as people saw church tables at Pride. “What are THEY doing here?” “Are they here to draw us in, and then condemn us?”
But of course we tried to be there with sincere hearts of openness. We offered a cup of cold water to drink and a place to sit and rest under a tent in the shade. We offered hospitality. And at our best, we did not expect anything in return. Of course, I would be lying if I did not say we hope that we might get some new visitors to The Village because of our efforts yesterday. But more importantly, we wanted to offer healing and friendship. Our efforts were not based in a theology of scarcity but rather in a theology of abundance. There is room at the table for everyone. All are welcome.
Jesus said, “When you host a dinner party, don’t invite people, thinking they will give you something in return. Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”
Jesus wants us to open our hearts to people who are in need. What does this look like in Toledo, Ohio in 2016? It means being a church that welcomes all people without judgement. I have seen people come to worship here who would be judged in other some other churches: people covered with tattoos, people with old tattered clothing, transgender people, and people who tell us they are struggling to recover from drug and alcohol abuse. For the most part, I have been proud of us as a congregation. We have welcomed all people and treated all with respect and dignity.
When it comes to this table, we do not make any judgements. This is an open table. We say this every time we celebrate Holy Communion. Everyone is welcome to come to this table. There are no tests to see whether or not you are worthy to come. This is the table of grace. This is the table of God’s blessing. Everyone is invited to this table.
Do you realize how important that is? We receive God’s grace every time we come to this table. In the form of bread and juice, we receive Jesus’ body and blood given in sacrifice for us. We are reminded that God loved us so much that God gave God’s own child so that we might know the fullness of God’s love. This table is a symbol of God’s acceptance of us.
There are no scorecards at this table. No one is keeping track of what social obligations you owe. This is the table of grace. This is the table of abundance. At this table there is enough. At this table YOU are enough.
In a little while we will celebrate Holy Communion. When we do, I want you to remember that Jesus welcomes everyone to this table. He calls us to welcome everyone to our table. This is our call – to be the church that welcomes everyone. So let us never exclude anyone from this table. Let us go out to find the poor, the lonely, and the oppressed, and let us bring them here. All are welcome at this table. This is the table of abundance. Amen.