Homily, Tables are Vessels for Love
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have something embarrassing to admit. I often cry in 30 second TV commercials. It’s true. I cry. I’ll see the little, three legged dog with Sarah McLachlan playing and the tears just well up. And I hate that I get so moved by something that’s literally just trying to get my money, but I can’t help it when a commercial so beautifully tells a story in just a few seconds.
The commercials that get me the most are Publix commercials. Can anyone remember some of those? There was one just recently that came out about a single dad and his daughter on the first day of school. It only has three scenes. The first is the two of them together getting ready for the day and packing a lunch for school. The second is the daughter eating her lunch with friends and finding a note from her dad that just says, “I’m proud of you.” And the final scene shows the daughter sitting at the counter doing her homework while dad is cooking dinner and he pulls out some food from the refrigerator and finds a note on it that says, “I’m proud of you too.”
Oh! The tears! What a powerful little story!
Now Publix, is a grocery store. It meets one of our most basic needs. It sells us food. And yet these commercials capture a deeper truth. The dinner table is not just about meeting a material need. It is about relationships. The dinner table is the place where people gather together not just to feed their bodies but to feed their soul by connecting with other people. And in that way, the dinner table—something basic and material—becomes sacred. The dinner table becomes a vessel of love.
Our gospel passage this morning takes place at the dinner table. Jesus has been invited to eat dinner with some pharisees who have their eyes on him waiting to for him to do something wrong. You ever have dinner with someone like that? (I hope you’re not thinking of your mother-in-law!)
And while there he notices that all the people around him are kind of angling to get the best seats at the table. They want the honor, they want the attention for themselves. And then he also notices the table is full of people that all look alike and come from the same background of experiences and privilege. And so he decides to tell a very thinly-veiled parable.
“When you’re a guest at the table, don’t scheme to get the best seat, leave those for others. And then you’ll be honored for your humility. And when you’re the host at the table, don’t invite just the people who will return the favor, invite those in your community who have need and you’ll be paid back at God’s table.”
We could look at this passage and think it’s simply about table manners. It’s about proper etiquette for attending and hosting a party. Seating charts and invitations. But Jesus is obviously talking about more than etiquette, he’s talking about relationships. He’s talking about how to treat one another at the table.
Jesus noticed that his listeners had fallen into a habit of using the table as an opportunity to assert their position and status over others. And so here in this passage, Jesus is inviting his listeners to see the table—to see the banquet—as a vessel for love.
Now it’s interesting to me that the gospel writer calls this a parable. To me it doesn’t sound like much of a parable. Jesus sees people doing something and tells them to do it differently. There’s no story or metaphor in that. It’s just what happened. Jesus is telling people that tables are for loving people and not for ego trips. But if we do see this passage as a parable, then suddenly the meaning of Jesus’ words open wide to more possibilities.
What if this is a parable about living all our life with other people? What if the table is a metaphor for any place we encounter another person?
Well, then the table could be the staff room at work. The table could be the property line between you and and your neighbor. The table could be the carline at school. Anything—any place—could become a vessel, an opportunity, a moment for love.
Perhaps this is a parable teaching us to transform everywhere we go into a sacred place of love.
Wow! If we lived like that, we’d no longer have to fight for our status and position. We’d no longer have to defend what’s ours. We’d no longer have to protect ourselves from strangers. Instead, every person we meet would become an encounter with the living God, because God is love. This passage is about love. Jesus is teaching us about love. And the table is the symbol of that love.
You know it’s no accident that our church is centered around a table. This table, too, is meant to be a vessel of love. Week after week we gather around this table not only to feed our bodies, but to feed our souls by connecting with one another and with God.
But the love that comes from this table is not meant to stay at the table. The love that comes from this table is meant to go into your bodies, into your hearts, into your souls and out through those doors into the streets and neighborhoods of Tequesta and Jupiter and the world. By gathering around this vessel of love, you become a vessel of love. You become a vessel of love.
In closing, then, I offer a question for each of us.
How am I living as a vessel of love for all those I meet?
How are my encounters with others being transformed into opportunities for love?
How am I treating others at the table of Jesus? Amen.