August 28, 2016
by the Rev. Louise Browner Blanchard
15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)
Luke 14:1, 7-14
When I was a little girl, one of the highlights of the summer was visiting my grandmother in Tazewell, in southwestern Virginia. She lived in the same big house where she had grown up with her five siblings, and it was enchanting. Unlike our typical suburban house in Ohio, my grandmother’s house had a grape arbor and a fish pond, a creepy basement and a mysterious attic, a parlor and a pantry, and a really long banister to slide down. One of my favorite rooms was the dining room. It had a huge table, and every night, it was surrounded by people who squeezed in for a delicious meal and delightful conversation, including us children. Family dinners at home were just my parents and sister and brother and I, and my parents’ dinner parties were strictly adults only. But at my grandmother’s, the children were always invited. It was thrilling. I never knew who I might sit next to: the great aunt who arrived in her chauffeur driven car or the great uncle who smelled of the cigarettes and alcohol he consumed all day long; the rector of the local Episcopal church, one of my mother’s high school teachers, or the lady doctor who was my grandmother’s lifelong best friend; the second cousin who was a star athlete or the one with Down’s syndrome. The point was that we were all seated around the table together, sharing the same meal and the same conversation.
To this day, I have never eaten meals so regularly with such a wide cast of characters. I marvel at my grandmother’s gift for hospitality and her expectation that her guests of all ages, sorts, and conditions would enjoy one another’s company, or at least have some appreciation of being together. I think of the lessons that she subtly taught us about not simply accepting, but welcoming people as they are. I’m astonished at the lasting impression those meals have made and the thoughts they still provoke.
But I also have to be honest. As wide-ranging as the guests at those dinners were and as wonderful as the examples I learned from them, I can’t help but think now about who wasn’t at those dinners so many years ago. I start with who I remember as the “back door people,” the people who bypassed the front door and went straight to the back when they came to my grandmother’s house: the women who brought the eggs and butter and cooked and served, the men who tended the grape arbor and fish pond and drove my great aunt, the families who were my grandmother’s clients at the Welfare Department. The gathering around my grandmother’s table was indeed varied, but let’s face it: there were plenty of people who would not have been welcome.
Jesus was constantly using the dinner table to remind people that everyone is welcome in the kingdom of God. In Jesus’s time, the dinner table was a place of aspiration. People jockeyed not just for invitations to dinner, but for their actual places at the table in order to further their positions. They avoided eating with those of lesser economic and social status. As soon as one dinner was finished, competition over who would eat with whom at the next dinner began. The focus was on advancing one’s own influence and power by controlling and limiting who else had access to it.
But Jesus used his place at the table to invite people to consider a world where God’s kingdom is manifested by expanding access rather than limiting it; a place where, as he says, “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” Jesus exemplifies a kingdom where people drink from the same well as sworn enemies, dine with known sinners, and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to the table. Whether he’s eating with tax collectors, allowing his feet to be anointed at the table, or feeding thousands, there is simply no way to get around his message that the kingdom is broader than we imagine. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We might limit our access to the kingdom of God by our refusal or unwillingness to believe in its expansiveness, but Jesus never wavers that it is open to everyone.
We focus on that message Sunday after Sunday, particularly in the Eucharist, our own recreation and remembrance of what it means to gather at the table in the kingdom of God. Today’s gospel invites us to consider the impact of this gathering not just as we experience it this morning, but as we reflect on it throughout the week. How does our life at St. Mary’s reflect the kingdom of God? Whom do we welcome here? Who feels welcome here? Whom do we exclude, however inadvertently or subconsciously? Those questions are not meant to convict us for what we have done or failed to do, but to encourage us – to encourage us to live more fully and intentionally into the vision of God’s kingdom, both here at St. Mary’s and as we represent St. Mary’s in our lives and world throughout the week.
As we go out into the world today, consider how we manifest the kingdom of God in our common life and individually…Think about it, pray about it, and, yes, talk about it around the dinner table – and don’t forget to include the children. I promise you they’re paying attention.
 Luke 13:29
 Hebrews 13:8