Sermon for Sept. 1, 2013

 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

What a challenge this week’s gospel gives us!  To invite the outcasts- the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to dinner.  Outcasts.  Strangers.  Into our very homes.  To have a meal with us, in our house, our private space.  What a radical message Jesus has for us this week!

What does it look like to invite the kingdom of God into your home?  Who are those outcasts in our society today?  How do we invite them?

This week, many of our young folks gathered here today went back to school.  When I would see them at dinner or at the youth group pool party I would ask them- What’s the biggest difference between last year and this year?  Sometimes I got answers about classes, or tests, or grades.  But more often, the answers I got were about the people that were there at school.  “There are lots of new 6th graders coming in, short ones” I’d hear.  Or, I am in a new school and many of my friends aren’t there anymore.   Or, I sit with different people on the bus.  Or, I miss the friends I used to sit with at lunch, they went to a new school.

If you are a youth, but happen to be in a bit older body, do you remember what it was like at the middle or the high school tables?  You can probably still see the faces of those who were the “insiders” and those who were the “outsiders”.

Do you remember what it was like to sit at a table full of laughing friends? Or, what it was like to be that outsider, not knowing where you could find a friendly face?  Most of us probably have vivid memories of both, feelings that touch the gut even today.

Who we are with matters.  Our youth know that who they sit with at lunch matters.  Jesus proclaims in the Gospel this morning, rather boldly, that the people who are the most important for us to break bread with are not necessarily those we would chose.  Instead, it’s the ones that God chooses– the outcast and the stranger- that are the most important for us to get to know.

This week, we marked the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s  I have a Dream speech.  We call it a speech, but remember too that King was primarily a preacher.  His speech, though of course deeply moving in the context of Washington and the hot politics of the day, would have fit well as a sermon on this Gospel text of reversals of social customs.  One of King’s lines especially stood out to me this week.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

This dream, that “all will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” is a vibrant echo of Jesus’ dream that when we give a banquet, we invite more than just our friends, than just those that look like us, or make the same amount of money as us, or have the same types of political views as us, or are healthy in body, mind or spirit.  Jesus challenges us to invite all- even those who are as different as black and white.

There is a double layer going on here.  The first layer is that of our own parties, our homes, and our families.  The second layer is the party, the home, and the feast that we come to each week here in God’s house.  Here at church, we enact a “foretaste of the feast to come” in the kingdom of heaven.  We pray that more and more, this place is a safe space where all are welcome and all are invited into the kingdom of God- sometimes in a way that isn’t possible for us in our everyday lives.  That doesn’t mean we are off the hook individually, but it does mean that we get to work together toward a vision of the kingdom with Jesus as the host.  When we invite the homeless to have a warm bed here in our social hall, we invite them into our homes.  When we feed the hungry in DC, we welcome them to our dinner table.  When we welcome others who don’t look like us to worship or use other languages of other Christians all over the world in our music, we get a glimpse, a foretaste, a slice of the pie to come of the grand vision Christ intended for us.

I have a dream that our church, our congregation, will continue to more and more invite the whole town to our banquet here each week.  We started over a hundred years as a congregation as small community of German Lutherans- because that’s who lived in the neighborhood of Catalpa, of Dutch-or really Deutsch- hollow.  We started as a church who looked like our surroundings, who looked like a new immigrant community.  Think too of Hebron Lutheran Church, just a few miles to our south, the oldest continually worshipping Lutheran Church in the US.  They built that beautiful structure in the traditional German way, worshipped in German and hired a pastor to lead worship auf Deutsch.  As Ruben Durran said at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly, “The Lutheran Church has always been and continues to be an immigrant church.”

Slowly, our neighborhood has started to look very different from those German and English immigrants who settled here those centuries ago.  Our melting pot is shifting.  We can either be afraid of that trend, stick with what we know, and hope for more German Lutherans to move to the area to fill our pews.  Or, we can reach out, boldly proclaiming that our message of grace, faith, and the coming of God’s kingdom is vital for people of all colors, languages, and backgrounds.  Maybe even people as different from us as say….Baptists?

Who we choose to be with, who we choose to spend our time with and invite to our dinner table matters.  Who we pick for company.  Company- that word comes from the Latin com=with and pan=bread.  Our companions are those that we break bread with, those we invite to the banquet.

Now time for a commercial- on Oct. 6 we will have a Lutheran Revival.  No, it’s not an oxymoron!  This is a time when we will get together as 5 churches to have worship together, to learn, and to be sent out into the world to invite our neighbors.  We will have two speakers, CeCee Mills who is an African American woman doing neighborhood ministry in Norfolk, and Mark Parker who is a young white pastor who is reaching out to his multiracial neighborhood and revitalizing a congregation in South Baltimore, partly by just playing basketball with the kids across the street.  Come.  Hear their stories.  Wonder about our neighborhood.  Visit with folks from Warrenton, Fredericksburg, Stafford and get to know some other Lutherans who are worshipping God faithfully like we are.  And if that doesn’t convince you, then just come so we can be good hosts… and have some tasty bbq!  Oct. 6, 2pm for the workshops, 3:30 for the meal, 5pm for the great worship.  Watch for more in the bulletin over the next week.

We have set before us today the most exquisite banquet you can imagine.  In this banquet the simple songs we sing are transformed into the “Holy, Holy, Holy” sang by the angels and proclaimed by Isaiah.  In this banquet the simple wine and wafers we hold our hands out for are transformed into the very body of Christ, forgiveness and life itself.  In this banquet the water that is splashed on our heads, remembering our baptism, is turned into the river of life, flowing from the throne of God.  Who else do we need to invite to this banquet?  Who else do we need to get to know so that we can tell them that they, too, have a place at the table?   Come, feast at the banquet.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

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