Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Sharing my reflections this morning at Howland (ME) United Methodist Church.

Take a moment to listen to the still small voice of God within the bustle of the day which has begun. In this quiet place as we gather in God’s presence, enjoy precious moments of peace in God’s presence. Sit quietly, breathe slowly and rest in God’s presence …

From our rising in the morning to our lying down again, You are with us every hour of the day, our reassurance when storms assail and strength when courage fails.

From our rising in the morning to our lying down again, Your light illumines every step of the way, our comfort when darkness falls
and peace that calms our souls.

From our rising in the morning to our lying down again, You are with us.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

When my kids were younger and in school, I honestly never knew who was joining us for dinner. Often, one of their friends – sometimes more than one – joined us at the table. I brought visitors home with me. Karen would invite friends or those she knew just needed a meal and some fellowship. My saintly wife made sure we were all fed although she generally didn’t know in advance whether she was cooking for the seven of us or more.

Today’s gospel reading [Luke 15:1-10] reminded me of those days gone by. Jesus, if He was around, might very well have been invited into our home to share a meal.

I can almost hear the Pharisees and scribes grumbling and saying, “This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” You see, it would have been appropriate since we were sinners.

I’ve talked about visits with Jesus a couple of times over the years on my blog, specifically “Beer with Jesus” and “Breakfast with Jesus”. My experiences 30-40 years ago framed those words.

But first, a story. Two men were fishing in separate boats on the lake. One was watching the other with this growing curiosity because he’d catch a fish, he’d keep it, then he’d catch another fish and he’d throw that one away. He just kept doing this, catch after catch. The really strange part was it was always the big ones he threw away. What kind of fisherman is this?

Finally, the man watching couldn’t contain his curiosity any more so he called out the obvious question, “How come you’re throwing away the big ones?”

The man answered, “Oh, because I only have an eight-inch frying pan!”

Okay, I have to credit Ron Hutchcraft for that smile, who in turn credited Ravi Zacharias. Where Ravi got it from is a mystery, but there’s a rumor circulating he was seen on Sebec Lake.

When I read the joke, I was reminded about today’s gospel. The back story is was our fishermen having breakfast with Jesus.

How awesome is that!

For them, probably not so much since they spent a lot of time with Jesus – breakfast, lunch, dinner. But for us, how awesome would that be?

There’s a country song by Thomas Rhett called Beer with Jesus that caught my attention when it was released a couple of years ago, but before I get into that, I have to make a couple of disclosures. I haven’t always been a country music fan. In fact, having been city born and bred, country was “hillbilly” … you know, Rednecks with beer bellies and rusty old dirty pick-up trucks with gun racks. In truth, I always preached country music shouldn’t be played in anything but a rusty old dirty pick-up truck. And, of course, when I bought one I became a convert.

To be sure, there is some hillbilly twang on the country circuit and the lyrics … well, let’s just say there are a lot of double entendres there. But, they are honest, honest to goodness honest. Brad Paisley sums it up,

You’re not supposed to say
The word cancer in a song
And tellin’ folks Jesus is the answer
Can rub ’em wrong
It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks,
Little towns and mama
Yeah that might be true
But this is country music and we do
Well, you like to drink a cold one
On the weekend and get a little loud
Do you wanna say I’m sorry or I love ya
But you don’t know how?
Do you wish somebody had the nerve
To tell that stupid boss of yours
To shove it next time he yells at you?
Well, this is country music, and we do
So turn it on, turn it up and sing along
This is real, this is your life in a song
Yeah this is country music …

But I digress. When I heard Beer with Jesus and actually listened to the words, they touched me deeply. Here they are …

If I could have a beer with Jesus
Heaven knows I’d sip it nice and slow
I’d try to pick a place that ain’t too crowded
Or gladly go wherever He wants to go

You can bet I’d order up a couple tall ones
Tell the waitress put ’em on my tab
I’d be sure to let Him do the talkin’
Careful when I got the chance to ask

How’d You turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
Do You hear the prayers I send
What happens when life ends
And when You think You’re comin’ back again
I’d tell everyone, but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

If I could have a beer with Jesus
I’d put my whole paycheck in that jukebox
Fill it up with nothing but the good stuff
Sit somewhere we couldn’t see a clock

Ask Him how’d you turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
Have You been there from the start
How’d You change a sinner’s heart
And is heaven really just beyond the stars
I’d tell everyone, but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

He can probably only stay, for just a couple rounds
But I hope and pray He’s stayin’ till we shut the whole place down

Ask Him how’d You turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
What’s on the other side?
Is mom and daddy alright?
And if it ain’t no trouble tell them I said hi
I’d tell everyone but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus
I’d tell everyone but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

Well, that got me to thinking what I would ask Jesus if we just hung out over a beer … or wine or dinner or whatever. Certainly all Thomas’ questions would be on the list, but I would probably add a few more. Like …

If this salvation thing is so simple, why is it so hard for us numskulls to understand it?

Why are there so many distortions to the truth?

Why did You pick that time and place to enter our world? Why not sooner? Or later?

But, more important, I would borrow a line from Thomas Rhett. I’d be sure to let Him do the talkin’ … Careful when I got the chance to ask.

Okay, but how does that relate to today’s gospel?

Well, context is everything here. The passage includes a setting (15:1-2) followed by the parables of the Lost Sheep (15:3-7) and the Lost Coin (15:8-10). It sets the table for the grand third parable concerning things lost, the parable of the Lost Son (15:11-32).

Luke makes Jesus’ companionship with sinners a special point of emphasis. Luke provides a mixed message: Jesus seeks to bring sinners to repentance , but not once does Jesus actually scold or correct a sinner. Instead, he eats with them. Four times Luke reports meals in which Jesus receives criticism for his relationship with sinners, but Jesus never once comments on the sinners’ behavior.  The cutting edge of the passage: Jesus embraces the very people the rest of religious society rejects.

Eating with sinners means taking sides. Which one among you? invites us into the story. The two parables share a basic structure. One is lost from a much larger group, the protagonist goes to great lengths to seek out the lost item, the finder invites friends for a celebration, and Jesus offers the moral of the story.

As with most of Jesus’ parables, there is a “hook,” something that seems out of place. That hook lies in the lavishness in the celebrations. Would a shepherd really throw a party over the finding of a lost sheep? If the lost coin so concerns the woman, are we to expect her to endure the expense of a party? Those point to a deeper reflection. It invites us to recognize the extravagant joy with which God, present in Christ, welcomes sinners. There is the matter of setting a table — literally, not figuratively. Table fellowship reveals the boundaries of human relationships.

The shepherd and the woman in these stories evoke images of a God who not only actively seeks out individuals who are lost — note the emphasis on the “one” out of the ninety-nine and the ten — but also rejoices when they are found. This God is not a tyrant who demands subservience to impossible demands, but rather a God who actively seeks restoration: a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6).

To me, Jesus is pointing out the two different types of responses to Jesus and God’s reign. Sinners repent because they know they are lost and thus can avail themselves of the transformation that comes with God’s finding them. By contrast, the righteous feel they do not need to repent (or change their ways) presumably because they don’t think they are lost. They don’t need God to find them; they are justified either in their own eyes or in the eyes of others.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our first reading from Jeremiah. I included it because the lectionary emphasizes Jeremiah as part of its current series focused on the aspects of humanity’s unfaithfulness that’s being “called out” by the prophet Jeremiah. It is important to mention there is a more negative and/or dreary focus in these first few weeks of the series (at least in terms of the focus Scriptures. This is the final week of that first movement, and it will lead to next week’s focus on repentance and the final week’s focus on God’s renewal.

If last week’s focus was about a “warning,” then this week’s passage is a colorful example of how that warning could play out. Through Jeremiah as God’s mouthpiece, God communicates images of devastation and desolation, which have ecological implications. The prophet describes this devastation through language that connects God’s judgment with the natural order.

Walter Brueggemann suggests prophetic discourse “is not a blueprint for the future. It is not a prediction. It is not an act of theology that seeks to scare into repentance. It is, rather, a rhetorical attempt to engage this numbed, unaware community in an imaginative embrace of what is happening … because … evil finally must be answered for.”

The message of the consequences of evil and the possibility of healing and wholeness is as germane today as it was in Jeremiah’s time. When we look at this Scripture passage ecologically, it is clear our human waywardness/sinfulness has negative implications for the future of the natural world.

When things are not right among humans, the whole earth groans. We are answerable not just to ourselves as individuals, but we are accountable to all our fellow human beings and to the earth from which we came. When we inflict violence on each other, we hurt the earth. When we abuse God’s good creation, we damage ourselves. Knowing God, by the prophetic definition, means we act justly with each other and live responsibly in relationship to all of God’s creation.

This is a great time – as we enter harvest season — to examine our practices (and growth areas) related to the stewardship of the earth’s resources. Work toward incremental change.

Through the New Testament, we know Jesus is on a search-and-rescue mission. He tells us what the Kingdom of God is really like. That was Jesus’ mission. And He not only tells it in the temples or to the “enlightened”. He shares the message of faith, hope, love, salvation to any and every one willing to listen. He tells the story on the mountains, from the boat … and over a meal at a table.

Jesus made the invitation. Follow Me.

The call was made to the prophets. The call was made to the disciples. The call was made to Saul. The call was made to Ananias. The call has been made throughout the ages of Christendom. The call has been made to each of us. Sometimes we are so preoccupied, we miss the movement of Jesus right in front of us.

One man, Saul/Paul, was transformed from a persecutor to one of the leading figures in the spread of early Christianity. All because he chose to “Follow Him” … Jesus the Lord.

What about you? What about me? Are we willing to follow Him … Jesus the Lord? What questions would you have if you had a chance to have a beer or breakfast or dinner with Jesus?

How will we respond?

I pray all who hear these words choose to follow.

May it be so.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: When you prepare yourself in the morning, both mentally and physically, you control the rudder of your life. When you start your day consciously, your results are intentional.

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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