Matthew 22:1-14 “The Great Feast” for Sunday, October 9, 2005

You have heard the expression “You are what you eat.” If you follow the theological logic of the
parable of the Wedding Banquet, you could say, “You are who you eat with.” A great
image for the divine hope of a wedding banquet came to me in an email this week
from a reader. A pastor in Queen, NY shared that his congregation has three different services; English, Mandarin with some Cantonese translation, and Spanish. There is also a large Telugu
group in the English service and the congregation rents to a Pakistani congregation speaking Urdu, Brazilians using Portuguese, and Indonesians and North Indians using Hindi. Imagine a potluck dinner with all these worshiping groups eating together! Imagine a joint Pentecost service where each group would read aloud from Acts 2, in their own language, describing the first Pentecost.

 

You have heard the expression “You are what you eat.” If you follow the theological logic of the
parable of the Wedding Banquet, you could say, “You are who you eat with.” A great
image for the divine hope of a wedding banquet came to me in an email this week
from a reader. A pastor in Queen, NY shared that his congregation has three different services; English, Mandarin with some Cantonese translation, and Spanish. There is also a large Telugu
group in the English service and the congregation rents to a Pakistani
congregation speaking Urdu, Brazilians using Portuguese, and Indonesians and
North Indians using Hindi. Imagine a potluck dinner with all these worshiping groups eating together! Imagine a joint Pentecost service where each group would read aloud from Acts 2, in their own language, describing the first Pentecost.

My former congregation had several African families from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana and GuyanaThe congregation once held a potluck where everyone brought foods from their cultural heritage.
Rich aromas filled the chapel hall! The Kenyan dishes had Indian influences, with savory curries and samozas for appetizers. The Ugandans made a Ground Nut Stew “to die for” that had blue
cheese and peanut butter. The African Americans brought some
delicious pork and collared greens. We also had lasagna with
homemade sauce, corned beef and cabbage, spetzel, and bread
pudding from people with Italian, Irish, German and English heritages.

This great banquet had the joy of a wedding feast that went beyond
happy taste buds and satisfied stomachs. It was a celebration of
the numerous influences and wonderful diversity that made the
congregation. The same cultures melded together at the communion
table as well. Nor was this a superficial unity that made us feel
politically correct just because we were diverse. To get to that
place was a hard traveled road through the entire history of the
church. They began in 1837 as an abolitionist church and had to
meet in secret because of local opposition. This heritage continually
challenged the congregation. After World War II, their pastor was
the leader to bring public housing to the city. This was so
controversial that a church trustee (who was also a realtor) called
for a non-confidence vote on the pastor that was narrowly defeated.
In the 1960s the church found itself existing as a downtown church
in an African American neighborhood with a white suburban
membership. They made a difficult decision to stay in the city
and open the doors to the community, starting with founding one
of the first day care centers in the community. In the 1980s and
1990s they began an outreach to new immigrants from
created various hardships and disagreements.


The trustees constantly struggled with the wear and tear of having
100 children in the building every day for day care.
Attitudes about race, politics, AIDs and homosexuality constantly
popped up. As the congregation began to welcome several gay
members, they had to deal with strong concerns among African
members who were offended. Would the church have to choose
between focusing on racial unity or welcoming gay people?
Could all people truly be welcome at the communion table?
 The parable of the wedding banquet has always been a central
metaphor in my theology and church practice. I believe we need to work as hard as the king in the parable to fill our space around the communion table, which is our central symbol in worship of
the Great Feast. We short-change ourselves if we only invite  people like ourselves around the communion table. More
importantly, we ignore the call to make disciples of all nations, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. As the parable states,the king was willing to go to the main streets and invite “the good and the bad” to make sure all the seats for the feast were taken.
 

There are many ways to live out this vision of the church, but the parable carries a strategy within itself. Find different kinds of people with whom to eat. Things happen when we break breadtogether with another person. Conversation over a meal builds trust and understanding. It is a good way to open the door to
people of different cultures and backgrounds because it does not start with politics or controversy, it starts with people sharing the intimacy of a meal. This is part of the power of Holy  Communion that gets lost in the square pieces of white bread or wafers, silver chalices and plastic shot glasses. Barriers fall
when we eat together, especially in the presence of Christ. Most pastors of diverse congregations will tell you that getting people to sit down and eat together is a key to success.
 

Perhaps this parable calls us to take the Lord’s Supper out into the streets.
I don’t mean that we should start passing out bread and wine on the street  corners. I propose something simple. To live out this parable, take an eating audit.   Think about the people you eat with on a regular basis. Is there anyone you share a meal with outside of family or work? Do you have any friends that you invite to dinner who are from a different ethnic background than your own? Do you eat with anyone outside your socio-economic sphere?

I once did this audit when I was serving a congregation. I realized that most of my meals were with members of the church and social engagements like the Chamber of Commerce breakfast, lunches with the Rotary and other pastor’s within my denomination and theological tradition. My meals were all done in a safe, comfortable bubble.  Remedies to this situation can include dropping by and eating or serving at the local soup kitchen. I had a few lunches with pastor’s who had more conservative views than I. We invited a wider diversity of people to dinner. All these things broadened my awareness beyond narrow limits. Nearly every time I stepped out of my normal comfort zone of eating partners produced moments of grace and a deeper sense of real communion.  When we can eat together we can truly announce the meaning of
the joyful feast of the Lord!

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