Sinners at the Table

20130612_152754Are you a Pharisee? Weird question, I know. But it’s one that must be asked. Most of us reading the Luke text identify on the side of Jesus or include ourselves in the ones who are listening to him. We like to think that we’re ready to run off and look for that lost sheep or help that widow search for her high-value coin. But whom do you eat with?

When we gather for worship and celebrate communion, we are setting Christ’s table. Many of us have a lot of rules about who is welcome to come to the table and how it is done. We could become very uncomfortable if “tax collectors and sinners” showed up.

I’ve comforted the mother who was asked not to bring her autistic son to church anymore. I’ve listened as the developmentally disabled man told me that he was not allowed to receive communion in his church. I’ve encouraged the transgender teen to look for a church that would welcome her exactly as she is. The stories are numerous of those who have been excluded from our churches for reasons beyond their control.

Jesus ate with the outcasts and the unclean. He welcomed them. He said that they were worth searching for. He said that they have incredible value. When we gather as the body of Christ, we are setting Christ’s table. Jesus ate with all kinds of people; what would he say to us?

I know that many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that the U.S. is not going to bomb Syria. But the world remains a place of fear and violence. The church is meant to be a place of safety and peace. Is it truly? Do we tend to forget that if we call ourselves Christians we embody Christ to everyone we meet?

Reading the words of Jeremiah, I pray that they are not true for today.  “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”

My fear is that the church today has become full of people who keep the laws and the traditions because they are familiar and comfortable. The Pharisees did this in Jesus’ time. They must have been filled with anxiety when he challenged their way of being God’s people and pushed them out of their comfort zone. The same is happening in the church today even if Jesus is not physically present and leading the way. There are prophets among us. We would do well to listen.

So, I come back to my original question:  Are you a Pharisee? Things in the church are changing and familiar, traditional ways are being questioned and challenged. Will you eat with the tax collectors and welcome sinners at your table?

RCL – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2013
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 with Psalm 14 or
Exodus 32:7-14 with Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10