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An extravagant party is the setting for the parable today. Jesus often uses food, banquets, and eating together to symbolize the arrival of heaven on earth, God’s reign of love made true. But, even in Biblical storytelling, parties rarely seem to go as planned.

Think just for a moment about the last time you hosted a party. It is not easy. In fact, it is pretty complex emotionally and functionally. Did I invite the right people? Will they get along? Did I leave anyone out? Will they like the food? Did I pair the right wine with the right dessert; will a Trolls/Princess Elena/water party mash-up even work?

And then there is the thing that gets the most conversation, in our home, at least… Actual people that we know and we like will be in our house. They will see our stuff, our attempts to control the chaos (barely); our real lives. That’s a lot of intimacy. How will we be judged? Will we meet their expectations?
The host in our story this morning went to a lot of trouble, (well, his servants did, anyways), to be sure that this was an event worthy of the time of those invited… and in return, he faces a very human experience – rejection. He responds in another very human way – “If you don’t want to come, well fine! Then, I’ll find someone who does appreciate me!” The servants are sent out into the streets to invite the poor to fill up the hall to the very last place. It seems a fairly satisfying ending to a story – nothing is wasted and those who are left out and in need are invited and fed.

But, before we begin to view our host as heroic in his generous, good deed, we need to look at this story in context.

The version of the Gospel ascribed to Luke is known for its emphasis on the poor and the marginalized, themes of open invitation, and the subversion of social hierarchies in building the reign of God. The great divide between the rich and poor is described in the Gospel of Luke as a catastrophe for the rich, and Jesus often refers them to the Torah, (the central sacred teachings of Judaism), for guidance. The rich, in order to live according to the Torah, must make the poor the center of their lives- not an afterthought. The Jewish tradition of generosity, better called “Practice of the rights of the poor” states: “Let your house be wide open, and let the poor be the companions of your house.”

Our host today, instead of making the poor companions in his house, they are said to be found in the streets. Instead of including the poor with the first round of invites, the well-to-do Jewish householder invites people like himself to his party, they are like in rank, they have their own land and their own cattle and their own tasks in their own houses. The refusals of those with status are insulting to the host who then, out of anger, invites in the poor people from the streets until he fills his home to the very last place and finally declares: “I will never again invite people from my circle of business acquaintances, neighbors, and relatives!” The problem here is motivation – invitation by spite, not grace.

Stories of Jesus eating with the poor, hungry, and OutKast are numerous. The table, central to the Christian tradition includes communion, but it does not begin or end there. Eating was an act of solidarity to Jesus, and an essential part of the early Christian rituals. A necessary part of being the people of God together, is eating together (and most churches do a pretty good job with that), but it also requires the invitation from those who have enough to the ones who go without. The parable of the host requires that those that hear it take care in our own meal practices and remember the rights of the poor. This story opens the way to a community in which the hungry and the OutKast are not place-holders, but have a right to share in the joys of creation, food, and health.

You may have noticed that the table setting is a bit different this morning. I was thinking about those whose invitations to the table are often late, if not overlooked.

I am so grateful for all that UCG embodies and pray that the invitations continue to flow out of those doors and into the streets. You may be thinking this morning – “Well, she’s preaching to the choir!”, but, even so, I believe that it is a spiritual practice to remember who we are, and what our calling is – lest we get out of tune.

As we prepare to count our blessings this week, there are some seating arrangements I do not want to overlook –
Children who are sent out of sacred spaces, sent to the children’s table where they will not cause as much of a disturbance…may we be ever mindful that this Sanctuary belongs to them just as much as it does to us, that it is through them that we see God.

For all who will sit down at tables this week where they are not equal, where their love is not acceptable, their pronouns and names not honored and whole selves are not welcomed. May this place continue to grow and embrace all kinds of love and to live beyond limits of gender and expression.

Many of us are people of convenience, who tend to rush through our days with ease of movement and access to what we need. May we never forget to include those people with a disability as individuals, to never assume that we know what is helpful to another, but to be ready to accommodate with grace. We also remember people whose relationship to food is not one of nourishment or ease, may they find strength, wholeness, and support.

This is my Great-Grandmother’s tea cup. She passed on to her next adventure when I was 15, but is one who exists poignantly always in empty chairs and remembered phrases and wisdom. We all honor our own missing saints from the table – perhaps they are gathered at the one above us. However, this place setting is here today to remind us to honor those elders who are among us – those who may not always be able to be with us in presence on Sunday mornings, but whose spirits are active and are a crucial part of who we are together.

Finally, the cultures, races, and textures that inform so much of who we are and our table traditions. May diversity be given space to interweave and overflow, and may we work toward a day when diversity is celebrated, instead of feared.

There is an extra cup here. This is reminiscent of another Jewish tradition that you may know: the invitation made to the prophet Elijah at the Passover. Rabbi Michael Joseph sent this explanation to Andy, who sent it to me, (kinda like a clergy chain letter).

The Torah describes the night of Passover as a “guarded night.” It is the night long ago when G‐d protected the Jews from the plague which slew all the Egyptian firstborn. A door of the home is left open for Passover, which not only expresses trust in G‐d’s protection, but when opening the door, it is an opportunity to invite in the prophet Elijah.

There is an open question in the Talmud about whether there should be four or five cups on the table on the night of Passover. Since the issue was never resolved, a fifth cup is poured, but no one drinks it. After heralding the coming of the Messiah, one of Elijah’s tasks will be to resolve all unanswered questions, including whether there should be 4 or 5 cups and so, “Elijah’s Cup,” is set in anticipation of the wisdom he will impart.

Soon after setting this table, I noticed the problem. I have personal investment in each of these settings, so I can name them. But, this table is too small and four place settings, a cup, and and a semi-artistic representation of ethnicity can’t be enough. As someone with privilege, I can’t know everyone who is missing from the table and I can’t speak for them. I certainly can’t represent them. We can never assume who the person is who is not there. That is the wonder that I have found in Elijah’s cup this week. To be brave enough to open the door, you have to be open to the mystery of who might walk in, to expose yourself to vulnerability and be found ready for company. We must always leave an opening, because once we close the circle, we are telling Elijah no, we are afraid of who you might be in the shape of and the wisdom you may have for us.

It is a brave thing to fling open the doors and say, “Come to the Feast!”, but it is nothing that you, UCG, haven’t done before. You did it for me and my family, and since I have been here, there have been Family Promise hostings, Sanctuary movement discussions, new initiatives for those who have been incarcerated, and Y’All Means All t-shirts, (and that’s just a sampling). When those doors are open, the invitation is being heard, and people are finding welcome and nourishment here.

There is a song that I love, and that I find powerful in its implications, perhaps you know it too, called In this Very Room – and it includes these lyrics:
In this very room, there is quite enough love for all of us and in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all of us. And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom, for our spirit is in this very room.

There is quite enough… And if there is quite enough for all of us, in all of our varied and wonderful ways, who is there not room for? There is quite enough… which means there is always room for one more, and it’s all you can eat. There is quite enough… so, keep the door open, call out the invitation, and let’s make some room at the table. Amen.

Talia Raymond