Table Fellowship – The Starting Point for Discipleship – Sunday, September 15, 2019

Table Fellowship by Sieger Köder (1925–2015) 

Luke 15:1-10 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Reflection: The religious leaders consider themselves favored by God in their own rights. They despise “sinners” in the name of God. They grumble and express disdain, a low opinion, and a disrespectful attitude toward Jesus when they see him approaching and partaking of table fellowship with sinners; those considered lawless, lost, cursed, and separated from God’s love and care. Jesus’ acts of presence and table fellowship with sinners, signals to those that would exclude them that no one is worthless and beyond God’s mercy, love, and care.

As Christians and United Methodists, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self (Article 4 – the Inclusiveness of the Church and ¶161.G) Human Sexuality, The Book of Discipline).

Jesus’ table fellowship action in this morning’s gospel reading proclaims the sacred worth of both the “righteous” and the “sinners” to God. His table fellowship actions are a starting point for our faith and discipleship. They are instructive, inviting us by his example to intentionally seek to do the same. Through his acts of mercy, love and care to the lost, he corrects and counters our self-righteous impulse to despise others and separate ourselves from them in the name of God because such hatred and exclusion does not reflect the value of the other and contradicts Christ’s redemptive work in the world. His table fellowship actions hold a mirror up to us, inviting us to examine and repent of our tendency to so easily and willfully draw dividing lines that isolate and fracture rather than restore the human family and community.

Prayer of Praise: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, I was blind but now I see. Amen.

More about the painting Table Fellowship by Sieger köder (1925–2015) –

Sieger was a German soldier in World War II who was captured while fighting on the front lines in France. Upon his release, he first trained as a silversmith, then enrolled in Stuttgart’s State Academy of Art and Design.

Köder painted and taught art for twelve years before beginning a new course of study in Tübingen: Catholic theology. Ordained as a priest in 1971, he pastored until his retirement in 1995, but he never stopped painting.

Drawing from both vocations, Köder’s art flourished during his years of ministry. His altarpieces, paintings, frescoes, and stained glass windows can be found throughout Germany and beyond. His interpretations of the crucifixion, of innocent suffering, have a clarity born of his own history of war and captivity. Some have called him a “preacher with pictures.”

But as his work gained worldwide recognition, he refused to take credit himself. In one interview, he said, “People come to Ellwangen asking to see the painter. If they’re that interested in the painter, then they haven’t understood the paintings.”

The Calculus of Discipleship – Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sit down first and consider

Luke 14:25-33 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Reflection: I use the calculator app on my cell phone to add up, multiply, subtract, or to divide costs, materials, payments, discounts, or reconcile accounts that require accurate numbers. I use a different, much more sophisticated type of calculator for discerning my response to difficult decisions that factors in my values, my theology, my faith, scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, the wisdom of friends, my personal and social ethics, laws, my relationships, the probabilities of gain or loss, the impact my decisions will have on others, and so on. This type of discernment calculus is patient, complicated, and often risky because it depends on numerous interdependent and independent, known and unknown variables, many of them beyond my direct and indirect control.

The builder in today’s gospel sits down to estimate the cost of building a tower. The calculus is rather simple. The problem to solve is whether she could cover the cost of a building project with the needed resources of labor, materials, money, and time. If the answer is yes, she can begin building with confidence that the project will complete. If the answer is no, then her options are to wait until the resources for the completion of the project are secure, she could scale down the project to make it more affordable, or she could scrap the build altogether to avoid bankruptcy, the negative impact a large-scale failed project will have on others, and public ridicule.

The king in today’s gospel has to calculate the probability of victory or the risk of defeat in a war with his enemy. He factors into his discernment calculus his advantages and disadvantages, the conditions of the battlefield, and the superiority or inferiority of his army’s weapons and training in comparison to his opponent. He discerns whether he can fulfill his national interests by winning the battle with resources and the right battle strategy. He asks his officers if they have the right tactics to attain the objectives of the battle plan. He ponders whether diplomacy and peace talks are his best option to procure the safety of his people. If the king thinks he can win, he fights. If he determines he will lose, he seeks peace with his enemy through diplomacy so to not endanger the people that depend on him for safety.

Jesus must have discerned that many in the crowd following him were calculating the cost and considering whether or not to become his disciples. Jesus cuts to the chase. He turns to them and tells them that discipleship is not a fair-weather venture; it is not something that can be set aside when things or life gets tough (Luke 9:23-25). Discipleship of Christ requires our surrender because it demands loyalty and allegiance to him over all competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions.

For many, discipleship requires a lot of figuring out and long consideration. Some people need to have all the answers beforehand as to how their life will be or turn out if they follow Christ. Discipleship is not like that. It is based on a trusting relationship with Christ and trust in his promise to walk with us throughout our lives, especially when life gets tough. As St. Patrick prays, when we surrender to Christ, we can arise with strength every day and carry our cross because Christ will be with us against every cruel and merciless power that oppose our body and soul. Christ promises to be with us, go before us, behind us, in us, beneath us, above us, on our right and on our left, when we lie down, sit down, when we arise, in the hearts of everyone who thinks of us, speaks of us, in every eye that sees us, and every ear that hears us. If we put the pencil to discipleship we’ll soon figure out that it is indeed a demand but is also a priceless gift.

Prayer:  I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me, from snares of devils, from the temptation of vices, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near. I arise today as a disciple of Jesus Christ through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.*

* From an excerpt of the Lorica of St. Patrick, also known as the St. Patrick Breastplate Prayer.

The Absent, Matter – September 1, 2019

Who do we need to invite?

Luke 14:1, 7-14: On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 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. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Reflection: Jesus observantly watches the invited guests take their places at a sabbath meal hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. A dinner with distinguished guests functioned as more than sharing in a common meal. Sabbath dinners gave opportunity for a guest of honor, in this case Jesus, to discuss a topic of interest followed by dialogue about the presentation. Those nearest to the speaker were seated in honored positions which allowed them to better see and hear the speaker than those seated or standing behind them.

Jesus notices the guests settling into their seating arrangements. It is likely that those with a higher opinion of their social status challenged and elbowed away from the best seats others they viewed as socially inferior. Jesus notices something is amiss. Before he begins teaching, he tells the gathered a parable, a story that illustrates a spiritual lesson. In the story, people who seat themselves in places of honor are humiliated in public when re-assigned by the host to lower places and people at the lower places are honored by the invitation to take the higher places. The spiritual lesson is that those that seek to live in harmony and right relation with God will concern themselves with those who are absent from the liberating, Passover table of God.

When we are invited to partake of the elements of Holy Communion at a United Methodist Church, the presiding celebrant invites those gathered to receive the bread and cup by proclaiming, “This is not the table of the United Methodist Church. This is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and you are welcome.” Christ is the guest of honor, inviting all that repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with God and one another to come and partake of God’s spiritual food and love without regard to age, ethnicity, gender, or language.

Through the partaking of the Holy Mystery of Communion, Christ calls us to live in peace with God and one another through acts of evangelism, justice, and unity. First, we are called to be hospitable guides consciously identifying and seeking out the absent who feel unworthy, the poor, those who are not yet Christ followers, the victims of prejudice, and others who are oppressed or neglected, and invite them to become part of the body of Christ. Secondly, as we gratefully receive God’s abundant grace, we are called to accept fully our responsibility and accountability for renewal of our broken and contentious world and the coming of the realm of God. And third, as the sacrament of Holy Communion expresses our oneness in the body of Christ, we are called to anticipate Jesus’ invitation to feast at the heavenly banquet and strive for the visible unity of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit in response to Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one” (John 17:21).

As we partake of Holy Communion on this first Sunday of the month, may Christ’s Spirit send us out into the world to live lovingly and justly as his servants by conscientiously seeking the absent, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel” (BOD, ¶ 122).

Prayer: Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery of Communion and Table Fellowship in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.