Guess who is coming to dinner?
Two Sundays ago, I preached again after maternity leave. It was a special Sunday because we celebrated the last 22 years of Common Ground Worship on their last Sunday. As a church, we are moving forward into having only one worship service to strengthen our faith community and bless our neighborhood. One of those things that we hope to strengthen is our hospitality. The "Come to The Table" worship series focuses on hospitality. I invite you to read my sermon, "Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?"
Thanks for visiting my blog!
Last Sunday, we began our new sermon series, “Come to The Table.” Pastor Frank’s message came from Luke 24, where “Jesus breaks bread with the disciples, their eyes are opened, and they recognized him.” Something we began to incorporate throughout this sermon series is to participate in Communion on the first Sunday of the month as usual and extend the table intentionally each Sunday. So, we all can have the opportunity to see God more clearly and to see one another.
As we continue learning to fully see God as we are mindful about seeing one another, let us go to our scripture for this morning found in Luke 14:12-14.
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
I think we can all agree that we love food, right?! We can also agree that we love to go to dinner with our favorite people, right!? We want to make sure that we have a great time, so we invite that person who makes us feel special and important, or the one who is there to listen so we can just (desahogar las penas) unburden, or one who makes to many jokes. The thing is that we will make sure to have a memorable dinner. Have you ever wondered what will happen if we go to dinner, lunch, or breakfast, and something unexpected happens? What would your reaction be?
One day, maybe two years ago, I wanted a delicious Caribbean lunch. I wanted some good mofongo, a delightful mashed plantain with some condiments, garlic, and a meat of your choice. Ask Pastor Frank because he tried some mofongo con camarones with shrimp yesterday. I went to this restaurant in Dallas, “Vaca Loca," where I sat and ordered food. Out of nowhere, a man approached and asked to sit with me. I said to him that it was okay. Many questions came to my mind. First, why he wanted to sit with me? Do I need to be scared? Should I ask him to leave? Long story short, the waitress asked me if I was okay a couple of times to ensure my safety. Second, I had a good conversation with the man. I identified myself as a pastor, and he shared his story with me, and when I finished my lunch, I left. I was momentarily uncomfortable, but as the conversation continued, I enjoyed my meal. I was not alone but with someone, which I appreciated.
Another time, I met a family at the pool in my neighborhood, and I was very excited because they were from Puerto Rico. So, one of the things that I love to do most when I meet new people is to invite them for dinner at my home. So, that is what I did. They came, brought their kids, and we had a fantastic time together. Our dinner table looked similar to this one right here. We had kids and adults, with cute flower arrangements, messiness of food, and toys! It was like any family table in our own homes. This family was strangers when we met them at the pool, strangers that, through our hospitality, became guests as they entered our home, and when they left, they became our new friends.
As I share these two stories, have you thought about your own experiences with unexpected guests? Have those encounters been way better than you had anticipated? We often have been the outsider, the stranger in the room, perhaps the stranger in the pool like this family I met last year. Feeling that we may not belong, unconnected, maybe we fear not being liked or accepted. We wonder if one of those people will approach us at a table or standing in that space. We are wondering if one of them will come to talk to us. But as time passes, we meet new people and learn new things from them. It is God who calls us out of our comfort zone to initiate a conversation with a stranger into a unique, unexpected experience. It is God who calls us out of our places of familiarity into this place of fellowship at the table.
In our scripture this morning, we have Jesus doing one of my favorite things of his ministry: fellowship at the table. It was a great “teaching moment” from Jesus to his disciples and those who were also there. Chapter 14 began by sharing that while Jesus was on his way to a meal with a Pharisees leader, he healed a sick man before other Pharisees and other leaders of the law on Sabbath. Imagine that! After that, Jesus continues on his way to the dinner, where he doesn’t waste time and teaches about humility and hospitality.
He told the disciple about humility, a parable about choosing where to sit when someone invites you to a wedding banquet. Choosing not a place of honor but to the lowest place. So, when that person who invited you noticed can move you to a higher place of honor. The teaching here is that Christ meets us at the place of humility and reminds us that God will be glorified by doing so.
I want to focus on the second part, hospitality. Jesus, here is not saying you can't invite your friends, family, and those you already know to dinner anymore. It's great to invite them too. But Jesus asks us to leave our comfort zone and make space for those we haven't met yet. By doing this, we are expanding our table. We are making space for others to share with us who they are. To share their stories and their different perspectives. So, who do you invite?
Jesus, throughout his ministry, showed us the importance of hospitality. I agree with a bible commentary, "Those who embrace and embody the message of Jesus are known by their practices of hospitality to the least and the left-out.” How are we embracing and embodying our belief in Jesus? What do our hospitality practices show to those we encounter daily?
So, what is hospitality? What does the act of hospitality imply? According to Joshua Jipp in his book "Saved by Faith and Hospitality," hospitality “is the act or process whereby the identity of a stranger is transformed into that of guest.” I don't know about you, but every time I hear the word guest, my mind goes to this…
In the Beauty and the Beast movie, we have Belle, who arrives at the castle as a stranger. Even though it was a very unexpected guest, the staff received her with great hospitality. Making her feel welcome, loved, even safe. As the days pass, Belle gets the opportunity to get to know the people who live there, including the Beast. From being a stranger, she became a guest, and from a guest, she became a friend, part of their family.
How is our hospitality? Individually, are we open to leaving room in our table, our spaces, our calendars, and our busy lives to embrace and embody Christ's message through hospitality?
How is our hospitality as a church? As a faith community, are we making the space for uniqueness within the Kingdom of God? Are we open to being uncomfortable? When a stranger walks toward our church as they enter our building, do we continue to treat them as a stranger? Or do we transition into sharing God's love so that they can feel they already belong to God's family when they leave this place?
Do we acknowledge that those pews, the chairs you are sitting on today, are not reserved for us? These are for our guests, making room for the uniqueness that God created in each human being, where people don't feel judged but rather loved, where they can find themselves in a safe space, where people don't feel like strangers but rather have a place in our church family. A place where they can feel and know that they belong!
So, Spring Valley, guess who is coming to dinner? “Hospitality to strangers is at the core of the church’s identity and mission.” “It is the tangible testimony of our embrace of Jesus and his message of hope and salvation.”
Spring Valley, guess who is coming to dinner?
You, me, and everyone who enters those doors are invited to God's table. Is invited to experience God's love, God's grace, through hospitality.
 UMC Greater New Jersey Conference, Come to The Table, Series Overview PDF.  Ibid., NISB Bible Commentary.  Ibid., Joshua W. Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality, 2.  Ibid., 3.  Ibid., 7.
Do you live close to Dallas area? If yes, are you part of a community of faith? If not yet, you can be my guest at Spring Valley Church this coming Sunday!
If you would like some spiritual guidance, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com
You can donate to help those affected in natural disasters here!