God’s Guest List

God’s Guest List

When it comes right down to it, I have a strong suspicion that few of us would really enjoy being guests at a dinner party hosted by God.

You see, if God was hosting a dinner party, God would be sure to invite all the people we would never have considered inviting. Not out of malice toward us, of course, but simply because God has the capacity to enjoy, to delight in, the people we find most unappetizing. In all likelihood, at a dinner party hosted by God, we would end up seated at a table with an awkward–even uneasy–collection of personalities and bodies. Because God’s guest list would inevitably end up putting us in close proximity with those who irritate, agitate, exasperate, or otherwise vex us.

I can just see it.  Can you? I imagine God rubbing God’s incorporeal hands together with delight and anticipation, so anxious and excited about what might transpire at these tables. So hopeful that maybe, just maybe, some kind of healing might bubble up between the bites and the sips, between the meandering stories and the polite chuckles, between the laughter and the tears of babies and children. God would be so hopeful that putting us at tables together even just for an evening might begin to mend some rift, bridge some gap, suture some wound that lies between us. Because we are wounded, aren’t we? So very wounded. And our wounds keep us apart, keep us distant. We have such long lists of people with whom we wouldn’t want to share a meal. And it can be difficult for us to understand, why it might be worth getting over this discomfort. Difficult to understand why God has so much invested in us eating with people we don’t like very much and who might not really like us, either.

So what is God up to with all this table talk, with all this fussing about seating charts and guest lists, with all this meddling with our meals?

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You’ll often hear a certain kind of Christian proclaim with great assurance that “Jesus saves.” Episcopalians tend to be a bit uncomfortable with this kind of language and with the theology it often implies. Nevertheless, it raises an important question: if Jesus came to save us, what is it that we need to be saved from?

One of the most important things Jesus is trying to save us from, at least in my mind, is our human impulse to divide, to exclude, and to segregate. Our tendency to see ourselves as somehow separate, different, above or below the rest of humanity. Jesus is trying to get us re-connected with all the people who scare us, intimidate us, offend us, disgust us. With those whose raw, blatant need makes us want to look away. With those who wish us ill…and even those who hate us. As well as those we hate.

And, as we hear in our Gospel text today, and in so many other texts: one of Jesus’ primary tools for re-connection is the meal, the table.

Our table right here in church, of course. There’s a reason we do this every week. A reason we remember, and remember, and remember again. But also our tables at home. As well as the many, many tables we occupy in the world.

You see: God’s purpose, God’s primary purpose in coming among us in Jesus, is a thing that churchy people often call reconciliation. Indeed, God wants nothing less than a world in which we are no longer exiles, or strangers, or enemies; a world in which we learn to call the most unexpected people our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers; a world in which our sense of belonging and love grows exponentially, witnessing to the power of God’s peacemaking, God’s shalom.

You see, God has big dreams. Big dreams for the new kind of family we could be. Big dreams for the reconciliation of everything–nothing less than all of humankind…all of creation… reconciled.

Reconciliation. It sounds like a big project, yes. A big, impractical, naively idealistic project. A project most of us wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. A project we simply don’t have time or energy to take very seriously. Yet God has never stopped nudging this dream into humanity’s view. Because it’s God’s wildest and best dream.

As big and audacious as this dream may seem, however, God’s dreams aren’t meant to burden us with longer and more overwhelming to-do lists.

Rather, God’s dreams are meant to liberate our hearts and minds from their attachment to the “world as it is” and give us the gift of new vision. Vision for what could be if we were willing to risk reconciliation. Liberated and liberating vision.

It’s hard, though. Reconciliation is a word so multi-syllabic that it can’t help but sound burdensome. And so many of us are feeling burnt out these days. Burnt out by the feeling that we’re never doing enough; burnt out by the worry that we’re just standing by as the world goes to hell in a handbasket; burnt out by guilt that we aren’t trying harder to advance God’s reign of peace and justice.

Yet just when we least expect it, just when we’re feeling most wrapped up in the burnout and exhaustion of our lives, Jesus speaks this balm to us:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Of course, there’s a part of each one of us, it seems, that can’t really hear these words, that isn’t quite able to absorb this message. We think we don’t really have time for rest. We think that we must charge onward, keep on fighting the good fight.

Yet in God’s economy, in God’s alternative economy, rest is for everyone. Sabbath is for all of creation. Sabbath is, in fact, a commandment. Because when we learn to give ourselves a break, God dares to hope that we might find the compassion to give others a break, too. To give creation a break. To re-orient our fundamental relationship to people and to things. To remember that we are meant to “love people, not things” and to “use things, not people.”

So what if? What if even in the midst of the upheaval of our world, what if amidst all of the pain and suffering and strife, what if Jesus’ invitation still stands firm? What if we are still being invited to come and rest? To eat, and talk, and read, and stroll, and nap?

God needs us to become Sabbath-keeping people. Because when we are at rest, when we release our striving and conniving, our minds and hearts become fertile soil for new vision for new possibility for new life.

At rest, when we’re not trying to win, or accumulate, or prove anything, we find ourselves dreaming of a different world. A world in which different things matter.

A world in which how well we live together is the only real form of security and the only real form of wealth.

At rest, reconciliation becomes an almost inevitable dream. Because we dream of a world where we are at ease with one another, where we can trust one another, where we look out for one another. We yearn for such a world. God yearns for such a world.

And where better to begin enfleshing this dream than around a table, over a meal?

Of course, God has been inviting us to the table from the very beginning. Putting out the bread and the wine. Lighting the candles. Hoping we’ll come and sit a spell, welcome others to join us, and pull up extra chairs as word spreads. Hoping someone will eventually break the bread, tearing off hunks for everyone, and passing them around. Hoping someone will uncork the wine, splashing some into each glass, and raising a toast. “Thank you.  Thank you for everything. Thank you for this life.” Thanksgiving, which, of course, is precisely what Eucharist means.

It’s all right here. We do it every week. But we can forget what it is we’re doing. We’re having a meal. With a hundred-some people. Friends, strangers, enemies. People we’d never think of inviting to dinner. But nevertheless, here we are, preparing to eat together. Sharing the same bread, the same wine. The conversation, of course, is ritualized, scripted…but it’s all here, all the parts that really matter. Confession. Forgiveness. Peace. Week after week. Here is my body. Here is my blood. For you.

It’s all here in the liturgy, this script we read to one another each week. Liturgy, which means “the work of the people.” Liturgy, which is labor. A consummate labor of love…to air these words out every Sunday, letting them breathe… to find ourselves in these words, and to let them work on us, work in us.

This work that shepherds us into rest; this rest that inspires thanksgiving; this thanksgiving that spreads a table; this table that makes us a people: God’s people.

This table, you see, sets all of the other tables of our lives. This table initiates us into a pattern of life. A pattern of healing and reconciliation. It all begins at the table. Where we get a taste of what is possible. A taste of God’s dream. A taste of the heavenly banquet.

And soon enough, we’re inviting everyone to dinner. Finally. Home. Together. Friend, Stranger, Enemy. With amazement that we’re all around the table, we raise our glasses, saying: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Because around this table, a whole new world is beginning.

May it be so.

Amen.

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The Rev. Sean Lanigan is the associate rector at St. Peter’s Church.

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