Room at the Table:
Friday night, the adult leaders of LIFE, our youth program, met at Eric and Jen Holmes’s house to talk about our kickoff this Friday night. As we were making our plans for Friday, one of the things we talked about was what food we would have available at the LIFE Café. This wasn’t just a detail to discuss and check off our list. We actually think a lot about it, because some of our youth, with their busy schedules, will come and spend so much of their evening with us after a full day at school and after-school activities that they won’t have had a chance to eat. So we want to be able to provide a little more than chips and soda. Plus, honestly, people are always more likely to attend an event when there’s good food than when there’s not, right? I shared with Jen that during seminary, if we wanted to have people attend a meeting for this group or that group, we would always make sure to offer free lunch, because regardless of the meeting topic, broke seminary students will attend if there’s a free lunch involved that can make your dollars stretch. Maybe not if you build it they will come, but rather, if you feed them, they will come!
Sure, in our culture of excess you can’t go anywhere or do anything, it seems, without food being involved, and probably too much, too processed, too not-so-good-for-you food at that. But food and hospitality have gone hand-in-hand forever, and certainly make up a rich part of our scriptures, with stories sprinkled throughout the Old and New Testaments that deal with welcoming one another and sharing food. If you had a chance to read my column in our September newsletter, you read about how Jesus was frequently and particularly in trouble for who he chose to share meals with. I encouraged you to think about who you share meals with. Think about it. Although you may be in mission, ministry, and service to people of all different types, it is much more unusual to actually sit down and share a meal with people who are unlike us. Most often, we eat with the people we know the best, are most familiar with, because sharing a meal is an intimate act – an act that implies familial connections, and act that implies closeness, common ground, and relationships. That’s why food and hospitality have always gone hand in hand. Inviting someone to share food with you, inviting someone to your table is an act that invites someone into relationship with you, beyond the polite exchanges that happen between strangers or acquaintances.
Today, this day of beginnings, we are starting a new focus in worship for the next several weeks: Room at the Table. We’ll be exploring the rich themes in the Bible about food, hospitality, and welcome, as we consider what it means to know that we all have a place at God’s table. This morning, we’re beginning by looking at a story from the gospels that may be familiar to many of you – the Feeding of the 5000. We find ourselves in the gospel of John, where, following a time of teaching, Jesus has crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd has just followed right along. They’ve seen the signs Jesus has been doing, the healing that he’s been doing, and they want it for themselves, or want more, or just want to be around him. Jesus asks Philip, a disciple, where they will get bread for this big crowd to eat. John tells us that Jesus had a plan, but was interested to see how his disciple would answer. Philip suggests they don’t have enough money – it would cost half a year’s wages just to get everyone a little bit of bread. Andrew, Peter’s brother, mentions that one boy has five loaves and two fish, but wonders what difference they can make among so many. Jesus has everyone sit down. He gives thanks to God, and hands it out. We read that people had “as much as they wanted” and ate “until they were satisfied,” and that still, there were twelve baskets of food left over. Seeing what has taken place, the people say that Jesus is “indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” And Jesus realizing that they are so excited by this man who can feed them with five loaves and two fish that they’re going to make him king on the spot, withdraws from the crowds to the mountain to be by himself.
Biblical scholars have debated the details of the Feeding of the 5000 for centuries. What exactly took place? Did Jesus miraculously make the bread and fish multiply? Did people just start sharing stuff they had with them, once they saw what was happening? Is the miracle that Jesus moved people to give what they had by showing them how to trust in God? But as I read this text, those questions don’t really get at the main point of the passage. If you look at the interaction between Jesus and Philip, the recurring question is whether or not there is enough. Is there enough food? Is there enough for everyone, or should people be sent home? Is there enough money? Do the disciples have enough faith to guess what God is about to do in their midst? And everywhere in this story, we get the answer: There’s enough room at God’s table. More than enough room. And we’re all invited.
You are invited to this table, God’s table, and it doesn’t even matter why you came. Did all 5000 people come to see Jesus because they were looking for a deep relationship with God? I doubt it! But Jesus makes them welcome anyway. We knew in seminary that sometimes people were coming to meetings only because of the free lunch, and not because of the meeting topic. But our theory was that they were just going to get more than they bargained for, and end up receiving the information we wanted to share too. There are many reasons why you might be here today. Maybe you came because that’s what you’ve always done. Maybe you’ve come because someone has been inviting you, and you finally said yes. Maybe you’re here because someone, like a parent, or a spouse, required your presence! Maybe you’re looking for something you can’t even describe. Maybe you are looking for answers to questions that keep coming up. There are many reasons why you might be coming to God’s table today. Whyever you are here, you’re invited, there’s a place for you, and God welcomes you.
You are invited to this table, God’s table, and there’s enough for you, and for everyone. We can be a part of the welcoming committee. We can offer invitations to the table on God’s behalf. But God has all the supplies covered. The first church I served in Oneida had a lot of potluck suppers, and I was always amazed at the amount of food that people brought. There was just so much food. When I mentioned this, I found out that once upon a time, at a potluck long, long ago, there hadn’t been enough food. The food ran out before people were done going through the serving line. And everyone was so horrified by this event, that they never, ever would let that happen again. Since then, there’s always been way too much food at a potluck in Oneida. Friends, when it comes to God’s table, there’s no running out of room. There’s no running out of food. There’s always so much that there will be baskets-full left over. That’s because we’re not the suppliers of what is needed. God supplies the love and the grace. We’re the stewards. We can co-host with God. But we’re the only ones worried about there not being enough to go around. There’s enough at this table God invites you to, more than enough.
You are invited to this table, God’s table, and you’ll be fed – you won’t go home empty, but filled up. When people shared in this meal that Jesus offered, John tells us that they ate as much as they wanted to, until they were filled up. That’s exactly what God wants to happen in our journey of discipleship. How close do you want to get to God? How deep a faith do you desire? How much of your life are you willing to hand over to God? Because however much you want, God is ready for you, ready to shake you up and stretch you and give you meaning, give you purpose and hope. God invites you to be filled up to overflowing with blessing and challenge. How much do you want?
You are invited to this table, God’s table, and miracles will happen here. As I mentioned before, what exactly happened when Jesus started passing out bread isn’t all spelled out for us in this passage. But did a miracle happen? Well, 5000 people came together, had more than enough to share, were filled up, and had baskets overflowing at the end, when they thought they only had five loaves and two fish. That seems pretty miraculous to me. Maybe we can’t exactly plan on miracles. They’re a gift from God, and they come in shapes and forms we won’t anticipate. But I believe that we can expect God to act in miraculous ways, especially when, in turn with God making room for us, we make room for God. We’re invited to this table, God’s table. Will you invite God into your life? Have you made enough room for God’s miracles? Do we have room here at Liverpool First for God to do miracles among us?
In the weeks ahead, we’re going to be exploring many ways that God makes room, and we can help make room, at the table. We’ll be thinking practically – how do we welcome one another in this building, this space of worship, this community? We’ll think spiritually – what does it mean to accept God’s invitation to the table? And I hope we’ll begin to get a feel for what kind of place, what kind of community, what kind of place of welcome we want this particular community of faith to be. As we prepare to ask these questions, I have another homework assignment for you. You know I’m fond of homework assignments. This one should be easy – for now. At every meal you eat this week, I want you to make note of who you are eating with. Who is at the table with you? Make a list. And I’d love for you to share it with me, or Pastor Aaron or Pastor Penny. And if you’re really brave, there’s still that space on my bulletin board, where I’d be glad to hang it up. Who is at the table with you? This week, pay close attention.
You’re invited, friends, to God’s table. There’s room for us no matter why we’re here. There’s enough for everyone – more than enough. In fact, God plans to fill your life to overflowing. You’re invited to be inviting! You’re invited to make room for miracles. You’re invited to make room for God. Enough room for miracles to take place. Come to the table. There’s enough room for everyone, and then some. Amen.